Experience Copenhagen’s Warm Hygge Culture

Photo by Freeimages.com/myka87

by The Daily Telegraph, January 27, 2015

The Danes are some of the world’s happiest people, which is not surprising when you consider how much emphasis they place on the art of being cosy



Over the past few years, Britain has been smitten with all things Danish. We’ve been inspired by the clean, uncluttered lines of Danish interiors, discovered the effortless chic of the country’s fashion designers and spent evenings in front of the TV gripped by well-crafted dramas and crime series such as The Bridge, The Killing and Borgen. Now, it seems, we’re starting to cotton on to the very Danish concept of hygge as well. This can only be a good thing, given that many credit the Danes’ awareness and appreciation of hygge as being one of the reasons they’re declared to be some of the world’s happiest people.

So what exactly is it? “Hygge [roughly pronounced hoo-ga] is quite difficult to define,” says Tanja Ibsen Nørskov, a director at Brøchner Hotels, a group of three boutique properties in Copenhagen, “but I think we’re all familiar with the sensation. To me, it’s the kind of warm, fuzzy feeling inside when you’re together with friends or family. It has to do with feeling good, creating a cosy atmosphere; just being in the moment and taking that time to stop everything, sit down, relax and be with people we love.

”What makes it different from British cosiness? Maja Tini Jensen of Copenhagen Street Food (a street food market in the heart of the city) thinks the social aspect is important. “It’s about intimacy with friends and family, gathering together to talk and eat great food. From a visual angle, it’s also very much about darkness and candlelight. We’re very aware of light here, probably because we have more dark hours than many other countries – but darkness for us is not scary in the same way that it might be in other places. Because Denmark is generally such a safe country, for us it feels comfy and cosy.

”Instead of going into misery mode when winter temperatures plunge, many view the chilly days as an essential ingredient in creating the perfect hygge setting. As Claus Grube, Danish Ambassador to the UK, points out, “Winter hygge in Denmark is often linked with cosy, dark nights indoors with candles in abundance. However, it’s also about taking a walk in the crisp, frosty air, as the sun begins to warm and the days grow longer. The contrast from the sharp blue sky to the warmth when you come home, with long shadows from an open fireplace, creates the sense of hygge. A nice cup of tea, some soft music and a good book or watching an old movie in a squishy sofa, that would be very hyggeligt indeed.

”If you’re spending a winter city break in Copenhagen you might not have your own Danish home to retreat to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience some hygge for yourself. Ideally, you’d visit in the run-up to Christmas, when the whole city goes into full-on festive mode with so many fairy lights strung up along trees and buildings it must be a hot contender for twinkliest city in Europe. But the hygge doesn’t stop once the Christmas decorations come down. All around the city the bars and restaurants keep the cosy factor going strong, their indoor tables liberally dotted with tealights, while on the outdoor terraces patio heaters keep the cold at bay and each seat comes with a blanket to snuggle up in as you warm your hands around a glass of gløgg – spicy mulled wine with an optional shot of rum. Candle-filled lanterns provide a welcoming glow outside shop doorways while old-fashioned tea rooms lure in people with seriously indulgent cakes and silver pots of thick, rich hot chocolate served with bowls of whipped cream.

Many hotels, too, take their hygge credentials seriously. “We work hard to create a hygge feeling in our three hotels,” says Nørskov. “In the bedrooms, of course, we make sure the beds are very comfy, with lots of pillows, and use different lamps and lights to create a cosy atmosphere. But even more important for us is the atmosphere we create in our social areas, so that our guests want to spend time down there rather than just sitting in their rooms. So, for example, every day between five and six we have a wine hour, when we light the candles, put on some great music, light the fire, and invite all our guests to come down, sit in front of the fireplace and have a complimentary glass of wine or two. We talk to them, pour them a drink – it’s about being great hosts and creating a really hygge atmosphere.”

“You can easily create hygge anywhere,” says Jensen, “even in a not so hyggeligt place. When we took over the warehouses at Paper Island to create Copenhagen Street Food, there was nothing inside – it was dirty, with no atmosphere at all. Now, almost two years later, we’ve turned it into a very cosy, hyggeligt, intimate place where you have great light, great food, great people.” So how would she suggest going about creating some hygge in your own home? There’s no hesitation in her reply: “Candles. Plants. Red wine. Then you’re well on the way.”

Three cosy things to do in Copenhagen

Have lunch at Restaurant Schønnemann, one of the city’s oldest eateries – all wooden beams and oak-panelled walls, it serves top-notch smørrebrød (traditional Danish sandwiches) and 140-plus varieties of schnapps.

Work your way through the cocktail menu at Lidkoeb – hidden away off Vesterbrogade, it’s spread over three storeys, with sheepskin throws and an open fire in the ground-floor bar, and a particularly cosy whisky lounge two floors up.

Relax in the Winter Garden at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek – yes, this city-centre museum has an impressive collection of art and artefacts, but many come just to enjoy coffee and cakes surrounded by sub-tropical trees and plants.

Return flights to Copenhagen start from around £25 with easyJet

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