One of the world’s most expensive cities will become more affordable for travelers — if you go green

In a bid to improve on its already green reputation, the tourist board of Denmark's capital Copenhagen is offering tourists treats for trash.

Starting July 15, the city is trialing a scheme under which tourist attractions across the Danish capital will offer free meals, train tickets and museum tours to visitors who participate in sustainable activities such as picking up trash or taking green transport options such as bikes.

The initiative, which the tourist board calls “CopenPay,” is a reward system that transforms “green actions into currency for cultural experiences.” It's the latest sustainability effort in a city that has long been considered one of the world's greenest — Copenhagen residents of the city regularly bike to work and swim in its clean canals.

The scheme may also come as a relief to tourists who can find Denmark, with its 25% value added tax rate, an expensive place to visit. According to a 2023 poll from the Economist Intelligence Unit, Copenhagen is the city with the world's eighth highest cost of living.

“We want visitors to make conscious, green choices,” Mikkel Aarø-Hansen, chief executive at Wonderful Copenhagen said in a statement Monday, “and hopefully end up getting even better experiences.”

With 602,000 people and 750,000 bicycles, Copenhagen has more bikes than people and the city wants to encourage visitors to travel on two wheels to offset the "environmental burden" of tourism.

People are walking on a street in the center of Copenhagen, (Volha Shukaila / SOPA / LightRocket via Getty Images)
People are walking on a street in the center of Copenhagen, (Volha Shukaila / SOPA / LightRocket via Getty Images)

The city's tourist high season runs from July to August and last year, Denmark recorded 63 million overnight stays in the country, the tourism board said.

In order to redeem some of the rewards, visitors may be asked to show a ticket, arrive by bicycle or take a picture of them performing the activities. Ultimately, though, it’s an honor system and officials are trusting the visitors.

“After all,” the tourism board said, “the only one you would be cheating is yourself if you miss out on doing good for our planet.”

Some 24 attractions have signed up to the initiative’s trial run, which will runs until August 11. If visitors to the Copenhagen Museum, for example, arrive on foot or by public transport, they can enjoy a free cup of coffee or glass of wine at a rooftop bar that overlooks the city.

For more active travelers, a free kayak rental is up for grabs in return for helping to cleaning the harbor and skiing enthusiasts at the CopenHill slope that sits on top of a waste-to-energy powerplant can redeem extra 20 minutes of slope time if arriving by public transport.

“Tourists are given a unique opportunity to explore Copenhagen in a way that benefits both the environment and the local community,” said the city’s mayor Sophie Andersen.