What You Should Know About Living in Copenhagen, Denmark

According to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Denmark is the second happiest city in the world, behind Helsinki, Finland. Copenhagen is safe, clean, healthy, and relaxed. But it’s not the canals or colorful houses that people love; it’s the culture ‒ based around the concept of hygge (pronounced HOO-guh), which emphasizes coziness, equality, simplicity, and social harmony. People here like to live in the moment. They’re grateful for small pleasures and the quiet, peaceful atmosphere they bring. For anyone interested in moving to Scandinavia, here are a few things you should know about living in Copenhagen.

They’re Co-Housing Pioneers

One third of the housing stock in Copenhagen is co-operative. Residents buy shares in a community of homes or apartments built around shared outdoor spaces, such as playgrounds, gardens, dining rooms, and clubhouses. The designs encourage inhabitants to interact with one another, leading to close bonds between neighbors.

Everyone who lives in the complex has a voice in how it's run. People live independently, but work cooperatively, managing their community through discussion and consensus. Members organize games, barbecues, movie nights, carpools, childcare, and elder care. Most residents are so enamored by the balance of autonomy and society that once they move in, they rarely move out.

Most People Ride Bikes

Copenhagen is one of the biggest cycling cities in the world. Ninety percent of people living here own a bicycle and they use it in all kinds of weather ‒ sun, rain, and snow. They bike to work, bike to the store, and bike to see friends. On the weekends, they go biking for pleasure out in the countryside.

For a major city, Copenhagen is surprisingly small ‒ only 69 square miles. Most trips don’t take more than thirty minutes, even by bicycle. Copenhagen has 250 miles of cycling paths, all separated from sidewalks and roadways. People prefer going by bike because they don’t have to share the road and don’t get caught in traffic. Over the next few years, the government plans to build “cycle superhighways” in order to provide citizens with smoother rides, greater safety, and better access to the city’s attractions and neighborhoods.

Cycling culture has had an enormous impact on the city’s health and sustainability. Compared to other commuters, the city’s cyclists request 1.1 million fewer sick days and have cut the region’s carbon emissions by over twenty thousand tons a year.

Employers Balance Work and Leisure

Danes don’t live to work; they work to live. Despite the country’s booming economy, most employees only put in thirty-seven hours of work a week, the fewest in Europe. Most offices close before 4 pm and it's rare to find anyone working after five. But while shorter hours normally lessen output, in Denmark it’s the opposite.

Danish workers are the second most productive in Europe. In an average week, they get more done than people living in Canada, Japan, Australia, or the United States. The key is work-life balance. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), long work hours impair health and safety, while shorter hours leaves more time for family and personal care, which leads to greater well-being, happiness, and job performance.

Danish companies follow this advice better than anyone. Their workers are entitled to five weeks of paid vacation every year and enjoy flexible hours, in order to reduce the burden on parents and elderly employees. As a result, women and seniors make up a larger proportion of the country’s workforce compared to other nations in the OECD: 72 and 62 percent, respectively.

It’s the Safest City on Earth

In 2021, the Economist Intelligence Unit named Copenhagen the safest city in the world. Its residents are not only safe from felony and misdemeanor crimes, but also accidents, diseases, and environmental hazards, such as air pollution. At the moment, bike theft is the most common offense in Copenhagen, but even that’s dropping off, with fewer bikes stolen in 2020 than any other year on record.

Everyone Speaks English

Though most residents prefer to speak Danish, practically all Copenhagens are fluent in English as well. While learning Danish will help them make friends, it pays to learn Danish, Americans living in the city have no difficulty communicating with their neighbors or making themselves understood at local bars and restaurants.

They Love Coffee

The average Dane consumes nineteen pounds of coffee a year. Hanging out and drinking coffee is one of their favorite ways to socialize. They even have a word for it: kaffeslabberas. So, not surprisingly, Copenhagen is filled with coffee shops. Every street and neighborhood has their own, though unlike America, most are run independently.

Coffee Collective, one of the city’s largest chains, was started out of a garage. They currently operate eight locations around Copenhagen, concentrating on an intriguing blend of light and dark roasts. But even small coffee chains are rare in Copenhagen. Most people get their coffee from small cafes offering lattes, cappuccinos, and experimental drinks brewed in V60, aeropresses, chemexes, and siphons, in order to extract more notes and deliver a fuller taste.

Their Pastries are Unbelievable

Most Americans have eaten Danish. But tasty as they are in the US, they’re a pale imitation of the pastries in Copenhagen. Their sweet scent is one of the city’s familiar hallmarks. Most coffee shops have in-house bakeries and if they don’t, you won’t have to walk far to find one. Just make sure you know what you’re ordering. Danes don’t eat cheesy, salty, or savory pastries the way we do in America. Instead, they prefer:

  • Rabarberhorns (Rhubarb Horn). A seasonal pastry made by folding rhubarb and marzipan into milky dough. Once it’s done baking, it's topped with flaked almonds and sugar crystals. The tart, rhubarb filling helps accentuate the sweetness of the dough.

  • Frøsnapper (Seed Snappers). A sweet, crisp, and flaky bun braided into twists and layered with remonce ‒ a thick paste made from sugar and butter.

  • Hindbærsnitter (Raspberry Slices). A layer of raspberry jam sandwiched between two slices of buttery, shortcrust pastry and covered with a thin layer of frosting and sprinkles, often likened to a high-end Pop-Tart.

  • Spandauer. The most popular pastry in the country, known as “wienerbrød” (Vienna Bread) in Denmark but Danish in America, made from yeasted, laminated dough filled with remonce or marzipan and topped with cream or jam.

Best Restaurants in Scandinavia

As if all the coffee and pastry weren’t enough, Copenhagen’s dining industry is booming as well. The city has fifteen Michelin Star restaurants, giving it one of the highest concentrations of haute cuisine of any metro in Europe or America. Two of its restaurants (noma and Geranium) have even been voted best in the world.

Their chefs have led a renaissance in Nordic cuisine ‒ the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto, which focuses on fresh, simple, and seasonal ingredients harvested from Scandinavian farms, waters, and landscapes. It’s a cold climate alternative to the Mediterranean diet, with a greater emphasis on root vegetables, fatty fish, whole grains, wild berries, and exotic game, such as reindeer, moose, elk, venison, partridge, grouse, and pheasant.

Moving to Copenhagen

North American Van Lines is a full service moving company. We understand settling in another country is complex and stressful. Which is why, for over 80 years, our agents have provided on-the-ground support to clients every step of the way, from pre-planning to customs to final delivery. Our teams work closely with you to ensure every concern is addressed with the care and urgency it deserves, for a process that’s safe, smooth, and worry-free. Contact us today for a free quote!


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