Tomorrow, a partial lockdown begins in Copenhagen, with restaurants, entertainment venues, schools, and workplaces going totally digital. It’s a sad day in the city, but we have been extremely fortunate to have a full autumn without a lockdown! And the city looks beautiful as ever, so lockdown walks are going to be lovely. So, what better way to kick off the Christmas-themed posts than with a dazzling array of Christmas-lights pictures at the beautiful Nyhavn?! It’s been a full half year since I shared photos from this lovely area, which in non-corona times would be absolutely teeming with tourists. This year the area is emptier than usual (but still quite a lot of pedestrians), and the Christmas market was of course cancelled…but it’s still looking lovely with all the decorations that have been put up. Have a look below 🙂
Ever since I started my blog, curious readers have been reaching out to me about Denmark and asking whether Denmark’s reputation for being the ‘happiest’ country on earth is true.
The honest answer to that from a ‘foreigner’s perspective? It really depends on your circumstances, and especially your residency/citizenship status. So brace yourself for a (hopefully) level headed, ‘foreigner’ assessment of this reputation as someone living and working in Denmark.
I’ll give you my personal answer first – yes, I am personally speaking the happiest in Denmark than anywhere else I have been in my adult life. A big part of that is because I have a roof over my head, I secured my dream job during a pandemic, almost tripled my salary in the past year, live in the beautiful Danish capital, find it easy to communicate with people in English, did not have any issues whatsoever with settling in (getting CPR number, bank account, etc), and last but not least basically met the man of my dreams as soon as I arrived in the country. I mean, seriously?? You can’t really go wrong with that!
So how much of the above is specific to Denmark? Well certainly my job is specific to Denmark, and I know that my partner is like a…someone you meet once in a lifetime and got to hold onto type of guy. But of course one should consider that it’s easy to idealise a place with a reputation of being a social utopia. I consider myself extremely fortunate with my current personal circumstances, but the reality is that as an immigrant you will never experience the ‘full’ benefits of being in any country. Even though I get the same healthcare and other social services as citizens, there are some structural obstacles that I would face. It’s common knowledge that for example foreigners have to pay twice or more as much of a down fee if they want to purchase a property in the country, it will be more difficult to arrange loans with banks no matter how stable your income, etc. You could argue some of this is more than fair enough, but that’s just the kind of reality you should consider when moving somewhere – you will still be new to that country, and that comes with its own set of challenges. Furthermore, immigration is actually quite tough in Denmark. Just like the UK, even marriage will not grant you an automatic right to stay in the country. There are many hoops to jump through. Of course, this comes as no surprise to me – immigration policies are an easy way to build in structural discrimination anywhere. Furthermore, I am not eligible like citizens are, to any kind of state welfare funds/benefits (I’m surprised how few people know that foreigners don’t get these kinds of benefits). So being unemployed is not an option for me – I’ll never have a safety net to fall back on. And unfortunately, as with any other country in the world, racism exists in Denmark, among other social issues that I believe ought to be actively tackled – I do not consider Denmark exempt from that rule merely because it is ahead on some issues relative to other places.
With those qualifications in mind, let me outline what I believe Denmark does well:
Hygge. Denmark is undeniably a beautiful country, there’s almost a simplistic and quiet beauty to it – flat, serene, lots of countryside, lots of green landscape, surrounded by sea with several islands. And Copenhagen is really, in my opinion, the epitome of a beautiful life – mix of modern and new architecture, well-kept, organised, bike-friendly, very few cars, clean public swimming all year round, pristine parks, easy to get around, lots of places to eat or cosy up under a blanket at an outdoor cafe. I mean if you’ve been following my blog for a while I think the photos of the city should speak for themselves. I must say this is a huge part of the appeal of living in Copenhagen for me – just what a beautiful life it can be here. For an aesthete like myself Copenhagen is a dream. And yes, ‘hygge’ is a favourite word/concept for many who live in Denmark, especially in wintertime where having a beautiful, cosy time really matters when it gets very dark, bitingly cold, and gloomy. Fleeces, blankets, candles, fairy lights, a warm drink, a seasonal movie, quiet nights in, anything to do with Christmas – that is the vibe! I mean as soon as Halloween was over, Christmas decor got put up around the city and every shop started really pushing for this winter hygge. You’ll hear the word ‘cosy’ a lot in this country because that’s the closest English translation of the hygge concept.
