Travel & Tips

Lean Into Winter in the Land of Hygge

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Dreams of hitting the town on two wheels in pursuit of little more than a crisp glass of wine and a dip in the harbor may have you planning a summertime jaunt to Copenhagen—but it’s time to reconsider.

Sure, day turns to night quite quickly come December. But Denmark’s capital city is a true gem in the winter months. You won’t have to battle nearly as many tourists in the bike lanes and the city’s top natural wine bars will still be there for you once you’ve downed comforting gløgg at area holiday markets. Oh, and there’s still plenty of opportunity for an icy dip.

It’s also high season for the regional hygge tradition, a term that roughly translates to “coziness” that is embraced by locals, especially in the colder months. Living out the hygge fantasy makes a trip to Copenhagen in the winter feel like being wrapped in a warm blanket, despite the frigid cold you’re sure to encounter.

So go ahead, sip a hot drink fireside before heading out to explore a museum. Or bundle up and explore the city with your stomach leading the way and nothing but flaky pastries and steaming soups on the agenda. No matter how you choose to embrace winter in this charming city, you’ll leave understanding why the Danes are consistently recognized as some of the happiest people on earth. Here’s everything you need to add to your itinerary for a winter trip to Copenhagen.

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The Barking Dog

Warm up from the inside out with boozy beverages

Who needs hand warmers when you can explore Copenhagen with a hot drink in hand? Thanks to the city’s plentiful holiday markets, you can find streetside stands selling gløgg, the sweet and spicy mulled wine that’s easily the season’s premier beverage, just about anywhere around the holidays. As the season continues on, bars jockey to see who can craft the top variation of the beverage; The Barking Dog, the lobby bar at Hotel Sanders (grab a spot by the fireplace!), and Rudo, the hush-hush bar above popular restaurant Bæst, are solid spots to relax with a warm cup. After falling in love with the cozy beverage, go to Noorbohandelen, a bottling company located inside the Torvehallerne food hall, to procure a bottle to take home.

If you’ve had enough festive cups of cheer, Copenhagen is also a top destination for beer lovers. Mikkeller is perhaps the most well-known local brewery, having expanded to nearly 40 countries around the world. The brand’s wide range of brews (and all the quirky cartoon labels that come with them) can be found at several brewery outposts around Copenhagen. Carlsberg, the 175-year-old brewery that perfected the Danish pilsner, is also worth a trip when its headquarters reopen later this year.

The city is also cooking up some interesting things in the spirits department. Empirical Spirits, an experimental company by two zany Noma alumni, crafts alcohols that don’t fall neatly into categories like gin, tequila, and the like. While you can find many of the offerings stateside, visit the distillery for an experience like no other, where you can tour the facility and do a tasting of spirits, canned beverages, and, if you’re lucky, some taproom-only projects that’ll likely never hit the shelves, like a Doritos-flavored booze that the team made just for the hell of it.

Copenhagen Canals | Photo by Daniel Jensen

Take a dip in the harbor—yes, really

Before you instantly shake your head, consider this: Plunging into cold water can help ease soreness, reduce inflammation, and, frankly, is completely invigorating. Knowing that, the Danes refuse to let icy temperatures stop them from reaping the benefits of their harborside city all year round. If you want to do as the locals do and try winter swimming, head to designated swimming areas along the harbor at Kalvebod Brygge or Sandkaj for a dip. Just be sure to have plenty of warm clothes on hand to bundle up after.

For a lower lift, you can also check out pools, hot tubs, and saunas around the city. Sofiebadet is a historic spa and bathhouse that has been located in Christianshavn since 1909. The revamped space now offers saunas and steam rooms, as well as cold plunge pools, that guests can use with the purchase of a two-hour pass. If you want the option to skip the cold altogether, try the brewery-adjacent hot tub, sauna, and cold plunge pool at Copenhot, which is popping up for the winter at Mikkeller’s Baghaven location.

Despite how much locals love to swim, Villa Copenhagen is home to one of the only outdoor pools in the city. The hotel’s 25-meter outdoor lap pool is open to guests year-round thanks to heaters sustainably powered by excess heat from the hotel’s cooling systems. After taking a couple of laps and enjoying views of the city from the rooftop waters, scurry over to the sauna to warm back up.

Related: These 10 European Cities Are Dazzling—and Cheaper—in Winter

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Torvehallerne KBH

Explore the city’s celebrated restaurant scene

From the 50-course experience at Alchemist to Noma, the spot that put the city’s fine dining on the map, it’s no secret that making a reservation in this culinary destination is a tall order. But you don’t have to plan months ahead or shell out a ton of Danish krone to have a great meal in Copenhagen.

