Copenhagen: the home of hygge
Coffee in hand, I am watching the sun rise over Copenhagen harbour from my hotel room. As the sky grows pink, commuters cycle to work over a bridge below me. It is not early, in fact it is around 9am. You don’t have to get up early to see the sunrise during a Danish winter.
I am in Copenhagen to experience everything the home of hygge, the now-famous Danish concept of cosiness, has to offer for a winter weekend break. And a more festive city it would be difficult to find.
With dozens of Christmas markets around the city, there is something for everyone. From the traditional German affair on the famous multi-coloured harbour Nyhavn, to local delicacies at the city’s 176-year-old theme park Tivoli Gardens, to a “Julemarked” themed around Copenhagen-born fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen.
My personal favourite was in a part of Christianshavn that is a freetown, or independent commune, home to 1,000 residents living an alternative lifestyle. Here you will not find Bratwurst or Gluhwein, but local artisans selling everything from local cheeses, to handcrafted jewellery.
After the market we walked a short distance to Bridge Street Kitchen, a street food area that this year has given itself a wintry makeover by launching a picturesque ice rink with views over the city’s vast waterways. The rink sparkles under the the Christmas lights and seemed to be loved by both locals and tourists alike. It is free if you have your own skates, but they’re only £6 an hour to rent if you don’t.
The next morning we took on the more adventurous sport of urban skiing at the newly opened CopenHill. Situated on top of an environmentally friendly waste-to-energy recycling plant, the hill was designed by innovative architects, Bjarke Ingels Group. The striking structure looms over the north side of the city, but it hides something quite spectacular in the 85m ski slope that spirals down the entire building.
The dry slope, which is open year round, is equivalent to a red course at its peak, a blue course in the middle and a green course - for those just starting out - at the bottom. While we were there, seasoned skiers got up speed on the full route, while children as young as five learned the basics.
As a beginner myself, I was in much the same boat. But Lisa from in-house ski instructors Snowminds gave me a few pointers before I tried it out. After a wobbly start, I was totally addicted.
Denmark is almost entirely flat and it’s highest peek is just 170m above sea level. Despite this, 10% of Danes regularly travel to ski every year, meaning the slope has proven popular since opening in October. The plant deals with waste from 600,000 homes and 68,000 businesses across five metropolitan areas, and the plumes of smoke coming from its chimneys may look ominous, but they are 99% steam. It is hoped that with the ski slope, a top floor restaurant, tree-lined free hiking trail and the world’s highest man-made climbing wall, the recycling plant will grown into a community asset.
After a day of exercise out in the fresh air, I headed back to my own slice of hygge paradise - the 71 Nyhavn Hotel.
Situated on the historic Nyhavn - or new harbour - the property is in a redeveloped 19th century warehouse. It’s 130 rooms artfully combine original features - such as imposing beams - with a minimalist Scandi-aesthetic, Carpe Diem beds, toiletries from Danish brand Karmameju and fluffy robes. The combination mean the rooms have a laid-back feel, while the true star of the show are the floor to ceiling arched windows, showcasing breathtaking views of the harbour.
After a comfortable night’s sleep I woke ready for a day of Danish gastronomy. First, a food tour with Foods of Copenhagen, which kicked off with a visit to Les Glaces; a 150-year-old family-owned patisserie and cafe that has become a city institution. Most locals will take at least one trip a year to Les Glaces, even if it is just for their traditional “marzipan pig” at Christmas.
15 years ago Danes would have headed to a French or Italian resturant for a fine dining experience. But new, big-name, Nordic restaurants (such as the two-Michelin-star Noma) have brought Danish food on leaps and bounds by focussing on local ingredients and innovative ideas. Lunch at Michelin-guide recommended Selma shows what simple, well-designed Danish food could be. The highlight is their modern take on traditional Smorrebrod, an open-faced sandwich.
Once reserved for quick dinners at home, the resturant has given the sandwich a new lease of life. The delicious treat features fried plaice and a sauce made from local herb Lovage, or pork belly with pickled mustard seeds and crispy kale. Our final stop, Rodder & Vin, gave us the chance to try natural ciders and wines, which are increasingly popular in the city.
In the evening, we headed to the suburb of Valby for a cooking lesson at Timm Vladimir’s Kitchen, owned by a celebrity chef that won the Danish Masterchef twice. The bubbles - and in-house brewed craft beer - flowed as we learnt more about Nordic ingredients and how the food scene has evolved in the region.
After taking on a stunning bacon, potato, onion and thyme pizza on a malt base, we tried our hand at roast pork loin with cream and crispy kale. By the end of the evening everyone was full, a little bit tipsy, and happy to have learnt something new. I know I’ll be taking the recipes home with me to try.
Of course, no visit to Copenhagen at Christmas would be complete without a warm mug of Glogg, a Danish version of mulled wine that features almonds and raisins, so we headed back to Nyhavn for a final jaunt through the Christmas markets. Sitting under a blanket, looking over the boats decorated with fairy lights, we definitely felt what hygge is about.
After such a delightfully Nordic winter break, it would have been impossible not to.
Stay in colourful Nyhavn at the historic 71 Nyhavn Hotel, with double rooms from £175. Try skiing at the urban ski slope on CopenHil, from £17 per hour. Try the local delicacies with Foods of Copenhagen, with tours are from £115. Timm Vladimir’s Kitchen – Denmark’s largest cooking school does the Scandinavian Gourmet course is for £130.
Get access to 87 attractions and all public transport in the Copenhagen region with a Copenhagen Card. 72 hours of access is £85 for an adult ticket and £43 for a child ticket.