For the girl with the severe wanderlust, the one that’s been saving her pennies and counting the days until she boards that plane – this is for you.
I’ve been sharing photos on my Instagram of far away places, and now I’d like to let you in on all the little secrets: the hidden alleys, the quaint cafés, and the bike-laden streets of the countries in the Nordic region. Nordic countries can be used pretty interchangeably with the term “Scandinavia”, which is commonly used to describe Denmark, Norway and Sweden (while Nordic countries also include Finland and Iceland).
Though the places are commonly grouped together, each is distinctly their own; this is Copenhagen, Denmark.
In Denmark, I learned about the Danish word, “hygge”, pronounced “HOO-gyah”. There are many ways to describe hygge, yet no exact definition – but it’s essentially the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures: friends, family, and being cozy. For those in the Nordic countries, when winters run long and very dark – it’s vital for one’s well being to find things that make them happy, amidst the lack of sun; to find something that renews their spirit. The high season for hygge is during the winter months, with up to 17 hours of darkness per day and the average temperature below freezing, people spend a lot of time indoors. In order to combat winter blues, the Danes focus on getting cozy, by lighting hundreds of candles, wrapping themselves in the warmest of blankets, sipping mulled wine (or hot cocoa), and enjoying the company of others. The idea is to relax completely and feel as at-home as possible, forgetting life’s worries. It’s being kind to yourself – indulging and having a nice time; enjoying a piece of cake and not punishing yourself or denying yourself of anything. And as Denmark has consistently been voted one of the happiest countries in the world, I think that they’re on to something.
The sun-filled summer months do not hinder the Danes celebration of hygge; it’s become part of their lifestyle. They pride themselves on making their friends, social gatherings and happiness a priority. Instead of the living to work philosophy, it’s more the other way around – where you work (just enough) to live, and live in the most joyous way possible. This consists of daily picnics in the park, attending outdoor concerts and street festivals, cooking delicious meals every night, taking time to sip coffee slowly, or even enjoying the warmth of the sun with a good book.
It’s said that hygge is not meant to be translated, but rather it’s meant to be felt. Candlelight is hygge (according to the European Candle Association, Danes burn more candles per head than anywhere in Europe). Bakeries are hygge. Dinner with friends is hygge. Doing things that make you feel good — creating an interior that makes you happy, or wearing clothes that you feel great in; those are hygge. Going to brunch and having it last three hours is hygge.
Kalaset – One of the best brunch places in Copenhagen. The interior is warm and cozy, with meals that will keep your belly full for hours. We sat in a little nook that was framed by candles.
Our other favorite brunch was at Wolff & Konstali (known for being one of the most photographed brunches in Denmark).
There’s really no surprise that hygge sounds a bit like our word for “hug”.
*This piece was first published here.