‘Gezellig’ or ‘hygge’? The real differences between the Netherlands and Denmark

Bikes, beers, and canals — am I describing the Netherlands or Denmark? The two countries share many similarities but, to the trained eye, these are full of subtle (and not so subtle) differences!

As a native Dane now living in the Netherlands, I usually say that the Netherlands is different enough from Denmark to be interesting and similar enough to feel comfortable. So, what are those ✨ interesting ✨ differences?

Red means stop, green means go — Nee hoor 

Both Denmark and the Netherlands are known for their cycling culture and whilst there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands, Denmark wins out with Copenhagen being ranked as the most bicycle-friendly city in the world

The ranking index is called the Copenhagenize index, so we could suspect it to be biased. However, it’s pretty legit with a global team and thorough methodology. 

READ MORE | How the Netherlands became a cycling country

One of the indicators for the report is the level of respect cyclists have for the law — so perhaps it’s no surprise Copenhagen scores higher than Amsterdam. 👀

Anything can be a bike path if you’re Dutch enough! Image: Freepik

After all, where you need to jump back in fear when a Dutch person comes whizzing down the streets of Amsterdam, you’ll often see cyclists in Copenhagen wearing helmets — and actually braking for red lights! 

Meanwhile, if you wear a helmet in the Netherlands you might be asked if you can’t cycle properly, if you recently learned how to cycle, or hear the comment “oh yeah I wore a helmet once as well — when I was a kid! 🙄).

Degrees of directness

Thanks to a heavy-handed dose of directness, there’s a common stereotype that the Dutch are rude. Though they might be direct — no need to sugarcoat it — they can also be very welcoming people. 

READ MORE | Dutch directness: 5 questions you’ll get in the Netherlands (and how to answer them)

The Danish, on the other hand, are much colder when you first meet them.

Some put this down to the Danes generally being introverted and the Dutch generally extroverted, but who knows? It could even be the weather. ❄️

Dutchies may hit you with their famous ‘Dutch directness’, but they can also be very warm and welcoming. Image: Depositphotos

In defence, it’s not that Danish people are mean, but it does take us some time to warm up to people.

And if we are walking on the street (no doubt looking unapproachable), well, don’t get in our way. 😂 (We’re usually very happy to help if people actually stop us though!).

Overall, opinions on DutchReview’s Instagram seem to be that the Dutch are direct but warm, whilst the Danish are polite but cold-ish.

Let’s get that bread! (but should it be rye — or brown?!)

The Netherlands and Denmark are two countries that both really love their bread. However, they have different staples. 

The Dutch lunch staple is the boterham — a slice of brown bread most likely topped with some butter and cheese

READ MORE | What’s on that ‘boterham’? 6 weird Dutch bread toppings 

Denmark has a similar lunch situation: ‘Smørrebrød’ (open-faced sandwiches) can be considered the fancy version of a lunch bag consisting of rye bread with some form of simplistic topping. 

However, in recent years, ‘smørrebrød’ has gained popularity and creating a well-made ‘smørrebrød’ is now often branded as a “craft.”

☝ I’d say that beats a boterham (but I might be biased).

Fun tidbit: As a kid, I once told my parents that my favourite thing about vacationing abroad was that we didn’t have to eat rye bread (since it couldn’t be purchased in most places)! Now, rye bread is the number one food I miss from Denmark.

Geographically similar — buuuuut

As a Dane, I always thought Denmark was a flat, somewhat boring, country geographically. That was until I arrived in the Netherlands. 

It took a road trip from the Netherlands to Denmark to realise how different the geography actually is — Or rather, how flat the Netherlands is.

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #73: Not have any mountains…or hills…or bumps

The Danish geography features naturally tall beauties such as ‘Himmelbjerget’ (The Sky Mountain or The Mountain of Heaven) which is a whopping 147 meters high! While ‘Himmelbjerget’ isn’t actually the tallest point in Denmark, you got to give us credit for at least trying with the name. 😆

So what can the Dutch boast of? Well, turns out the Netherlands has mountains (kind of)! Vaalserberg is the highest natural point in the Netherlands and is a tripoint that connects the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. With its 322.7 meters it technically only qualifies as a hill but apparently the Dutch, as well as the Danish, like to exaggerate. 🙈 

Vaalserberg seen from Limburg. Image: Romaine/Wikimedia Commons/CC1.0

Not that this is a competition but if one Danish “mountain” isn’t impressive enough, what about a series of “alps”? Svanninge bakker is a technically series of hills near the town of Svanninge on Funen, but have ironically been named “the Funen alps.” 

Save for Vaalserberg on the edge of the country, the Netherlands’ flatness has to be seen to be believed: as flat as a pannenkoek!

What other differences have you noticed between Denmark and the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2021, and was fully updated in December 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Unsplash
Christine Stein Hededam 🇩🇰
Christine Stein Hededam 🇩🇰
A Dane with a special place in her heart for Minnesota, Christine is now falling in love with everything Dutch. Between finishing her bachelor’s degree, learning Dutch, and doing yoga teacher training, you will find her wandering about the Hague. Always up for visiting new places, she loves to explore the Netherlands with friends and takes pride in scoping out cute cafés (wherein to discuss books, big plans, and food).

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  1. Many people consider the Danish hygge as something only for Danish people. Hygge means for them to be with friends or other nearer standing people in the own warm house, having tea and coffie and talking about nice things. Problems of the Danish society, like alkoholism of the youth, bad nutrition, high suicide rates and level of antidepressant consumption, high lung cancer rate, rassism, xenophobism and denuntiation of neighbours at the tax office stay outside the house in the rain. And foreigners and people who are different and Not following the main stream, too.

  2. Here in The Hague, you can visit Carla’s Smaak. They make and sell Danish roggebrod, tebirkes, and lots of other lovely Scandinavian delights. My Danish wife is a big fan! Me too!

    Hellingweg 220

  3. Very nice article. Everything is spot on. I would just add that the Netherlands is a bit less “regulated”. For instance, for our daughter’s birthday we pulled up a Dutch flag on our flagpole. The neighbor quickly warned us, that we can only fly Danish flag in Denmark. If you wish to fly any other flag, you have to ask the authorities. 😳 Or, we wanted to move the driveway to our house 5 meters down the road, but got a warning that we will be fined and we’d still have to put it back to where it was before. We couldn’t believe that we cannot decide where we will drive out to the road, since it was our property. It is also a bit easier to move to the Netherlands than it is to move to Denmark. To move to Denmark you need so many papers, and they make it very difficult. Still. We enjoyed living in Denmark, and made several friend while there. But the sailing in Denmark was the best of the whole Northern Europe, much better than here in the Netherlands. We loved our long sailing tips to Sweden and around the islands.


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