Copenhagen: The happiest place on earth. Well actually per BBC news in March 2017, the new happiest place to live is Norway…awkward. Denmark still has a spot on the top 5 happiest place to live list. I think the craziest thing about that statement is for me, weather can make me very happy or sad. For a city and a country that is cloudy, overcast and/or dark almost 64 percent of the time and never hot (per Kate McCarthy of nextavenue.org); you’d think the locals would not in fact be very content. While I was visiting in June, I think we experienced every season possible – cold, rainy, sunny, and windy. The Danes expect nothing less or different for their summer. At the end of the day, I think their socialist way of living and ‘hygge’ keeps them happy!
What is this fancy ‘hygge” term you just threw out there Carley?
Per the Danes, there is no English term that describes what ‘hygge’ is. Oh by the way it’s not pronouced “hi-gah”; it should be pronounced “Hugh-ga”. You will see, when you get to Denmark, that the Danish language sounds very much like they are about to throw up. I mean that in the nicest way possible! Anyway, ‘hygge’ is meant to be a cozy, cuddly, and snuggly feeling. An example that my brother pointed out to me was when we visited his ex-host family, whom he lived with on in his semester abroad in 20087, very few lights were turned on in the house, but there were lots of lit candles that brought a warm and cozy mood to the room.
What to do?
You can definitely keep busy in the city of Copenhagen for multiple days. I spent 5 days wandering about the city and I think I got a good feeling for it. I would definitely recommend doing a free walking tour as it is always a good way to see the highlights. In general, I would recommend seeing the following:
Nyhavn – Famous street for having cute and colorful houses. The funny part about this street, is that it used to be notorious for beer, sailors, and prostitution. Now the street is lined with over priced cafes and lots of tourists. Another fact about this street is that the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, the famous fairy tale writer, lived there.
Christiania – If you’re into “extra curriculars” than this is the place to go, and even if you’re not, it is such a cute area to walk around. Christiania is actually a type of commune that inhabits where about 900 people live. It has a very hippy-like vibe to it, and there are restaurants and cafes that you can visit and grab a beer. Make sure that when you walk around the “Green Light District” you don’t take any pictures. Note that cannabis is illegal in Denmark. Read more about Freetown Christiania here.
Papirøen (Paper Island) – This is a building across the water from Nyhavn that houses tons of food trucks. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon with friends and grab some food and beer. It has a “Smorgasburg”, the weekly food truck gathering in Brooklyn, New York, feeling to it.
Torvehallerne – This is a food market that is open daily. It has over 60 food stalls. Of course I somehow spent the most amount of money, by accident, on smørrebrød (an open faced sandwich). If you’re a foodie, it’s definitely a place to check out and eat at.
Tivoli – Tivoli Gardens is an amusement park right in the center of the city. It is the cutest place ever and a MUST see while in Copenhagen. It is the second oldest amusement park and was opened in 1843. It has something for everyone – rides, games, concerts, good restaurants, and beautiful gardens. On average tickets can cost between 120-160 DKK (about 19-25USD) for a one day ticket. More information can be found on the Tivoli website.
Church of Our Saviour and Rundetaarn – There are two places well known for good views of the city. The first is Church of Our Saviour which you have to climb 400 steps to the top. The other is The Round Tower (in Danish it is called Rundetaarn) is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. I went to both, but I preferred the views and the experience from the Our Saviour. Both viewing towers are about 5USD so still affordable to go to both places. I will say that Our Saviour even made me a little nervous, and I’m not afraid of heights, because you are climbing on the outside of a spire with no safety cage or anything around you, just a railing. Living life on the edge! (Top photo is from Rundetaarn, Bottom photo is from Our Saviour)
Strøget – This is one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe. It stretches a little over one kilometer (0.6 miles) and is lined with all the stores you could ever dream of. I did learn from my Danish friend that the stores are super expensive and she would rather save money by going to Sweden and shopping there than shopping in Denmark. Since the currency is lower there, it’s as if your getting a 20% discount off clothes!
Kastellet (The Citadel) – This is a fortress in the shape of the star (just look at it on google maps). It is currently a military Barack and has a cool park with a church to just walk or bike around on a sunny day. If you happen to have a drone, this would be a cool place to take pictures from an aerial view. Since it is still used by the Danish military, I doubt this is permitted though. Let me know how it goes (hehehe).
Botanical Gardens – This is a nice garden to just wander through on a nice day. It has a cute greenhouse and cafe to stop by and enjoy the nature around you.
Christiansborg Palace – A very profound and beautiful building on the outside, this is where the Danish Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of State is located. Some areas of the palace are used by the Royal Family for different events. I just looked at it from the outside, but you can buy tickets to view and walk around the inside.
