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Hygge – Copenhagen’s Secret

Coffee Shop Photo

Ricco’s Coffee Shop, Copenhagen

In Copenhagen, hygge is the honeyed word on everyone’s lips, an audio mashup of “huggy” and “ooh-ga.” The rain may fall and the winds may howl while statues of Vikings scowl down from stone buildings, but in coffee shops, breweries and even hotels, modern Copenhagen is all about hygge.

“But what does it mean?” I asked a giant dressed in leather work overalls as he explained the organic ethos of his restaurant in Nørrebro.

“I’m not sure if there’s an English word for it,” he replied. “But the best translation would be ‘cosy.’”

Photo of Hygge Copenhagen Street

Copenhagen Streets

After arriving in Copenhagen feeling battered and bruised, hygge sounded good. My first glimpse of the city revealed a leaden grey sky, the sort that often spreads itself across damp and drizzly Britain. Flanking the station, massage parlours, dance clubs and posters promised to “make your wet dreams come true.”

Shivering past all that, I stepped in to the Axel Guldsman for my first taste of hygge. Nominally a hotel, I wondered whether I’d ended up in some high-tech eco student sorority house. People laughed and chatted, sharing pomegranate salad and coffee in warm and low lit spaces.

Gastro Hygge

Gastro Hygge

Swirling lavender chalk advertised both facials and a get together later on, while a basket of apples from the Garden of Eden invited me to help myself.

The next day, I met up with Thomas Meier Lorenzen, an event coordinator in the city.

“Copenhagen has a problem,” he told me. “The city has changed so much that people don’t want to leave. Before, when families had children they would move into the suburbs but now everyone wants to stay.”

“And why is that?” I wonder. “Is it because of the art? The parks? The, er, Little Mermaid…?”

Kaffe Hygge

Kaffebar Hygge

“It’s because of the atmosphere,” he said as another fleet of duffel-coated cyclists sped past. “It’s the hygge.

Anne Louise Leth, a young reporter from Politiken, added, “Copenhagen is all about going out with friends. That’s when you see the city come alive.”

As I was in town for TBEX, that was just what I wanted to hear. As it turns out, hygge comes in many different forms. There’s Ricco’s, the tiny white coffee shop that’s about the size of a staircase.

There’s the smoky McKluud pub where we managed to spot a celebrity* (though the anecdote would have been stronger had I known who on earth it was.)

There’s Michelin-starred Kiin-Kiin, a jewellery-box Thai restaurant that oozed hygge and even Green Square, an outrageously enormous antique furniture shop, dished it out in the form of canapés and flowing wine.

Everywhere I went, everyone talked about hygge.

“We want people to feel comfortable, to feel at home,” said Jespes Stougaard, a man who moved to Copenhagen from rural Jutland to follow his dream. With friends, he now runs Dyrehaven, a rustic restaurant and bar, where a happy blogger could while away the hours with a supply of real ale and the gift of free wifi…

See, I’m getting carried away already. Must be all that hygge.

*My sources can confirm that the celebrity spotted was none other than Danish rapper Jokeren. I found some of these places thanks to Wonderful Copenhagen, I found others by myself. I found hygge pretty much everywhere.

Carlsberg Hygge

Carlsberg Hygge

Dylan Hygge

Dylan from @TravelingEditor gets Hygge

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4 Responses to Hygge – Copenhagen’s Secret

  1. Gayla~ December 10, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Gezellig is the Dutch version of hygge. Anything can be gezellig – an evening home alone or out with friends, coffee with the neighbor, or dinner with family…
    I think it’s a sign that you’re in a happy and content society. Denmark and the Netherlands are in the top 5 on the UN’s list of happiest countries :-)
    Can’t wait for my next trip to Copenhagen for a bit of Danish hygge!

    • Abi December 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      What a well-timed comment! I’m in the airport right now heading to Amsterdam. Hoping I find some gezellig when I get there…(And I think you have a point about the happy and content societies .)

      • Gayla December 13, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

        Hope you’re enjoying the Dutch gezelligheid. Safe travels!

        • Abi December 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

          Had a great slice of it along with apple pie today. Mmm!

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