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The word hygge (hue-guh) is a Danish word to mean cozy, a feeling of togetherness with people, simplicity. I had heard of hygge before we visited Denmark and was really on a quest to find it. Most of what I knew of hygge was candles, Christmas, food, etc. from reading a book about Danish Christmas celebrations. I was skeptical that I could find any vestige of it in late March.
I did find some cozy in the Hotel Chocolat tucked into a small booth sipping hot chocolate, simplicity in the design of our Airbnb, and in Torvehallerne food hall. However, I mostly felt it in the feeling of community everywhere we went.
Bicycles line the streets and litter every corner in their droopy parking recline. Kids sit in the front of baskets or behind their parents on every bike errand. Sharing space in crowded Paper Island where people scooted closer together to make room for my kids to sit and eat. Locals making sure we weren’t lost and pointing us to great places to eat. Men feeding the birds who offered my children a sleeve of digestive biscuits so they could join in.
Hygge is there if you look for it, and it was a really fun search.
Copenhagen to do-
This is the Copenhagen you have seen in pictures. Old and new boats mingle together in the long canal with colorful buildings on either side. You will want to take a picture or five. You will also want to take a canal boat tour. There are two companies to choose from but the Netto-badene, the blue one, is cheaper by more than half. It is also completely delightful! The one-hour tour is a chance to get a good understanding of the city and learn a little bit about the history of Copenhagen. My kids loved to run back and forth down the aisles. (We took an early morning cruise and it was deserted.)
Plan on an hour and a half for the boat tour and picture taking.
*there are public toilets that are clean and nice at the end of the canal. (the end opposite the boat tours) Take advantage as they are hard to find.
While you are in the area visit:
You will see lots of people walking over a bridge as you leave Nyhavn, and you will keep following them to Paper Island. The main attraction here is the Copenhagen Street Food Market. This is a must see and must eat!
The hall has a definite bohemian feel and was very bustling both times we went. The smells of Japanese, Danish, Mexican, and Latin America all mingle together to create a scent that you want to follow to your favorite booth. The stand outs in our family were the duck confit fries, fried gyoza, a meat plate with every kind of meat imaginable. Prices were on the higher side compared to what you would pay in the U.S. but decent for Denmark.
Outside there are statue ducks to climb on and swings inside shipping crates. Linger a while and your kids will be in heaven.
Plan on 2-3 hours to eat and play.
A short walk from Paper Island and you will be in the neighborhood of Christiania, a town created by squatters in 1971. They took over unused military barracks and created their own city independent of Copenhagen. All the guide books told us to be sure to make a stop, but it is a stop I wouldn’t make again. The smell of marijuana hits you as you enter the enclave. Dogs were roaming wild, and my kids were scared. We crossed through the city to the other side and only came in contact with dogs until we reached “pusher street” where it was alive with activity. Of course the activity was the buying and selling of various forms of pot.
My youngest asked me with wide eyes, “what is that stuff they are selling?” When I told him he asked, horrified “Why would you bring us here?” Needless to say it was not for our family. I had some adult cousins go the week after we were there, and they loved it.
This is pronounced “stroll”, more or less. Information that will be very useful if you are asking a local how to get there. This is a pedestrian street in the heart of Copenhagen. There are the usual international stores, including a Lego store that my boys loved. Take some time to stroll down “stroll”, feed some pigeons, and enjoy a little window shopping. Get a cup of hot chocolate at Hotel Chocolat topped with chocolate whipped cream. But don’t waste one on your kids–it’s not overly sweet and they probably won’t like it. Take them instead to Lagkagehuset, a bakery chain that has delicious pastries, and be sure to get a chocolate snail.
Plan on at least an hour, but much more if you want to shop.
Torvehallerne food hall-
This is another food hall with a very different vibe than Paper Island. It is a much more modern hall with glass walls and carries a lot of upscale kitchenware, food stalls, and fish markets. The kids won’t like this one as much, but it is not very big and you can tempt them with goodies for a while. Pay a visit to Grød, the porridge place (see more below), and Hallernes Smorrebrod for traditional Danish smorrebrod, an open face sandwich topped with egg, fish or meat. At Hallernes you can see the smorrebrod on display so you know what you are getting, and you are getting a treat!
