The happiest country on Earth? It just might be… Denmark frequently tops the lists of the happiest nations on the planet. And while Denmark might not have the dramatic natural sights of its Scandinavian neighbours, its landscape is equally beautiful and inspiring. You can see this in the way the Danes have incorporated the natural beauty of the country into everything that they do: the sleek, sophisticated furniture, the understated but delicious food, and the simple yet elegant fashion. To spend time in Denmark is to understand the calming effect of the country, and to experience the quintessential sense of comfort, inclusivity, and warmth, all of which are encapsulated in the nationwide notion of hygge. It’s no wonder Danes love to travel close to home, exploring so much of their own country; even when exploring a new city, landmark, or campsite, there’s a feeling that you’re already right at home.
You don’t have to look very far to find perhaps the greatest characteristic of the Danish way of life: hygge. It’s untranslatable in many languages, and perhaps even undefinable; the closest translation is perhaps ‘cosiness’. But Danes know hygge when they see it, or feel it. In the summer, it’s a park picnic with friends, or a day out with the family on the beach. In winter, it’s cuddling up by the fireplace after a day out in the snow, or wrapping your hands around a warm drink at a Christmas market. These moments with friends and family, though they may be small, contribute to the general sense of belonging and contentment that Danes strive for in everyday life, and that so many visiting tourists try to find for themselves. Hygge is all about finding happiness in the simple things in life, but Denmark proves that sometimes it’s the simple things that are the most alluring.
Denmark’s history and culture
There’s a reason Denmark is so frequently ranked one of the happiest countries on the planet. In fact, there’s more than one reason, many more. And while a lot of it has to do with hygge, studies show that the Danish happiness goes much deeper than that. More than ever before, people are starting to sit up and take notice of the Scandinavian country – it’s become a nation to emulate.
Like all of Scandinavia, Denmark has a rich history dating back nearly 12,000 years. As the glacial landscapes from the Ice Age started to melt, first reindeer and elk came to Denmark, and then people. While Danish ancestors were initially nomadic hunter/gatherers, as temperatures continued to rise, the land became a more hospitable place to settle. This eventually led to the Iron Age, and then, in the Middle Ages, to the era of Vikings. It was during this era that Harald Blåtand Gormsen, often known as King Harald Bluetooth, unified the kingdom of Denmark in 965 AD; Denmark also has the oldest monarchy in Europe.
Today, Denmark is seen as a progressive and innovatory country, especially when it comes to the arts. It also holds social equality in high priority. These factors, in combination with the Danish eye for exquisite design, an emphasis on urban planning and liberal politics, and an emerging gourmet restaurant scene, now make Denmark one of the most enviable countries in the world. It consistently ranks at the top of lists that asses a country’s livability, and the city of Copenhagen has been named the world’s most livable city many times over. Perhaps some of this happiness stems from the deep connection Danes have with the land itself, and the prominence that’s given to spending time outdoors, whether it be through the cycling culture, the tradition of camping, or the simple act of sitting around a campfire with friends, eating warm snobrød. From the sandy beaches to the bohemian cities to that ethereal midsummer light, the country knows how to impress. Whatever the reasons, spending time in Denmark is good for the mind, body, and soul.
Denmark’s Nature and outdoor adventures
Compared to its neighbours of Sweden and Norway, Denmark is sometimes overlooked as a top destination for outdoor activities. This means that the country is vastly underrated in terms of its natural beauty, but, looking at the positive side, this means more land for the rest of us. And while the country is extremely flat – the highest peak, Møllehøj, stands a mere 170 metres – that doesn’t mean the nation isn’t abound with things to do and places to explore. It’s quite the opposite, in fact.
Camping is second nature in Denmark, and Danes feel very comfortable in the outdoors. With over 500 approved campsites as well as 850 natural campsites scattered across the country, people love to take advantage of the beauty of the wilderness in Denmark: the soft, rolling hills, the crystal-clear lakes, the fairytale forests, and the seemingly endless stretches of coastline. Perhaps one of the most beautiful places to camp in Denmark is on the island of Bornholm, an idyllic spot to spend time in the beech forests or explore one of the sandy beaches nearby. It’s also a popular spot for cycling, another of the great Danish pastimes. Dueodde, undoubtedly one of the best beaches in Denmark, is a wonderful place to relax on the soft white sand after an invigorating dip in the Baltic Sea. Another fantastic spot to camp is the ‘garden isle’ of Funen, so named for its beautiful orchards and grassy fields. If camping on the beach is your thing, make your way to the Dursland coast, where you can pitch your tent directly in the sand. Finally, for those who want to truly get away from it all and enjoy Denmark in its most natural, unspoilt form, try your hand at wild camping.
But camping isn’t the only thing that defines outdoor adventures in Denmark. There’s cycling, hiking, boating, and wildlife spotting, including the incredible phenomenon of ‘The Black Sun’ at Tøndermarsken, where thousands of starlings gather at dusk, essentially blotting out the sun. In late summer and autumn, we can witness the rutting season of the stags, where they make a grand display of dominance and aggression in order to win their mate’s attention; one of the best places to see them is Jægersborg Deer Park. And throughout the country, there are spots of great beauty, from the coastline to the forests and beyond. There’s Søhøjlandet, one of the largest forests in Denmark, with multiple lakes and moors to explore by land or by boat. Then there’s Skagen, the northernmost tip of Denmark, where you can walk out onto the sand spit to see where the seas meet. And, of course, there’s Møns Klint, one of the most famous spots in Denmark, known for its dramatic chalk cliffs and a chance to search for fossils.
Denmark’s natural appeal may be underrated, but once you experience it for yourself, you know just how truly magnificent it can be.
Did you know?
It’s no secret that Danes love their bikes. Not only does Denmark have some of the best cycling routes in Europe, even the cities are extremely bike-friendly. Copenhagen, for example, has more bikes than people! The average Dane receives his or her first bike at age 3, and it’s said that the average person cycles 1.5 kilometers per day. 45% of Danish people cycle to school or work every day, and while nine out of every ten Danes own a bicycle, only four out of ten own a car.
Another interesting fact about Denmark? There are approximately 2.5 pigs per person nationwide, so it’s not that unusual that Denmark is routinely ranked as one of the countries with the highest consumption of pork per capita. And while the rest of the world may have polarising opinions on black liquorice, especially the salty Danish version, in Denmark you can find samples of liquorice everywhere: in ice cream, in cocktails, in pasta… there are even cookbooks dedicated to cooking with liquorice, and there’s an annual liquorice festival in Copenhagen! Danes really do love the stuff.