The danish concept of hygge (pronounced hue-geh) encapsulates everything that people love about the holiday season. When the cold makes your cheeks rosy, hygge. Hot glüwein from the brightly lit Christmas market, hygge. Cozy blankets and warm oversized sweaters, hygge. While there is no english equivalent it’s a very merry concept that can be felt all over Denmark, and specifically, Copenhagen.
When I arrived in Copenhagen the second week of December, I expected to be met with a white wonderland, having come from Denver, CO in the midst of a snowstorm. Nope, turns out I had over packed and simple jeans, sweater, and jacket would have sufficed.
As Copenhagen is repeatedly ranked as the highest cyclists per capita, it was only suiting that my first adventure was a bike tour. I signed up with Bike Mike, a highly revered 60-something year old man dressed as ornately as my Christmas tree and whom was there to provide you with the real, no bullshit, history and current events of Copenhagen as well as insider information on the locals and customs.
After a three hour bike ride around Denmark at the speeds of Bike Mike, your bum will absolutely be sorry, but nothing a shot of Gammel Dansk won’t cure. This Danish liquor is Jägermeister-esque but imagine 3 times as strong. Based on what I’ve learned from Bike Mike and my week of feeling the hygge, here’s my top recommendations:
Danes eat pork. A lot of pork, in fact there are more pigs in Denmark then there are people! This is in part why you will see at least a few hot dog carts on each street. Coming every way from bacon wrapped, to topped with fried and pickled onions and are actually pretty good! And not to mention relatively cheap, ranging from 20-30 Krone ($2.75-$3) for a decent sized dog.
Sm∅rrebr∅d is a traditional lunch in Denmark. It is an open faced sandwich typically served on cold rye bread and topped with literally anything you can think of! At the “Lunch Halls” Torvehallerne which are sort of like an indoor market you can find many different types of meats, cheeses, salads, and sm∅rrebr∅d. Be sure to check out the east building for a huge selection of gelato, desserts, and Danish pastries!
As you are probably already aware, Copenhagen is home to one of the world’s (supposedly, I wouldn’t know first hand) greatest restaurants. Noma, whose waiting list is nearly 6 months to a year at a time, is not your typical restaurant concept. Headed by chef, Rene Redzeppi, all of the ingredients in the dishes are foraged from within 60 miles of the restaurant. Averaging 2,000 DKK/$284 USD per person, it is a 10 course meal that is lavished with things such as moss, pine cones, and 5 year old rose petals. In their food lab, they age foods for up to ten years to experiment with the molding and fermenting processes, and this is why your meal will cost you a pretty penny. While I was unfortunately not able to get in to this exclusive 45 seat restaurant, I was able to snag a table at the bistro spin off, 108. Just right around the corner from Noma, the bistro is still not cheap, but features similar dishes. Except I only got 1 year old rose petals instead of 5 years. The meal here consisted of two shared small plates (as you can see by the photos) followed by a shared main dish. With one glass of wine each, our meal came to about $145 USD.
- Braised Oxtail topped with fresh pine
- Shrimps and plums covered with last year’s roses
- Lamb Shoulder
The nice thing about night life in Copenhagen is that most of the good ones are fairly close to each other, making it very easy to bar hop and experience more. Staying near the Nyhavn is the smartest way to hit the most.
One of my favorites was called Zefside. Every Friday between 16:00 to 22:00 they have 2 for 1 on select cocktails. And those cocktails are no joke. Incredibly strong and sometimes on fire, you will find this place the perfect place to spend your entire Friday night. This fruity cocktail, (served in a mason jar, of course, because hipster) came with a fig shell filled with a shot of vodka ON FIRE. It brought a whole new meaning to the burn of a shot of alcohol.
The Bird and the Church key was a different kind of vibe. More on the relaxed, quaint side their prices weren’t nearly as generous. With wooden tables, candelabras, and brown leather couches, The Bird was an interesting twist on the throwback bar.
Nyhavn River: Pronounced (new-hown), I had been incorrectly pronouncing it for at least half of the trip. This river is the centerpiece in every iconic Copenhagen photo you’ve ever seen. You know… the one with the colorful buildings lining a waterfront with boats docked on the side? No bells? Alright, this one:
Lined with street vendors selling glüwein and hotdogs, this river is the center for all the shops and city life in Copenhagen. If you keep your eyes peeled wide enough, near the river’s mouth, you will see the house where Hans Christian Anderson did all his writing.
Hint, hint. There’s the door.
Tivoli: The Tivoli Christmas Markets are a must see if you are visiting Kobenhavn during winter. While the theme park is open all year long, during Christmas time it is extremely beautiful and really just out does itself with twinkle lights wrapped around every branch of each willow tree. If you’re willing to embrace the cold, all the rides still run, too. It does cost just a few dollars for entrace (ride-free) but definitely worth the experience if only for the lights and decorations alone.
Frederiksborg Castle: Located in Hillerød, Frederiksborg Castle offers self guided tours through the beautiful building allowing you to see the woodwork and craftsmanship that was commonplace in the Renaissance period. Built in the early 17th century by Danish King Christian IV, in the summertime the castle also offers bout tours.
The Little Mermaid: Copenhagen is where Hans Christian Anderson lived when he wrote all of his fabulous fairy tales, and on Langelinje pier there is a medium sized mermaid statue erected upon stacked rocks that was donated to the city of Copenhagen by the Danish Brewer Carl Jacobson, who fell in love with the character written by Anderson. The statue itself was cool to see, but a bit underwhelming as there were at least 50 people all vying for their own footing on a slippery rock slope to get as close as possible to the statue that could have easily ended in disaster. Go, see it. But if you don’t make it for some reason there’s an exact replica in the Copenhagen Airport…so…yeah.
Strøget St.: Having accidentally stumbled upon this street without meaning to, while it was on my list of things to do anyway, it is central to the city and is basically an extremely large street lined with high end shops, restaurants, pubs, and common American dining/shopping too. It is worth mentioning that the high end shopping is not very much different than the same high end brand in America. So if you’re traveling for luxury goods, Denmark is not the place. This street did provide the majority of my walking for the trip, as well as leads you straight to Tivoli!