Let’s Go Exploring! Denmark. The Happiest Place On Earth?

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Kristy Shen (aka "FIRECracker") is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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This is part of a Travel Series called “Let’s go Exploring!” Click here for Part 1, Part 2Part 3, Part 4.

little mermaid

People say Denmark is the happiest place on earth. And though my wallet vehemently opposed, I had to find out the truth.

So we boarded a plane from Dublin, and even before we touched down, I could see the spotless oxygen molecules, glistening in the air.

Copenhagen was freakishly CLEAN. And full of blond-haired and blue-eye people. And two of these people, happened to be our AirBnB hosts, Barbie and Ken.

Okay, fine, those weren’t their real names but if Mattel were to shrink them and put them into a plastic box, I wouldn’t know the difference.

Our hosts welcomed us, gave us some refreshments, and when asked about where to go exploring, gave us a suggestion that was…a bit strange.

“Oh yes, you just uh go to the nearby…how you say? Cemetery?”

Wanderer and I exchanged looks. I didn’t know the Danes were part-British?

“Cemetery? Um. We were thinking something a little less…creepy.”

“No, it is VERY nice. You will see.”

And so, skeptically, we went for a walk…in the cemetery. I’ve never used the word “pretty” to describe a cemetery before, but that was the word to describe this place. If it weren’t for the ornate gravestones I wouldn’t even know the place was filled with dead people.

(photo credit: Chad K @ wikipedia, license: CC BY 2.0)


Pedro Cambra @ wikipedia
Catching some vitamin D…the D is for dead people…and Danes. (Pedro Cambra @ wikipedia, license: cc-by-2.0)

And that’s how we got addicted to Copenhagen’s exceptionally BEAUTIFUL scenery.

After visiting the cemetery, we walked around and found a gorgeous pond, lined with willow trees and filled with swans. Somehow we’d walked into one of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tales! Clearly, when it came to happily ever after, Disneyland’s got nothing on Copenhagen.

Wanderer and his arch nemesis.

Later that night, as we sat around, chatting with our hosts, we asked them whether it was true. Was Denmark really the happiest place in the world?

Ken smiled, patting his little boy, Ken.Jr, on his head. “Oh yes. We pay the highest taxes in the world, and Denmark is very expensive, but we are very happy.”


“Well, because, no one is better than anyone else. We are all equal. And if we fail, we know we will be taken care of.”

Ken goes on to tell me that both him and his wife are out of work. Barbie is studying to be a nurse and goes to school 5 days a week. Ken has been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a job as a kindergarten teacher for the last 5 years. There just hasn’t been any vacancies…so this year, he decided to go back to school.

“So what do you live on? And what about Ken.Jr?”

Turns out the government gives them the equivalent of $4000 CAD/month. Their housing is subsidized and daycare is free.

For the Danes who work, if they ever get laid off, their unemployment insurance is 90% of their salary for the next 5 years.

Hell, why would anyone need to become FI if they have all that?

“While we cannot live too extravagantly, we are very happy. We don’t need to worry. That is why everyone in Denmark happily pays taxes.”

And boy do they love their taxes in Denmark. Income tax is a whopping 57%, and sales tax 25%!

And with these kinds of tax rates, we discovered you could build some seriously kick-ass parks.

Like “Star Park” (or “Kastellet” as the locals like to call it), which we visited the next day. I like to call it “Star Park” because the park is actually shaped like a star:

star park
photo source: http://forsvaret.dk/LG/Vagtkompagniet/Vagt/Kastellet/Pages/default.aspx

The entire time we were there, I couldn’t help but sing the tune from Super Mario, when he gets the“invincibility star”, because I felt like I was some video game character, bounding up the 45 degree grassy slopes, and then sliding back down again.

Star Park copenhagen

I loved “Star Park” so much that when we went to see the famed “Little Mermaid” and took a Canal tour afterwards, I was only mildly impressed. All I wanted to do was go back to “Star Park”.

I started to see why the Danes were so happy. With so many socialized benefits, clean streets, beautiful people, and stunning parks, how could anyone not be smiling?

But then…

I tried the food.

You see, I’m not a picky eater. And I definitely wouldn’t call myself a foodie. But when I eat, I do expect something to happen on my taste buds.

And in Copenhagen, my taste buds were either asleep…or committing suicide. Because the 2 tastes that I came across the most often were:

  • Bland
  • Sour


The Danes LOVE their Rugbrød (Rye Bread). So of course, I had to try some. Even though it wasn’t the most appetizing to look at, and even though the price was a bit obnoxious for bread, I gave it a chance. And sadly, to me, it tasted like someone beat a pack of sunflowers to death and moulded their innards into a brick.

