Contributor: Josefa Abdelnour
Dates of Travel: January 2014
The World Happiness Report ranked Denmark first in the world for happiness in 2016 and second in the world for happiness in 2017. This study explores the social foundations of happiness. And in Denmark, hygge plays an important part in social life. Hygge is a Danish concept that helps Danes get through the long, dark winter by living in the moment, gathering with loved ones, and embracing simple rituals. Hyggeligt activities include lighting a candle with dinner, brewing tea from loose leaves, baking simple cookies, lighting a fireplace, changing into comfy clothes, and crafting with children. Gestures don’t have to be elaborate to invoke coziness. One simply needs to make an effort to embrace life.
I visited Copenhagen with a friend in January of 2014 and experienced first hand why hygge is so important to getting through the winter there. We did not see the sun a single time the entire week we were there. The daylight hours were short and snow fell regularly. If you embrace togetherness, relaxation, indulgence, presence, and comfort — and do so with loved ones — winter days pass easily and joyfully.
If you are a lover of Scandinavian design, then Denmark is a shopping destination for you. Think elevated Ikea. You can wander along Copenhagen’s famous pedestrian shopping street, Strøget, which is a popular venue for street entertainment as well as the longest shopping area in Europe. I was like a kid in a candy store at Illums Bolighus and brought home many treasures by Design House Stockholm, Normann Copenhagen, Pipanella, and Danefae.
To explore other nearby towns and cities, there is an extensive railway system in Denmark. We took the train north to Helsingør, a city in eastern Denmark known for Kronborg Castle, where William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is set. This magnificent castle is located on a strategically important site overlooking the Sund, the stretch of water between Denmark and Sweden. The Sund is the gateway to the Baltic Sea and from 1429 to 1857, Denmark controlled this passage thanks to Kronborg Castle.
A short distance from Kronborg Catle, also on the waterfront, is the Maritime Museum of Denmark. This museum is worth the visit for its innovative and award winning architecture. Through both its exhibits and architecture, the museum reflect Denmark’s maritime history. Take for example the staircase. The individual steps invokes the ebb and flow of ocean waves. Descend these steps into the museum. The entire museum was built below ground around an old dry dock situated in front of Kronborg Castle. The architects were bound by rules to preserve views of the Castle, rules so strict that the building was not allowed to protrude even a meter above ground.
We headed north by train yet again to visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, an ocean front museum featuring rotating exhibits by international artists.
We took another short train ride across the Öresund Bridge to arrive in Malmö, Sweeden in less than an hour.
In all my travels, dining at Restaurant AOC has been my most memorable out to eat experience. The restaurant is located in the vaulted cellar of a historic mansion dating back to the 17th century. Despite the striking setting, the food takes center stage. It is locally sourced and thus Nordic. And it was both unusual and delightful to my American palette. Each course is paired with wine from all over the world. Ingredients include items like Juniper berries, gooseberries, Nordic vanilla, Aronia berries, beech nut, new Danish potatoes, and Kornly cheese.
We underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete all the courses. We found ourselves hurrying through the last couple courses and running down the street to the Royal Danish Theatre where we watched a magnificent performance of the Russian Ballet Company.