Imagine you’re curled up inside in a big blanket sipping a cup of hot chocolate by the fire while a bitter cold, windy winter evening rages outside. Call this feeling what you will – comfort, coziness, zen, Gemütlichkeit – the Danish word is hygge. Difficult to translate but easy enough to understand.
Last week we spent a long chilly weekend in Copenhagen in search of hygge, not difficult to find during the Christmas season, the hyggliest (is that a word?) time of the year. Here are the best ways to achieve this warm feeling in the delightful Danish capital:
- Start your day with a Danish. I’m not actually sure if this is a breakfast food here or more of a dessert, but loading up on one of these sugary choices in the morning proved a sure way to get a happy burst of energy for the day.
- Tour the city by boat or bike. Heated canal boats provide a scenic view of the city complete with interesting guided tour commentary. Or to work up your own heat and hygge, be like most Danes and get around by bike.
If you’re on foot though, be sure to duck into shops or pubs for hygge along the way. Copenhagen has an extensive pedestrian area perfect for shopping (Black Friday has even migrated here), and is home to many quaint seafaring pubs.
- Explore Danish history. While the wind whistles outside, you can peacefully enjoy learning about Denmark at the National Museum. Artifacts from the Ice Age to present day tell visitors fascinating stories of life, beliefs, values, and change over an extraordinary number of eras.
After freezing outside during the noon changing of the guards at Amalienborg Palace, you can also find hygge inside the accompanying museum. Browse recreated studies and royal collections that reveal the history of generations of Danish royalty.
- Get lost in fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen – author of The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and many other well-known tales – hails from Copenhagen, so it’s only fitting that you should have a chance to interact with these stories here. From the comfort of the H.C. Andersen Fairy Tale House, you can walk through the famous writer’s life story and his works, listening to the tales along the way.
Tivoli Gardens also has a ride named for the story of The Flying Trunk, where visitors can enjoy flying along in their own magic trunk through some of the most famous stories. Don’t get hung up on the sad endings to most of these stories; focus on the joy of hearing a good childhood tale told.
- Eat street food on Paper Island. Inside a converted factory, hygge-seekers drink beer from plastic cups and choose grub from an exceptional variety of international street food stands. Groups of convivial food lovers chat around long wooden picnic tables, industrial spools, and even Plexiglas-covered foosball tables. This is one of the cooler places to socialize and eat well.
- Go out in the Meatpacking District. If you can stand to make it out in the cold at night to the rather isolated old Meatpacking District, it makes the hygge all the more worthwhile. The factory buildings now house a hip array of bars, some even retaining pieces of the old meatpacking equipment, for a cool nightlife scene.
- Enjoy Gløgg and Aepleskiver at the Christmas Markets. Don’t be distracted by the ice cream stands at the markets: Those are for Scandinavians only! You’re not at that level of winter expertise, so go for hot drinks like the pirate-sounding Gløgg, the Danish equivalent of Glühwein or hot mulled wine, with nuts and raisins added. Aepleskiver, balls of apple dough sprinkled with powdered sugar, are also a popular treat. (For more on Christmas Market drinks in general, see A Toast to Christmas Market Drinks.)
- Huddle around a bowl of hot embers. While many Christmas Markets can be found in Copenhagen, our favorite was the largest one in Tivoli Gardens, full of good food, carnival rides and games, and general good cheer. Stands of hot coals scattered throughout the pine-scented gardens make for an ideal gathering place to warm up while enjoying the festivities.
- Be a Danish kid. Kids amble around stiffly at this time of year, bundled up against the cold in insulated snowsuits, boots, and pointy hats. Babies even get zipped into an extra layer of what resembles a fitted sleeping bag.
Better yet, grow up in Denmark and become an adult. Lifelong acclimation to the Nordic winter apparently means you can walk around in a jean jacket or a sweatshirt. We even saw a middle aged man out for a jog in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts in near-freezing temperatures!
*Travel tip: All of the attractions with entrance fees mentioned here, including canal tours, plus public transportation are free with the purchase of the Copenhagen Card. It’s worth it if you plan to visit at least a few sights per day.
Happy 2nd Sunday of Advent and God Jul from Copenhagen!