Hygge and Fika in Scandinavia
The people of Stockholm and Copenhagen sure know how
Both countries know how to get cozy and they have it down to an art form.
In Denmark, they call it Hygge (sounds like “hooga”). In Sweden, it’s called Fika (sounds like “feeka”). But what do both terms mean? Is Hygge the Danish art of relaxation with a steaming cup of coffee and a pastry? Is it inner peace and tranquility after a hard day at work? Or is it, in fact, the moment that you finally shut out the outside world and commune with your inner self? Well, Hygge is whatever you want it to be, and so is Fika. The Danes, being the complicated people that they are, have never found a translation to suit the word. Fika, the Swedish version of Hygge, follows a similar vein, emphasizing relaxation with some comfort food and a hot drink.
Picture a steaming cup of black coffee sitting beside a rich, buttery pastry on a heavy wooden table beside a window looking out onto a busy high street. When you imagine this how do you feel? The Danes and Swedes take a similar approach to relaxing over a hot drink and a snack.
Hygge in Copenhagen
Hygge loosely translates from Danish to “coziness.” The Danes take this to mean enjoying life with those around us who make us feel good, making every moment count and savoring those famous Danish coffees, cakes, and smørrebrød, open-faced sandwiches that have made Copenhagen’s cafes so popular. There are countless places to enjoy Hygge when in the Danish capital and here’s a selection of the best Hygge hotspots to choose from.
Nyhavn is the obvious choice for Hygge. With rows of cafes and coffee shops among the brightly colored houses surrounding Denmark’s former busiest port making this a great place to find one. Pick any of the cafes along the street. Order a tall black coffee, ingenting (meaning “nothing”) shortbread and a meringue biscuit, and find a comfortable window table. Then gaze out the window and try to imagine what Nyhavn was like during its heyday, when huge wooden cargo ships filled with sugar, spices, coffee beans and tea leaves from all corners of the world filled the waters, as dockers hauled big wooden crates to and fro. Try to find building No. 9 which has remained unchanged since 1681, and numbers 20, 67 and 18 where Hans Christian Andersen wrote his best works, The Princess and the Pea, Little Clause and Big Clause, and The Tinderbox. Are you relaxed yet?
Or you could try Leckerbaer, a typical Danish coffee and cake shop on Ryesgade Street in the Østerbro district. Chefs behind this ultra-contemporary creation are Jakob Mogensen and Gabi Bär Mogensen. Here you can try a big mug of fragrant hot chocolate with Vienna Bread (wienerbrød) in the quiet and cozy surroundings of the Mogensen’s homely establishment. Let the steam encircle your nose and the gentle chatter stroke your ears. Let your thoughts drift away and empty your mind. Surely, you’re experiencing Hygge now?
Even more Hygge
Hygge can also mean enjoying the company of others, so head over to the off-beat Freetown Christiania where you’ll find Spiseloppen, a Danish restaurant with long communal tables, dark wooden ceiling beams, tall rounded windows and a relaxed atmosphere. Sample tasty roasted deer fillets with Pommes Anna, chocolate cake, and locally brewed Carlsberg beer as you lose yourself in the conversation. Now, that’s Hygge, right?
Hygge isn’t anything specific; it’s a feeling that everyone experiences differently. The Danes are quite good at relaxing with a nice cup of something hot, a delicious cake or pastry in an atmosphere reflecting their satisfaction. Hygge can also mean: to savor a moment of calm on the busy streets of the capital. But if you’re not getting enough of it, then head over to neighboring Sweden and its historic capital Stockholm for some Fika time.
Fika in Stockholm
So, if Hygge is relaxing and enjoying the moment in Copenhagen, what is Fika in Stockholm? The literal translation of Fika from Swedish is “to have coffee,” so, of course, savoring a nice cup of strong coffee is involved. But, just like Hygge, Fika is about more than just its literal meaning. In Stockholm, Fika is a daily event. It is something to be savored whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s time away from the world.
Coffee is the mainstay of Fika, so it’s no wonder that the Swedish capital has one of the highest numbers of coffee shops per capita of any city in the world. Drop Coffee, just a few doors down from Mariatorget T-bana station, is an award-winning coffee shop owned and run by baristas who roast their quality beans in their own roastery. As the name suggests, water is left to drip through the beans until it is the perfect temperature. As you sit and watch the water dripping and splashing into the jug below, let your mind wander and enjoy the minimalism of the café.
The Swedes also like to enjoy a traditional pastry in their Fika Time. The most loved coffee time treats include Mazarins, a pastry case filled with ground almonds and sprinkled with icing sugar, Punchrulle, brightly colored marzipan dipped in dark chocolate and filled with cookie crumbs and butter, and Kanelbulle, the traditional Swedish cinnamon bun tied in an intricate knot and baked to perfection. Kaffeverket sells all these and more in their cozy gray and green tiled café, just off Sankt Eriksplan.
Combine a succulent and buttery pastry with a pot of fresh coffee and you’ll experience a little of what the Swedes love so much about Fika. Survey the bustling street through the window and see the world go by. But remember, just like Hygge, Fika can be whatever you want it to be.
The best way to understand Hygge and Fika is to think of a traditional British afternoon tea, where people socialize over a hot cup of something and a tasty morsel or two of local specialties. But unlike the British equivalent, Hygge and Fika can be enjoyed at any time of day and as often as you like. And even if you still don’t understand exactly what Hygge and Fika mean, you can use them as an excuse to visit these two Scandinavian capitals, to watch Copenhageners and Stockholmers taking part in these daily traditions.
Get ready to relax and experience the Hygge and Fika of Scandinavia. You’ll find cheap flights to Copenhagen and Stockholm from USA and Canada all year round with WOW air.
by Joe Worthington
Photos: Wonderful Copenhagen, mediabank.visitstockholm.com, and iStockphoto.com