A Weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark
Hygge or Hyggeligt is a well known expression in Danish, which is near impossible to translate. Fundamentally, it’s a philosophy, which the Danish choose to live by. It’s a state of inner happiness and calm when you are completely comfortable and ‘cosy’. Your Hygge place could be a candlelit café, hiding from the rain on a windswept beach or even cradled in the arms of your lover – it’s wherever you feel safe and content. Having observed the luminescent beauty of the Scandinavians (and their beards) I don’t doubt that for the Danish it’s frequently the latter. However, after thinking long and hard we’ve actually come to the conclusion that the Danish aren’t necessarily more attractive than the British, but simply better groomed and dressed. Every beard is trimmed to perfection, their blonde hair bounces freely and everyone looks as if they’ve spent the last decade at LA fitness. Perhaps this is down to the bike culture and love of rye bread, but there is no doubt that their lifestyle choices in Copenhagen contribute to an exemplary overall appearance of health. The prevalence of cycling over cars gives the city a calmer atmosphere, which feels so rare in Europe. Everyone just glows and I don’t just mean in the porridge bars or vegan cafes that I will tempt you with.
Throughout the noughties Columbia University has consistently judged the people of Copenhagen to be the happiest in the world and we have learnt why. According to a broad spectrum of Danes, this is down to three reasons. Firstly, the impressive welfare state means people aren’t stressed by employment, education or accommodation to the same level as your average frazzled Londoner. Secondly, they claim to have low expectations and are therefore pleasantly surprised by any good fortune. And thirdly, everyone feels very equal in a collaborative environment where the gap between rich and poor isn’t visibly defined, certainly not obvious. The Danes support each other within the strong communities, which have melted away in much of the UK. Although these reasons are all valid, I have also developed my own personal theory that good lighting keeps them both uplifted and inspired. Every café, bookshop and restaurant is illuminated by delicate candlelight, catalysing any sense of romance or solidarity in the city. There’s also something rather daring about it, given that the city burnt to the ground twice in the 18th century, eradicating any trace of a medieval history.
From the voracious Vikings and their invincible weaponry to the fires and illustrious Royal families, Denmark’s history is rich. This made for a weekend of fascinating walking tours, art galleries and secret museums, of which I shall name, but a few. In a final illustration of their loveliness , I will quickly mention their hidden, but gallant role in WWII. Symptomatic of the Danish empathy, 99% of the Danish Jews were saved during the war, by sending 8,000 of them by fisherman’s boats and ferries to Sweden overnight, before they were to be sent to concentration camps. The King also led by example by wearing a star on his chest so that the occupying Germans struggled to tell the difference. From helping you with directions (before you stop to ask) and redirecting their bike routes with a smile, the people of Copenhagen are deeply kind - painfully beautiful - and welcoming people. They’re also ethically and ecologically concerned with a love of seasonal produce and locally sourced craftsmanship. Here’s a little guide to a weekend in their midst...
9am Grød, Jægersborggade 50, 2200
7.30-9pm Monday-Friday, 10am-9pm Saturday and Sunday - Though our SKT Petri Hotel offered a fabulous breakfast, we were led astray by the promise of endless porridge in the funky neighbourhood of Norrebro. Especially in winter, Grød is a Scandinavian dream. The place is absolutely tiny, so you’re sure to pick up the tail end of a few tempting tales from the night before. We ate the beetroot and barley risotto, the three-grain apple, flax and honey porridge and the hazelnut and berry porridge, which were all topped with honey, banana and cocoa nibs. For gluten and dairy free travellers like myself this affordable little hideaway is a dream come true, but be prepared to hover for a table.
10am Assistens Kirkegården (cemetery), Kapelvej 4, 2200
Monday-Sunday 10-4pm - Even in winter it doesn’t get more romantic than the Assistens cemetery, which tends to lie under an ethereal haze of fog. With graves engraved with poetic lines in Danish and Latin, it’s an adventure to wander through the trees and finding the resting place of both Hans Christian Anderson and the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Hans Christian Anderson plays a major role in the history and cartography of Copenhagen. He initially came to pursue his dream of becoming a thespian youth, so he chased ballerinas, actors and directors before eventually turned to singing. After learning to read and write as one of the King’s choristers, he became the celebrated story writer who brought us the Princess and the Pea and the Little Mermaid.