The two glass structures that make up Torvehallerne are ideal for an afternoon sampling the city’s quintessential bites. For breakfast, order the namesake dish—porridge with fresh fruit and other toppings—from Grød, and then grab some top-notch espresso from The Coffee Collective. Later in the day, admire the case of intricately layered, open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød at Hallernes, grab pølse from one of the famed hot dog carts parked nearby, or simply wander through the grocery store stalls throughout the space.

When it’s time to tuck away for a comforting meal, French classics from Silberbauers Bistro, noodles courtesy of Ramen to Biiru or Slurp, and Mexican fare from a lauded chef at Sanchez are all sure to warm you up.

Tivoli

Get into the holiday spirit at Christmas markets

Strolling through an area Christmas market is bound to put you in the yuletide spirit. Tivoli Gardens, the renowned amusement park at the center of the city, reopens for all of December to debut festive lights, artisan stalls for holiday shopping, and plenty of places to score mulled wine or traditional holiday æbleskiver (fluffy balls of fried dough).

Other popular options include a market at Højbro Plads and along the picturesque stretch of Nyhavn, but with so many markets to choose from, you’re never too far from a festive shopping opportunity during a winter visit to Copenhagen.

Related: Get Into the Holiday Spirit with These Christmas Markets Around the World

Andersen & Maillard

Eat your way through the city’s top-notch bakeries

European destinations like Paris and Vienna tend to get all the glory in the pastry department, but it’s time Copenhagen gets its due. The city is home to dozens of exemplary bakeries, and winter is the perfect time to try them all, because nothing channels comforting vibes more than a pastry straight out of the oven.

Head to Hart Bageri or Juno the Bakery, two spots beloved for carrying on the Nordic tradition of making pillowy, spicy cardamom buns. Then spend the afternoon luxuriating over a coffee and pastry or simple bread-and-butter service at Andersen & Maillard after vintage shopping along Elmegade or walking through Assistens Cemetery, the famous burial place of Hans Christian Andersen, in Nørrebro.

Lille is another favorite, located in the industrial neighborhood of Refshaleøen. It’s especially popular in the summer—when Reffen, a popular street food market, and nearby swimming sites are bustling—but the airy, two-story space is great for taking in the season’s limited sunlight over fresh-baked sourdough bread or sweet and savory galettes in the winter. If you happen to be in Copenhagen on a Wednesday, go to Skt. Peders Bagers, which is famous for its oversized cinnamon roll or onsdagssnegl, which always draws a crowd for its single-day drops.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Take refuge from the cold at a museum

During the idyllic summer months, it’s tough to peel yourself away from lounging dockside to spend the afternoon in a museum. But when winter ushers in frigid temperatures, museums are an ideal respite, and the city’s vast selection will have you grateful for the extra excuse to explore them.

The National Gallery of Denmark houses the city’s largest collection of art from around the world, including works by Matisse, Picasso, and more. Your visits to IKEA will never be the same after exploring Scandinavian design through furniture pieces, tablescapes, and a vast poster collection at Designmuseum Danmark.

Located 25 miles outside the city proper in Humlebaek, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is worth a visit for the location alone. Designed by premier architects Jørgen Bo and Wilhlem Wohlert, the window-laden coastal space offers views of Sweden that rival the works hanging inside the museum galleries, so you’ll be impressed whether you’re an art aficionado or not.

If you plan on visiting multiple museums during your time in the city, the Copenhagen Card is a worthy investment and gets you access to these galleries and 86 other attractions, as well as free public transportation around the city and to the airport.

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Villa Copenhagen

Rest and relax in a cozy hotel

If you’re planning a hygge-forward winter trip to Copenhagen, choosing cozy digs is paramount. For the ultimate tucked-away lodging, look no further than Central Hotel. Known as the world’s smallest hotel, the snug venue has just one room outfitted in dark wood features, vintage-style decor, and a comfy Royal Eden bed. The converted shoemaker’s workshop is located above a coffee shop and bakery in the trendy neighborhood of Vesterbro, where the wafting scent of flakey pastries coming from downstairs makes it that much cozier.

If you’d rather not throw elbows to secure the single room, Villa Copenhagen is equally comfortable for a winter visit to Copenhagen. Formerly the site of the Danish Postal Service headquarters, the space has kept its stunning architecture intact while adding minimalistic Scandinavian decor in each of the 390 rooms. To up the coziness factor, the hotel offers a pillow menu, where guests can choose from soft, firm, and even bluetooth-enabled audio pillows. With a location just 15 minutes from the airport and steps from the central train station and Tivoli Gardens, guests can soak in all that Copenhagen has to offer without worrying too much about chilly treks around town.

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Liz Provencher is an editor at Thrillist.

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