Move aside, Disneyland.
The happiest place on Earth is not Disneyland, but Copenhagen, Denmark.
Do a search on Google for “Happiest City in the World” and I guarantee ya, Copenhagen is listed there somewhere.
But we don’t need an Internet search engine to tell us that. Take it from me. After spending six days in this wonderful Scandinavian city, I have no reason to doubt that claim.
With awesome weather, beautiful people and a truly relaxed vibe – welcome to the most wonderful city in Scandinavia.
Throughout my whole time here, I think I have only met one unhappy Dane – a disgruntled cashier at some cheap supermarket in town. Perhaps it was just not her day.
Every other local person I spoke to, be it the hotel receptionist, the bus driver or the stranger on the street, have been nothing but warm and friendly towards me. I’d go as far as to say that Danish people are among the nicest, most polite and sociable bunch I have ever met in the whole of Europe. And many would agree with me.
I landed in Copenhagen on 18th August after a 13 hour direct flight from Singapore. I was of course following the Tiger Beer crew to cover the Tiger Translate Global Showcase that particular weekend.
All it took was one afternoon, and immediately I have fallen in love with the place.
On first glance, it is very easy to dismiss Copenhagen as “just another European city” like London, Rome or Paris.
The buildings look the same, the weather feels the same, even the type of food they eat tastes almost the same.
But peel off that layer of clothing, immediately I got the feeling that everyone who lives here are genuinely happy and contented with life.
At 4:30pm when most city folks in other countries are frantically rushing towards train stations, the Danes are taking it easy. They are either sitting in yet another al fresco cafe having a beer, or lying on the grass sunbathing in one of Copenhagen’s many public parks. There is not a single hint of stress or worry at all.
What exactly is it that make the Danes such a happy and contented bunch?
It cannot be the taxes. At 25% GST, Danish pays some of the highest taxes in the world. Everything in Denmark is freaking expensive. It cannot be the lack of racial tension. Barely a few years ago, it was that Danish newspaper that caused such worldwide furore over a cartoon it published.
Well, only towards the end of my trip did I find my answer.
If anyone reading this is thinking of making a trip to Copenhagen for holidays, let’s make one thing perfectly clear.
In terms of tourist attractions and landmarks, there’s not awfully a lot to see over here. At least London has Big Ben and Paris has the Eiffel.
But Copenhagen’s most famous landmark is the statue of The Little Mermaid, a terribly unremarkable lump of bronze located on a rock by the dockside.
We walked past this statue everyday on our way to the studio. Day after day, without fail, thousands of tourists would be flocking to her like them aunties during the warehouse sales.
Considering how popular ‘Ariel’ is, I wondered why they didn’t make her bigger and more exciting. Maybe take a cue from Singapore and spurt water out of the mouth, ala the Merlion?
For better or worse, perhaps it’s because the Danes think some things are just better left alone the way they are. And it’s that way of thinking that made them such a different bunch from the rest of us.
The best thing about travelling in Copenhagen is that almost every attraction is within close walking distance.
There’s almost no need to hop onto any vehicles at all. There’s no reason to. That explains why there is absolutely no traffic jam in Copenhagen, even during peak hours.
A short 5-minute walk away from the Little Mermaid, is the spacious compound of Royal Palace.
The well-loved Danish royal family resides here. Only one chamber of the palace is open to public, where you can donate to the already very wealthy royal family another 55 Kroner (RM36) just to see their collection of tobacco pipes, designer handbags and guns.
The prince has more cutleries in his room than a steak restaurant.
This is one of the living rooms inside the Royal Palace.
Why would anyone need to see so much pictures of themselves in the living room, I have no idea.
The Marble Church located right next to the palace is worth a quick peek.
If touring through the Royal Palace for some reason failed to convince you of how wealthy the Danish royal family is, then about 10-minute walk away is the Rosenborg Castle.
Over here, even more of the family’s ancestral collection are on display.
Some of their stuff are decorated with so much glittery gold and jewellery that one chunk of it is enough to buy a small African nation.
You can’t help but to feel very very very small about yourself when you are looking at something as bright and shiny as this.
Of course lah, there’s more to see and do in Copenhagen than all these pompous royalty stuff.
My favourite place in the city to stroll along is the colourful Nyhavn Canal. Again, this is another 5 minutes away from both the nearest attraction.
There are scores of expensive al fresco cafes lined up along the canal. For a complete Copenhagen experience, it’s a must for anyone to select one of the restaurants here to just have lunch, chill out, tune out and people watch.
We went to Nyhavn 17, a popular restaurant here which used to be a barbershop 300 years ago.
This is a Smorrebrod, or an “open sandwich”.
It is a classic Danish lunch. Basically a Smorrebord is just a piece of ham, roast chicken or fried fish on a slice of bread. It is to the Danish people what kolo mee is to Kuching peeps.
