The five best things about living in Denmark

Denmark has been good to us and it’s no reflection on Denmark or the Danes that we are moving to Australia. In fact, our ability to build a successful life here from scratch has almost certainly given us the confidence to think we can do it again down under.

So, with apologies to those who are only interested in the Australian aspect of our move, here are the five best things for us about living in Denmark.

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen has been a favourite family day out during our time here.

1) The space
When we first arrived in Denmark and people back in the UK asked me what it was like, the first thing I could think of to say was: “The sky is bigger.” It was the simplest way I could find to articulate the sense of space that had opened up around me. In England, and certainly in London, where I spent much of my early life, the sky was always being interrupted, or cut across, or blocked, by some man-made structure or other. Here, with the emphasis on single-storey houses, or low-rise apartments, the sky seemed unchallenged to me. Even now, it makes me want to take a deep breath of Scandinavian air, just to appreciate how endless it is.

2) The informality
When I first came here, I had just left a job at a big corporate HQ in London and I’d got used to the idea that you had to dress a certain way if you wanted to be taken seriously. That doesn’t apply here. I’ve been to meetings with CEOs in T-shirts and jeans, worked with corporate clients who seem to shave every third day, and my kids now take for granted that teachers and pupils are on first name terms. The emphasis here is on what you say and do – you can be just as professional in jeans as a suit and tie, and if you’re comfortable, perhaps you’ll be even more productive. It’s the opposite to what I was brought up to believe, but it works, and I’ve grown to love it.

3) The equality
There’s an egalitarianism in Denmark that appeals to the very core of me. In our first rented house here, the neighbour to our right was the co-owner of a large international business, while the neighbour to our left was a carpenter. They saw no hierarchy in that, and it’s a small example of how Danish society operates. Enrique Penalosa, the former Mayor of Bogotá in Colombia, once famously said: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.” Enrique would like Denmark. He’d like it a lot.

4) The focus on family life
Back in the UK, we’d begun to get sucked into a family life that wasn’t the one we wanted. One where going to the shopping mall qualified as a family day out, or where spending several hours queuing on a motorway on Friday and Sunday in pursuit of some snatched weekend time was the norm. When we first arrived in Denmark, we noticed how, in the evenings and at weekends, the roads were pretty deserted and how the shops were all closed on a Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday (although that’s changed now). The reason? Evenings and weekends were family time, sacrosanct; to be protected at all costs. Notwithstanding a few frustrated days without bread or milk, we came to embrace this, hanging out together, enjoying family trips to the zoo or to the kids’ sports activities. As a result, I’d say we have a simpler, more community-based life than we would have had in England, and we’ve truly appreciated it.

The Copenhagen skyline.

The Copenhagen skyline from inside Tivoli Gardens.

This placing of family at the centre of things manifests itself in other ways too. Maternity leave is a full year here, while paternity leave is three months. Your right to stay home if your child is sick is enshrined in employment law, and as for slaving at your desk until 9pm to impress the boss, hardly anybody does it. Everyone has a family and/or friends and they want to get home to them, that’s understood in a way that the UK has never seen fit to prioritise.

5) The safety
Finally, and it’s a small thing until you realise how much you take it for granted, but we have felt incredibly safe here. I’ve never seen an incident of road rage. Even on the wildest nights in central Copenhagen, I’ve never felt like a fight was about to break out, or someone was about to push a glass into someone’s face for some imagined slight. And that sense of safety in the community extends to the kids too. My eight year-old regularly cycles to football training on his own, as do many of his friends. My 11 year-old has been bringing his smaller brother home on the bus without parental supervision for over a year now. And these aren’t anomalies. Parents will happily park babies in prams outside cafes while they go inside for lunch or a coffee. It’s like stepping back in time to how life used to be before everything became so cynical and dangerous. And it’s great.

So, before we leave, I’d just like to say: “Thanks Denmark.” You’ve given us more than you know and we are grateful, all of us.

33 thoughts on “The five best things about living in Denmark

  1. A great post. I’ve never been to Denmark, but it’s now on my list. Any country that produces someone as fabulous as Sandi Toksvig is fine by me. I hope you’re not getting cold feet about the move? I’m looking forward to hearing what you find in the Australian rock pools.


    • Thanks Heather. It’s a fabulous place. You should visit — but be sure to come between June and September to catch it at its best, or in the run up to Christmas for lots of Scandi-noir, hot chocolate and candles. Rock-pooling in Australia sounds like a way to meet many of the planet’s deadliest creatures in a single afternoon. I think I’ll do my research first before committing to that one 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jerry Edward says:

    nice post! thanks for that.. are you planning to write something about the differences living in OZ and Denmark in future? i would love to read it.. i’ve been considering of moving to Scanidivian countries in near future after living here in OZ for 3 years now.. maybe too soon for new adventure but kids are still young and probably the best time to move around for maybe another 5 more years before really settle down either OZ or Nordic ..


