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

Bikes, beers, and canals — are we 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. 

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. 👀

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! 🙄).

READ MORE | Cycling culture in the Netherlands: to bike or not to bike

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. 

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. ❄️

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 are 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.

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!

READ MORE | Why is the Netherlands so flat? The complete explainer

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

Feature Image: Quincy Soudain/Unsplash & Julius Jansson/Unsplash

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.


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