Little Mermaid Statue – This is probably the most underwhelming tourist attraction offered in Copenhagen. I still went just to snag a Little Mermaid selfie, but it’s literally a statue of a mermaid, and that is all.
Roskilde music festival – Last but not least, Roskilde is the music festival that is in late June an hour outside of Copenhagen. If you happen to be in Copenhagen at the time of this music festival (and you like music), you should definitely go! It was so fun. I actually worked there so I could get free tickets and it was a great experience. Some of the headliners were The XX, G-Eazy, The Weekend, Solange, and Icona Pop. If you do go to this, make sure you bring rain boots. I was the one American girl roaming the festival with sneakers, and boy were they muddy due to the crazy rainy/sunny/more rain weather we had.
Note there are lots of other things to do in Copenhagen, including the National Museum and Glypotek. I did not go to these places so I cannot get any insight on those. Denmark has a very interesting Viking history as well that would have been cool to check out.
Where should I stay?
Copenhagen is very easy to get around due to its good public transportation and access to bikes. I stayed in a few places while in Copenhagen: a beautiful Airbnb in Østerbro, a few nights at my brother’s ex-host family in the Suburbs, and then at a friend’s place in Amagerbro. Of course being in central Copenhagen is easiest for sight-seeing. If you are on a backpacker’s budget, my friend stayed at Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel which she had a great time. I actually went to the bar there a few times, and it was hopping!
How to get around?
To see the sights I mentioned previously, you can walk to all of these places. However when you arrive in Copenhagen, you will see that it is a city made for biking. Literally, there are rails for people to put their bikes on for going up and down stairs. It’s amazing. Just make sure you know the hand signals before galavanting about. The locals can get very annoyed with tourists. I ended up renting a bike for 100kr for 24hours. Well worth it.
Copenhagen also has a very good metro and bus system. The price of a metro ticket is based off of how many zones you go through. Another tip I have is do not j-walk. It is highly frowned upon by locals. So please be patient at cross walks.
What to eat?
A traditional Danish food experience has to include smørrebrød. This is basically an open faced sandwich on rye bread, and boy is it good. In Tivoli, we ate at Færgekroen Bryghus and had the smørrebrød platter. The toppings included pickled herring, roast beef, salmon, curried chicken, and fried fish.
My brother is obsessed with leverpostej (liver paste) which is another common food that Danes eat. We bought some delicious leverpostej at a butcher’s shop called Broe located in Gentofte. If you head that way, you must stop at that deli.
I had an amazing brunch at Wulff & Konstali. Here you get to choose a bunch of little dishes that are served together as shown below. It was heavenly. The interior of this restaurant is the definition of hygge.
As mentioned earlier, definitely check out Papirøen (Paper Island) for an eclectic mix of food trucks and Torvehallerne for a diverse food market. There is also a food market that I wish I had the time to check out that is called Kødbyens Mad & Marked. It is located in the Meatpacking District and is only open on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer.
Lastly, I had a delicious last meal at NoZomi. Typically you would not associate an all you can eat sushi restaurant with Denmark, but it was really good. They had these amazing sushi rolls with lettuce and salmon wrapped in rice paper. This description might not sound that good, but it was excellent.
What to drink?
Seeing as I did a little bartending stint at Roskilde, I know what ALLLLL the Danes drink. Obviously. Let me first start by saying Danes love to drink. Maybe that’s why they’re one of the happiest people. Tuborg is a very popular beer there, and quite tasty. The more popular beer worldwide is Carlsberg, which is brewed in Denmark. A lot of Danes enjoy drinking schnapps as well.
If you are looking for a place to go out, I went to LA bar which was the only hopping place other than the bar at the Copenhagen Backpacker’s hostel on a Tuesday night. They have a great deal that you get 10 shots for 100 kroner (which is about 16USD). Quite the steal and way to get drunk on a budget!
Other important information:
Currency: Danish Kroner
High Season: July to August
Terms you should know:
Tak – thank you (pronounced Tahk)
Hej – hi (pronounced Hi)
Ja – yes (pronounced ya)
Nej – no (pronounced Nye)
Skål – cheers (pronounced skull…sort of)
Cultural things to note:
When saying skål, you look everyone in the eye, and you don’t clink glasses before drinking your drink. Danish people tend to keep to themselves, but are very warm once you get to know them. Also Danes are beautiful and tall with their blond hair and blue eyes. My brown curly hair was definitely far and few between.
Hope you all enjoyed some insight on the beautiful city of Copenhagen. Enjoy and welcome to the happiest place on earth.
P.S. I would like to give a special thanks to one of my Danish friends Anders Wibe Rasmussen for proof reading this, along with my brother Derek who is basically Danish (or thinks he is).