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Need a hygge? Try Copenhagen for a happiness fix | Travel

I arrived at Copenhagen’s Central Station with Danny Kaye’s voice blaring in my head. Maybe he was right when he sang about wonderful Copenhagen. When you get off the train, after a 15-minute journey from the airport you are greeted by the turrets and rollercoasters of a huge theme park. Within seconds of tugging my case across the concourse, all I could hear were the squeals and screams from the funfair rides of Tivoli Gardens (opened in 1843) opposite.

This is Denmark, consistently one of the top five countries in the annual World Happiness Report and home to one of the planet’s most famous storytellers, Hans Christian Andersen. Now the country is pushing for hygge – its unique formula for cosy comfort – to be given world heritage status by Unesco. It’s much in evidence as soon as I check into my hotel, the Radisson, where I relax in my 18th-floor corner room with a cup of organic coffee and a fluffy cinnamon pastry. From my window I can see the whole of the city and beyond, to the bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden.

View of the Nyhavn area of Copenhagen with multi-coloured buildings, the canopies of restaurants lining the canal and crowds of people



The waterfront at Nyhavn. Photograph: Roland Magnusson/Getty

The Radisson, opened in 1960, is a Copenhagen landmark: the “SAS” (Scandinavian Airlines) emblazoned on its tower harks back to the time when it was a glamorous airport satellite, complete with a check-in desk and departure lounge; from here, passengers were transported by bus to the runway. Today, the departure lounge is a supermarket, but the hotel has just been refurbished and returned to its 60s heyday. It was the signature work of seminal Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen, who designed its interior as well as its exterior – even the door handles and the cutlery are by him. The lobby is dominated by a giant spiral staircase that seems to hang from a vast circular hole above it.

Jacobsen was most famous for his chairs: among his best known are the Swan and the Egg, and there are plenty of examples of both, including some rescued from an auction in Oxford. The Swan was the designer’s bar-chair, a seat in which to preen and be seen; the Egg is a nurturing haven to curl up in. While the whole hotel is a shrine to 60s design, true aficionados can step into the decade itself with a visit to Room 606 which has been kept exactly as Jacobsen left it.

There’s more Jacobsen at the Design Museum across town, where a permanent exhibition tells the story of how Danish design became a world leader. There are more than 100 chairs – armchairs, folding chairs, wooden chairs, steel chairs – as well as ceramics, glass and jewellery from the 1950s and 60s.

Mary Thomas statue



The statue to Mary Thomas. Photograph: Joanna Moorhead

Design fans should also head for Blox, a glass-encased boxy structure that aspires to be a city under one roof with a museum, offices, gym, restaurant and housing. The first thing I see when I arrive is a vertical play area with parents sitting around in the sunshine, their children climbing through rope mesh and frames and whizzing down slides. The whole place is a microcosm of the Danish spirit and its urban inventiveness. There are apartments on the top floors, open-plan offices where meetings are in progress, classrooms where school kids learn about design, cool shops and exhibition spaces.

Blox is the new home of the Danish Architecture Centre. Welcome Home (an exhibition that runs until 23 September) looks at how domestic space has been moulded to the changing realities of family life. Other shows explore Danish design through film and furniture, but the true permanent collection is the handsome city all around the centre. Blox is as appealing to locals as it is to visitors.

The cafe spills out of the building across a huge waterside terrace; local designers and artists sit discussing their projects at tables next to tourist families talking about the sights. On the menu, smoked fish smorrebrod (open sandwiches), a Danish signature dish, sit alongside Nordic dolma, kohlrabi and herbs – a savoy cabbage stuffed with cracked wheat, broccoli and lovage, topped with horseradish and sour cream. There’s also baked cod on caramelised celery root purée, and baked aubergine with haydari purée (bell peppers and feta); and to drink, there’s always Carlsberg, whose brewery in the city can be visited for a tour and tasting (entrance €13.40, beer tasting €10.70).

The influence of Noma, the city’s most famous restaurant, can be felt all over Copenhagen (Blox’s other restaurant, Blox Eats, is owned by Noma’s co-founder Claus Meyer). Which is a good thing, because there’s precious little chance of getting a table at Noma: not only is the place booked up for the foreseeable future, but even to secure a reservation costs from a cool £265 per person. Coming soon are special student deals at £130 a head. Students must be a lot wealthier in Denmark than in the UK – but then again, everyone must be a lot wealthier. It’s a magical, delightful place, but life is expensive: even in the humblest cafe, a coffee costs around £4, a beer is a fiver, and a light lunch with a glass of wine can easily set you back £35-40.

Blox, a building of multiple glass boxes on the waterfront



Blox, a city under one roof. Photograph: Alamy

For a more affordable meal than Noma, try one of the city’s newest restaurants. Trio is at the top of the newly opened Axel Towers, apparently designed to look like a pile of copper coins. The bar overlooks the Danish Confederation of Industry building, which is transformed at night with a colourful light show – lumpfish roe and radish on a blini with a glass of champagne while watching it was one of the highlights of my trip.

No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a barge ride from Nyhavn, the colourful 17th-century canal waterfront district, which takes you to see a glimpse of Denmark’s most enduring mascot, the Little Mermaid statue commissioned in 1909 by beer baron Carl Jacobsen after he attended a ballet performance based on a fairytale by the same name penned by Hans Christian Andersen.

For such a landmark, the sculpture is small and underwhelming; much more interesting, for me anyway, was the recently unveiled statue to Mary Thomas, who led an uprising against colonialism in Saint Croix, then in the Danish West Indies in 1878. Her punishment was a prison sentence in Copenhagen, which she served a mile or so from the waterside plinth where she now sits triumphant, the only memorial to a black woman in a city where the vast majority of the statues are of white men.

Joanna Moorhead travelled as a guest of Visit Denmark. EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Copenhagen from £60 return. Doubles at the Radisson cost from £140 a night (room only, breakfast package available) during low season (radissoncollection.com)


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