    • Hi Jerry, Thanks for dropping by. I’m undecided on whether to continue the blog once we arrive in Oz — but I’m leaning towards it more as our move date approaches. Looking back on our time in Denmark, I’m well aware of the ‘phases’ of migrant life — the disorientation when you first arrive, the ‘honeymoon’ period when you think absolutely everything is great, followed by the period of realism when you see things in balance and perspective. It would be fun to chart that same journey from our arrival in Canberra. Like you, the age of our kids has really dictated our moves. When we came to Denmark, my eldest son was just one while his little brother was born here. Denmark is fabulous for families with young kids, but yes, one of our reasons for moving on is that, with our big lad now 11, we needed to make some decisions about where we wanted to settle down so he could focus on his education. Good luck with your plans, for all the things we might change about our experience, we wouldn’t have missed it for the world and I’m so glad our children are getting to experience a little of the world outside the UK. Best wishes, Mark


  3. Elspeth Rollason says:

    Good luck in Australia. After 18 months in Denmark we are returning home to Oz. Miss it too much. The 5 things you mentioned are spot on but the high tax rate, high cost of living, 6 month winter, and grey skies among others doesn’t do it for us. Fine to visit for a holiday but for us to live. No thanks. I noticed you are Canberra bound. That’s where we live. Best city to cycle in. I plan to use my bike more after being here. Sunny blue skies in winter, family friendly, easy to get around, close to the ski fields. Enjoy.


    • Thanks Elspeth, I can understand why you’d miss Australia, it’s a fabulous place. Y’know a friend of mine has urged me to follow this post with the five worst things about living in Denmark. I’m not sure about that but I do hear what you’re saying — certainly the weather here can’t compete with that down under. The high taxes are something I waver on — it’s partly what underpins the societal equality that I wrote about. In addition, I think the benefit you derive from those texes depends on your stage of life. When we came here, we had been paying over £1,000 per month for child daycare in London, that was for one child, and it was 10 years ago. I shudder to think what it would be now. In Denmark, I think we were paying between £300-400 per month for two children, and the quality of their experience here was many times better than what they’d have had in the UK — more outdoorsy, more interactive, more fun. So right there, you have a £1,700 saving each month. I think if you have kids, are in education (university students here receive their education for free plus a ‘salary’ of £500-600 per month), or are retired, then you are a net gainer from the system. If not, then you are probably a net contributor. Where that hurts is if you dip into Denmark say, as a single, high wage earner, and then leave again. But if you stay, I’d think the benefits are probably worth it — they must be, otherwise the Danes would vote against it. Good luck on your return home. Yes. we chose Canberra as our destination — its size and scale were factors for us, including the fact that we can break the bikes out fairly regularly. Safe travels and thanks for dropping by. Best wishes, Mark


      • Kay says:

        Interesting you are doing this as we lived in London from 2000-2006 and moved back to Australia. Except we moved to Canberra. Have you ever lived in Canberra before? We’ve been here now 7+ years and will just warn you that you will have a bit of culture shock to start off with.


      • Hi Kay, No, never lived in Oz or Canberra before. I think it all depends on expecations, I gre up in London, but where we’ve lived for the past 10 years is a pretty quiet Danish suburb on the edge of the countryside, so I reckon Canberra will offer a great many things that we haven’t had access to for years. I’m certainly looking forward to finding out. Best wishes, Mark


  4. Stephen Powell says:

    Best of luck!

    I moved to Denmark two years ago with my family from the uk and have NEVER looked back. It was the best thing we could ever have done.

    I thoroughly second all the points you make above!! A wonderful place for families and kids.


    • Thanks Stephen, I can’t think of a better place for my kids to have spent their first 10 years. I hope you feel the same when you come to look back. Being here also took the fear out of the idea of living abroad, such that I doubt that we’ll ever go home now. Good luck to you too and thanks for reading the blog post. Best wishes, Mark


  5. Satyam says:

    Very nicely summarized article. True to every point. I used to live in Canberra before. Very hot and dry during summer, cold and freezing in winter. Bicycle lanes are everywhere. Shops are open on Sundays. Mountains are nearby. I am sure you will enjoy your stay. Good luck with your move.


    • Thanks for your comment Satyam. In fact one of the reasons we homed in on Canberra was that we liked the idea of experiencing all the seaons — much like here in Denmark. Thanks for the good wishes, we’re really looking forward to it. All the best, Mark


    • Thanks Steffan. I had two goes at Twitter before I warmed to it. I think I’m getting the point of it now though. Thanks for the encouragement, it’s truly appreciated. Best wishes, Mark


  6. I’m sorry that you’re leaving DK, as it’s interesting to hear about other peoples views on where you have been living always.

    I can’t say I totally agree with you, but I guess there’s not pleasing everyone. I’ll make sure to follow you and the blog to Australia, as I will find that interesting too. You’re not the only one trying to get the hang of Twitter, I still haven’t warmed to it 🙂 Safe trip Down Under!


    • Thanks for the kind comments Deborah. I’m sure everyone has different experiences but for me and my family, it’s been a very positive 10 years and the differences between our life here and the life we had in the UK have been stark. Great that you will continue to follow the blog and I look forward to report from Canberra very soon. Best wishes, Mark


  7. Oh man, yes to all of this. I lived for a year and a half in Denmark during college, and it is to this day the most magical time of my life. I met my first love there, came out there, discovered my bizarre love of bicycles there and swore to myself it wouldn’t be the last time I lived in Scandinavia.

    This post has once again jump-started my love affair with Denmark. I think I need to book my ticket back for a visit soon…


    • Thanks Karen. Glad to have ignited some fairy-tale memories for you. I hope you manage to return soon. We’re already scheduling our first return visit — we have too many ties to cut them permanently. Thanks for dropping by and best wishes to you, Mark


  8. Chelsea says:

    I actually lived in Denmark and then left for about a year in Sydney. We absolutely loved Australia, too, but Denmark is something special. We ended up going back for another two years. You will miss once you’re gone, but enjoy life down under!


    • Thanks Chelsea, We’ve been here nearly 10 years now, so I think that, once we’re gone, we’ll find it’s become more of a home than we currently realise. But yes, we’re looking forwards rather than back and hope to take as much from our time on Oz. Thanks for dropping by. Best wishes to you, Mark


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