There were several reasons why I was excited to explore Denmark’s capital city.  The industrial-chic design.  The centuries-old history and castles all a’calling for exploring.  The world-class Nordic cuisine.  But above all, the one thing I was most looking forward to getting to grips with was a little thing called Hygge. 

But what exactly is Hygge? 

In essence, Hygge is a way of life.  It’s a term used across Scandinavian countries, but particularly in Denmark, to describe a feeling of warmth and cosiness.  It’s about learning to appreciate those simple moments which make you feel good, and about making a conscious decision to remove the clutter, both physically and mentally. 

It’s become an increasingly popular way of thinking amongst the Danes.  As Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen writes, it’s “a defining feature of our cultural identity and an integral part of the national DNA.” 

So what activities would count as Hygge? 

The answer is, it’s little things you probably already do, but that you just perhaps don’t notice or appreciate day-to-day.  For example, sinking into a deep bubbly bath at the end of a weary day.  Lighting candles, or opting for gentle lamp light.  Snuggling up with a good book on a rainy day.  Hanging out with good people. 

Embracing Hygge means making a conscious effort to include these things in your day, and that doing so is the key to happiness. 

Sound a little kitsch to you?  That’s what I thought at first. But then I got to wondering…Surely there must be a reason why Denmark is consistently voted as one of the happiest countries in the world? Excellent health care, low crime rates and green initiatives are all contributing factors, of course, but perhaps there was something to the whole Hygge malarkey… 

I visited Copenhagen in February 2019, when temperatures were lingering around 0 degrees and the winter winds were still nipping at the heels.  If ever there was a time for an extra dose of warmth and cosiness, this would be it! 

It didn’t take long after arriving in the city to pick up on the notably relaxed vibe so many people had mentioned before.  From the staff at our hotel to tour guides and even passing drivers, every local we encountered just seemed so remarkably chilled.  The city seemed to move at a gentle pace, with a calmness quite unlike any major travel destination I’d visited before.  It was also just incredibly beautiful – from the architecture of the buildings to the décor inside, it was though the city had been designed with the happiness of its residents in mind. 

Over the three days that I spent in the city, I was determined to soak up as much Hygge as possible.  Here are some of the most soul-warming activities you might want to include on a trip to Copenhagen… 

Discover why cycling is the ultimate way to travel across the city 

One of the first things to strike me about Copenhagen was how green it is.  Denmark is paving the way forward when it comes to renewable energy and there’s a real focus across Copenhagen on keeping the city’s carbon footprint as low as can be.  Part of this initiative includes cycling.

Cycling is a great way to pack a little Hygge into your Danish adventure.  Exercise of course gives off natural endorphins, but you also get those all-important happy vibes from knowing that you’re helping reduce congestion on the roads and helping keep the air clean.

Copenhagen is perfectly designed out for cyclists – in fact, it’s the number one method of transport for locals heading to work, and as one of our guides pointed out, there are actually more bikes than people across the city!  The roads are well mapped out with wide bike lanes and parking lots, and there are countless points across the city where you can pick up a bike for hire.  You can even activate the bikes using your phone!  Better still, the city is nice and flat, so you won’t be too pooped by the time you get to the sights.

Climb to the top of the spiral at the Round Tower 

There’s something to be said for the simplicity of just taking in a great view.  There’s no better place to start than the Rundetaarn, or ‘Round Tower’.

Built in the 17th Century, this still-functioning observatory is one of the city’s best loved and quirkiest buildings, famous for its distinct spiral ramp.  Climbing the curved path will take you back in time and have you reminiscing on childhood tales of princesses stuck at the top of enchanted towers, while the view from the top will offer an amazing vantage point over Copenhagen’s old town, with its cobbled streets, colourful rooftops and copper domes and spires peeping out from every direction.

Take 10 in one of the local coffee shops

I LOVE a good coffee stop.  It’s an essential part of the sight-seeing business, not just because it keeps those energy levels suitable topped up and because I write well in that kind of environment, but because I think you can get a really great insight to a city from just simply blending into the background of a great coffee house.  Don’t believe me?  Well next time you get the chance, grab yourself a window seat, flick through a local newspaper, listen into snippets of conversation and just simply watch the world go by.  Then try telling me it’s not an essential activity.

Thankfully, the Danes are also partial to a cup of hot java.  Have you ever watched a Nordic drama and noticed the key character without a cuppa on the go?! 