Later on, we hopped on a boat and took a tour through the city canals (60 Kroner or RM 38). Though touristy, I thought it’s an excellent way to see Copenhagen.
Spotted this amazing giant boathouse converted into a luxury apartment residence.
Damn those creative Danes for coming up with designs that make my heart flutter. I could totally see myself living in one of them chic double-storey glass-walled units.
After disembarking, we took a stroll down Stroget, apparently the longest outdoor pedestrian shopping street in the world.
I cannot say there’s a lot to buy in Copenhagen. The shops and designs are all lovely and interesting, yes. But the price tags on certain things are enough to put you into cardiac arrest.
Guess how much a pair of simple flats from this boutique shop costs? 1200 Kroner (RM 820). I shit you not. And those are not even Ferragamo.
That said, Stroget is home to my favourite al fresco cafe in Copenhagen – Cafe Europa.
This place is almost an institution here in Copenhagen. During lunch hour, the tables are all packed inside out. And I can see why.
There are two things the Scandinavians can do better than the rest of the world: goat cheese and smoked salmon. At Cafe Europa, they perfected it. It’s worth the 180 Kroner (RM 120) they charge for this meal.
Of course, some things in Stroget are free.
Like an art gallery displaying an oil painting of Paris Hilton’s upskirt.
Alternatively, it’s wise to spend 25 Kroner (RM 17) on visiting The Round Tower, which is located (yes) another 5 minutes away from Stroget.
Here, we took the windy ramp all the way up to the top, where we were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of Copenhagen city.
And a little bit of Sweden.
Danish people finish work at 4pm and the shops are closed at 6pm, so there isn’t a whole lot to do in Copenhagen during night time.
The only tourist attraction open in Copenhagen during night time is Tivoli Gardens. At 150 years old, it’s the oldest amusement park in the world.
Having been to Disneyland and many other major amusement parks around the world, I wasn’t particularly keen on the 85 Kroner (RM 60) entrance fee needed just to enter Tivoli. Rides would cost extra.
But as soon as I entered the gates into Tivoli, I immediately realised how unique and different Tivoli is from all the other amusement parks I have been to.
The rides in Tivoli are neither the most technologically advanced, nor the most thrilling. In fact, you can get more exciting roller coaster rides in Genting.
What sets Tivoli apart is the atmosphere it manages to evoke. In particular, I got a huge sense of nostalgia just walking through its fairy-light illuminated game booths, lush manicured gardens and cobblestone paths.
Somehow I just got transported back to the times when I was seven, and my father took me to my first funfair. I just wanted to try anything buy everything, but my father was holding to my hand so tight because he was afraid I might get lost amidst the crowd.
Tivoli was Walt Disney’s inspiration when he built Disneyland. Now I know why.
So back to my original question. What was it about Copenhagen that makes its people among the happiest in the world?
One evening, while having dinner with the Tiger Beer Denmark at an old-fashioned French cafe called near the Round Tower called Cafe Sommersko, I found out the reason.
Unlike most places around the world, the Danes TRULY believe that everybody is equal. It means that everyone gets the same treatment and respect, regardless of where you are from, what you do or how high up in authority you are.
Danes don’t use words like “Please”, “Sir”, “Madam” because that’s seen as too formal. Instead, they smile a lot everytime they offer you coffee or another piece of Danish pastry.
It’s definitely not the superficial kind of friendliness.
They do it because they genuinely mean it.
Danes speak perfectly fluent English. Among themselves, they speak Danish. But as soon as you walked into the group with them, automatically they switch to speaking in English, just so you do not feel alienated. It’s a gesture I strongly appreciate.
Although at first, it can be difficult to find a common topic to talk about with the Danes, they really loosen up after a few drinks. That explains why Denmark are among some of the biggest beer drinking countries in the world.
The alcohol lubricates any social awkwardness. And you get the feeling as if you’ve known them for a long time although you’ve only just met.
So don’t come to Copenhagen for the Mermaid, museums or castles. The biggest tourist attraction in Denmark, is actually the locals.
The most memorable cultural exchanges I had in Copenhagen all took place in either pubs or restaurants. For example, this conversation took place when we were talking about how to impress girls.
Danish dude: What type of restaurant would you bring a girl to if you want to have a good night out in Malaysia?
Kenny: Italian. Not necessarily because we like Italian food, but that’s just where we’re expected to take girls out to if we wanna impress them.
Danish dude: Italian? See that’s the difference. Over here, if we want to impress somebody, we’d take them out to a really nice Asian restaurant. Chinese, Thai, whatever. As long as it’s Asian.
Kenny: Really? In Malaysia, if I were to take a girl out for a date to a big noisy Chinese restaurant, she would think I want to break up with her!