Nothing is rotten in Denmark
Article and photos by Joe Gschwendtner
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” so said Marcellus in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. He was definitely wrong. The fact is, Denmark is so sublime, it may indeed be the happiest place on the planet.
Actually, Denmark was rated as one of the top three happiest places on earth, according to the Gallup 2020 World Happiness Report. The essence of that happiness is embodied in the Danish word “hygge,” (hue-guh), a contentedness, an immersion in simple things, a coziness. Egalitarianism. The good life. Visit Denmark and you’ll be a believer.
The first stop is inevitably Copenhagen. Our daughter studied there and we know the city well. It is the nation’s crown jewel and seat of government. Ideal for tourists who prefer walking, the city’s major attractions are well within reach on one’s own two feet. My top five attractions are Tivoli Gardens, Nyhavn, Christiania, Torvehallerne and Slotsholmen Island, home of the national government.
Tivoli, an old-time amusement park dating back to 1843, is a must-see any time of day or season. I’ve visited in summer and winter, and the park teems with conviviality. On summer nights with the sun still up at 11 p.m., Tivoli is especially lively, offering first-class open-air entertainment. Indoor performances require tickets.
Nyhavn is a canal built by soldiers over a two-year period in 1671. Its purpose: to allow sea-going merchants access to the inner city. Chock-full of restaurants and other tourist draws, buildings on both sides of the canal are colorful, as are moored boats and yachts anchored dockside. On a warm summer day, one can while away the hours here. Do not miss the Danish Design Museum.
Christiania is like some neighborhoods in Berlin. A squatters’ quarter, it was down and out before it was “in.” Like San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury in the ‘60s, a counterculture thrives here and it is a place to gawk discreetly, should one be so inclined. City government views it as an ongoing social experiment. For a straightlaced city, Christiana is different.
The whole island of Slotsholmen must be seen on foot. Its government buildings are open to the public. Visit palace buildings and the national museum. When hungry, work your way to the Torvenhallerne and dine al fresco, going from vendor to vendor grabbing what pleases. Nearby, visit the Royal Gardens at Rosenborg Castle. Don’t forget the Danish pastries. They became world famous in venues like this.
Let’s not overlook the rest of the country’s bountiful charms. Copenhagen is on Zeeland Island, but there are some 406 others to the kingdom. Though not recommended, Greenland is a Danish territory. Yet, the bulk of her territory is on the Jutland Peninsula connected to the European mainland and Germany. To travel the country is to appreciate seascapes, farmlands, small villages and contemporary sculpture. Stop at Aarhus to visit her art museum, and later, the town of Billund, home of LEGO and LEGOLAND. Danish Viking lore is significant, and there are nice curations of Viking history and ships in Roskilde and Trelleborg.
At heart a low-lying country, Denmark is also a cyclist’s paradise with 7,400 marked trails. Her environmental sensitivity is also intense; 40% of her power issues from wind turbines. Isn’t it time you found your own hygge by visiting the world’s most contented nation? It could rub off.