Featured writer: Sarita Rajiv
Having lived in one of the happiest countries* (Denmark has consistently ranked among the happiest countries in the world in studies by Legatum Prosperity Index, Better Life Index and World Happiness Report among others) for the past year, I can see why Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen, has won so many accolades. Consistently ranked high in various studies, its claim to fame includes the distinction of being, among other things, a: smart and green city, city with the best work-life balance, best city for foodies and city with the best reputation.
These laurels rest lightly on its Vikingesque shoulders. I simply call it a hyggelig city. Roughly translated, it means ‘cosy’ in English, though it doesn’t quite do justice to it. It essentially means having a good time with friends or family over good food and drinks, in a warm, snug atmosphere. You can apply the word to almost anything — you could be in a hyggelig café, living in a hyggelig apartment or visiting a hyggelig city…like Copenhagen.
Before I arrived in Copenhagen I knew it was famous for many things, except weather. Having enjoyed ‘the Danish summer’ (quite amusing to an Indian) and, having lasted the winter, I would recommend visiting Copenhagen in summer to see what the city and its band of merry residents have to offer. In winter, the Danes are too obscured in their heavy jackets and thick woollen scarves, coiled like the serpents around a certain Indian God’s neck, to show you how happy they are and how wonderful Copenhagen is. But, the frosty demeanour gets shed along with the pile of clothes at the first sight of summer.
For a small city, its architecture is varied and appealing. The modern Opera House and the 8 Tallet rest comfortably with the renaissance Rosenberg Castle and the medieval Church of St. Petri. Castles and palaces share the city with contemporary buildings that house among other things and beings libraries, operas, animals and people. By virtue of being a compact city with good public transport, getting from one place to another is quick and easy. If however, you are tempted to join the bicycling Copenhageners with their assortment of bike fixtures, you can always hire a bicycle. This is a city that has a Bicycle Strategy going up to the year 2025; where else would you bike if not here? There is of course the fun option of seeing the city on a Segway. For hassle free travel and free access to 70 attractions, there’s always the Copenhagen Card.
You’re probably still tempted to ask, “But why are the people here so happy?” My response is, spend a weekend in Copenhagen. Sure, you cannot experience the advantages of a welfare state or Jante’s Law first hand but, you can sample happiness, Copenhagen style.
For your first nibble of happiness, begin your weekend breakfast with the Danish pastry (of Viennese origin, hence called Wienerbrød). Conditori La Glace, a sixth generation café, dishes out pastries, coffee, history and tradition in equal measure. Tuck into a Margrethekage or a Carl Nielsen and you’ll get a dollop of celebrities too. If history and tradition is not your cup of tea, you can always walk into the modern Lagkagehuset chain of cafes.
Get a glimpse of what inspired author, Hans Christian Anderson, with a stroll through Nyhavn. A short jaunt from Kongens Nytorv Metro, Nyhavn presents a quaint picture with its docked boats and its curious mix of colourful buildings one of which housed the author. While there, hop into a boat for a quick canal tour of the Opera House, Amalienborg Palace, the Black Diamond and Christianshavn.
Pay a visit to the Little Mermaid at Langeline. Ironic that in the capital city of one of the happiest countries in the world, the most popular attraction is a simple statue of a melancholic mermaid gazing forlornly out into the sea. A ballet, based on her sad story, inspired Carl Jacobsen to commission the statue.
Get a glimpse of how royalty lives with a visit to the queen’s home in Amalienborg. Of the four palaces that Amalienborg houses, you can walk into Christian VII’s Palace to experience the grandeur first hand.
After a nibble, it’s time to gorge. Despair not if you don’t have a reservation at one of the world’s best restaurants—Noma. Give your taste buds the chance to sample the traditional Danish smørrebrød atAamanns or at The Royal Café where you can also satiate your curiosity about Danish products from Royal Copenhagen, Georg Jensen, and Bang and Olufsen.
To experience child-like glee and wonder, head over to Tivoli, the grand old dame of amusement parks. It is a whimsical blend of rides, concert halls, open air stages, lakes, gardens and an abundance of food through several restaurants. While the little people will find themselves in a magical place, Tivoli will enchant the cynical adult in you.
Go to Louisiana. Though outside the city, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is just a 35 minute train ride to Humlebæk. Housed in a villa with the sea as the backdrop, Louisiana will have you at first glance. Picasso, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois and Henry Moore won’t let go. And then you will want to eavesdrop on the conversation between the sculptures in the garden, the wind and the sea.
Quench your thirst at the Carlsberg Brewery . While your eyes feast on the Bottle Collection, your nose can smell its way through the Special Aroma Room ending with a couple of free lagers, soft drinks or maybe a cold ‘brewsky’. And oh, the story of how a local brewery became a global brand.
End your trip with some retail therapy at the pedestrianised 1-km long Strøget. A shopper’s paradise, duck into Illums Bolighus for home accessories, walk into Prada or Max Mara for a fashion fix, pick up a Lego set — Denmark’s most famous export or stop by the oh-so-affordable, Søstrene Grenes for knick-knacks. As you walk, you’ll be regaled by musicians, dancers, acrobats and magicians.
Sarita Rajiv is a freelance writer based in Copenhagen and, a columnist with The Copenhagen Post. Besides writing, she is passionate about gifting and authors the blog, I Love Gifting. Follow her on @ilovegifting.