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How did a land once associated with marauding Vikings transform into a place regularly ranked as the world’s happiest country? There are several reasons, but the first one that springs to mind is hygge (hue-guh). Hygge is a uniquely Danish word—it cannot be literally translated into English, but in essence it means cultivating feelings of coziness and contentment. The Danes came up with the idea of hygge initially to infuse the long, dark days of winter with warmth and charm. Now it is part of the national identity, just as much as Denmark’s progressive social policies, commitment to environmental responsibility, and embracing the average; modesty is a key Danish virtue as well.
While today’s Danes are indeed a far cry from their Viking ancestors, they take immense pride in this legendary heritage. Well-preserved longships are displayed in museums, a recreated Viking village promotes living history, and ancient burial mounds can be found all over the country.
From its wind-swept beaches and historic harbors, to the upbeat energy of its capital city of Copenhagen, Denmark offers visitors much to discover—and a warm hygge welcome wherever you go.
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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations
From its pastel merchant buildings in the 17th century to its 21st-century steel-and-glass towers, Copenhagen has always exuded flair and style. Some of its most memorable treasures, like the bronze Little Mermaid statue, are humble in scope; others, like the massive Christiansborg Palace where the Parliament meets, speak of majesty and empire. But its luster is not limited to the historic: Copenhagen today is a hub of cutting-edge design and the most sought-after Michelin-starred restaurants. This diversity comes together when you follow the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen to one of the cafés of Nyhan, the quayside neighborhood surrounding the canal of the same name. Settle in with smørrebrød (which we know as smorgasbord) and a craft cocktail, watching chic Danes in the latest fashions stroll along ancient cobbled lanes, and you can experience all of Copenhagen’s personalities at once.
Far from the bustle of Copenhagen, the port city of Rønne on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm is a beloved getaway for Danes. As a major ferry stopover between Denmark and Sweden, the 13th century city exploded with activity in the 19th century, and still reflects its heyday with its half-timbered houses, colorful buildings, and cobblestone streets. Store Torv, the main square, is studded with café tables in the warmer months, and outlined with local shops. Among Rønne’s greatest sources of pride are its history of fine ceramics, enshrined at the Hjorths Fabrik museum, and its clock-making tradition. Just getting to Rønne is part of the fun, as the island itself is a beauty, with pale cliffs, lush forests, and white sand beaches, all presided over by a 19th century lighthouse rising 60 feet over the harbor.
There’s nowhere quite like Christiana…and that’s just as its free-spirited denizens intend. The 84-acre abandoned military base was reclaimed by artists and counter-culture activists in 1971 as a social experiment. Moving in and setting up their own communal society—without the permission of the government—they created an alternative utopia that makes its own rules. The complex is now full of art galleries, handmade houses, performance spaces, organic cafés, and studios, many of them adorned with graffiti and political murals. Even with traditional elements like its own flag and currency, this colorful kingdom remains as unpredictable as ever; one never knows whether it will be open to visitors on a given day, and when it is, both cars and cameras are forbidden, to help preserve its own unique culture.
The fast pace of modern life drops away entirely when you visit charming Dragør, a 12th-century fishing village. During the days of the Hanseatic League, Dragør (the name of which means “haul nets ashore”) developed one of Denmark’s biggest fishing fleets. In the 16th century, King Christian invited two dozen farm families from the Netherlands to settle here as a way to boost agricultural life (and the Dutch influence has remained especially strong in the adjacent village of Store Magleby). The streets of Dragør still feel timeless, the cobbled lanes lined with yellow houses crowned with red rooftops. In the Old Town, only locals may drive, which makes it a haven for pedestrians who poke in and out of the small shops and galleries. The waterfront is an easy stroll away; visitors headed for the beach should be sure to pause at the “Goose Republic,” an expanse dedicated to free-roaming fowl which have been raised here for centuries.
Watch this video showcasing what makes this country so unforgettable
Explore the many charms of Copenhagen, Denmark—our post-trip extension—with travel expert Rudy Maxa.
Watch your fellow travelers favorite films & videos
36 Hours in Copenhagen
Get a true sense of the Danish spirit as you take a virtual tour of scenic Copenhagen.
