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A date with The Boss in Copenhagen to discover why Denmark is one of world's happiest countries


By Hector MacKenzie

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Canal tours are an excellent way to see the city from a fresh perspective. Picture: Thomas Rousing
Canal tours are an excellent way to see the city from a fresh perspective. Picture: Thomas Rousing

THE chance to catch Bruce Springsteen in concert while trying to find out why Denmark ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world pointed us towards Copenhagen.

From past experience, I knew The Boss would make me happy regardless.

And I figured from my reading of the Pocket Rough Guide to Copenhagen, perusal of Lonely Planet's City Map and vague memories of political drama Borgen that the Danish capital was likely to be a pretty cool place to visit no matter what.

The spur-of-the-moment online purchase of the concert tickets for the whole family (I was quietly confident 75-year-old Bruce would win over my two teenage kids given the chance) sealed the deal with flights from Inverness via Amsterdam booked soon afterwards. We then scoured Airbnb for a flat to stay in, choosing one in the Nørrebro district based on vibe, reviews and affordability. That tick list is not infallible but has served us pretty well down the years.

None of it was particularly cheap but one of my maxims is that money spent on travel is never wasted and that, every so often, you need to give in to something that will, in the words of Marie Kondo, spark joy.

They say first impressions last and mine from airport arrival onwards was of tall, fit-looking people and a straightforward public transport system that is easy to navigate, runs to time and gets you where you want to be quickly and with minimum fuss. Who would have thought it possible?

That was the first impression.

Queen Louise's Bridge connects inner Copenhagen and Nørrebro and is frequented by thousands of cyclists and pedestrians every day. Wider pavements also turned the sunny side of Queen Louise's Bridge into a popular hangout for Copenhageners. Picture: Wonderful Copenhagen
Queen Louise's Bridge connects inner Copenhagen and Nørrebro and is frequented by thousands of cyclists and pedestrians every day. Wider pavements also turned the sunny side of Queen Louise's Bridge into a popular hangout for Copenhageners. Picture: Wonderful Copenhagen

The lasting impression was the expanse of bicycle lanes running parallel with the road network and the veritable army of very cool-looking folk of all ages, shapes and sizes making their way around the city effortlessly – and safely – on two wheels. That and the fact that everyone seems to obey road crossing etiquette as a matter of course. Mind blown – and an insight into how dependable public transport and joined up thinking on cycle provision can surely slash our unhealthy dependence on the private car.

It is not unusual to see business professionals, doctors or lawyers in suits riding bicycles to work everyday. Even parents with two or more children loaded in the front trolley of their cargo bicycle are cruising down the busy bike lanes. All despite the windy and rainy weather that is so typical for Copenhagen.

The city's pledge to become the first carbon neutral capital by the year 2025 keeps Copenhagen motivated to support its citizens to cycle. The constant improvements to the city's bike lanes, high taxes on cars and expensive parking in the city are all factors. You'll see smart-suited lawyers commuting alongside parents with kids in the front of cargo bikes. It all looks very cool.

This very direct form of marketing worked. Their burgers were good (but not as good as Gasoline Grill's). Picture: Hector Mackenzie
This very direct form of marketing worked. Their burgers were good (but not as good as Gasoline Grill's). Picture: Hector Mackenzie

If you invest in a Copenhagen Card (I'd recommend it), you can make a hit list of attractions to visit and enjoy making use of the excellent public transport to get there. You can choose how long you want to card to last and then plan accordingly. We found it a great way to know and understand the city's transportation system fairly quickly.

A boat trip along the central canals is well worth it. You'll get an overview of how the city has developed down the years and see for yourself just how small the city's most famous landmark, the Little Mermaid statue inspired by Hans Christian Andersen, really is. Iconic landmarks such as the so-called 'Black Diamond' Danish library look stunning from this vantage point.

Not always one to be impressed by architecture, I was knocked out by the construction and interior of a building known as the Round Tower.

I've heard it said that Danish pastries as we know them aren't such a big thing in Denmark. All I can say for sure is they do the bakery thing very well indeed and we returned day after day to our local to sample as many different kinds of bread and, yes, cakes as we could. We were virtually on first name terms with the lovely counter assistant by the time we left.

We were later to see from Bruce's social media feed that he'd taken the same tour the day before. We were caught in an unexpected downpour on ours but the ice cool guide didn't miss a beat as she dispensed pac-a-mac style covers for everyone.

Bruce Springsteen working the magic at Parken in Copenhagen. Picture: Grace Mackenzie
Bruce Springsteen working the magic at Parken in Copenhagen. Picture: Grace Mackenzie

Bruce at Parken Stadium, with its retractable roof creating an indoor vibe, was magnificent. He won over the kids (and everyone else) and remains an inspiration. The fact that he was rocking a snazzy pair of Doc Martens was somehow the icing on the cake. I've worn them since I was 10.

If the Danes really are amongst the happiest in the world, I think the bread, pastries, public transport and bicycle lanes have something to do with it. The tuition-free access to high-quality education, public health care and relative lack of crime and corruption may also play into it. And there's also an apparent stronger than average sense of common responsibility for social welfare.

Whether or not Bruce is your cup of tea, trust me on the happiness and bicycle thing. I'd definitely be looking out for a Copenhagen date for any future tours.

Great city, good vibes.

Tips:

It's well worth considering the Copenhagen Card which offers free entrance to 80-plus attractions, unlimited public transport (and the public transport is ace) and transport to and from the airport, which is very handy. Each adult can bring two children between 0-11 free of charge. You can get it on Google Play or the Apple store.

Find oodles of inspiration from visitdenmark.com and wonderfulcopenhagen.com


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