October is upon us and, as the fall weather sets in, you may be dreaming of planning a winter vacation to the beach in order to thaw out and catch a break from the cold. However, I’m here to try to convince you to reconsider. You may think I’m crazy for suggesting a trip north for the winter months, but there’s a reason that the Danes have a specific word for the feeling of coziness and contentment created during winter.
My friends and I heard that the Christmas markets in Copenhagen were some of the best, but we really didn’t know what to expect when leaving temperate Spain and traveling north in the middle of December. I usually try to avoid the cold, so I was a little apprehensive while planning this trip. But immediately when we stepped off the train and arrived to the city center of Copenhagen, I understood why this city is the perfect December destination.
The sparkling lights, a warm cup of mulled wine in your hands, and quaint shops selling holiday sweets create the cozy sense of hygge that will make you forget about your dreams of sunbathing on a beach. The trip immediately got me in the spirit of the holidays, something I had been struggling to do without the snowfall I usually experience in the U.S. There were plenty of opportunities to warm our bones by ducking into a market stand for gløgg or hot cocoa and, when the sun went down around 3pm, we made our way to a pub to play cards and drink some Carlsberg.
Copenhagen is one of my favorite destinations to date because, though the city is unbelievably gorgeous, it was more about the mood and experience than anything else. It’s not the cheapest place to visit, but I have compiled a list of my favorite sites, experiences, and activities, that all fall on the more affordable side. That said, you’ll probably be fine money-wise as long as you don’t spend as much on gløgg as I did.
Predictably, Denmark in December is pretty cold. Layers, a coat, warm socks, gloves, and a hat were key. I also suggest making sure your outer layer is waterproof for any rain or snow you might encounter. We had some rain during our stay, but it was on and off and still allowed us to see everything we wanted to!
Stay: Copenhagen Downtown Hostel
Though slightly on the expensive side as far as hostels go, that seems to be the case with all lodging in the city. However, this hostel was great for the price. It was in the city center, had clean rooms and a cafe and bar downstairs with a cheap happy hour. This would be a great place to stay if traveling alone. We spent several evenings playing games and drinking mugs of Carlsberg in the bar, which was a great place to relax and meet other travelers from around the world!
I’ve mentioned it several times, so if you haven’t heard of it already, you’re probably wondering, “what is gløgg?” It’s basically Danish mulled wine. I drank far too much of it while hopping from market to market. It’s the perfect way to warm up while sightseeing.
When I was a kid, my best friend had an Ebelskeiver pan and we would make the little Danish pastries every time we were together, filling them with various jams, fruits, and creative concoctions. We got pretty good at making them but the Danes of course do them the best. You can get them at restaurants or roadside stands. The fluffy little round pancakes are the perfect breakfast (or anytime) treat.
Cafe: Paludan Bog & Café
The quaint, intimate atmosphere of a bookshop paired with good coffee and a full breakfast. To me, this was the epitome of hygge.
Dinner: Eat Outside
Yes, you read that correctly. In Copenhagen it’s customary to eat outside, even in the winter months. Restaurants have outdoor seating outfitted with warm blankets and overhead heaters. It was a fun experience and a great way to take in the beauty of the city while enjoying a meal.
Christmas Market: Højbro Plads
This was my favorite Christmas market we visited. It had a great variety of stands for gifts and food, and the beautifully decorated buildings of the square were on display. We visited this market several times during our stay because it’s very central. I would suggest stopping by for a cup of gløgg and a bratwurst for dinner.
A view from above the city is a must for me whenever I’m traveling. Not only is it beautiful, but it also helps me get my bearings. With the Rundetaarn, however, the real photo-op is inside the tower, along the winding ramp up to the top. The white walls, bright windows, and curved stone floors are like nowhere I’ve ever been before. Plus, it’s actually pretty cheap to get to the top: just 25 DKK which is a little less than $4.
Visit: Freetown Christiania
The historic alternative neighborhood created in an old military base is a must-see while in Copenhagen. Walking across the bridge to the town in the freezing wind and spitting rain was a low point of our trip. We surely didn’t pick the best day to make the trek. Reserve this sight for the day with the best weather forecast because it is a bit of a walk. The town is so different from the rest of Copenhagen with a hippie atmosphere and art around every corner. Just make sure not to take photos along Pusher Street and respect the community.
Extras: The Little Mermaid Statue & Tivoli Gardens
Though the Little Mermaid Statue is a very famous landmark honoring Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, it is also pretty out of the way and very small. In my opinion, it’s only worth seeing if you have the time because it’s a bit of a walk. However, the walk there and back is beautiful and will allow you to see different parts of the city!
The entry fee for Tivoli Gardens is a little expensive but if you’re into Christmas light displays or carnival rides, it may be worth the price. We were able to get in for free with a local friend who had a season pass. I’m not a fan of rides but the light displays were some of the best I’ve seen. It truly feels like a winter wonderland.
This amazing experience in Copenhagen has taught me not to shy away from traveling in the winter. If you pack and plan right, cold weather travel can have so much to offer. Now I’m just waiting for it to get cold enough in Cincinnati so I can make myself a cup of gløgg and cozy up by a fire.