11am Rosenborg Castle, Oster Voldgade 4A, 1350
Sunday-Saturday 10-5pm - The Tivoli gardens may have the retro appeal, which inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland, but I would divert you to the botanical temptation that rests below Rosenburg Palace. In summer the rose garden is exquisite, but even if your visit falls in the darker months then the botanical sketches inside will enliven your imagination. The palace was the royal family’s summer dwelling place and is stilled filled with intricate tapestries documenting Christian V’s achievements in the Scanian war, the crown jewels and a plethora of breath-taking ivory sculptures. Note that for the Danish craftsmen elephants were representative of virginity, so they take an almost religious role throughout their artistic ventures.
12pm Hay, Østergade 61, 1100
Monday-Friday 10-6, Saturday 11-5pm - As seen in Selfridges, Hay is an innovative design and furniture store that sell beautifully constructed, contemporary furniture and stationary without the Shoreditch pricetag. Outdoing Ikea, their designs fit perfectly in the modern living space, but are made from beautiful materials, by talented Scandinavian designers. Admittedly, the endless supply of gorgeous shop assistants clad in classic Skandi tailoring don’t make the shopping experience any less appealing. There's a fabulous vegetable market back around the corner too.
1pm Nikolaj Contemporary Art Centre, Nikolaj Plads 10, 1067
Tuesday-Sunday 12-5pm - Housed in the remains of St Nicholas Church, which reaches back to its founding in the early 1200s, this is rare find, but ‘not a church’. I popped in to catch Stan Douglas’s 2008-2013 retrospective, which continues until May 10th. The Canadian filmmaker and photographer is famous for his politically charged photography, which tackles social issues as he investigates the status of photography as a form of documentary. It’s not only Douglas’s hard-hitting photography, but the setting, which makes the immersive experience so intense. Standing in a stripped back, bleached church that has been a religious, then cultural hub for more than 800 years is infinitely inspiring.
2pm 42°Raw, Pilestræde 32, 1112
Monday-Friday 10-8pm, Saturday 10-6pm, Sunday 11-5pm - As with Grod, I would probably have walked to Copenhagen to ensure that I sampled the delights of 42 Raw, which used to be housed in London’s Royal Academy. Bored with the extortionate vegan cafes of London, I was delighted to find this jewel. Green juices, rainbow lasagnes and fabulous bowls of salads drenched in pesto and hummus make it a gastronomic explosion. Filled with beautiful Skandi ladies catching up over clean, lean bowls of deliciousness, there are other temptations for male carnivores who seep in from the Paleo café next door.
4pm Ny Carlsberg Gyptotek Art Museum, Dantes Plads 7, 1556
11-5pm Tuesday-Sunday - Carl Jacobsen, the heir to the Carlsberg breweries was an avid art collector whose work is displayed in this spectacular building. Although the wallpaper throughout the museum is garish and drowns the paintings, the romantic Winter garden makes it unmissable. With works from the French Impressionists and Danish Golden Age artists, the pieces are beautiful, but I would focus on the antique sculpture on the ground floor. With a sensual array of Rodin’s work and Greek sculpture galore, head in with a sketch book and you’ll never need life drawing classes again.
5pm Paludan Bogcafé, Fiolstraede 10-12, 1171
Monday-Sunday 10-10pm - I am writing this guide from the comforts of the Paludan café in the University district. It’s a magical bookshop and arts café, where the chandeliers hang over fragile looking students immersed in large volumes of Danish literature. With beautiful piles of macaroons and gateaux behind the barista, it’s a tempting way to spend a wintry afternoon. Pop into the Paper Collective workshop and gallery around the corner too.
6pm Nyhaven Canal, 1051
Although you must avoid the majority of the restaurants lining the waterfront, the harbourside is a charming spot for an early evening tipple – even if you bring your own and dangle your feet. Even better, there’s often a few little art installations lurking nearby as we found with these delightful little love letter panels.
8pm Kødbyens Fiskebar, Flæsketorvet 100, 1711
Sunday-Thursday 5.30-12am, Friday and Saturday 5.30-2am - As my fellow diner so aptly declared, “this place has sole.” In the industrial Meatpacking district, there lies this painfully cool fish bar, where the walls are left to peel, but the atmosphere is infectiously uplifting. We ate squid with blackberries and ink, green pear and barley porridge, savoy cabbage and complimentary scallops, which all came from the fishermen friends of the Australian chef Aaron. Taking an interest in our little quartet, Aaron even whipped us into the kitchen for a guided tour. This included the aesthetically concerned station, where a bearded and tattooed creative was arranging the fish into kaleidoscopic constellations.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com