I first fell in love with Copenhagen nine summers ago.

Herb and I had spent two days here before a Baltic cruise, and I was immediately smitten with an impossible case of love at first sight. From the colorful canal-front houses in Nyhavn to the old-fashioned charm of Tivoli Gardens to a hidden 19th century tearoom called A.C. Perch’s, I was enchanted. I loved how warm and friendly it was, how beautiful yet comfortable it felt and how happy its residents seemed. I even proclaimed to Herb that if we ever moved to another country, it would have to be Denmark!

What I didn’t know at the time was that I had fallen quite hard for something called hygge.

Hygge: (noun) A quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being; regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture.

Pronounced hoo’-gah, it’s a word that has been making its way into modern-day vernacular the past few years and was a finalist in 2016 for Oxford Dictionaries’ “word of the year.” According to visitdenmark.com, the word is Norwegian in origin and has been embraced by the Danes since the late 18th century, when it first appeared in Danish writing. There is no English counterpart, although it is sometimes translated as hug or cozy.

On this brief return visit to Copenhagen, I wanted to bottle up a huge dose of hygge that would last for months on end. I longed to discover places beyond the main attractions where hygge surely thrives. On a lark, I googled “Copenhagen hygge tour” and couldn’t believe what I found.

It turns out such a thing exists.

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The Hygge & Happiness Tour offers a half-day walk through some of the oldest parts of Copenhagen – places that “scream hygge,” as the website describes. We met our guide Axel after disembarking our ship, the last day of a Norwegian voyage that ended where it had begun. It was Sunday morning, and the city was calm and quiet, with only the sounds of boats on the canal interrupting the stillness as we walked from Nyhavn to our hygge destinations.

Axel began our walk by talking about the origins of hygge. A Danish native who is doing a stint as a tour guide during his gap year before university, he spoke with fondness about the word, although he was quick to add that it doesn’t automatically come with the Danish culture.

“Hygge is doing something pleasant, stress-free, in the absence of anything annoying,” he explained. “People sometimes think that because we are Danish, we have hygge all the time. That would be impossible for anyone! The images of hygge that come to mind are sitting on a sofa by a fire when it’s raining or snowing outside. You have a hot drink and a blanket and maybe a book or a board game.”

He went on to say that hygge can be a noun or even a verb, but its most common usage in daily life is as an adjective or adverb – hyggely. “When we meet someone or say good-bye, we often say it was hyggely seeing them. Or we might describe a building as being hyggely.” And then he added, “the more hyggely, the higher the price.”

Early morning in Nyhavn.

Hygge Passageways and Gardens

I immediately recognized the Strøget, Copenhagen’s pedestrian square and shopping area, from our previous visit, but Axel was quick to move us along to the back streets. “It’s not very hyggely here,” he laughed. A short distance away, the charming architecture made it extremely clear why Axel wanted us to leave the main square. Our first stop was a passageway leading to a lovely courtyard. We wandered through the area before stopping for a Danish pastry.

The Stork Fountain near Copenhagen’s Strøget.
Off the beaten path, hygge begins to appear.
A hyggely passageway…
…leading to an equally hyggely courtyard.
Architectural signs of hygge – the rooftop window and weathervane .
Our first taste of hygge…a Danish pastry at Emmerys bakery.

Our next hyggely stop was a beautiful hidden courtyard called the Royal Library Garden. Designed in 1920, the garden features a small pond with a sculptural fountain, seasonal flowers and a statue of Danish philosopher and writer Søren Kierkegaard.

Entering the Royal Library Garden.
A closer view of the pond.
Sprays of water cascade from the sculpture in the center of the pond.
Søren Kierkegaard writes in his journal while colorful chairs invite visitors to join him in the garden.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

~Søren Kierkegaard

The Oh-So Hyggely King’s Garden

Herb and I had toured Rosenborg Castle and walked through the gardens on our first visit to Copenhagen. What I remembered most were the trees, rows of perfect symmetry lining a pathway that seemed to disappear into a distant infinity. It was a tranquil spot, and what I didn’t know at that time was that there was a lot of hygge going on!

Axel first took us to a coffee shop at the garden entrance called Kafferiet Slow Coffee. Decorated with pink flowered wallpaper, white wainscoting and velvety-looking cushioned banquette seats, the tiny shop is quite the hyggely find. We took our coffees into the garden and began our walk. King’s Garden is the oldest and most visited park in Copenhagen. Also known as Rosenborg Castle Gardens, it was created as the private gardens of King Christian IV in the early 17th century.