Denmark is home to countless great coffee companies, from Copenhagen’s own Coffee Collective to neighbouring businesses like April Coffee, La Cabra and Coffee First. We really loved the Espresso House chain, particularly the shop on Højbro Plads which has an excellent view out on to the square.  Hygge central.

No matter how busy your itinerary, you should always build in a little time to sample the local brew and plot your next move.

Unleash your inner child with a visit to Europe’s oldest amusement park 

Said to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s empire, Tivoli Gardens is the second-oldest operating theme park in the world (the oldest also belonging to Denmark!).  With its vintage carousels, nail-biting rollercoasters and bustling stalls, the park is packed full of old-world charm and adventure, as well as an abundance of great restaurants (not a Maccy-D’s in sight!).  You could easily spend a whole day at Tivoli; sadly we only had an evening to spare!

Light is an important aspect of Hygge.  It’s one of the things which affects the environment you’re in, so the Danes are big believers in creating beautifully-lit, ambient spaces to relax in.  A recent survey even suggested that 35% of Danish people burn candles at least once a day!

Tivoli is the perfect place to test this theory, particularly during the Winter months when the Winter Wonderland is in full swing and the Christmas lights twinkle happily away while snow swirls underfoot.

Lose yourself in a good book at the National Library 

There’s often a worry in these increasingly digital times that one day libraries might become obsolete (cue the screams of pain from my inner bookworm).  It’s really refreshing then to visit a country so prepared to invest money in its literary heritage.

At a cost of over 450,000,000 DKK, The Danish National Library didn’t exactly come cheap, but my goodness, is it impressive!  Built at sharp angles to reflect the dark shades of the water below, the library has become known over time as The Black Diamond, and it’s one of the most stunning pieces of architectural design the city has to offer.  The collection is equally impressive, with books both contemporary and historical, the coveted Søren Kierkegaard’s manuscripts securely archived and the National Photomuseum all worth exploring.  Visitors are welcome to explore the collections or the cafe, and there are also tours available if you want to learn a little more about this majestic building.

Whether you fancy unwinding with a good book or just marveling over the wonderful design, make sure to include a visit to the library during your time in Copenhagen.

Test out the local delicacies at Torvehallerne 

Food = happiness.  Happiness = Hygge.  Therefore food, for me = Hygge!!

If you fancy sampling the best of Copenhagen’s culinary delights but don’t know where to begin, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Torvehallerne food market.  This gorgeous hall has echoes of London’s Covent Garden, and is home to over 60 stands selling everything from freshly-caught seafood to wonderfully stinky cheeses, cinnamon-infused pastries and locally brewed tipples.

You could easily grab yourself a bar stool at one of the petite eateries, or, if you’re on the scrounge, you could also do as we did and wander aimlessly between the stalls sampling the free tasters!

Embrace free living at Christiania 

Christiania, often referred to as Copenhagen’s Hippy Freetown, is one of the most interesting, colourful and controversial corners of the city.

Back in the ’70s, this area once occupied by an army barracks was taken over by a crowd of somewhat liberal free-thinkers.  Now, in 2019, it is home to a self-sufficient of community 850 residents!

After complex legal negotiations, it seems that the Danish government eventually accepted there was not much which could be done other than acquiesce to the principles of ‘Squatters Rights’.

There are dubious laws surrounding Christiana and its money-making activities.  It’s widely known that cannabis is grown and supplied, and while still illegal in Denmark, the police seem to tolerate to various going-ons with minimal input, bar the odd token raid.

Inevitably, Christiana has become increasingly popular with tourists and those looking to soak up a little of the alternative culture.  It’s well worth a stroll around.  There’s a heck of a lot more to this place than just the infamous ‘Pusher Street’; instead, what you’ll find is a community built entirely by its residents, full of colourful and quirky architecture, hearty allotments and liberal street art.  During the summer months, the outdoor stage is home to many gigs and music festivals, and with a smattering of vegetarian food stalls and plenty of cool beer to go around, it’d be a pretty sweet place to hang out if you’re looking to keep things mellow.

Whatever your views on the legalities of Christiania, there’s no denying that their community embodies the spirit of togetherness which underpin the ideologies of Hygge.

Spoil yourself with a pastry (or six) 

Nothing will quite get those warm cosy feelings flowing like an authentic Danish pastry.

You won’t have to wander far in the city centre to find yourself gazing longingly into the window of a bakery.  Hygge is all about embracing things which make you happy and letting yourself have that all essential treat now and then, so I say DO IT.

Looking for inspiration on where to get your pastry fix?  You couldn’t go wrong with the gorgeous Meyers Bageri, an organic bakehouse famed for their cinnamon-infused buns of goodness.

