“Hygge (pronounced hue-guh not hoo-gah) is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special.” – from hyggehouse.com
Prior to visiting Denmark for the first time, I revelled in The Little Book of Hygge by Weik Wiking. This man claims to have the best job in the world, and I think I agree. He works at the Happiness Research Institute, literally researching what makes people happy. The book begins with wonderful anecdotes of cosy warmth and friendship, and continues with psychology, science and chocolate recipes. It gripped me, and I felt obliged to mark pages to revisit to bring some more happiness and minimalism into my complicated life.
A visit to Copenhagen ensued, being the capital city of the country that invented the concept. I was desperate to feel ‘hygge‘ but didn’t know where to start, and it was annoyingly hard to find online in my researching in late spring – after all, hygge seems to have been borne from the cold and darkness that Danish people suffer during the winter months.
During my time in Copenhagen I, of course, had some touristy tasks to complete alongside my mission. I walked to the top of Rundetårn, the Round Tower observatory in downtown Copenhagen. I walked down the famous Nyhavn street full of 17th Century houses, home once to Hans Christian Andersen and also to many of Denmark’s artists. It was crowded and touristy, but it was wonderful to see the boats going down the canal and flowing into the Øresund – the strait of water between Denmark and Sweden. I visited Christiansborg Palace and visited the Hard Rock Cafe (I’ve now visisted almost 50% of HRCs in Europe!).
But what I really wanted to do was learn about this happiness theory.
So, hygge. Warmth and cosiness. Indulgence and wellbeing. Candlelight and blankets. Well, I visited Denmark in May. It was pretty warm (despite the cloudiness) so I wasn’t really in the mood to try and seek out cosy things. My jacket was ditched and ice creams were on my mind. However, I had some ideas thanks to my researching and Instagramming (thanks to everyone who had suggestions!). So here is my guide to hygge in Copenhagen.
Snacking and bakeries
Denmark is well known for its pastries. I had done my research well and found a few shops that sold tasty wienerbrød (no idea how to pronounce that by the way) and my very first stop in Copenhagen was Sankt Peders Bageri in the old Latin town. It was a super tiny place with an awkwardly low level couch placed right near the door, so if the shop is heaving, people are practically falling over you. I tried not to be phased – after all, several people online stated it was THE place for pastries. The display, though small, was gorgeous. Shiny freshly baked sweet pastries covered the counter and the window display, and the back walls were bricked with amazing-smelling loaves of twisted bread. I abandoned all desire for my “wiener-bread” and opted for a Onsdagssneglen – partly down to the weird name, and partly down to the fact they only sell this particular pastry on Wednesdays, which seemed too coincidental considering that was the day I was there (the name literally means ‘snail Wednesday’). No, it isn’t made of snail, it just looks like a giant shell, and giant is definitely the right word. The size of my hand span. It is made with cinnamon – however not too much. I actually hate cinnamon, but this was yummy. It was sweeter and more sugary than your usual tart cinnamon taste. I polished it off in super speed as I hadn’t eaten all morning, wiping my fingers on my jeans, desperately wishing I’d brought some hand gel with me. The stickiness quickly covered my phone and camera – I didn’t care. It had been worth it.
I later found out Sct. Peders was founded in 1652. This bakery was cute – small, friendly, delightful, and cosy. It was warm outside, over 16oC, and yet I had found cosiness. I shared my sofa with three other people – two Americans, and one who’s accent I couldn’t confidently place. Swedish, perhaps. They were deep in chat, and as an introvert I’m not the kind of person to interrupt a small group to make friends. But I listened to their conversation half-heartedly whilst eating my Onsdagssneglen and drinking my coffee, peoplewatching the tourists who were coming in and placing orders for food. The three, relaxed and deep in chat, were discussing their studies and a music festival, blissfully passing time and enjoying the cosiness of company. I had plans though and couldn’t join their time-passing joy, so I wiped my hands one last time on a napkin and left.
Gardens and sunshine
In further search of cosiness and friendship, I made my way across Copenhagen to the Botanical Gardens. It had some good reviews online that it was a pretty place to visit. Forgive me for thinking ‘oh my Instagram feed could do with some green’ – I was on a mission. Unfortunately, I got lost. I somehow got turned around and couldn’t for the life of me grasp enough signal for Google Maps to pull me out of my pickle, and instead I stumbled upon the King’s Garden ‘Kongens Have‘. It was a beautiful park, perfectly manicured tree-lined paths with a pretty pavilion right in the middle. In the distance Rosenborg Castle loomed over some more pretty grounds, looking dark in the misty heat as the sun beat down behind it. I wasn’t sure if you could go inside – I’m sure you could. It wasn’t my plan though – the weather was warm and I wanted to be outside. The pavilion was pretty. Two young men walked hand in hand in the middle, through the arches and trellises, determined to accidentally photobomb any portrait photo or selfie I tried to take. A small group of friends sat at one of the entrances, playing gentle music and laughing. The whole park was swarmed with groups of friends, but they were so spread out that it appeared vaguely empty. Even the wannabe 5-a-side footballers managed to keep their game so quiet and serene that it seemed lazy.
