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The original Hygge: Copenhagen travel guide

In the spirit of bringing this blog to life again, I’ve decided to cast my mind back over the year and write about some of the adventures I’ve had.

So today, I’m going to bring you my top travel tips for visiting Scandinavia’s capital of cosy.

“Hygge” (its closest English estimation of prounciation is “hoo-guh”) has become something of a buzzword recently, with sales of books on that uniquely Danish cosy feeling sky-rocketing – especially now we’re in the throes of winter. However, Copenhagen is still as delightfully charming and welcoming in the spring. I visited at the start of April and I cannot complain at all – the weather was mild (occasionally on the chilly side, but hey, I’m a hardy Scot) and it wasn’t too busy.

Getting there and getting around

While Scandinavia is generally considered to be an expensive destination, the flights themselves are surprisingly well-priced and provide a gorgeous view of the Danish archipelago when approaching Copenhagen. I love a bargain, so I found the best way to get there was to book my outbound and return flights with different airlines. I flew with easyJet from Edinburgh for £63.99, and with Ryanair on the way back for £35. I booked a month and a half in advance, so you could probably fly for even cheaper, but all things considered, I’d say I did very well! As for getting into the city centre, there are regular metro trains running from the airport for a decent price (I can’t remember how much exactly, because I got confused by the city map and bought a ticket to a station much further away than was necessary, so paid about four times the price) and it only takes about twenty minutes. Once you’re in the city, you can take the metro around, but to be honest, it’s quite a compact city so I had no problem walking. I hear bike rental is also pretty affordable and can make you feel like a true Dane – if you feel confident enough to understand the traffic flow. Although it’s a city geared towards cycling, I am ridiculously accident prone so decided to skip out on this one.

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Accommodation

The hostel that I stayed in was, quite frankly, the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Sleep in Heaven is located in Nørrebro, about a twenty minute walk from the city centre, and I paid 195Dkr (~£22) a night for a bed in a six-bed female dorm. The downside is that there is no kitchen, but they are 100% cool with you bringing in outside food (even the greasiest of takeaways!) and since I prefer not to use communal cutlery and crockery when I travel, this was totally fine by me. They offered a pay-as-you-go, all-you-can-eat continental breakfast, but as the Danes do breakfast cafés so well, I didn’t make use of this. I think it was roughly £5. However, the best bit about this hostel was HAPPY HOUR! Each evening, there was a happy hour deal where you could get two pints of beer or glasses of wine for only DKK35. THAT’S £3.50, YO. I found it a perfect way to bond with fellow travellers.

Another thing I liked about this hostel was its proximity to lots of lovely parks, cafés, independent boutiques and the Assistens Kirkegård – burial place of famous Danes like Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard. Cemeteries are some of my favourite places to visit when I travel so this was a real bonus for me.

Eating and drinking

Eating out in Copenhagen can be expensive, but if you work it into your daily budget, it is more than possible. I adapted to the krone surprisingly quickly, to the point where I didn’t mind paying the equivalent of £5 on a glass of juice, so I would advise that you go prepared to splash out a little bit! While my lunches and dinners were often quick snacks to munch on the go, my daily breakfasts were a real highlight of my stay.

One of my favourite places to start my day was The Laundromat Café. There are two branches in Copenhagen, as well as one in Reykjavik, and I can definitely recommend the one on Gammel Kongvej. The name of this cute, arty diner is more than simply a quirky moniker – you can actually do your laundry there as you eat! As I was only there for a few days, I didn’t need these facilities, but there was definitely something fun and cosy about sipping a coffee (or smoothie) as a washing machine churned away in the background – like curling up in a good friend’s home. I had the blueberry pancakes and a smoothie, which cost me 100Dkr – approximately £11. As I say, expensive, but it was very filling and if you go in knowing that you may need to splash the cash, the cost is much more tolerable. On top of this, the good folks at Laundromat wear their hearts on their sleeves with their colourful, political decor.

Another great find was Grød, a porridge café with branches across the city. Here you can create your own custom porridge, down the the type of oats used and all. Fancy some quinoa porridge? The Grød world is your oyster. I had some spelt porridge topped with apple compote, nuts, cinnamon and cacao nibs, eaten on a crisp morning in the cemetery, and it was like having my stomach hugged.