Take in the colours at Nyhavn Harbour 

I defy you to visit Nyhavn Harbour and not fall a little bit in love with those colourful 17th Century townhouses.

Yes, it’s the first place all tourists flock to.  Yes, it’s the most Instagrammed part of the city.  Yes, a pint of beer will cost you two arms and a leg.

Will it be worth it?  If Hygge means surrounding yourself with beautiful things then the answer is a resounding yes.

Catch a show at the Royal Danish Playhouse 

Another reason to love Copenhagen is that there’s a really big emphasis on encouraging and supporting the arts.  Having both worked in the Scottish theatre industry for a number of years, it was really refreshing for us to visit a country where production companies are not getting sagged down by constant cuts, and where the performing arts are on the rise.

The Royal Danish Playhouse is paving the way for theatre in Denmark, supplementing the old venue on Kongens Nytorv and The Copenhagen Opera House in bringing world-class, as well as locally-run shows to the city.  With its waterfront location, just around the corner from Nyhavn canal, it’s also just a strikingly beautiful building, full of modern Scandi charm and intelligence.

The Royal Danish Playhouse offers guided tours, but visitors are also welcome to pop in through the day for a coffee, or just to enjoy the view from the glass-fronted foyer.  For a cultural fix with a view, a trip to the theatre is a must-do.

Step back in time with a stroll through historic palaces 

If there’s one thing Copenhagen has no shortage of, it’s palaces.  The three major players, Christiansborg, Amalienborg Palace and Rosenburg are all within easy walking distance of the centre.

The first, Christiansborg is the current home of Danish parliament, housing both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court of Denmark.  If you’re into politics, it’d be well worth a trip.

Next comes Amalienborg, where the Danish royal family reside, an interesting visit if you want to learn more about the history of Denmark’s current Monarchy, or if you just fancy catching a cheeky look at the changing of the Royal Guard out in the courtyard.

Last is Rosenborg Castle. This is possibly the most impressive of the three as Rosenborg is the oldest and has the most historical significance. The castle was first built as a summer house in 1606 and evolved into the current castle in 1624, where it was used as the royal residences until 1710. Here is where you’ll find the Danish Crown Jewels, and the Throne Chair of Denmark.  You can also get up close and personal with a vintage commode, if the official ‘Throne’ doesn’t take your fancy.

Even if you don’t fancy paying the entrance fee to see the interior of Rosenborg, it’s a lovely walk through the grounds, with their neatly trimmed topiary, rose gardens and of course, the obligatory moat.  Step back in time with a visit to one of the historical sights; what could be more heartwarming than imagining yourself as a lord or lady of the manor?

Get lost in the streets of Christianshavn

Sometimes it’s good just to get a moment’s peace; for a quieter stroll, you might want to head to the calmer area of Christianshavn.

Christianshavn is often over-looked in favour of its famous cousin, Nyhavn.  For me, this part of the city was equally as beautiful, with its colourful canals, hole-in-the-wall cafes and cobbled backlanes all calling out for getting lost amongst.  Its main street, Overgaden Oven Vandet, is well-known for being one of the most beautiful in the city, and yet it’s surprisingly quiet – its peace only marginally broken by the nearby Church of Our Saviour, whose tuneful songs play out every hour, often taking listeners by surprise with renditions of well-known classics!  With its distinctive gold-laced spiral spire, the Church was one of my favourite buildings in the city; sadly it was closed for renovations, but is due to open again in Spring 2019.  A climb to the top is going straight to the top of my list for a repeat visit!

Dress for the weather!

Sounds simple, right?  That’s the beauty of it!  Denmark isn’t exactly famed for its warm climate, but what it is famed for is somehow managing to combine the fashionable with the practical.  Thus, it’s perfectly acceptable to breeze down the main shopping thoroughfare dressed head to toe in knitwear.  The bigger and squishier the better!  After all, what could be cosier than a big snuggly scarf?  Head down to Strøget, the longest shopping street in the world, and you’ll find the place awash with gorgeous knits and cosy threads designed to keep the elements out.

I can’t imagine a better place to learn about Hygge than the very beating heart of it, Copenhagen.  Despite the freezing temperatures, our hearts were made warm and fuzzy by the welcoming vibes, beautiful sights and relaxed mentality which flowed through the streets.  If you fancy learning a little more about Hygge, you might want to grab yourself a copy of Meik Wiking’s Little Book of Hygge.  It’s an excellent starting point!

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About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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