Work/Life balance. This is not a myth – Danes really know how to achieve work/life balance! Of course this also depends on your field/workplace, with some being better or worse than others, so I’ll tell you from my personal experience as someone who works in academia: academia in the UK was no easy feat, and I can almost guarantee that any junior academic working anywhere is doing overtime with little pay, and are super stressed. Well, turns out this is not so much the case in Denmark (or at least my department).
Here, people actually leave the office by 5pm, including myself – shocker. In fact people will wander in at 10am if they so please, instead of keeping a strict schedule (of course this doesn’t apply to certain jobs). People with children leave at 3/4pm even, to pick up their kids from school or daycare. Overtime is just not a thing, and seems frowned upon. There is also a lot of flexibility with work and well-being – it’s understood that if you have a doctor’s appointment or some personal thing you need to attend to, you just go ahead and prioritise that without a need to ‘justify’ why you aren’t at work. Your health and happiness is a priority. And at my workplace at least I feel that people really care about each other and watch out for one another – a kind of ‘community spirit’ where people really lift each other up.
Let’s not forget the fact that people use any excuse to bring ‘cake’ into the office! On that note I just want to point out ‘kage’ means cake in Danish, but it’s used a bit like the word ‘pudding’ in the UK – it just means dessert.
On the flip side, I’ve heard many people say “nothing gets done” or “decided” at work because of the working environment (and on account of everyone being considered equals) or that they struggle to climb the professional ladder in such lax settings. I don’t know how true that is, but from a personal point of view I will say it is very relaxed if you come from a place with a demanding working culture (I come from South Korea for heaven’s sake..). Everyone keeps telling me that I am some kind of workaholic whereas I really feel the opposite – I almost feel too relaxed at work! But maybe that’s part of me unlearning the unhealthy competitive spirit that’s been instilled into me ever since I started university in the UK.
Childcare. I can’t personally speak for this as I don’t have children, but my understanding is that family matters are very much prioritised in Denmark and that daycare/childcare subsidies make it very affordable to have a balanced family/work life.
No student debt. Hello free education! Every Danish student, I believe, can study for free under certain conditions for a fixed amount of time before their education fees actually come out of pocket. There are also student subsidies you receive on top of that. It’s almost so good that I’ve been told people will look for reasons to be a student for longer so they can maximise this. Also, I would do a PhD in Denmark if I could go back – you get an actual salary, not a stipend, and it’s certainly not peanuts! So I would definitely consider/recommend doing tertiary education in Denmark – I’ve also heard that university life is a lot more chilled out compared to the UK 🙂
Overall, Denmark is a place that provides adequate social services to its residents, with a good level of trust between the state and its citizens, and is also a relatively peaceful and small country with nowhere near the kind of tensions you hear about in the news in other places – I’d say that does a lot of the work in terms of why people are happy and content here! Honestly getting used to the ‘Danish’ standard of complaint is an actual thing – like when Danes from the countryside complain of the “traffic” in Copenhagen (meanwhile I’m thinking I live in the countryside compared to places like London) 😉
If you live/have you’ve ever lived in Denmark I’d be curious to hear about what your impressions were or if you agree with my assessment. Hope you have a great day!
Last Sunday, I posted some images of the Frederiksborg Castle chapel. This week I’ll share with you some of the images from the castle ground gardens – it’s totally free to walk around and honestly I was super impressed with the grounds. In the past I’ve visited Versailles, in France, and I can see why this place is considered the Versailles of Denmark – but I’ll dare say it’s nicer than Versailles. It’s clean, less crowded, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get in. Simply a beautiful walk to take on a sunny bright day a short train ride from Copenhagen city centre. Have a look below!
I feel so lucky to be able to work at such a beautiful modern campus. My office is in the city centre, rather than Amager which is where the south campus of my university is located, but I like to roam around the different campuses because each one has their charm.
I’ve visited a great many universities throughout my studies and working life, and can honestly say have never walked around a modern campus that I genuinely find aesthetically pleasing to look at – until I came to Copenhagen that is! Usually it’s the older buildings that I enjoy being at, whereas new campus developments in cities always seemed to me like glassy, gargantuan structures that don’t quite fit with the rest of the architecture.