Kafferiet baristas prepare our order.
Kafferiet’s cozy indoor seating.
Rosenborg Castle stands at the head of the gardens.
The trees I remembered so well are called lime trees – also known as linden or basswood trees – and have no relation to the fruit.
Our delightful guide Axel.
A statue of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen holding a book sits prominently in King’s Garden.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,

To gain all while you give,

To roam the roads of lands remote,

To travel is to live.”

~Hans Christian Andersen, The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography

We left King’s Garden and headed toward another café. This time Axel asked us to wait at a table outside, telling us he was picking up “a chocolate.” Thinking he meant a small piece of chocolate, Herb and I both laughed when we saw what was on our plates. These were full-size chocolate desserts, not pieces of candy, and as Axel said, they were “full of hygge!”

My hyggely treat of marshmallows, marzipan and chocolate from Bagt Bakery.

Hygge Copenhagen

I couldn’t tell you exactly where we were during this last stretch of our tour, which may be a good thing. Some  secret places should remain as much of a secret as possible. What I can tell you is that I was so absorbed with taking pictures that I found myself absent-mindedly following Axel, turning down streets and crossing roads wherever he led us. My camera was having a fantastic time, and these streets and houses were my favorites of the tour.

I was taking photos of a particularly charming street when a woman rode by on her bicycle, parking it in front of her house. Both Herb and I felt a bit uncomfortable and apologized if we were intruding in any way, telling the woman how much we admired her home. “Oh, that’s all right,” she kindly told us. “I understand. I’ve lived here more than 50 years, and it’s gotten really busy ever since people discovered the street on Instagram.” She went on to talk with us for at least fifteen minutes and probably would have chatted longer if we hadn’t needed to move on with our tour.

I got the feeling that even with the inconvenience of tourists, she felt very lucky to live here.

One Last Moment of Hygge

Herb and I said goodbye to Axel and headed back to our hotel. We had dinner plans at what sounded like a very hyggely restaurant for our favorite end-of-the-trip comfort food – pizza! When we arrived at Ristorante Italiano, the outdoor patio was full, but it turned out that the upstairs dining room couldn’t have been a more perfect spot to wind down three weeks of travel and look forward to the journey home.

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It may have been nine years since we were last together, but like a wonderful, enduring friendship, Copenhagen and I picked up where we left off. All the little memories of what I loved so deeply about this city came rushing back as if I’d been here just last week.

And although I didn’t find a magic bottle of hygge to pack inside my suitcase, I left Copenhagen with a lifetime supply of Danish comfort forever woven inside my heart.

6 Comments

  • ” Hyggely”.
    What a perfect description for “The Modern Postcard”!!!!!!

    When we were last in Copenhagen, we stayed in the Nimb Hotel, which overlooks the Tivoli Gardens. They gave is a gift of a book called, “The Little Book of Hygge”. The book begins with,
    “Hooga? Hyooguh? Heurgh?, It is not important how you choose to pronounce or even spell ‘hygge’. To paraphrase one of the great philosophers of our time, Winnie the Pooh, when asked how to spell a certain emotion, ‘You don’t spell it, you feel it’.”

    Thanks for helping us feel it!

  • That is so sweet, Bob…many thanks! My blog is tremendously honored to be called “hyggely.”😊

    I love the quote from Winnie the Pooh, and I also love that your hotel gave you a book! In a place that overflows with Danish kindness and friendliness, I guess it’s not surprising, but it’s a really great gesture and a lovely memento. Thank you for sharing!

  • Hyggely indeed. So delightful. And perfectly captured in your photos. I now have a word to describe moments in our travels when a feeling of coziness and comfort envelop me. Like you, we love Copenhagen. and it was especially nice to read about your experience today since we canceled a cruise that would have given us some time in Copenhagen before embarking on the ship. I’ll be looking for my Hyggely elsewhere I guess.

    • Thanks so much, Erin! I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed the post. It’s such a wonderful word, isn’t it? I’m sorry you had to cancel travel plans that would have included another visit to Copenhagen, but you never know when that city will appear on another itinerary that catches your eye. Wishing you future travels – and moments at home – filled with hyggely! 😊

  • Ahhh..we were in Copenhagen for two days pre-UK cruise, and before hygge was a universal thing. We took a tour including the castle and hiked cross town for a Danish open -faced sandwich, smørrebrød. Amazed at all the bicycles, including women in business suits and heels. It also was the place I learned the hard way never to travel with jeans. They got soaked in the rain and the hotel had no laundry service. Not hygge!

    • So good to hear from you, Robin! Your comment brought me right back to that wonderful city…women wearing heels on bicycles and all! I love how you’ve carried your jeans-in-the-rain lesson with you ever since your visit there. Travel is like that, isn’t it, always waiting to give us nuggets of wisdom to learn and apply the next time we head somewhere.

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