Fairy tales and football matches. Delicious pastry. A bronze mermaid sitting on a rock, looking out over a city. There’s not one single slot into which Denmark and its people can conveniently fit. This is the country where the feared Vikings came from, travelling in their longboats to distant shores; and this is, too, the land of Hans Christian Andersen whose fairy tales enthrall children even today.
Denmark is a country with a long and interesting history, a vibrant culture - it’s also a nation that is fiercely proud of the fact that it’s a modern and developed country, one of the most prosperous in West Europe. With such a combination, it’s hardly surprising that Denmark is a pretty popular stop on tourist itineraries.
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DENMARK QUICK FACTS
Currency: Danish Krone (DKK) - Approx 7.5 DKK to 1 EUR (2020) Convert here.
Although Denmark is an EU member nation, Denmark’s citizens rejected adopting the euro in a referendum in 2000.
Area: total: 43,094km²
Population: 5,806 million (2019)
Religion: Evangelical Lutheran 82%, Non-religious 13%, other Protestant and Roman Catholic 3%
Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug)
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DENMARK PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 4th Friday after Easter, General Prayer Day (Store Bededag)
- 5 June, Constitution Day
Also, Carnival, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Whit Monday.
FESTIVALS IN DENMARK
Aalborg Carnival - Each year in late May, Aalborg kicks up its heels hosting this week-long festival (the biggest Carnival celebrations in northern Europe), when up to 100,000 participants and spectators shake their maracas and paint the town red.
Copenhagen Jazz Festival - Copenhagen's single largest event, and the biggest jazz festival in northern Europe, hit the city over 10 days in early July. The program covers jazz in all its forms, with an impressive line-up of local and international talent.
Copenhagen Cooking & Food Festival - Scandinavia's largest food festival serves up a gut-rumbling program spanning cooking demonstrations from A-list chefs to tastings and foodie tours of the city. Events are held in venues and restaurants across town, usually in August.
Tivoli Christmas Market - From mid-November to late December, Tivoli gets into the Christmas spirit with a large Yuletide market, costumed staff, and theatre shows. Fewer rides are operational but the mulled wine and æbleskiver (small doughnuts) are ample compensation.
BEST TIME TO VISIT DENMARK
Denmark has a distinctly coastal climate, with mild, damp winters and cool, unsettled summers. However, the weather in Denmark is greatly affected by the proximity of both the sea and the continent. This means that the weather can change, depending on the prevailing wind direction. Rainfall levels are more or less constant throughout the year, with an annual average of 61cm; the west tends to be wetter than the east, however.
June & July - Long days, buzzing beachside towns, Copenhagen Jazz, and A-list rock fest Roskilde.
September & October - Fewer crowds, golden landscapes, and snug nights by crackling open fires.
December - Twinkling Christmas lights, ice-skating rinks, and gallons of warming gløgg.
Though spring usually brings bright sunlight and cloudless skies, the best time to visit Denmark is during the summer months of June, July, and August, when the climate is warmest and the blossoming landscape at its prettiest, and when tourist facilities and transport services are operating at full steam. Bear in mind, though, that July is vacation month for Danes, who head en-masse to the countryside or the coast – though even then, only the most popular areas are uncomfortably crowded.
Autumn can also be a good time to visit, with the falling leaves providing a gorgeous golden show – though bear in mind that the coastal waters can get downright chilly as early as September, and that most sights and attractions maintain reduced hours outside of the high season, from mid-September onwards.
Cold but rarely severe, Denmark’s winters are decidedly less frigid than those of its northerly Scandinavian neighbours.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN DENMARK
Denmark is not known for its ski slopes, however, if you are desperate, there are some artificial options available.
HIKING & CYCLING IN DENMARK
Denmark is a superb country for cyclists, with more than 12,000km of signposted cycle routes and relatively quiet country roads that wend through attractive, gently undulating landscapes. The best time for outdoor activities in Denmark is from May to September. The big draw for touring cyclists are the 11 national routes, which are in excellent condition, but there are oodles of regional and local routes to get you pedaling. The routes are well suited to recreational cyclists, including families with children.
BEACH OPTIONS IN DENMARK
While Denmark may have some beautiful beaches, even the summer months have very moderate temperature and don't really get very hot.
