Getting Danish 'hygge' under your skin in Copenhagen

The Danish phenomenon 'hygge' (pronounced 'hoo-ga') is an integral part of Danish culture. It can cure your winter blues, it brings warmth to your heart and it points to a possible reason why Danes have found the recipe to happiness. 'Hygge' is quite hard to explain but is found in abundance in every corner of Denmark including, of course, vibrant and friendly Copenhagen!
Monday, November 2, 2015

So what is this thing called 'hygge'?

With no direct English translation, hygge is most closely translated to "cosiness". But 'hygge' is so much more than that. Some claim that it's an entire attitude to life, while others describe it as a particular feeling.  

'Hygge' is about creating cosy social gatherings and intimate get-togethers with family and friends. It's the feeling of wellbeing and warm atmospheres. It's about feeling happy and relaxed, while enjoying the simple pleasures in life. 

'Hygge' is a way to cope with the winter blues. With freezing temperatures and 17 hours of darkness per day during the deepest winter months, the Danes have found out the importance of treating themselves to brighten up things. Lit candles and cuddling up with a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate are great tools to make the most of the dark nights. Meeting up with friends and family for a delicious meal, a coffee or a drink is another. The essential element is to treat the soul and to improve the situation from cold and miserable weather to feeling warm and cosy inside. 

But 'hygge' is not just restricted to winter times. It can also be used to describe a certain situation. If you recently met up with a close friend of yours and had a good time, you say thank you for a hyggelig time when you meet again. Danes probably use the word 'hygge' in as many sentences as possible. 'Hygge' is indeed an essential part of Danish culture. 

Go 'hygge-hunting' in the streets and canals of Copenhagen

A walk or bike ride through the streets of Copenhagen is a 'hygge' experience in itself. Perhaps try out the cargo bike, throw a friend in the front and explore the city like a true Copenhagener! If you are in the area of Nørrebro, do not miss Jægersborggade, one of the hippest streets in Copenhagen at the moment and with plenty of opportunities for self-indulgence: the best coffee at Coffee Collective with its own specialty micro roastery, a caramel cookery, chocolate stores and an underground wine bar. 

Alternatively, take a walk through the Latin Quarter of Copenhagen in the streets of Larsbjørnsstræde and Studiestræde. This area is known for its narrow streets and colourful places along with a great selection of restaurants, cafes and small shops. 

The Citadel in the area of Østerbro also serves as a pleasant place to take a walk. Today, the buildings inside the Citadel are used for military purposes, but the area is open to the public and is often considered a favourite green hygge spot – and is adjacent to the world-famous statue of the Little Mermaid at Langelinie too.

Another über-hyggelig thing to do is a tour of Copenhagen's old canal system. Copenhagen is a maritime city, surrounded by water, so why not experience the idyllic harbours and canals of Copenhagen on a canal tour. Alternatively, rent your own solar-powered boat, buy yourself a picnic basket and tour Copenhagen's canals in your own pace with GoBoat.

An authentic 'hygge' experience

A perfect way to learn more about Danish culture, 'hooga', and traditions is by meeting and dining with the locals at home. The concept Dine with the Danes offers an experience to do exactly this and try out an authentic home-cooked Danish dinner. You're almost certainly guaranteed lit candles on the dinner table to create a cosy atmosphere and a very hyggelig evening.

Christmas: The high season of 'hygge'

Danes truly know how to cope with potential winter blues. In the high season of 'hygge', Christmas helps brighten up the long and dark winter. Everywhere you go in Copenhagen, the streets will be lit with Christmas lights, the smell of sugar-roasted almonds fill the air and mulled wine is sold on street corners. Do not miss out on the beautifully decorated Tivoli Gardens, the many Christmas markets or a skate on the ice rink at Frederiksberg Runddel followed by a cup of hot chocolate and a delicious piece of cake at the oldest confectionary in Denmark, La Glace – it is a 100 per cent 'hyggelig' experience!

Where do I go to experience 'hygge'?

If you ask any Dane, a restaurant or bar is often recommended by its 'hygge' factor. It should allow for intimate get-togethers and conversations, serve up comfort food or special treats for the soul, and the 'hygge' factor is extra high if the lighting is slightly dimmed and candles are placed on the tables. Here are a few examples on where to find 'hyggelige' places in Copenhagen:

Paludan Bogcafé is located in the heart of Copenhagen and is a social gathering point for students and people who enjoy a wonderful cup of coffee, while reading their emails. Surrounded by old bookshelves, this café has a cosy and almost library-like atmosphere. Try out one of their tasty meals or a delicious piece of cake, while you find yourself a comfy seat in one of the many corners of the café.

