No, I didn’t just spend my weekend in a field in Somerset passed out after having consumed too much green stuff… In recent years I have many read newspaper articles which try, as humanity always does, to categorise things. One that caught my eye was 10 of the world’s Happiest cities, which to my own surprise suggested that Copenhagen was the happiest place on earth. My immediate thought was why?! Copenhagen is in the cold north, enjoys mild summers but dark and miserable winters which bear much resemblance to those found in Scotland. Just as I felt the impulse to go seek out the so-called happiest place on earth in Japan (an island infested with friendly bunny did sound promising), I thought I would check this place out.
With less than 72 hours in the city I hardly felt as though I would come to understand why Copenhagen does so well in such polls, but there are a few clear indications both observable by the visitor and armchair traveller. The city is very pretty, small, walkable, and the not too far from great beaches and nature. The historical centre and parliament are within easy walking distance of Free State Christiania, testiment of Danish tolerance. The bike lanes are comparable with those in the Netherlands and thus a vast number of people use these for their daily commute, a way of keeping active and reducing one’s carbon footprint. University is free in Denmark, a country which values its welfare system like its Scandinavian neighbours. In addition to that, consider the high price of getting a coffee and one might presume that Danish people have a pretty good starting salary.
My friend and I spent a nice few days in Copenhagen, couchsurfing with a lovely host, taking a boat trip around the canals, hanging out with locals, eating good food, exploring Christiania and the Danish capital’s art scene. It is a good place to go for a weekend city break as it is easy to get around and most of the interesting sites are close to each other.
Christiania is a weird but interesting place. Upon arrival you are reminded that you are leaving the EU. Most things are tolerated in this semi-free state but hard drugs are not recommended, and you can’t take photos on pusher’s street (what kind of anarchist would I be without breaking this rule though?)
Once out of the so-called pusher street where marijuana is sold in little camouflage tents, Christiana becomes a pretty little hippy comune characterised by architecture without architects, colour and a Camdenesque vibe. Indiidual frames of the city range from picturesque to seemingly post-apocalyptic. The nicest part of Christiana is by the side of a canal. Most food in Christiana seems to be vegetarian and from sustainable sources, it is much cheaper than the rest of Copenhagen.
Christiania is one of those interesting places to visit when you want to see something different. It shows that people can defy the system if they have enough determination and is apparently a quite desirable place to live, but it does have its downsides… Increased crime rate in recent years and difficulty in decision making. We spoke to a local inhabitant who expressed his frustration at how slow it was to build a new public toilet in this free state, as full agreement across the community is required and just one “no” can halt any sort of progress.
Aside from the more alternative side to Copenhagen, the city has its fair share of art, as one would expect from any nation which scores highly in terms of Global Happiness. The National Gallery of Art offers visitors a great selection of art works from different periods. When I last visited there was an exhibition on the impressionists, where I got to see many of my favourite pieces by Edgar Degas. More unique perhaps is the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, a cultural hub in Scandinavia and an impressive feat of modern architecture itself, set against the rugged Danish coastline with Sweden on the horizon. Cool minimalistic Danish design meets a salty sea breeze and the smell of pine forests. Among the works on display were the seemingly heavily eroded, existentialist sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, an exhibition featuring a migraine-inducing display of optical illusions, appropriately named Eye Attack and Fire Under Snow, a selection of new art house films on a number of themes.
Copenhagen is definitely way up there alongside London, Amsterdam and Berlin as one of the coolest cities in Europe. Since this trip I have returned numerous times, once for a wedding. It turns out that Denmark is one of the cheapest and quickest places to get married to avoid legal issues if your future spouse is from outside the EU; good to have in mind.