Plan on 30 minutes to an hour.
I was so excited to go to Rosenborg! It was to be the highlight of the trip. We saved it for our last day so that we would have lots of time, but when we got there it was closed! It is closed on Monday. We were so disappointed, and I want to make sure that you aren’t, too. Don’t save it for Monday, but if you make the same mistake we did, they do have a lovely garden to walk through and a really well designed playground that we all enjoyed. There were so man playgrounds all across Copenhagen, but this one was probably the favorite of my kids.
We spent an hour and a half here on the grounds alone.
This one is a little farther afield but worth the drive or bus ride because this is Hamlet’s castle! At least this is the castle that inspired Elisnore Castle in Hamlet, and it is in the town of Helsingor. So you can see the inspiration all ready.
Kronborg is in fact a fortress that was built in 1420 by the Danish King Eric VII. It was later redesigned to become a castle. It is situated beautifully looking toward Sweden to its north.
This was a real hit with the kids. There is the statue of a Giant in the catacombs with a tale that will delight your little ones. Take a guided tour of the catacombs (called the casemates). This is a must! Guided tours happen at various times during the day so check before you go.
Plan on 3-4 hours total including the guided tour and time to check out the rest of the castle and grounds.
Tip- Near the parking lot for Kronborg Castle there is a great playground built into the asphalt. Keep your eyes peeled and let your kids bounce and run for a bit.
Ride a Bike-
Rent a bike and live like the locals. Seeing everyone riding bikes everywhere they go makes you want to join in on the fun. There are various rental places around the city. They will give you the rules for riding as well, which includes walking your bike in pedestrian streets or when going against traffic.
Don’t miss this, this was one of my older kids highlights.
Plan an hour.
This tops my list because it was the most unusual. It is an entire restaurant that only sells porridge.
We visited two locations and found them to be equally delicious. Toppings include traditional breakfast flavors like apples, berries, peanut butter, and nuts. If you go in the afternoon you can get curry, risotto and salad-type toppings. Every bite was amazing. Seating is limited at all locations.
A quick bite to grab when the kids want something they know, but these hotdogs are fabulous.
I’m sure there are some stands that are better than others, but we enjoyed every hot dog we had. Ask for remoulade on your adult hot dogs, which is a sauce similar to tarter sauce with garlic. The kids can stick to the traditional ketchup or mustard. Also get your kids the french dog–it’s a roll with a hotdog inside. It makes for easy carrying.
When you think of Danish pastry, you want to go here! Get the cinnamon swirl or the pesto bread and munch it as you walk down cobblestone streets and feel as Danish as can be. Truly a delicious stop.
Plus, if you get addicted, there is a location in Brooklyn, NY.
Before you go:
Pack warmly- even though the weather forecast was the mid sixties, the wind whipping off the water kept the city very cold. We wished we had brought thicker winter coats. Even in summer you will want to have a jacket for that reason.
Learn to pronounce Danish- its frustratingly hard for English speakers, but if you give it a little study before you go you will feel much more at home in Denmark.
Bring your ergo carrier- most of the streets in the old part of town are cobblestone or otherwise hard for strollers. The rest of the city is very stroller friendly, but you will want to have a back up.
Think about renting a car and staying out of the city proper-
Prices for Airbnbs were so much cheaper outside of the city and there was a lot of charm in the suburbs we visited. Parking in Copenhagen was much easier and cheaper than we had originally thought (our Airbnb hosts told us the same thing), so we drove in every day and the kids enjoyed going back to a suburb with a lawn and playground in the late afternoons. We enjoyed the mobility when our kids got tired of walking to be able to pop home for a few hours and return later to the city.
Flights to Copenhagen from the US are among the cheapest to Europe. Check out how we found flights under $300 from NYC.