However, my favourite breakfast spot came not from a recommendation, but sheer seredipity: The Next Door Café, located in the historic heart of the city. Holy toast, this place was everything I could have wanted in a café – delicious food for a reasonable (by Danish standards) price, chatty, alternative-looking staff, quirky signs, tables decked out with old tickets, flyers and other paper paraphernalia, and a shrine full of cutesy, gaudy treasures. Upon ordering, I was given a plastic horse so they would know where to deliver my pancakes to, which beats a number on a stick any day, in my opinion. And when my pancakes arrived…oh my goodness. They were the most fluffy, perfect, banana pancakes I’ve ever tasted. Not only that, but they gave me a WHOLE BOTTLE OF MAPLE SYRUP. I respect any eatery that doesn’t dictate how much syrup I should or should not consume.

Finally, I feel I should recommend one place for dinner, lest I come across as a breakfast fiend of Leslie Knope standards (not a bad thing!). If you love books – or even if you don’t, but love good food – I would definitely suggest you check out Paludan Bogcafe. While there is a secondhand bookshop downstairs, I was far too hungry to peruse for long and soon treated myself to a lovely, piping hot dish of veggie lasagne, sat at a table surrounded by wall-to-wall bookcases. Lasagne is my favourite food ever, and I was not let down. At all. It cost 89Dkr (~£9), more or less what I would pay for lasagne in a British restaurant, so this is a good place to go if you want something hearty on a budget.

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Sights and attractions

If you want to get a good overview of the city, forget the ubiquitous open-top bus tours that can be found in any city – with Copenhagen’s fantastic canals, harbours and lakes, it would be a sin not to see the city from the back of a boat. There are quite a few companies offering boat tours, but I went with Netto. Compared to other boat trips, this one was the cheapest option at only 40Dkr (~£4.50) for an hour’s trip. Many on TripAdvisor have criticised the scratchy, grimy windows, and I would have to agree, so I’d suggest you wrap up warm and sit in the outside area at the back of the boat. The information on offer isn’t absolutely amazing, but is enough to get a good feel of the sights around you (including Nyhavn and the Little Mermaid), and if nothing else, it’s a relaxing way to spend an hour.

I visited a fair musuems in the few days I was in Copenhagen, from the Court Theatre Museum to the Designmuseum, but my favourite was the National Museum of Denmark. This place has it all, and I could have easily spent a whole day there – at 75Dkr (~£8.40), the entry fee encourages prolonged browsing in order to get the best bang for your buck. There’s Danish history, from the stone age to the Vikings, natural history, art, traditional costume and artefacts (including an extensive musical instrument collection) from all over the world, and when I went, there was even a Japanese cosplay exhibition in which you could learn about the role anime, video games and cosplay play in Japan, before dressing up yourself and having a “digital makeover” in a real Japanese photobooth!

Another favourite of mine was the “freetown” of Christiania. I don’t have any pictures of the village itself as photography is strictly forbidden, along with running. Why are these things forbidden? Well, because Christiania citizens consider their village an autonomously run community and therefore outside of Danish law, so there is A LOT of marijuana for sale. Running and photography are signs of a police raid, of which there have been many over its 47 year history. It’s for this reason that dealers now skulk about in balaclavas, going about their trade from within huts draped in scramble nets and curtains. Don’t let this seemingly creepy image put you off though – the village still retains a fun, friendly vibe, thanks to its colourful murals, chilled music, scrap metal sculptures, jewellery stalls, pop-up vegan eateries, and cute gift shops located in the eaves of buildings that, from the outside, look more likely to host raves than tea shops. If you venture behind the village, you reach the real star of Christiania: the lake. Surrounding this lake are quirky, ramshackled houses that citizens have built themselves to suit their needs and protect the environment. It takes about 40 minutes to walk around the lake, and it was honestly 40 of the most peaceful minutes of my trip. Photography is allowed in this area.

