The Copenhagen recipe for happiness

Things to Do — By Jane Graham on May 25, 2010 at 9:35 pm

From lifestyle magazine Monocle’s naming Copenhagen as the world’s happiest city back in 2008 to Lonely Planet’s recent top 10 happiest places in the world, Copenhagen has been making waves for its happy vibe for quite a while. Journalists offer slightly different angles on why this might be, but most agree on key points: green space, forward-thinking urban planning and a high quality of life make urban dwellers more contented.

The latest writer to tie in the Danish capital with its happy reputation is Kitty Bean Yancey for USA Today. ‘It’s not hard to be happy in Copenhagen,’ she wrote, after a recent visit to the city had apparently confirmed what most of us here already suspected – the feel-good buzz is catching.

Not wanting to miss the party, here is the NileGuide’s own take on what makes Copenhagen a mecca for contentment.

Despite being home to almost a quarter of the Danish population, a vital part of Copenhagen is its green space. The city is literally ringed by parks and gardens that range from the exotic plant collections of the Botanical Gardens to the wilder embankments of Østre Anlæg. And they’re constantly used – just check out Kongens Have or Frederiksberg Have on a sunny day to marvel at the sunbathing, picnicking Danes making the most of their leisure time.

Two key factors in Danish culture are the distinction between work and play and a prioritization of the family unit, and having a funfair slap-bang in the city center is perhaps evidence of both. When Tivoli Pleasure Gardens first opened back in 1843 it may have been outside the city gates, but these days it’s the first thing you see upon leaving the Central Train Station – not to mention the whoops emanating from the thrill rides being one of the first things you’re likely to hear.

Copenhagen has witnessed some pretty amazing town planning in the past decade that really has affected the way its residents live. It might have seemed absurd just 25 years ago to envisage a harbor here clean enough to swim in, but since 2002 this has been a reality: today there is not one but two public (and free) open air harbor baths that offer a dip in the sea without leaving the city limits, and an architecturally-sculptured beach, Amager Strandpark, just Metro stops away from the downtown area.

Town planners have also taken a lead when it comes to promoting Copenhagen’s cycling culture. In 2008, the International Cycling Union UCI chose Copenhagen as its first ever bike city worldwide, a title it holds until 2011: To promote this, the Danish capital has not only extended the miles of cycling paths around the city and its suburbs, but also taken one of the capital’s busiest roads, Nørrebrogade, and closed it completely to all traffic other than cycles and pedestrians. The result is a busy thoroughfare that is now free from the noise and exhaust fumes of cars. A word of warning though: walking out into a cycle path here without looking can be almost as dangerous as walking out into a line of traffic.

Photos of happy people in Kongens Have (top) courtesy of Ty Stange; photo of work and play combined on the beach by Uros Velicokvic.

Tags: bike city, cycling, green spaces, happy copenhagen, Kid Friendly