Any savvy traveler will attest to the fact that integrating with the locals is the best way to immerse yourself in a new destination. This approach certainly isn’t only relevant while on a safari adventure in Kenya or a rainforest trek in Peru. When exploring Copenhagen, Scandinavia’s most stylish city, this same mindset applies.
From the outside, Danes are revered as the happiest people in the world. Most recently, many attribute this status to the Danish concept of hygge. Yet, upon visiting, most newcomers are quick to realize that the charming and cozy interiors they’ve read about are actually inhabited with people who operate with an icy cool sense of social decorum. Figuring out how to fit in before you’ve already committed a major faux pas or two is not quite so intuitive in the Danish capital. Let us tip you off with some essential guidelines for acting the part of a cool Copenhagener during your next trip.
Dress the part
No doubt, Danes are known for their striking fair-featured looks and impeccable aesthetic sense. In a city as streamlined and well-run as CPH, it isn’t so surprising how uniformly people dress. Not attempting to follow suit when it comes to street style will certainly make you stick out.
In the wintertime — which lasts most the year for anyone acclimated to climates of lower latitude — this means donning lots of black and gray. To really ace the game, opt for comfortable and versatile pieces (athleisure, anyone?) with unique cuts or other thoughtful details. Accent the look with fresh white sneakers and minimalistic jewelry.
The city is filled with beautiful boutiques. Our favorite area to shop for clothes is along HC Andersens Blvd. in the old city, Copenhagen K. Before you go, we also recommend having a look at secondfemale.dk for some quintessential Danish fashion inspiration.
Dial down on the noise and extraversion
Probably one of the biggest adjustments for most visitors is that the Danes are highly reserved. This has its pluses and minuses. On the downside, Copenhageners might come off as rude in day-to-day interactions. Don’t expect strangers to smile in passing or to even make eye contact with you on the street. This trademark demeanor is also one of the reasons why Danes are so notoriously difficult to befriend.
On the upside, lewd acts like catcalling would utterly embarrass them. Women can feel comfortable walking the streets in the absence of street harassment, and things do tend to run more smoothly because people are generally so self-contained. Plus, there is merit in learning to enjoy comfortable silences and ditching the social pressure of needing to be ‘on’ all the time. Either way, the uniquely Nordic concept of public privacy is one to get used to, and certainly one to heed.
Nourish your interior design infatuation
Chances are that by now you probably have an entire book about the concept of hygge sitting on your coffee table. That in mind, no such fad could do this collective cultural attitude justice in comparison to the way Danes live the concept day in and day out. The airy minimalistic Scandinavian design really does distinguish itself in its thoughtful attention to detail intended to make an interior cozy. The idea likely emerged as a way to stave off the oppressive darkness of Nordic winter by bringing people closer together.
Nowadays, Danes tend to take great pride in sprucing up their homes so that they meet hygge standards. In fact, asking about their latest interior design infatuations is always a good way to get a characteristically demure Dane to open up. But if that doesn’t succeed, you can also try experiencing hygge for yourself. Make a point of savoring some moments of warmth and candlelit comfort at your accommodation or in a cafe during the downtime on your stay, and see if you can pick up on the sensation firsthand.
Get a handle on your øl intake and acquire taste for some distinctly Danish delicacies
Danes have an interesting palette that can take some getting used to. Salted licorice is a popular snack, as is pickled herring and open-faced smørrebrod sandwiches smeared with liver pate. Luckily, for those who love to eat great food on vacation, Copenhagen itself is also lauded as one of the culinary capitals of the world for its New Nordic cuisine. It is home to the world famous Noma as well as many other phenomenal restaurants, coffee shops, and marketplaces. A few not to be missed include the café Mirabelle and the adjoining dinner spot, Bæst, in addition to Mikkeller Brewery, Copenhagen Coffee Collective, Meyers Bakerei, and the Torvhallerne Glass Market.
Some attribute the Dane’s sense of nationwide contentment to the social welfare programs, and others to their hygge lifestyle. Deep down, however, we know it’s their love for drinking. There’s something truly special about the Danish approach to alcohol consumption, and they can definitely hold their own. Locals explain that slugging down a couple pints of cold Carlsberg beer—in Danish, øl— is heavily connected to times of joy and celebration, even liken it to a patriotic affair.
Learn the essential lingo
The Danish language is filled with peculiar sounds and inflections, and few words are pronounced phonetically. There’s a running joke amongst Danes, that they seldom even understand each other – for a language with only six million speakers, there are immense variations in dialect. So if delving into some pre-travel Danish lessons proves to be too overwhelming, know you’re in good company. Not to mention, the Danes speak English flawlessly, so nailing down your Danish isn’t a huge issue, but it’s always wise to grasp a few essential phrases before heading to a new country. When in doubt, at least learn the word Skål (cheers)!
Slow it way down and respect your leisure time
Like any good northern European nation, Danish people take their leisure time very seriously. This means you should expect shops and restaurants to be strictly shut on Sundays as well as on many public holidays. It also means you should avoid the urge to grab-and-go when it comes to eating and drinking. This will absolutely make you stand out like a sore thumb! Danes are horrified by the idea of not having enough time to sit and enjoy a caffeinated beverage while taking in the accompanying cozy cafe atmosphere. Doing things any other way would be very un-hyggelig. If you go out to eat with a Dane, assume that the excursion will extend for a good while after plates have been cleared.
Another great way to fit in seamlessly is by enjoying your free time like a Dane, and when it comes to chilling out like one it’s pretty much all about the district, Nørrebro. Gather some friends along with a few beers and settle among the city’s in-crowd on the Dronning Louises Bridge, which is the gateway to the neighborhood. Alternatively, stroll the hip and happening Jægersborggade and the area surrounding Sankt Hans Torv to get a feel for what it means to be Scandi-chic.
Bike it, baby!
You didn’t think we would make a list about how to act the part in Copenhagen without talking about bike riding, did you? Well, if you had to choose just one tip for fitting in while visiting Copenhagen, this would be it. In fact, there are actually more bicycles than people populating the city. Most of us are acquainted with rush hour traffic, but the Danish capital, this phenomenon has been reinvented on two wheels. On an average morning you’ll witness grown business people cruising on their bikes along with entire small families secured to a single cykel. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to finesse the biking culture as well as a native, don’t let this fact intimidate you! There’s truly no better way to learn the city.
Want to check out Copenhagen, and Scandinavia’s other delights? Get booking this magical 8-day trip through the region.
Image Credits (top to bottom): Intrepid Travel, iStock, København K FB page, Mirabelle FB page, iStock, Intrepid Travel