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Do you really need to own a car living in Denmark?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Do you really need to own a car living in Denmark?
A family with a bicycle trailer in the town of Tønder, southern Jutland. Photo: Niclas Jessen/Visit Denmark

Denmark is one of the most expensive countries in the world for owning a car, its public transport is one of the best, and if you want to cycle, it's mostly flat. There are few places where it makes more sense to ditch your car.

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The case against owning a car in Denmark

Denmark's Vehicle Registration Tax, together with VAT, more than doubles the cost of buying a petrol or diesel car, making owning a car considerably more expensive in Denmark than in its neighbours Germany and Sweden, although electric cars that cost less than 436,000 kroner are currently tax-exempt.

If you use a car to commute into Copenhagen, Aarhus, or Odense, you will also often find yourself stuck in traffic jams, with the Danish Roads Directorate estimating that Danes lose 365,000 hours to traffic jams every weekday, with the Motorring 3 motorway circling Copenhagen, other major access roads to Copenhagen, the E20 south of Odense, and the E45 on either side of Aarhus the most congested roads in the country.

Parking can also be expensive in Danish cities, costing as much as 500 Danish kroner for 24 hours for non-residents. 

How easy is it to get around inside Danish cities without a car? 

Denmark is a cycling nation.

According to Visit Denmark, in 2022, 25 percent of all trips under five kilometers across Denmark were done by bike, and 16 percent of all journeys of any kind. 

Copenhagen’s aim is for fully half of all trips to work and education to be done on bike by 2025. In 2019, the city was already on 44 percent. It's a similar situation for smaller cities like Aarhus, Odense, Vejle, Aalborg and Esbjørg.

But even if you can't or don't want to cycle, you can still get by in most places without a car, thanks to Denmark's excellent public transport networks.

Public transport in Denmark has significantly improved only over the last five years, with several new metro lines and light rail systems opening. 

With the Cityringen (M3) and Harbour lines (M4) opening in 2019 and 2020, respectively the Copenhagen Metro can now get you to most places in the city. 

Denmark scrapped its city tram systems in the 1960s and 1970s, with cities like Aarhus and Odense instead shifting to buses for public transport.

There has recently been a recent revival, however, with Aarhus, Odense and Copenhagen all opening or building new tram/light rail systems.

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Odense Letbane opened in 2022, making it easy to get to the out of town shopping area where IKEA and other superstores are based and also to the new hospital. Aarhus Letbane opened in 2017, and takes passengers all the way up the coast around the city, from Odder in the south to Grenaa in the north.

Copenhagen next year plans to open a light-rail system which will travel in a ring around the city's outer suburbs linking Lundtofte in the north to Ishøj in the southwest. 

This will end one of the big drawbacks of the city's "five finger" transport corridor plan: that while it is quick to travel from the outer suburbs to the centre and vice versa, it is complicated to travel between suburbs which are on a different transport corridors, for example from Albertslund to Herlev, or from Birkerød to Buddinge. 

Even before that opens, however, so long as you are only travelling in and out from the centre, it is extremely convenient to get from central Copenhagen to its suburbs and surrounding towns using the S-trains, which run from 5am until half-past midnight on weekdays, and all night on Fridays and Saturdays. 

This means you can eat out and party with your friends until the small hours, and still normally get back to Køge, Høje Taastrup, Frederikssund, Farum and Hillerød, the furthest out stops. 

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Where might you struggle without a car? 

Plans for a light railway or tram between Vejle and Billund, or between the so-called Triangle Region between the cities of Vejle, Kolding and Fredericia have so far come to nothing, and even though the local and regional bus and train services can be good, it's certainly tougher to survive without a car if you don't live on Zealand, near Aarhus, or perhaps on Funen. 

Many people do in fact live without owning a car even in the more far-flung villages on Jutland, and on islands like Bornholm, Lolland and Falster.

They still manage to get everywhere they want to go, but it does require waiting. It's certainly possible to live without a car, but you might feel limited in where to and when you can travel. 

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