Then I tried their specialty: Smørrebrød or open-faced sandwich. And since we got this at a food fair, I had high hopes (despite their “cheap” street food costing more than a full meal in other countries). So I took a bite…

Bland on the bottom. Sour on top. I was starting to see a pattern here.

Definitely looks better than it tastes.


I thought, hm…maybe it’s just those two particular places. Maybe I’ll give it one more chance. So I tried some salami.

“Oh GOD!” I spat it back out, snatched my water bottle out of my bag, and chugged it like my mouth was on fire.

When I tried to tell the storeowner that the salami had gone bad, he simply tasted it and told me “that is what it’s SUPPOSED to taste like.”


Sorry, Danes. I’m starting to see why you’re all rail thin. It’s not all the biking; it’s your food.

Good God, your parks are beautiful, but your food…could use some work. And now, thanks to you guys, I’ve discovered the exact same word can mean polar opposite things.

“WOW! This park is very Copenhagen!”

“BLEGH. This sandwich is very…Copenhagen.”

Cost breakdown (per couple)

  • Hotel: $84/night
    • Extremely reasonable for Copenhagen. AirBnB saves the day again!
  • Food: $50/day.
    • Good God the food in Copenhagen is expensive! Even food truck prices were $12+ for a tiny sandwich or fries. And I’ve never seen $25 Pho until now.
    • The only way we were able to get costs down was to eat at Middle Eastern pizza places and cook our own food.
  • Attractions: $12/day
    • Copenhagen has the most beautiful scenery. And the best part is that it’s all FREE! From parks, to ponds, to the harbour front, to the little Mermaid, none of which will cost you a dime. Hooray for putting all those tax dollars to good use!
    • The only money we spent was on a canal cruise ($12/person…INSANELY good deal and I was shocked, considering that’s how much a coffee costs) and tips for a 3-hour walking tour.
Canal cruise: getting an eyeful of Danish Debauchery
  • Transportation: $60
    • The flight from Dublin costs us around $100 each (sadly, couldn’t find any $15 RyanAir deals), which, over 4 days, averaged out to be around $50/day. The rest was spent on subway tickets from the airport to the AirBnB. We were in a great location so we could walk to most attractions.
  • Total Cost: $206/day/couple
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 “Star Parks”.

If it weren’t for the food, I’d 100% agree that Denmark is the happiest place on earth. But by the 3rd day,  I started to fantasize about Toronto hotdog carts…not a good sign. Good thing we were headed to Amsterdam next…where, shockingly, I had the most authentic (and expensive) Sichuan food I’ve ever had outside of China.

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10 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Denmark. The Happiest Place On Earth?”

  1. So cool! We are, I believe, headed to Copenhagen for a stopover this time next year. But those prices! Man, maybe we’ll just stay in Germany instead. 🙂

    Thanks for all the tips…we’ll be sharing with our traveling partners in crime and see if the sour/bland juice is worth the squeeze.

    1. Yeah, the prices were PAINFUL. But I think it’s definitely worth going, as long as you keep the trip short. The sour/bland was not so good, but the parks made up for it 🙂

  2. Lol…my family loves cemetaries! Pere Lachaise in Paris is awesome! The cemetary in Edinburgh, Old Calton Burial ground, had David Hume’s crypt…so amazing!
    Back in March we were at the Westminster Abbey and our son exclaimed out, “OMG, I’m standing on Newton!”

    1. HA HA HA, your son is hilarious 🙂 That’s kind of how I felt in Westminster Abbey too. Totally fan-girled over EVERY tombstone.

    1. LOL. Yeah, Zurich has insane prices too, but we went to Copenhagen first so $25 Pho was still a myth back then.

  3. Did you visit any other cities in Denmark? I would recommend Skagen, the northernmost city in Denmark.

    There are two seas that meet there, and you can walk to an area where you can see the waves meeting. (I am not doing this any justice at all, but it is SO. BEAUTIFUL.)

    Also, the food is way better, assuming you’re in to seafood at all.

    1. Interesting! Did not know about know about Skagen, but next time we’re back in Europe that’ll be on our list.

  4. Denmark is known as the home of the “New Nordic Cuisine”, which is now rated as the best in the world. Clearly, they do have more than rugbrød to offer, a shame you did not get to explore this scene, it is missing out on a huge part of their culture!

  5. Most people in Denmark do not have a 57% tax rate. That is the marginal tax rate for high-earners and there are of course deductibles!

    Copenhagen is quite the food mekka, you should just have steered clear of smørrebrød 🙂

    Glad you enjoyed your stay!

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