If you are an art lover, then the National Gallery of Denmark is not to be missed. Entry is quite expensive – 110Dkr (~£12) – but not too far off what you might pay for a similar museum in some posher parts of the UK. I spent half a day here, but could have easily stayed longer if there weren’t other things I wanted to do that day. It is HUGE. I particularly enjoyed the Danish surrealism exhibition, as I do love a bit of surrealism and wasn’t aware the Danes had been so involved in the movement so often associated with the likes of Dali and Magritte. On the flipside, I would suggest that you skip Overgaden unless you’re an absolute conceptual art fanatic. I’ve recently developed the ability to attach meaning to conceptual art, even if it’s not particularly aesthetically pleasing. However, I still felt quite alienated by the art on display at Overgaden. On top of this, it’s not a very popular spot with tourists, so I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb when I was there. Coupled with the fact that I sat down for a rest at a bench inside and ended up getting stuck in the middle of a lecture in Danish and having to climb over people awkwardly to escape…Let’s just say it wasn’t the most fun experience. I did like this piece of French concrete poetry though (pictured below).

I could write a thousand more words about all the other things I did, but instead I shall try and condense the other highlights of my trip into a few brief decriptions. Tivoli is expensive, but fun, even if you’re not a big theme park person. Personally I thought it was worth it just to go on the Star Flyer (because despite the fact that I loathe the idea of being turned upside down or dropping down very fast on rollercoasters, I jump at the opportunity to be swung around 60 meteres in the air for a few minutes) and play Gallopen. Unfortunately you do need to pay for the ride tokens seperately, so it’s really only a place to go if you don’t mind splashing out for some oldy-worldy funfair magic. Going up the Round Tower was a spontaneous decision, but a good one, because for only 25Dkr (~£2.75) you get a fantastic view of the city and even of the Malmo skyline in the distance. There’s also a cool art gallery halfway up, which was a nice surprise. The Botanical Gardens are BEAUTIFUL. I regularly walked through them to go between places because they just made me so peaceful. There’s a lovely pond in the centre with ducks and herons and a cute little pier that I sat down on to have a little read. I went to the Carlsberg brewery on my last day, and considering you get two glasses of beer at the end of the tour, the entry fee of 95Dkr (~£10.45) seems quite reasonable. After all, at any other bar in Copenhagen, you’d likely pay that for the beer alone – at least here you get a tour as well. I was surprised at how interesting it all was, from the brand history to the brewing process. And of course, the world’s largest collection of beer bottles (below) is not to be sniffed at either…

Other useful information

  • I was warned by a friend that the exchange rate in all UK-based currency exchanges wasn’t great, and that it was best to take out cash upon arrival at the airport. This is what I did, and it did actually work out to be better value.
  • The Danes (and most other Scandinavians, especially those of younger generations) speak impeccable English, but if you’re like me then you’ll still feel bad for taking advantage of this. If nothing else, a simple “hej” or “takk” book-ending your otherwise English conversation is a nice way to show that you still respect their language and customs.
  • While there are many apps and websites with great travel tips (this one included, I hope), I feel that nothing beats having a good guide book. It gets you away from your phone, saves you expensive roaming data, and is a nice thing to flick through and mark up as you have a coffee and pastry break. I used the Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Copenhagen, and it met my needs perfectly – lots of information and a handy map condensed into a streamlined format. For stay of a week or less, I’d highly recommend this particular guide! (They also do them for loads of other cities so if you’re an avid city-breaker, they make quite a cute collection)
  • The Danes seem to be big on public art, so it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled and camera handy when wandering the city. One of my favourite arty finds was a photography exhibition installed on some building work that explored what the concept of dreaming means to elderly people (below). Just one more reason to walk rather than relying on public transport!

This has been a fair bit lengthier than anticipated, but I hope that it’s given you a good insight into some fun things to check out in Scandinavia’s capital of happiness – its happital, if you will. Anyway, I would definitely recommend Copenhagen to anyone. The kind of warmth and connectedness with the world that it instills is a feeling unmatched by anywhere else I’ve ever been.

My Danish recommendations:

Rita‘ (Netflix), any book about hygge (I have this one but have yet to read it – I will soon!), Alphabeat, Oh Land, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, a good old Danish pastry (not literally old, pastry doesn’t keep well), and of course, LEGO. You’re never too old to muck about with plastic bricks.

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