A lesson in Danish hygge and happiness

August 10, 2018
Emma Caldwell

It’s a well-documented fact that the Danish are one of the happiest nations on earth. But what makes this Scandinavian country, that has one of the harshest winters in the world, so happy? Well, there are a lot of reasons why the Danes (and Scandinavian countries in general) seem to have it together in this regard. But there is one concept unique to the Danish that gives this country the edge over the others — and that is ‘hygge.’ But what actually is hygge? How do you even pronounce it? Can anyone practice it, or is it exclusively Danish?

tour guide in Copenhagen

Local guide Mie can teach you all about hygge | Photo by Emma Caldwell

All these questions and more are about to be answered as I join the Copenhagen Urban Adventures team on a quest to discover the meaning of hygge. Our meeting place already seems promising, with quaint little saffron and burnt orange houses lining the streets, climbing roses scaling the walls and push bikes resting in amongst the greenery. Our guide, Mie, tells us that these houses are former naval houses, built in the time of Christian IV who, by all accounts, loved to build and is responsible for a lot of the remarkable Copenhagen buildings so revered today. These houses are so picturesque and sweet, and their simplicity is what makes them so inviting. This, Mie tells me, is part of hygge. Finding beauty in the simple things allows us to really enjoy what we have in the moment.

exterior of a house in Copenhagen

Even the colours of the houses are part of hygge | Photo by Emma Caldwell

Food is another thing commonly linked to hygge living. Cosiness and simplicity in food is super important, especially in the colder months when sharing a meal indoors is a great way to stay warm. So, what better way to tuck into some Copenhagen goodies than with a Danish in the park? Mie trundles us into a quaint bakery full of freshly baked bread and pastries where we pick our Danish of choice, then off we go to the park circling around the Rosenborg Palace of Christian IV (his summer or weekend palace) to enjoy a bit of the Copenhagen summer as we eat. By this stage, I’m definitely feeling the hygge!

On the topic of food, the Danish are not as well-known as some other European nations for their chocolate, however on this tour my eyes are opened to the chocolate of Denmark! Our next stop is a favourite, and immediately on walking into Peter Beier’s Copenhagen chocolaterie, I am in the mood for tasting some delicious sweets. Ranging from small mouthfuls of milky chocolate right up to a morsel of 100% cacao, this place really knows their chocolate. A personal favourite is the beer-infused chocolate and the white chocolate infused with ginger. Totally hygge; totally yum.

chocolates on display

Underrated Danish chocolates | Photo by Emma Caldwell

After a wander around some more beautifully picturesque cobbled streets (one that used to be an on-the-street pissoir!) we come to face the Christiansborg Palace, where the Royal Reception Rooms and the Danish Parliament sit. Mie takes us to the best spot for a photo, and I make a mental note to pop back later to explore further.

Our final stop is near and dear to my heart. You can take the girl from Melbourne but you cannot stop her immense passion for a great coffee in an intimate, cute café. The Danish make excellent café lattes which remind me of home, and the hygge in their little coffee shops is peak cosiness. Mie ends the tour here, as I sip my coffee, and after a quick hug and some foodie tips to continue the rest of my Copenhagen exploration, I feel much more enlightened about why the Danish are just so darn happy. Hygge all the way!