It’s the most popular pastime in Denmark, and a national obsession. You can do it on a cold winter’s night, or a warm summer’s afternoon. It can be both a noun and a verb, and while you can do it alone, it’s usually more enjoyable with your closest friends and family members.
Personal interpretations may vary but there is no denying the important role it plays in Danish culture. It’s Hygge – (pronounced somewhere in between Hoo-ga and Hew-ga in English) and this quintessentially Danish concept permeates every aspect of life in this Northern European nation.
While certainly difficult to pronounce, Hygge may be even more difficult to accurately describe. It has no synonyms, and no direct English equivalent. Upon consulting a multitude of sources, the best English words that can be used to describe Hygge are cosiness, hominess, a feeling of friendship, tranquility, relaxation and familiarity.
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How to Hygge
Technically speaking anyone can Hygge at any time, or in any place. But what better way to experience this uniquely Danish phenomenon than to visit Denmark for yourself and Hygge till your heart’s content? The only ingredients one needs to Hygge are comfortable, relaxing surroundings, good food or drink (or both), and a complete lack of cares and worries. Close friends, colleagues or family members usually add to the overall feeling of Hygge, but one can cozy up with a good book, a nice coffee and Hygge themselves all evening long.
Hygge throughout the Year
Activities that Danes consider Hygge generally change with the seasons. Danish winters tend to be cold, dark and often rainy, so Hyggelig (the adjective for Hygge) experiences tend to take place indoors and always from the elements.
Due to Denmark’s relatively northern latitude, summer evenings seem to last all night, and chillier winter temperatures give way to a very pleasant, temperate climate. During the warmer months, Hygge is best experienced outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine – and usually involves al fresco dining, picnics, beer gardens and barbeques.
5 Ways to Hygge in Denmark
Hygge is more of a feeling than a concrete set of actions, but of course there are certain situations and activities that most Danes would consider to be very Hyggelig. Here are some suggestions that this wanna-be Dane has for visitors who want to experience this important element of Danish culture first-hand.
1. Strike up a conversation with some new friends and subtly invite yourself over for a barbeque. Grilling Pølse, (traditional Danish sausages) and cracking open a few cold cans of Carlsberg on a lazy summer afternoon would certainly be a great introduction to Hygge. Keep things light and relaxed. Leave talking about politics and religion for another time.
2. Head north; as north as you can possibly go in Denmark and you’ll reach the holiday town of Skagen. This sandy and wild region sits at the tip of the Jutland Peninsula where it is not far across the Kattegat strait to Sweden’s rugged shores. Huddling around a moonlit bonfire as dusk extends well into the night would certainly be considered Hygge.
3. Enjoy a relaxing candlelit chat and a glass of wine in a comfy café as the winds and rain howl outside on a cool fall evening in Copenhagen. The warmth and cosiness of your surroundings are all the more enjoyable when compared to the inclement weather outside.
4. Visit Aarhus, Denmark’s second city, and “Capital of Jutland”. Here you can stroll through the pleasant old town, which is actually an open-air museum made up of a collection of historic buildings from all across the country. If all that history makes you hungry, settle in to a cosy corner of one of the traditional half-timbered restaurants, relax and enjoy a traditionally Danish smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich on Rye bread), or a local delicacy like pickled herring.
5. Christmas in Denmark is considered the high season for Hygge. Like in many other European cultures, social activities, merry-making, and get-togethers culminate in December and early January. As friends, family members and auld acquaintances reconnect and enjoy each others company, many candles are lit, drinks are had and peace and tranquility reign.