Produced by Fritzie Andrade, Max Cantor, Chris Carmichael and Aaron Wolfe
©2014 The New York Times
Copenhagen and Denmark
Explore the many charms of Copenhagen, Denmark—our post-trip extension—with travel expert Rudy Maxa.
Produced by Small World Productions
Travelogue: Scandinavia 1967
See the bustling cities of Stockholm and Copenhagen, where familiar icons stand out against a 1960s back-drop.
Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova
There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.
There's a reason Danes invented the concept of hygge, meaning (roughly) “cozy contentment”: They rely on the warm feelings it engenders to get them through the long, dark winter. The season is characterized by average temperatures of around 32 degrees, whipping winds, snow, and rain. Natural light is a rare sight this time of year—in some locations, the hazy sun only peeks out for seven hours a day. Shops and other tourist destinations often close during this time of year due to low demand. Even locals prefer to stay indoors, ensconced in warm sweaters, surrounded by flickering candles, and cultivating hygge.
Unlike many Roman Catholic countries, whose Carnival celebrations are marked by opulent floats and raucous parties, Lutheran Denmark opts for a more more child-friendly approach known as Fastelavn. When morning arrives on the day of the event, children participate in fastelavnsris—ritually flogging their parents to wake them up. The entire family will then head into town for the festivities, including the perennially popular slå katten af tønden (literally, "hit the cat out of the barrel"), during which children beat a wooden barrel decorated with a cat to access the candy inside. Cream-filled sweet buns known as fastelavnsbolle are also traditionally enjoyed on the day.
Watch this film to discover more about Denmark
The days begin to grow longer as spring arrives, and rising temperatures begin coaxing both plants and people from their winter hideaways. In April, cherry blossom trees canopy the country in vast swaths of pink blooms. By May, Denmark is in full bloom—and with characteristically clear skies and average highs around 61 degrees, it’s comfortable enough to spend a day outdoors. It’s an ideal time to visit, before the high travel season begins in warm and sunny June.
Though not as renowned for springtime blooms as Japan, Copenhagen's cherry blossom season is not to be missed. The flowers tend to emerge in late April, and the most popular spot to see them is Bispebjerg Cemetery. While seemingly an odd choice for such a romantic botanical display, Danish cemeteries are well-tended and are considered important horticultural sites.
Summer is in full swing, and with up to 17 hours of sunshine each day, there's plenty time for outdoor exploration and open-air celebrations. Many festivals occur during the summer months, and while tourism is at its peak, the locals swarm to the islands rather than city attractions. September brings mild, lower temperatures, along with lighter crowds, making it an ideal time to hike or dip your toes in the shimmering sea.
Created by two high-school-aged hippies in 1971 as an answer to Woodstock, the Roskilde Festival has grown into one of the largest mainstream musical extravaganzas in Europe, featuring famous artists and up-and-comers in a variety of genres—from rock to hip hop to electronica. Up to 125,000 spectators flock to the city of Roskilde for the concert each year, with most opting to camp in the 200-acre festival site for the one-week duration of the event.
For the most committed music lovers, another concert-series awaits just a few days later: Skanderborg. Located in a verdant beech forest, the week-long event has been dubbed "Denmark's Most Beautiful Festival." Though its only about a third of the size of Roskilde, Skanderborg still attracts big-name talent. It even has its own mascot—a guitar-wielding, mustachioed troll named FestiWalther.
The landscape is painted a ravishing mix of gold, red and orange in early autumn, and with October’s pleasant temperatures and the lighter crowds, this is an ideal time to visit Denmark. November ushers in the start of Scandinavian winter, and with that comes shorter days and colder temperatures, but come December, it also turns the region into a winter wonderland, filling city squares with seasonal celebrations and welcoming markets.
Copenhagen comes alive during Culture Night in October. With hundreds of activities and free public transportation in the city, you can access museums, art galleries, exhibition spaces, churches, performances, and more. This one-night-only event features activities of all kinds for all ages, with the entire city working together for its success.
Enchanted with the spirit of the season, the Christmas Markets of Denmark fill the country with joy and wonder. Savor seasonal delicacies like freshly baked cookies, behold the stalls brimming with authentic handmade crafts, and revel in the festive decorations and music. Stroll through the markets and immerse yourself in the storybook atmosphere.
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Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.
Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
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