6 Reasons to Visit the World's Happiest Country


Is that a woman or a 12-year old drinking beer? I don’t know, but they’re happy about it.

Denmark has recently emerged as the world’s happiest country, beating out Bhutan, the long-time favorite of anthropologists everywhere.

The birthplace of LEGO–a contraction of leg godt or “play well”–offers even the first time visitor an incredible sense of hygglige: amiable cosiness.

“I remember you mentioned in your book,” my Danish editor said over lunch in Copenhagen two weeks ago, “that you had a big head.” I do have a huge head. I took a bite of delicious Esrom cheese and nodded for her to continue, keeping one eye on the wienerbrød.

“But you don’t have a huge head. You just have a healthy, normal-sized Danish head.” I smiled–home at last.

Even if you don’t have a Danish bloodline like I do, there are some good reasons to visit Copenhagen, the capital of the world’s happiest country…

The First Published Map of World Happiness: the US ranks 23rd, the UK 41st, and Japan and France at 90th and 62nd respectively.

Here are just 6 of them:

1. More than 80% of the Danes speak English.

English movies are almost never dubbed in Denmark. Combined with excellent free education, this results in a high % of Danes speaking more pleasant English than the average Brit or American.

“OK, I’ll see you for dinner at 6pm then,” I said to one friend named Christopher over the phone. “You shall. Have a nice evening and see you soon,” he responded. Did I just get out-Englished by a non-native speaker? I felt like a TOEFL student.

You’re more likely to have communication problems in the bayou of Louisiana or in a pub in Manchester than you are in Copenhagen.

2. Christiania–the anarchist state of Scandinavia.

In 1971, a 101-acre site formerly used for army barracks was effectively seized and converted by hippies into “The Free State of Christiania.” They hotwired themselves into the power grid, created their own form of goverment, as well as a rich community of shops, schools, recycling programs, and most things you would associate with a normal township–but they claimed sovereignty and paid no taxes. It became a haven for artists, alternatives, and soft drug dealing, among other things, and the Danish government–though allowing Christiania to exist as a proclaimed “social experiment”–has been trying to shut them down for more than 35 years. In 1991, the appointed powers within the anarchist state agreed to pay rent and cover the costs of water and electricity.

I spent a late night wandering through the beautifully painted historical buildings of Christiania, ultimately ending up with two friends at The Woodstock Cafe, where we drank organic beer and met interesting vagabonds from all over the world. Dogs played outside among the metal barrels, which glowed like jack-o-lanterns from the flames inside them, producing surreal shadows on the graffiti all around us. It was incredible.

Most Danes agree that Christiania’s days are numbered. It’s an anachronism that has somehow survived every attempt to demolish it, but it’s nine lives will soon be up. Get there before it’s gone.

3. Danes pair food and wine better than most Italians or French.

That’s a strong statement, but I was amazed at how precisely, and insistently, most decent restaurants paired courses with wine. Restaurant Saa Hvidt, featuring young culinary superstar Frederik Hvidt, offers a prix fixe 5-course meal with five separate wines for each tapas-like dish. Incredible and unlike anything I’ve had in more than 30 other countries. Danish cheese is also the best I’ve ever had.

For a taste of real home-cooked Danish food, eat with a local family for about 400 DKK through the Dine with the Danes program.

5 small courses and 5 delicious wines at Saa Hvidt, with the good people from Borgen.

4. The people are beautiful but seem unaware of the fact.

As Bill Bryson once observed: you could cast a Pepsi commercial here in 15 seconds.

Right up there with Argentina, Denmark has a jaw-dropping number of gorgeous people. The truly beautiful part, and unusual differentiator, is that appear blissfully unaware of the fact. There is little LA-style pretension unless you go to a social climber magnet like Club NASA, which helps to pull the mirror gazers off the streets. Go in the spring or summer and there is no need for catwalks–the sidewalks at Nyhavn are good enough. For those feeling the club or lounge itch, Vega and JazzHouse are hard to beat.

5. Danish design is incredible to experience, even for non-designers.

“It doesn’t cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture.” This quote from Poul Henningsen, encapsulates the beauty of Danish design minimalism. Much like in Japanese design, form follows function, and half of the time I found myself in a great mood in Copenhagen, I realized it was due to the planned passage of sunlight in Danish architecture, as well as their understanding of interior lighting intensity and placement.

Bigger is not better, as is so often the case in the US, and the tallest building in Copenhagen is a modest 358 feet.

From the sleek silverware of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the most famous chairs in the design world, the Danes have a functional and pleasant feast for the eyes almost anywhere you go, whether the renowned Louisiana museum or your hotel lobby.

6. Bite-sized goodness: public transportation is as good as Japan, and you can cover the entire city in a weekend.

I looked at where I wanted to go. It was on the other side of the map from my hotel. “How long does it take to get there by taxi? 20 minutes?” The receptionist looked at me and laughed: “10 minutes by bicycle.” Copenhagen is probably the most hassle-free capital I’ve ever visited.

