8 Mood-Elevating Things to Do in the Happiest Country in the World

8 Mood-Elevating Things to Do in the Happiest Country in the World

In case you haven’t heard, it’s technically not Disneyland that’s the happiest place on earth — it's Denmark.

By Janice Tober

Once again, according to the World Happiness Report, originally commissioned by the UN, Danes are said to be the happiest people in the world. If you’re hoping to catch some of that joyful bug too, here are eight things that you can do in the country’s capital of Copenhagen that should help you find your bliss.

1. Rejoice in design.

This is the birthplace of some of the greatest designers of all time: Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, and Hans Wegner are but three. Forget Ikea: In Copenhagen you can shop till you drop at some terrific design stores such as Klassik, Paustian, or Casa Shop. If you can only afford to look, or want to learn more about Danish design and the idea behind it, check out the Danish Design Center or the Designmuseum Denmark. Otherwise, just keep your eyes open because you’ll find classic Scandinavian minimalism as you stroll the streets of the city.

2. Ride a bike.

Copenhagen has about 250 miles of bike paths and 55 percent of its people commute by bike, covering an astounding 750,000 miles every single day. They even have bicycle super highways that lead outside the city. As a visitor, you won’t feel left out. Many hotels lend bikes to guests and there are plenty of bike rental joints and bike tours around. In 2013 the city retired their more than 2,000 regular bycykler, or city bikes, and replaced them with GPS-included electric ones that you can rent for a small fee. Very convenient if you’re not confident in your own peddling power abilities.

3. Don't dine and dash.

If you love fresh-from-the-sea fish and local farm-to-table cuisine, there are more than enough restaurants in this smallish city to please your palate. For instance, Noma, a rustic Nordic-style restaurant by the harbor in the Christianshavn neighborhood, has had two Michelin stars since 2007 and does wondrous things with musk ox and berries. (It's slated to close this year, so act fast.) In total, the city has 20 Michelin stars, putting it ahead of Milan, Zurich, Vienna, and Rome in the number of stars awarded. Geranium, in the Østerbro area, is the one restaurant with three stars, and others to note serving the new Nordic cuisine include AOC, RELÆ, Kadeau, Kokkeriet, and Studio.

4. Up your castle cred.

You can’t get more credible in the castle department than famed Kronborg Castle in Elsinore — noted in Shakespeare’s Hamlet — found just 28 miles outside of Copenhagen. But aside from it, you should check out Rosenborg Castle; it’s unlike any you’ve probably seen before. Built in the 1600s, this is not a fairytale castle with gold gilding and Baroque curlicues; this is a stone behemoth. Inside you’ll find some of Denmark’s most precious treasures, including the crown jewels. But rather than seeing ornate plaster angels set against a pastel or gold background, you’ll find huge elk horns adorning the walls and King Christian IV’s blood-stained clothing from a battle at sea where he lost an eye, all perfectly reflective of a northern no-nonsense sensibility. You also might want to check out the more rococo Amalienborg Palace, the current home of the Queen of Denmark and the Prince Consort, and the Italianate Frederiksberg Palace.

5. Discover cool hoods.

From the former red light district of hip Vesterbro to the posh Frederiksberg, Copenhagen has hip neighborhoods, happening neighborhoods, and ones that are uber-luxe — it all depends on what floats your boat. (That neighborhood exists as well — Christianshavn runs along the canal.) Depending on whether you’re more hipster or haute, there’s a district for you full of bars, cafes, sights and sounds where you’ll feel comfortable hanging with your peeps.

6. Hit an amusement park... that's not just for kids.

You might well be thinking, “Why would I want to visit an amusement park in Copenhagen?” Well, this isn’t your standard “let’s pitch a tent in a parking lot” amusement park. Tivoli Gardens is one of Copenhagen’s biggest attractions. It’s a very large, 8.3-hectare park built in 1843, and it has — yes, thrill rides — but there are also theaters and open-air concert venues showing everything from Hairspray — The Musical to performances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; beautiful gardens with over 80,000 tulips alone; 40-plus restaurants including some fancy ones, and a fairy tale-like luxe design hotel with a terrific lounge. Plus, whether adult or kid, it’s hard not to get swept away by the 120,000 fairy lights that guide you through the park. So go and enjoy a few roller coasters and what not, have dinner at the lovely Nimb Terrasse, catch a concert, and end the evening in the hotel’s Vinotek.

7. Stroll and shop Strøget.

Strøget Street is a pedestrianized area running from City Hall Square (Rådhuspladsen) to Kongens Nytorv. (Don’t get confused: They call it a street but it encompasses more than that.) If you start near City Hall and move towards Kongens Nytorv the scenery changes from cheap and cheerful to high-end. On the nicer end of Strøget, you’ll find plenty of wares for design savvy individuals, whether it’s housewares or fashion. The flagship store of Royal Copenhagen, one of the world’s oldest porcelain companies, is here, as is the design temple, Illums Bolighus. Don’t miss Georg Jensen Silver and Pilgrim for jewelry and Mads Nørgaard or SAND Copenhagen for cutting-edge Nordic fashion for both men and women. But, regardless of your budget, there’s always something going on and something to see here. 

8. Stay in a luxe (but not stuffy) hotel.

In keeping with that well-developed Danish design sense there are some truly beautiful hotels in this capital city. Hotel d’Angleterre, in Kongens Nytorv square, has a Parisian-chic vibe with an excellent champagne bar, Balthazar, where you can order champagne flights; Hotel Nimb is a fantasy castle on the outside and beautifully posh on the inside with only 17 rooms; Radisson Blu Royal Hotel is an icon of the mid-century modern movement with interiors designed by Arne Jacobsen, including room 606, which has been perfectly preserved in its original form from 1960; and, if you’re looking for lovely but lower in price, there’s the stylish Scandic Palace Hotel right by City Hall and close to Tivoli Gardens.

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