How to Survie a Danish Winter

Danish winters can be a challenge. They’re not as pretty as Norwegian or northern Sweden winters and they’re definitely not as warm as Seattle winters. So, to get through them, one needs to be prepared.


Here’s a list of things I find indispensable:


Does this seem obvious? Surprisingly, it isn’t always.


In Scandinavia, there is a saying that goes something like ‘there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.’ In the Pacific Northwest, where it often rains for days – if not weeks – without stopping, we had a saying that ‘you need to gear up.’

Also, I now have a saying I coined myself: Don’t try to get through a Danish winter with Seattle gear.


When it comes to clothing:

  1. there is no shame in wearing two jackets at once.
  2. it’s important to invest in fleece lined leggings. Or long underwear. Don’t just wear a pair of jeans with nothing underneath.
  3. layers are essential, especially the outer layer. There is a good reason why so many people choose to wear fur (yes, fur. Lots and lots of fur. Don’t tell PETA), or some goose down-filled Arctic explorer brand parkas (vegans do suffer more than others during the Danish winter).
  4. shoes don’t always need to be pretty. They need to be sturdy. Once you experience the cobblestone streets, you may need to abandon high-heels forever.
  5. yes, most Danes do look like they just stepped out of a fashion magazine and trying to imitate them might be difficult. Remember, they’ve had a lifetime to perfect their swagger. But investing in a lot of black clothing will help one to fit in (or at least to blend in).
  6. learn how to tie a scarf (one of my New Year’s resolutions that I’m still trying to get to).



Does everyone know – or think they know – what hygge is?

While all these books on hygge want to focus on candles and soft blankets, when you ask a Dane to define hygge, he or she will always bring up the social aspect of it. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to hear people describe going swimming as hygge*. Danes seem aloof to an untrained eye, but they are very social and place a high value on interpersonal relationships. While a lot of dictionaries will translate the word hygge as ‘cozy’, I would say it’s more about friendship and feeling comfortable in other people’s company.


But, while you don’t have to wear a comfy sweater to experience hygge, it helps. Danes use this word often and definitely year-round, but the textbook definition is still about the candles and creating a cozy atmosphere at home. To survive the winter, it’s a good idea to make your home as comfy as possible. So, unless you’re vegan, invest in some lambskin.



Gløgg is a Scandinavian warm wine, heated up with fruits and spices and served with raisins and almonds. The best Gløgg is a little sweet and a little tart, and it’s one of the best things about winters here. Unfortunately, while it first starts to make an appearance in October (the start of the Christmas season), gløgg completely disappears in January. Life becomes a little less sweet at the beginning of each year.



I suppose sometimes I do consider gløgg a supplement, but although delicious, it hadn’t stopped me from getting sick. I’ve asked several people about their winter supplements, hoping to find the magic formula of staving off the awful colds that have plagued me and my family all winter long.

I’ve been told to start a strict vitamin regiment as early as October. It includes:

  1. ginger shots – these are sold everywhere in Denmark. The very posh 7-Elevens have them and pretty much every grocery store carries them too. They come in little bottles. They taste very strong. They’re supposed to strengthen your immune system.
  2. Vitamin C – comes in fizzy tablets, to minimize the number of pills one has to swallow.
  3. pro-biotics – not sure why I need to take them, but one lady at a natural market swore by them. The one that was recommended to me comes in capsules of 14 different kinds of bacteria. The brand name is Bio-Kult. They apparently fly off the shelves during winter.
  4. Vitamin D – the days get painfully short during the winter. Energy gets sucked up and even when I’m not depressed, I’m ready for bed usually by 6:30 pm. Vitamin D should help. I started taking it a little late, so I’m not sure if it’s working or if the days are just getting longer.
  5. Full-spectrum light? – I don’t have one, but maybe I’ll get one by the time next winter arrives.


Danes love to dine al fresco year round. Many restaurants have heat lamps outside and piles of blankets. 


Try to Get Out More

I know what I said about staying home and lighting candles while playing soft music and cosying up on the couch, but sometimes too much staying at home can result in seasonal depression. Every time I forced myself to get out of the house during this winter, I was glad I did. Whether it’s a museum, or a movie, or a board game at a downtown cafe, leaving the house in the dead of winter is a good idea.


* My favorite use of the word hygge was when someone referred to petting a cow as hyggeligt. (‘Hygge’ is the noun, and ‘hyggelig’ or ‘hyggeligt’ is the adjective) I love cows and I couldn’t agree more!


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