You’re probably thinking, “What the heck is Hygge?” You’re probably also thinking, “How the hell do I even pronounce Hygge?” Well, it is something quintessentially Danish, but is something everyone experiences at least one point in their lifetime. When it comes to a similar word in English, there really is no direct translation of this word, so I guess its something you have to take my word for (or you could ask a Dane). It’s up to you on that one.
Hygge (pronounced /HUHguh/) loosely translated into English means the feeling of warmth and coziness that you get from spending quality time with friends and family, or even just by yourself. It kind of looks like a weird spelling of “hug” and sounds like you’re trying to say “hug” with a hot potato in your mouth. And that’s basically what Hygge is — a warm, cozy hug for your soul.
The concept of Hygge is also an integral part of the Danish culture. You find it in everyday interaction with Danes and that is basically what I can share about my travels to Denmark. When you meet Danes, many are warm and friendly and its because they know the secret of Hygge (they should know — they invented a word for it). Allow me to share one experience when I first experienced Hygge in Denmark.
My cousin dragged me to this bar called Studenterhuset (lit. Student’s House) during one of my visits to Copenhagen. This bar is kind of divey bar that all the college students go to — both local and international students, mainly because you can get 2 beers for 50kr (approx USD 9), which is EXTREMELY cheap for Denmark. Before everyone started drinking, my new friends called for a toast. Everyone exclaimed in unison, “SKOLLLLLLLLL!!!” Skol is Danish for “Cheers”, and you yell it out at the top of your lungs when you are happy and about to imbibe a pint of Carlsberg (or whatever you choose to drink). All I could feel was happiness at this point. The feeling you get from this is Hygge — you’re part of the moment and you feel ecstatic about life and everything in life is amazing. For that split second, all is right in the world.
Wherever you go in Denmark, you will find Hygge.
Now, you can always go for the touristy spots: Nyhavn (New Port), Der Lillen Havfrue (The Little Mermaid), Christiania, or Tivoli Gardens — all are fantastic places to visit when in København (lit. “Shopping Port”, as named by the Swedes), but there are many places you can find in Copenhagen where you will find locals integrated with tourists (and not just places to go shopping).
First, you can check out Vesterbro, which contains Copenhagen’s meatpacking district. When you see a meatpacking district on the map these days, it basically means hipster cafés and bars, and that’s basically what it is. You will find local coffee roasters, trendy cocktail bars, and restaurants specializing in foods that are currently “in”, all throughout Vesterbro. Going to bars is a popular activity in every culture, but is integral in Danish “going out” culture. Much of Copenhagen’s food scene can be found in Vesterbro and Restaurant SANCHEZ is no exception. Just look at the some of their amazing dishes below. This is just one of the many gastronomic experiences you can have in Copenhagen without dropping a fortune at NOMA.
The food scene in Copenhagen is unlike any other in a city I have experienced thus far. Danes really enjoy their food and it is prevalent in their cuisine. NOMA, a three Michelin Starred restaurant, has been noted time and time again as one of the best restaurants in the world. Chefs in Copenhagen have come from around the world to create unique elements of Scandinavian cuisine. One of the food blogs I follow, Mad About Copenhagen, even provides a service that will put you on a food tour of Copenhagen based on details you give them. I thoroughly enjoy their recommendations and try new places each time I am in Copenhagen.
During my most recent stays in Copenhagen, my cousin took me across the river from Nyhavn to go to a food venue that contains many food stalls situated in an old paper factory. It is called Papirøen (Paper Island) and although it may not look nice on the outside, it is certainly a world of food wonders on the inside. You can find food and drinks from around the word and once you receive your tasty wonders, you can enjoy them on long communal tables or if the weather is nice, outside along the river. Both tourists and locals frequent this establishment, but this is a good introduction to Copenhagen’s food scene. (Note: As of this writing, Papirøen has closed down. However, a new street food stall called Reffen has opened about 500m north of the old Papirøen. You can find more information on their website)
Aside from Papirøen, you can find another wonderful food hall in the Copenhagen city center called Torvehallerne, about a block from Nørreport station. In Torvehallerne, you can find food stalls, coffee roasters, and small shops. Here you can try the traditional Danish Smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich usually consisting of rye bread, a meat item (usually seafood or pork) and garnishment. Torvehallerne is made out of glass and most of its seating is on the outer rim of the building, so its a prime location to people watching or watching the rain fall against the side of the building.
After finding lunch or dinner somewhere, you can make your way to Strøget, the main shopping street throughout the city. Here you can find countless tourists and Danes going in and out of various shops. Here on Strøget, you can find one of Denmark’s most popular department stores, Illum. You may think that going to a department store may be something touristy or someplace to avoid — but in Copenhagen, it may not be something to avoid. On the top level of the store, there is a café hidden away in a corner of the store with a wonderful rooftop balcony that overlooks Amagertorv square. You can spend an afternoon sipping on some coffee, watching the people go about their day below. Tourists can easily ignore this little gem when it is right under their nose.
Copenhagen is one of those cities where you can find hidden local gems alongside the tourist zones — you don’t need to go far to go to the “un-tourist” places so you too can enjoy the hygge that this wonderful Danish city has to offer.