Okay, okay, Denmark was recently just dethroned, second now only to Norway, after being titled The Happiest Country numerous times. Regardless, the Danes are doing something right. At first glance, one would question how Denmark could possibly be marked as the happiest country in the world for multiple years in a row. There always seems to be a shadow of grey throughout the city as the low hanging clouds threat rain at any moment. However, once you introduce yourself to the local shop owners on the cobblestone avenues or mingle with the natives at the outdoor markets, it’s easy to realize that it’s not the city itself that makes it so happy, it’s the people.
Despite the often lousy weather, or perhaps because of it, Danes have a slick sense of sarcasm that they’re not afraid to use, especially around tourists. Their humor is so intoxicating and well-meaning that it makes even a dedicated beach bum suddenly long for frigid foggy days in Copenhagen.
With only a few days to explore the city, we wanted to be as close to the action as possible. As with most cities, opting for the Copenhagen Card will ensure you get access to the top sites without paying more than you have to (and going at your own pace), While I genuinely avoid structured tours due to the separation from the culture (nobody wants to engage with someone behind a glass bus window), Copenhagen offered a variety of raw and exhilarating tours that put you right in the heart of this land. The Copenhagen Food Tour and the Copenhagen Castle Tour definitely were calling my name.
After our flight landed and before we wanted to stuff ourselves with the delicious food of the country, we rushed over to Kayak Republic to first explore the city by sea. Our guide led us through the beautiful narrow canals underneath stunning brides and beside notable statues. In addition to a history of the city, we learned about how environmentally-responsible Copenhagen was and it’s ability to continually change to fit the needs of the community. Another reason it’s added to the happiness list, 40 percent of Danes are involved in service and volunteer work because they feel personally responsible to better the home they thrive in. Because Danes have the optimal work-life balance (they take vacation time very seriously), they have the energy to invest in supporting a vast number of organizations working to improve the city.
Our kayak tour led us through Nyhavn, which we would travel back to time and again to take pictures of the colorful row buildings in varying light. A postcard in real life, Nyhavn is full of small boutique shops, cozy restaurants and bustling pubs. However, because it’s a tourist hot spot, it’s best to visit the harbor front for some photographing but then find dinner off the beaten path.
After a hearty meal of smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich, we headed off to bed, exhausted from a day of kayaking and land exploration to rest our legs to prepare for one of Copenhagen’s most popular activity, biking. More than a hobby, the majority of Danes travel by bike. Also contributing to their happiness scale, all roads have a bike lane and are used daily even despite of the less-than-stellar weather. To truly see the world as a local, we knew we needed to get on the saddle.
A simple google search led us to Bike Copenhagen with Mike, a no non-sense biking tour guide who would show us the highlights of the city with quick-witted jokes and captivating stories about the way of the Danish. After being fitted for our bikes, we headed off. Almost instantaneously, I learned that biking in Copenhagen is more BMX race track than leisurely park ride. Hand signals are not just a courtesy, but a necessity, and these bikers travel fast. The narrow alleys, while make for a beautiful ride, mean you are constantly looking around at all angles to avoid any obstacles. Yet, once I got the hang of this means of travel, I was hooked.
The entire city was accessible to us, rain or shine, and we could hop on and off as we pleased. We, yet again, swung through Nyhavn, as well as to Christiansborg Castle and pausing just in time to see the changing of the guard at Amalienbrog Palace. After walking through the center of the Palace courtyard, the decorated soldiers marched right past us to fulfill their duties. After paying our respects, not tour would be complete with out a tip up to the Little Mermaid Statue.
Far away from the city center, The Little Mermaid might be one of the most overrated attractions there is. Period. Yet, not one to miss one of Copenhagen’s must-sees, the statue was elegant in all it’s glory, despite being surrounded by crowded tourists with ice cream cones and snack bars bumping into each other for a view. You wouldn’t be able to tell from the eager and enthusiastic crowd, but the Little Mermaid represents the heartbreaking story of a mermaid who gives up everything to be with a young, handsome prince on land. Each morning and night, the young girl swims up from the bottom of the sea to the rock in hopes of catching a glimpse of her beloved prince. Now used as a welcome sign into the harbor, her story is still offered to those who are looking for more than a beautiful bronze girl.
To close out our final evening, we meandered the cobble streets some more to reach Strøget, one of Europe’s longest pedestrian streets with a wealth of high -shops and fancy eateries. The night life was thriving and after a brew or two, we stopped denying our tired legs called it a day.
As we headed out of the city by train giving us once last glimpse of the colorful structures encompassed in the grey weather we’d grown to love, it was easy to see that while Copenhagen in known for their vibrant architecture, rich history and simply delicacies, it’s their happiness that rises above all. Only further proving that joy is not a product of that around you, but of priorities and value within you.
Have you been to Copenhagen? What do you think is most important when it comes to being the happiest country?