SURFING IN DENMARK
Surfing is possible in Denmark from September to April with the best swell during the months of September to November especially on the west coast.
KITESURF IN DENMARK
Denmark has more than 20 different kitesurfing spots within an hours drive from Copenhagen. The best winds can be found from May to September.
DENMARK TRAVEL COSTS
Seasoned travellers and some former residents recommend budgeting about 500 DKK (70 EUR) a day but you can probably whittle it down to closer to 300 DKK (40 EUR) if you skimp on a few things and try to prepare or cook your own food instead of eating out. Everyday items like milk and bread can also run particularly high. Drinking is also VERY expensive -- as high as 35 DKK a beer, which equates to $5.60 USD or 4.70 EUR! Cans of local beer can be bought relatively cheaply at any supermarket though.
A hostel dorm ranges from $22-35 USD and staying in a 2- or 3-star hotel is about $100 USD. A fast-food meal is about 60 DKK ($ 9.60 USD) and a cheap restaurant meal about 125 DKK ($ 20 USD).
DENMARK TRAVEL TIPS
The Copenhagen Card (adult/child 10-15yr 24hr €56/28 EUR, 48hr €83/42 EUR, 72hr €102/51 EUR, 96hr €119/60 EUR, 120hr €134/67 EUR) gives you access to 87 museums and attractions, as well as free public transport (zone 1-99). There is also a 48hr card available which excludes public transport and with reduced attractions for €56/28 EUR. Each adult card includes up to two children aged under 10.
Instead of taking a taxi from the Copenhagen airport - simply hop on metro line M2 and you’re in the center in minutes. The cost of this journey is around US$5.58 or 35 kroner and you can buy tickets from the red/white machines clearly marked “Tickets/ Billetter”.
Cash is the way to go in Denmark, as payments made by credit card incur a fee as high as 3 percent. ATMs are prevalent, so take out cash from there or convert it to DKK before you come.
Some restaurants will do buffet-style during the day and leave out the VAT (Moms), which reduces the cost significantly. Expect to spend anywhere from 70 DKK for a pasta buffet to 140 DKK for something more substantial. Most restaurants go back to their standard, tax-added menu prices for dinner. Hot dog stands feature in several Scandinavian countries including Denmark and can give you a cheap but filling option for as little as 19 DKK. Pizza shops will often run lunch specials for 40 DKK or less and kebab shops sell delicious plates with pita bread, meat or falafel, rice or fries, and salad for 60-80 DKK.
Copenhagen free daily walking tours of the city. The 2.5-hour Grand Tour of Copenhagen departs Rådhus (Town Hall) daily at 11 am, with additional departures in the summer months, taking in famous landmarks and featuring interesting anecdotes. A 90-minute tour of Christianshavn departs daily at 3 pm from Højbro Plads. There's also a 90-minute Classical Copenhagen Tour, departing Saturdays and Sundays at noon. A tip is expected.
Copenhagen vies with Amsterdam as the world's most bike-friendly city. Most streets have cycle lanes and, more importantly, motorists tend to respect them.
Copenhagen has a superb city-wide bicycle rental system: Bycyklen has high-tech 'Smart Bikes' featuring touchscreen tablets with GPS, multi-speed electric motors, puncture-resistant tires, and locks. The bikes must be paid for by credit card via the website or the bike's touchscreen.
For travelling around Denmark, the essential website is www.rejseplanen.dk. This excellent resource allows you to enter your start and endpoint, date, and preferred time of travel, and will then give you the best travel option, which may involve walking or taking a bus, train, or ferry. Bus routes are linked, travel times are given and fares listed. Download the app for easy mobile access - Android / iPhone.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF DENMARK
Copenhagen - Shop, nosh and chill in Scandinavia’s capital of cool.
Louisiana - Being inspired by the art and the views in Humlebæk.
Kronborg Slot - Snooping around Hamlet’s epic home in Helsingør.
Roskilde Festival - Get your groove on at Denmark’s top annual music event.
Møns Klint - Tackle the white cliffs on picture-perfect Møn.
Bornholm - Lose yourself in nature and feast on smoked fish on this beautiful Baltic island.
ARoS - See-through technicolor glass at Aarhus' impressive art museum.
