Copenhagen, Denmark

I LOVED Copenhagen. My weekend there has inspired plans to see more of the Scandinavian countries (Scandinavia includes Denmark, Norway and Sweden). The Nordic lifestyle is so different from the rest of Europe, and Copenhagen was the perfect city to get a sense for that.

Over the years, there have been many news articles and books written about the Scandinavian culture, most often praising its encouragement of happiness. And actually, Denmark is often voted to be the most happiest place to live on earth. Copenhagen is even home to the Happiness Research Institute, committed to understanding well-being and quality of life. 

There's a Danish world, a concept really, that is attributed as the secret to attaining happiness: hygge (pronounced hoo-gah). Hygge is about the simple small pleasures, that often go unnoticed, but actually make life great. It is about embracing comfort, coziness and warmth.  

And you can actually feel it all around Copenhagen.   

I met up with two friends for about three and half days in the city, which turned out to be a good amount of time to see a variety of things around Copenhagen. Ideally, I would have loved one more day to visit Malmo in Sweden, which is about a half hour train ride away, but for Copenhagen, the time I had was perfect.

The city itself is very walkable. There are a lot of buses if needed, and only two lines of the metro, but even that you really only need for going to and from the airport (CPH is approximately 25 minutes from the city center by metro). 

We stayed at the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel, which came highly recommended and rightfully so. The hostel was so fun and fairly cheap considering the cost of living in the area. For three girls in a mixed room of 10, we payed about 25 USD each, per night. The hostel also had its own bar, which was always lively from 6pm onwards, with a great happy hour deal and really friendly bartenders.

After arriving on Thursday night, we headed to Ruby, a popular cocktail lounge less than a five minute walk away. It is one of the 10 impossibly cool bars and drinking spots, according to The Culture Trip. We learned very quickly how expensive that weekend was going to be, with each drink on the menu costing upwards of 120 DKK or about 20 USD. We started our nights at the hostel bar after that. It is definitely worth going to one of the bars on that list though - the drinks are very well made and the ambience is something to experience. It's all hygge. 

The following morning, we ventured westward to Torvehallerne, one of Copenhagen's popular street food markets (unfortunately Copenhagen Street Food market closed earlier this year). Spread across two glass buildings were a variety of meat vendors and bakers. As far as food goes, we didn't find anything that was particularly specific to Denmark, apart from open-faced sandwiches - Smørrebrød  - and the danish - which you'll have to try at Café Norden. Coffee, too, is a must have. A favorite chain is The Coffee Collective, which is also available at Torvehallerne.

In general, all of the food we had was delicious, which justified the cost (including the 3am veggie burger from McDonald's). Everything also seemed fresh and healthy and clean. Just walking around a 7 Eleven (you'll see a lot of them) looking for midnight snacks, I was surprised by how good all of the pastries at the counter looked. Don't forget Joe the Juice, which, I learned, is also a Danish brand.

Three additional places that stood out in particular was Sonny, a cafe close to our hostel that had amazing iced lattes; The Union Kitchen, a trendy brunch place that's highly instagrammable (reservation recommended); and Boulebar, a fun and different dinner spot where you can also play Petanque.

Anyways...after the food market, we decided to walk north along a nearby park, which has a botanical garden. While the garden was free to enter, it might be more exciting to walk through in the summer. Further north of the garden is the Statens Museum for Kunst, or the National Gallery of Denmark. The museum houses a large collection of art, enough to spend a few hours wandering through it all. Entrance for those under 30 years is 80 DKK. If you're into art, definitely consider going. There was one particular exhibition called "The Executioner" that caught our eye. To be honest, there were many collections that made us think for a second. While, the concept of happiness is prevalent in Danish culture, so is dark humor. Remember Hans Christian Anderson's fairytales? That being said, the National Gallery may not be the best place if you scare easy.  

Also, pay attention to the interiors wherever you go. Scandinavian design tends to be minimalistic, but also very trendy. Think Ikea-like furniture. Almost all of the cafés we went to had cushions and soft throws spread throughout. Again, its all about hygge. To get more of a sense of the design aspect of the culture, definitely visit the Design Museum as well. It's free for people under the age of 26. The museum houses everything from furniture, pottery, fashion, and art. A large portion of the building is dedicated to all types of seating, which is actually pretty cool to see, especially the tunnel of chairs. 

On day two of our visit, we decided to take the free walking tour advertised by our hostel. I believe there were two different tours offered depending on the time of day. Ours was three hours long, covering most of the center of Copenhagen, including Amalienborg, Rosenborg Castle, Nyhavn and Kongens Nytorv. We started at Town Hall and ended in front of the royal palaces.

Taking a walking tour is always a good idea if it's available and fits into your schedule; you can tip as much as you think it is worth at the end. It's a great way to learn about the history and present day life in the city - like the high tax system, the Prince's fairytale romance, and a famous duck crossing. It's also an excellent way to paint yourself a mental map of the city, without having to rely on your own mobile data. Everything suddenly becomes smaller and more familiar.  


After the tour, we took a 15-20 min walk to The Little Mermaid statue (placed in the middle of nowhere). The statue is iconic to the city, but by no means something that will change your life. It's one of those things that you just have to see to be able to say that you did. Much like the darkness that we felt in the art museum, the statue had an aura of sadness. If you've read Hans Christen Anderson's original fairytales, you'd understand. (If you're going on a windy day, take coffee with you. It's a long walk to and back especially after a three hour tour.) 

From there, we made our way back down Nyhavn (probably the most pictured street of Copenhagen) and across the bridge to Freetown Christiania.

Freetown Christiania is another part of Copenhagen that you must experience. I'm not quite sure if there is another place in the world like it. It is an autonomous society established in 1971. The community has its own set of rules completely independent from Copenhagen. It is advised not to take pictures/videos while you are there, especially in and around Pusher Street, but rest assured it is completely safe to walk around. It is such an interesting part of Danish history and culture, I wouldn't be surprised if visitors went back every day. 

My weekend in Copenhagen ended the following day after a lovely brunch at The Union Kitchen, window shopping on Strøget - one of the world's longest and oldest pedestrian malls - and musing over the furniture at the Design Museum. The last Copenhagen spot we hit, later that night, was Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli is the city's famous amusement park. It was beautiful to walk around, especially at night with the twinkling lights. If you have more time, you may even want to plan half a day there, so you can eat, drink and go on rides at your leisure. The park is very expensive though. We entered about an hour before closing, again to just say that we went and we saw it. The ticket cost about 100 DKK, not including any rides. Definitely a cute spot to check out, but for us it was one of those things we just had to see to say we did. 

My flight was the next morning. The greatest feeling was having to not travel far for the airport. Again, it's just a few stops on the metro, about a half hour trip in total. I left feeling like I saw and did what I needed to do in the city. Again, it ended up being an expensive trip, but even so, nothing was not worth it.

Loved, loved, loved Copenhagen.