Rent a bike for 100 DKK and you can cover 1/2 of the “Barcelona of the North,” as design god Sir Terence Conran calls it, in an afternoon. 1-3-hour bike tours from Central Station are a perfect first-day orientation. The numerous S-line and Metro stations, in addition to HUR buses, will get you where you want to go if self-propelled locomotion isn’t your gig, but the average Dane bicycles 375 miles per year. Get off your ass and join them for the real Danish experience.


Looking for other happy travels?

Here are the combined top 10 according to separate studies from the University of Leicester in the UK and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the latter of which had 953 indicators (!):

* 1 Denmark
* 2 Switzerland
* 3 Austria
* 4 Iceland
* 5 Bahamas
* 6 Finland
* 7 Sweden
* 8 Bhutan
* 9 Brunei
* 10 Canada

6-month old salted cod and four other pairings in Copenhagen. And, yes, there was caviar in the dessert.

Posted on: April 14, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

172 comments on “6 Reasons to Visit the World's Happiest Country

  1. hello friends,

    I am from India presently, working in UAE as secondary school science teacher,

    i just got my Danish Green Card planning to visit in the month of Nov 2010.

    i would be glad if someone can throw light about teaching , life, housing,cost, weather in Denmark, i have read Danes are most friendly people, they are ready to help others,
    it would be great to go and work there, plz let me know about it


    • It’s quite expensive I must confess, Our weather goes from about (I think)
      -7 to like 37, the last three winters have been very long and there were SOOO much snow.. but the winters before wasn’t that bad, right now we constantly hit the records n like “Warmest temperature at this date in 107 years” and “Most snow in 57 years” (random numbers) Most are friendly, but caution with new people, most of the danes loves English – like me :I


  2. And now, Denmark had its third Oscar with Susanne Bier’s “In a Better World”
    Original title in Danish: “Hævnen” in English: “The Revenge”.
    Stick to Denmark, and thanks for a great website promoting Denmark.


  3. All three Scandinavian capitals are wonderful; Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo. They are quite different from each other, but equally nice. Copenhagen and Stockholm is bigger and more metropolitan, while is Oslo has closer to nature. All three are a little pricey, but there are also ways top get around that. Avoid taxis and go by public transport or rent a bike. Stay at apartments are prepare the meals yourself instead of expemsive restaurants.


    • Well Danetoo, I deem there are a lot of contenders for those titles in Europe (I am French myself, and would rather have similar “kind words” for my “patrie”), but I have indeed heard such things from foreigners who lived in or visited Denmark… Furthermore, I notice that the “happiest” country in Europe are also amongst the most expensive, except Sweden; elsewhere i am not so sure poor people are so happy, hence perhaps the high suicide rates (combined with depressing cold, dark winters; even Sweden has a high suicide rate, I think).


    • Complete and utter BS. You’ve had a racist experience and now the entire country is labeled as a racist nation simply because you say so? Sigh..

      I am a left winger, so I have no reason to try to excuse the statements made by the the far right, but your generalization is so far off the mark, that I simply have to speak up.
      Obviously there are racists in Denmark, just like in any other nation on the planet. Calling Denmark “The most racist country..” just shows your own ignorance though. We’re not even close to being able to claim that title. It’s simply based on your own personal opinion/guess.. Nothing else.


      • I have to confirm that Denmark is a racist country under the appearance of a friendly and jovial place to live. This is not only personal experience, as there are many people who know the truth. Immigrants are discriminated and the Denmark Nation is above all. But yeah, let’s keep the appearance clear and be proud to be “the happiest country in the world”. Give me a break…


  4. Denmark is for sure not a happy country.
    They drink and smoke weed alot and this is maybe why the study revealed them as being happy.
    You can find nice people, but because they lack curiosity, they don’t evolve by sharing knowledge with other cultures.

    I got here for study and I’m dissapointed .
    I believe the government ordered this review as Denmark being a happy country in order to get tourists, but the population was not prepared for foreigners.
    The education is poor, they just advertise that as well only to get long term tourists.
    If we calculate for 10 000 students * a minimum expenses 6 000 dkk / month that gives 8 055 120.12 Euros (10 656 923.71$ US Dollars) per month. And Denmark currently (2012) has aprox. 15 000 foreigner students and aprox. 7000 exchange (1 semester).Also this calculation does not include the university fee and neither the flits home-Dk.
    So they make lots of money and the education is not as good as advertised.
    Plus the population is not aware of the moves of the government and they tend to have the attitude as we would come here to occupy their country.
    They were smart to implement this idea in order to get money from others, but is sad they made us come to study here and live the worst days of our lifes.


    • Well, thank you for making us all look the same,
      Yes, we drink alot but it’s not NEAR to be many who smoke weed..
      I was amazed by how exited he was for our country, to be honest, I don’t think it’s that good either but I love being here..
      We’ve just got the rights to be who we want. I’ve met so many nice people and there’s not a single one at my high school who’s getting bullied, we help each other in our class eventhough we’ve only been together for 3 months, we respect each other..
      So please don’t talk bad about a country and don’t speak about things you don’t know anything about..