There wasn’t hustle and bustle, nor people angry marching, desperately needing to get somewhere, despite the fact this seemed like a big thoroughfare for one side to the other. It was hardly cosy or warming, but had a charming and peaceful vibe to the point I was shocked there wasn’t a group of older ladies doing yoga quietly in the corner.
For hygge dining atmosphere, I took a peek inside Paludan Bogcafe. It is an absolute booklovers paradise, as hardbacks line most of the walls. Of course this makes it awkward if you genuinely want to select a book and you end up leaning over someone’s meal to grab your favourite novel, but all the same the quiet and calm atmosphere, full of families catching up and students studying, made for a happy and warm feeling in your belly. I didn’t have a chance to eat here, though I saw raving reviews online, but it’s worth a visit even just for a coffee – or even just to peek your head around the door and check out the ceiling-high stacks of books.
Whilst in Copenhagen, I didn’t take a boat tour. I just didn’t have time. But I admit I was envious of those who managed to take a small, two-person canal tour around the Christianshavn network of canals. As I was on my way out of the city, aiming towards the station so I could get to the airport, I wandered through the Christianshavn neighbourhood. Whilst not the prettiest part of the city and not as traditional, there was a real hygge feel as I watched people drift down the canals in boats and perch on coffeeshop doorsteps drinking some kind of iced caffeinated brew.
Continuing my search for hygge in sunshine, I crossed the Inderhavnsbroen bridge across the inner harbour and went off mooching for the Copenhagen Street Food market. Danish people are big on their food. Or visitors to Copenhagen are big on their food. Either or, most touristy stuff is dominated by food.
The market is a mainly indoor food hall of “sustainable street food”, full of trucks, vans and stalls selling anything from ostrich burgers to Brazilian grill, Moroccan flatbread to sushi, burritos to South Korean BBQ, French cuisine to Indian. I had to look back over their website to remind myself what was there (such a blur!) and my mouth was watering just thinking about all the food options in one place. All of these food vans are inside one relatively-dark warehouse, and, except for people placing their orders, everyone else is outside. Benches and benches and benches go on forever, including pseudo ‘VIP’ areas made out of shipping freights (though from what I could see anyone can enter them). Me? I chose to dangle my legs over the promenade. Did I mention it’s right on the water? I sat with my pancakes and strawberry Daiquiri, sipping gleefully and watching passing boats and ships. It was so busy. Some people had even brought their own deck chairs to sit along the front as the benches were all so rammed. It was noisy and fun, far from serene or peaceful. But there was a huge feeling of community, togetherness and definitely indulgence. If I’m not mistaken, I could find hygge here.
Being such a coffee lover, it’s amazing I’ve not mentioned it more. Despite being warm, nothing gets in the way of me and my cappuccinos. I had several places on my list to try – my favourite however, due to the taste and balcony top-down view, was Original Coffee. There are several of these dotted around Copenhagen. The one I went to was in a shop, Illum, which was actually the first one where it all started.
Original Coffee locally roast their coffee beans and all of their food is, again, organic (can you see a pattern? Organic is the norm here). In the cafe I went into, it was several flights of escalators up to the very top floor. I was eager for a view. The balcony is a beautiful peoplewatching station as these individuals went about their daily business down on the street below, whether it was on their way to a meeting somewhere or buying lunch, or shopping with girlfriends. The coffee shop itself is big on minimalism. Walls are stark white. Furniture is distressed wood. The only colours are white, black and brown. The neutral tones purred hygge and Scandi-chic.
So there you have it. My search for hygge in one of the happiest places on Earth. It would probably be easier to find in winter, with firelit bars and pubs welcoming weary tourists into their food and drink and family. However I managed just as well in the heat of spring to find cosiness and belonging and community. It seems Copenhagens really have the pleasure and indulgence thing pegged. From pastries to delicious smørrebrød, beer to cheesecake (there are whole shops dedicated to cheesecake – imagine!). Even though I’m sure the city was run with tourists whilst I was there, there just wasn’t the typical touristy feel as with every other European city I’ve visited. Something about Copenhagen gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach, and I’m already planning my Christmas journey back.