The first time I thought about visiting Copenhagen was when I was showing a friend around Stockholm. We had taken the public boat to Djurgården, “this is Gröna Lund, an amusement park…”
“Is it run by Tivoli?”
“Err… I guess so… yeap thats what the sign says… why?”
“Its a Danish company with their flagship amusement park in Copenhagen, I think its the first amusement park in the world… You need to check out Copenhagen its an amazing city…” (it was the second oldest but the oldest in modern history)
That friend was the first but he was not the last. Colleagues in conversations on instagram photographs would suggest a trip, Danish colleagues would suggest I check out the city, other travelers highly recommended it too. What was it about this city that made it so highly recommended?
So I youtubed.
I was sold.
The bus to Copenhagen pulled up at the back of the Central Station fully exposed to the unsightly functionality of rust-coloured railway tracks. I stepped out into the frigid open, one made even colder by wind chill, and shivered my way down an unending flight of stairs into the belly of the railway station.
Blood returning to my head, I looked around for a quick and affordable breakfast, the cheapest option then was MacDonalds. That was when the first real thought struck me – this must be a really amazing city for everyone to recommend it without mentioning the price – two McMuffins and a brewed coffee set me back by over 7 Euros.
That was however to be the low point of the trip. The cold of my first steps in Copenhagen gave way to the warm hygge (hoo-gah) in the railway station. Christmas trees lit up in the station, warm and cozy but not crowded,
and creative design ideas filled the space with fun. I actually liked hanging around!
Hygge is a very Danish concept just as fika is a very Swedish one. A Scandanavian spin on simple daily acts. Hygge is a feeling, a sense of warmth and cosiness when you are in a place. Go to a cafe and feel right at home? That’s hygge. Go to work and don’t feel repulsed? That’s hygge. At least that what I understood from watching youtube and spending a weekend there – which qualifies me merely as an insufferable know-it-all.
And the capital of Hygge is Copenhagen. It’s actually weirder than it sounds when you think about it. Hygee refers to cosiness, Copenhagen as the capital is the most populated city in the country, and crazily the biking capital of the world. Since when did cozy and city go together? Perhaps that was what made Copenhagen special?
But hygge despite its new-found popularity perhaps goes further back. Copenhagen’s former occupants were practising hygge before it become a pinterest trend, think J.C. Jacobsen who created Carlsberg, Hans Christen Anderson and his fairy tales or maybe Aqua, yes that Aqua of those timeless hits My Oh My, Dr Jones and Barbie Girl 😉
Well it definitely feels like hygge has been around since at least 1964.
The capital of Denmark obviously has more to it than just a feeling of warmth. Like Stockholm the historical roots of the city go way back. The name København takes after the very raison d’tre of the city’s existence: Køben means merchants while haven means harbour.
The former centre of trade in the centre, Nyhavn
The earliest dated notes and archaeological findings of this city go back to the 11th century making it a settlement founded by the Vikings and specifically by Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard (son of Harald Bluetooth, the Bluetooth that gave bluetooth its name).
Tradition holds however that a Christian warrior-bishop Absalon founded the city in the 1170s with the establishment of a fortress to protect Christian property from maurauding pagan Germanic tribe. A small Church was built at the highest point in the city (it still stands today as the Lutheran Cathedral in the city) in the 1200s and a town grew around it.
The stature of an axe wielding Bishop Absalon with a Christmas Market surrounding it
It became the capital of Denmark in 1416 with a most memorable golden age taking place during the reign of Christian IV in the end 1500s-early 1600s.
Amelienborg Palace, home to the Danish Royal Family today
It was then that (among others) the Danish East India Company was set up, a massive stock exchange buildings called the Bølson was constructed and a state of the art observatory called the Rudetaarn was founded.
Not all of Copenhagen’s amazing buildings are old though, the city is filled with creative intent and modern marvels stand next comfortably next to these old structures too.
Besides history, Copenhagen has in the past few years become one of the hottest culinary destinations in the world. It is the home of New Nordic Cuisine, as it was here that the Chef Rene Redzepi set up Noma that focused on New Nordic Cuisine. The idea of which was to get inspired by local, Nordic ingredients to make seasonal-based dishes that could be foraged and found from nearby.
Barely a few years into the rise of New Nordic Cuisine, Redzepi and another top Danish chef Thorsten Schmidt have agreed to jointly set up another restaurant called Barr! that is turning the concept of New Nordic Cuisine on its head – instead of reinventing old food, its about doing traditional food really well. Rather than reinventing the wheel, make the wheel the best around.
Assuming that Copenhagen is a culinary desert putside thede food trends is however shortsighted. In fact, I think there’s a lot more to the dtaying power of local dishes like pølser and smørrebrød. This city certainly rivals (perhaps beats) Gothenburg as the Culinary Capital of the whole of Scandanavia.
There’s another side to this cozy, family friendly, healthy, avant-garde Copenhagen and that is the free-spirited hive of alternative culture that is in Christiania Free Town – unfairly labelled as a junkie haven.
Homeless people in the 1970s took over an abandoned military camp and lived as squatters. By the time the Danish government decided to do anything about it the squatter settlement had become established enough for the inhabitants to have their rights. And so the government left it there and the freetown self administers itself. Creatives thrive and soft drugs are solded all over the centre of the town.
All this took place within a 15 minute walk from the city and within the central Indre By district.
It was only a weekend, but I was convinced that another trip to Copenhagen would be in the offing in the future. Even if there is also alot of Denmark to see too (no Copenhagen, does not a Denmark make).
This weekend exploration of Copenhagen was made completely on foot, so it’s limited to the old city district of Indre By, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough to talk about. There was too much to see and certainly worth a second trip just to see things I did not see (once my wallet gets fatter).
In the meantime, come along as I explore the Capital of Cozy!