Bertels Salon in the inner city is a so-called cheesecake heaven, which is said to convert even the biggest cheesecake sceptic. In a relatively small space, the tables are in high demand and offers a large variety of cake flavours, which makes it quite hard to choose. 

The Living Room is as the name suggests decorated as a living room with comfy couches, blankets, pillows and a nice fireplace. The place is Copenhagen's shared living room and calls for lounging with a hot drink, sweet treats or beer. 

Restaurant Höst is one of the latest editions to Cofoco's 14 hyggelige establishments across the city. The restaurant serves affordable fine Nordic food in rooms decorated in a raw style with recycled wood, granite, concrete and plaids or lambskin thrown over the chairs and benches to create a cosy atmosphere. 

Nimb Bar is located on the 1st floor in the old ball room of the Nimb Palace, adjacent to Tivoli Gardens, and one of the city's most exclusive and classic bars, yet has a high 'hygge-factor' serving  both afternoon tea and later in the day delicious cocktails – all beneath crystal chandeliers and in front of an open fireplace. 

The Winter Garden at Ny Carlsberg Glyptoket is a special Copenhagen experience. Enjoy a homemade lunch, coffee and delicious cakes made from organic and sustainable ingredients surrounded by palm trees and exotic plants in the winter garden located inside one of the city's top art museums.

Restaurant Kanalen is located just by Christianshavn's Canal in the old house, which used to serve as customs office for the area.  It doesn't get much more idyllic or beautiful than this with sailing ships and old warehouses right outside the windows.

GRØD is a porridge-only café in the multicultural district of Nørrebro which serves up warm bowls of porridge from morning to evening. This is not just boring, sticky oatmeal, however. Rather, they serve creative dishes which promise you a taste like childhood. 

Table 9 at Kiin Kiin is in the same neighbourhood and has a special table – no 9 - for the romantics. Situated in a quiet corner of the modern Thai restaurant, you will have the perfect setting for that special evening. 

And finally, Ipsen og Co. is a small coffee bar in the district of Frederiksberg. They have the philosophy of making sure that all their guests are having a hyggelig time. The small café is family-owned, only serves homemade dishes and has plenty of cosy corners to enjoy your coffee.

Get yourself some 'hygge' to take home

To bring home the 'hygge' yourself, stock up on candles, candlesticks, blankets, pillows and woollen socks. Illums Bolighus is the premier centre in Scandinavia for Danish and international design, and here you will be sure to find beautifully designed, good quality candlesticks, comfy blankets for every taste, and much more. Alternatively, go to the Notre Dame interior decoration store to capture a true Nordic style, or walk into one of the Søstrene Grene budget stores to stock up on candles and more in a labyrinth of colours, shapes and smells. Finally, you could consider stocking up on quality tea at A.C. Perchs, the oldest tea shop in Europe, and you should be well-prepared for a true hygge time back home too! 

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5 must-try 'hygge' experiences

- Go for an authentic experience of Danish food culture: Dine with the Danes and get invited for a hyggelig dinner in a Danish family home

- Take in the Christmas atmosphere in Copenhagen when the streets, Christmas markets and Tivoli Gardens light up the city in a dark winter month

- Bring home the hygge and stock up on tea lights, candlesticks and blankets in the design department store Illums Bolighus

- Rent a bike for a full hygge experience through the streets of Copenhagen

- Invite a friend for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Make sure to put away your phone and enjoy a sanctuary moment of happiness and relaxation. The place is not as important as the people, the conversation and the candlelight in the middle

Did you know that…

- 'Hygge' is as hard to explain as it is to pronounce. Try saying it like 'hoo-ga' and you are on the right track. Even better yet, go to Denmark and ask a local yourself.

- The term 'hygge' actually origins from a Norwegian word meaning "well-being". It first appeared in Danish writing in the 18th century and has been embraced by the Danes ever since!

- The English word 'hug' is by some suggested to have Scandinavian origins from 'hygge', as the two have similar effects: they are heart-warming and safe.

- A UK college has started teaching students how to 'hygge'. The term is trending and referred to as Scandi-salvation, social nirvana and a buffer against long, cold winter