Most mammalian RNA Polymerase II initiation events occur at CpG islands, which are rich in CpGs and devoid of DNA methylation. Despite their relevance for gene regulation, it is unknown to what extent the CpG dinucleotide itself actually contributes to promoter activity. To address this question, we determined the transcriptional activity of a large number of chromosomally integrated promoter constructs and monitored binding of transcription factors assumed to play a role in CpG island activity. This revealed that CpG density significantly improves motif-based prediction of transcription factor binding. Our experiments also show that high CpG density alone is insufficient for transcriptional activity, yet results in increased transcriptional output when combined with particular transcription factor motifs. However, this CpG contribution to promoter activity is independent of DNA methyltransferase activity. Together this refines our understanding of mammalian promoter regulation as it shows that high CpG density within CpG islands directly contributes to an environment permissive for full transcriptional activity.