But as I’ve mentioned plenty of times before on this blog, modern architecture is really something special in Copenhagen – it’s something you can seek out as something to admire around the city. The South Campus of the University of Copenhagen is no exception, and it is probably one of my favourite places to go work – it’s fun to walk around, it’s clean, it’s elegant, and a stone’s throw from Islands Brygge, one of the city’s most beautiful Harbourside walking areas.
The little bike caves built-in (I call them “bicycle hobbit holes”) are the showstoppers for this pedestrianised campus, though the circular student accommodation building design comes a close second – have a look below and let me know what you think! 🙂
It’s been a while since I’ve done a ‘Sunday Museum’ post! Though today’s post is not exactly a ‘museum’ (more like a castle) I thought it would be nice to share with you these photos of the Frederiksborg Castle chapel. There was a wedding going on the first time I tried to enter the place, but I was patient and waited it out so I could take a peek inside. And I’m glad I did – just look at the place!
Also, stay tuned for more photos from this opulent castle grounds in the coming weeks 🙂
The more I visit Nørrebro, the more it grows on me – the part of Nørrebro close to town is, in my opinion, the busiest and most interesting part of Copenhagen (at least for a young person like me). It reminds me a lot of the neighbourhood I used to live in Bristol in the UK (Stokes Croft/Montpelier) which was an area with plenty of street art, skaters dragging their wheels on the roads, the coolest music venues, lots of vintage, charity, and independent shops, vegan cafes, alternative cinemas, and so on. Nørrebro is like a cleaner, even more “hip” version of Stokes Croft, and could probably be compared to many up and coming areas of London.
Compared to my beloved own neighbourhood – Vesterbro – Nørrebro feels more hectic, more diverse, more artsy. I say those things in a good way. In Copenhagen, Nørrebro unfortunately has the reputation of being a “dirty” area with “gang activity” “crime” and so on – I don’t know how true those claims are, but either way they are terms I tend not to attribute to city neighbourhoods because I think they are loaded terms, and well – let’s just say Danish standards for a rough neighbourhood are quite different to that of one in the UK. Of course, ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ areas come with a certain level of hype – but if I could pick a street in the neighbourhood that really captures and distils the unique vibe of Nørrebro it would be Blågårdsgade (try saying that twice as fast)!
Just take a look below for all the weird and wonderful sights you can take in the length of a single street.
It’s been over a month since I last uploaded the photos I took on my camera. I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t found so much as a single hour to myself these days. In between work, Danish classes, social events, and sports/athletic activities, it’s almost a shock if I find myself chilling at home. But with new Covid-19 restrictions taking effect, I will try to appreciate being at home more and having a quieter sort of life – and that includes catching up on blog posting 🙂
Since we are in the heart of autumn at the moment I thought it would be fitting to share some of these dark, warm, vibrant, cosy, atmospheric photos I took at Frederiksberg Have. Though I have shared Frederiksberg Have on my blog before, this is a part of the park that I haven’t shown yet – indeed I didn’t even realise it was there until recently!
The burnt orange walls, the purple flowers, the twilight, the glowing lights, the crackling fire – everything about this area is extraordinarily aesthetic.
I feel privileged to work in two of the best buildings/complexes of the university campus – my office space which is in the heart of the center, near the botanical gardens, and Panum, which is where I have my gym and teaching related duties.
And let me tell you…the award-winning Maersk tower in Panum by C.F. Møller architects in the Panum complex has, I think, the best views of the city. You heard it here first! 😉 I’ll share with you some exclusive shots from the viewpoint at the top of the tower below…
I know, these views practically motivate me to come into university all the time 🙂 Please do check back on my page for my next post, which will showcase some sunset photos from this building!
The round tower (Rundetaarn) is a modest structure tucked away smack dab in the middle of town. It’s a great vantage point to admire the charms of the city from above, and definitely a ‘must do’ activity if you are visiting Copenhagen even just for a day, thanks to its proximity to the centre and the relatively little time it takes to climb up this stair-less tower (it’s a spacious, stepless, winding spiral upwards). For a capital city, there is relatively few ‘high rise’ buildings in Copenhagen so you get plenty of unobstructed views far and wide from this tower.
I just love the iconic burnt orange and mint coloured roofs against the familiar silhouettes of city landmarks, with smatterings of construction in between, and some more modern structures in the background like CopenHill (the artificial ski slope you see below – I will post about this place soon!)