What is Hygge? Finding Hygge in Copenhagen, Denmark
What is hygge, exactly? Some of the most interesting words I’ve learned while traveling don’t have an English interpretation. The Danish word ‘hygge’ (pronounced hYOOguh), for example, loosely translates in English to ‘coziness’. A big part of hygge gets lost in translation, however. From the perspective of someone who had never heard the word until I traveled to Copenhagen, I’ll try to answer the question ‘What is hygge?”
In the U.S. coziness generally brings to mind an image of sitting inside on a cold day, wrapped up in a blanket with a hot cup of tea and a book to read. Maybe a fire will be burning or some candles will be lit as well. The only sounds they may hear are those of the fire crackling or perhaps they have some music playing in the background.
With an average of 170 days of rain per year and temperatures that scarcely rise to the mid-60s Fahrenheit (17 C) during the peak of summer, Denmark knows a thing or two about staying warm indoors. When it comes to escaping the cold in Denmark, things are very different from the U.S.
What does Hygge look like?
It was summer when I visited Copenhagen. Fortunately, nearly every day had clear skies and little if any rain. We sat outside when eating, listening to live music at the annual Jazz Festival and when grabbing drinks in the evening. The Danes might say we were enjoying some outdoor hygge. It was a great way to meet new people and enjoy walking around the beautiful city that is Copenhagen.
Inside, the hostel provides an elevated platform full of pillows and blankets in the common area. Some days were rainy for at least a few hours. When the weather turned for the worse, and we were outside, we could simply go inside to the warm pillow areas, grab a blanket and continue to socialize. I absolutely loved this concept and atmosphere. It allowed me to meet many new friends and have countless in-depth conversations while I was in Copenhagen.
What is hygge in regards to food? Do the two mix?
One particularly rainy July day in Copenhagen, I fought my way through the downpour to Paper Island a wonderful indoor space filled with 32 street food trucks and food stalls I talk about in greater detail in my article about Copenhagen street food.
Although cold outside, and so windy my umbrella broke, I was pleased to find the inside of Paper Island warm. It was filled with other people escaping the storm to enjoy some incredible food. I ordered my favorite surf & turf burger from Fisch Street Art and sat down in front of a warm fire, by myself, in a group of about 10 people I had never met. Everyone was enjoying their food, chatting and enjoying the warmth. It was another hyggelig (that which contains hygge) experience I won’t forget.
Both Copenhagen Downtown Hostel and Paper Island were memorable examples of hygge for me. They also helped convey what coziness lacks, a certain type of social atmosphere. All of the settings were warm and cozy, but also very sociable. Even if the people you meet are strangers, you are all together, sharing a hyggelig moment.
What is hygge for the person who chooses to be alone for a time? Danes believe it’s possible to experience hygge alone if you desire. If you’d like to enjoy your favorite book or if you have some work to do, that also takes place in coffee shops. The sociable atmosphere will still be there but it’s not expected that everyone participate unless they want to.
Another interesting finding is that the Danes extend hygge to all sorts of things like bicycles, porridge and at least one well made coffee beer, discussed here. In fact, hygge can even be found outdoors when the weather is right. My friends and I even found some steps to sit on and enjoy conversation one evening.
What do Hyggelig Danes talk about?
Although Danes may not wander down the street smiling or attempting small talk, don’t mistake this for unhappiness or a lack of desire to connect with a stranger. If you engage a Dane and ask them where there favorite coffee shop can be found, or where they would recommend for just about anything, be prepared for them to give you a thoughtful response. If you ask them engaging questions in a space where you both have some free time, you may even make a new friend. And I don’t mean you might make a new acquaintance, I mean a friend.
During my time in Copenhagen, one new friend described this concept well in that Danes are difficult to develop superficial friendships with but tend to be better at developing quick, deeper friendships.
Along with this togetherness and connection, the Danes operate with a different set of social rules. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked about topics such as your country’s gun control policy and how you feel about it. Or perhaps your perspective on things like the death penalty, separation of church and state and religion. Along with deeper connection come deeper topics.
Discussing many of these topics with strangers would be considered largely taboo in many countries but in Denmark, these topics are much more the standard. The Danes seem to be more open in discussing and considering the opinions of others. When learning this, I tried to be as open minded as I could as well. It was my experience that this may also be a tool for how they can develop deeper connections quickly. It momentarily caught me off guard at first but I really enjoyed the conversations once I understood that in Denmark, this is just how it is. Go with it.
Why I love Hygge (…and you should too!)
In my trip to Copenhagen, hygge was not just an individual concept that differed from that of the U.S. Hygge didn’t just speak of togetherness in a coffee shop away from the cold. It meant togetherness of a city, a country, a people. This was something I was both impressed by and a little envious of, as this seems to be lacking in many parts of the U.S. Overall, I loved the concept of hygge the conversations I had, the friends I made and Denmark in general.
I can’t wait to return to Copenhagen again one day soon!
Where to go for Hygge in Copenhagen
- Paper Island is described in one of my other posts as one of the best places to enjoy street food from any of 32 vendors in their common hyggelig space across the water from New Harbor. Highly recommended.
- The Living Room is described by locals as one of the most hyggelig places in Copenhagen. Here you can enjoy a snack and drink a coffee or beer on any of their three split levels.
- Paludan’s Book & Cafe is a great place to find a new book and/or enjoy some strong local coffee. They describe themselves as a place “where there is space for inspiration and contemplation”.
- Copenhagen Downtown Hostel was one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in, and certainly the most hyggelig. With incredible staff, comfortable beds and incredible common areas, I can’t wait to return.
I hope this helped to answer the question ‘What is hygge?’ from the perspective of a traveler, and someone who experienced it for the first time. Enjoy your time in Copenhagen and make sure to find yourself some hygge!
A huge thank you to Emilie, Réne, Lars, James and Ariella for teaching me about hygge while in Copenhagen and for helping me to answer the question, ‘what is hygge?’
Skål! (Cheers in Danish)
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