Skagen - Watch angry seas duel above luminous northern shores.
While this 1000-year-old harbor town has managed to retain much of its historic good looks (think copper spires and cobbled squares), the focus here is on the innovative and cutting edge. Denmark’s overachieving capital is home to a thriving design scene, its streets awash with effortlessly hip shops, cafes, and bars; world-class museums and art collections; intelligent new architecture; and no fewer than 15 Michelin-starred restaurants. This is also a royal city, home to the multitalented Queen Margrethe II and her photogenic family.
One of the great things about Copenhagen is its size. Virtually all of Copenhagen's major sightseeing attractions – Tivoli Gardens, Nationalmuseet, Statens Museum for Kunst, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Christiansborg, Christiania, Nyhavn, Marmorkirken, Amalienborg and Rosenborg – are in or close to the medieval city center. Only the perennially disappointing Little Mermaid lies outside of the city proper, on the harbourfront. Love her or loathe her (watch Copenhageners cringe at the very mention of her), this small, underwhelming statue is arguably the most photographed sight in the country, as well as the cause of countless 'is that it?' shrugs from tourists who have trudged the kilometer or so along an often windswept harbourfront to see her.
Denmark’s largest island offers much more than the dazzle of Copenhagen. North of the city lie some of the country’s finest beaches and most impressive castles. Here you’ll find dazzlingly ornate Frederiksborg Slot in Hillerød and the hulking Kronborg Slot at Helsingør, Shakespeare's Elsinore. Helsingør also features the excellent Maritime Museum of Denmark. West of Copenhagen awaits history-steeped Roskilde, home to a World Heritage-listed cathedral, Scandinavia’s classic rock music festival, and a tremendous Viking Ship Museum. History also comes to life at nearby Sagnlandet Lejre, an engrossing, hands-on archaeology site.
Fascinating Helsingør commands the narrowest point of the Øresund, the sound that separates Denmark from today's Sweden. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the city became immensely wealthy by taxing shipping that had to pass this way between the Baltic Sea and the open ocean. For a sizeable town, Helsingør has done a pretty good job of maintaining mementos of its medieval character, best appreciated by strolling through the grid of narrow cobbled streets between the harbor and the bustling shopping core. Here, half-timbered back-alley houses lean precariously behind towering hollyhocks and creeping ivy. The main sight, however, is the gigantic Kronborg Slot, made famous as Elsinore Castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, although the intimate psychological nature of the play is a far cry from the real-life military colossus.
Pretty Køge (koo-e) is well worth a look if you're taking the ferry to Bornholm or driving via Stevns Klint towards Denmark's southern islands. The one-time medieval trading center retains a photogenic core of cobbled streets flanked by some well-preserved 17th- and 18th-century buildings. At its heart, Torvet is claimed to be Denmark's largest square. Around 7km south, Vallø's moat-encircled Renaissance castle makes a great destination for a cycle ride along quiet, tree-lined avenues and country lanes. Either side of Køge bay there is passable beaches, though the semi-industrial backdrop of the modern commercial harbor detracts a little from some of the coastal scenery. Further beaches at Solrød and Greve (8km and 17km north of Køge respectively) are popular S-train escapes for Copenhagen city-dwellers.
Most foreigners who have heard of Roskilde know it either as the home of one of northern Europe’s best outdoor music festivals, or the sight of several remarkable Viking ship finds, now housed in an excellent, purpose-built museum. To the Danes, however, it is a city of great royal and religious significance, as it was the capital city long before Copenhagen and is still the burial place of 39 monarchs stretching back several hundred years. Located on the southern tip of Roskilde Fjord, the city was a thriving trading port throughout the Middle Ages. It was also the site of Zealand’s first Christian church, built by Viking king Harald Bluetooth in AD 980.
Many Møn-bound visitors will need to change transport in Vordingborg. If you're doing that, it's worth stopping at least briefly to visit the site of the town's central, once-formidable castle that played a starring role in early Danish history. Today, all that remains are a few moated bastion ruins plus a single round tower, but the site forms an appealing park with views down across a pretty harbor. Danmarks Borgcenter brings the site's history vividly to life using an imaginative self-led tour guided by a tablet-computer.
One of Denmark's most magical islands, Møn's best-known drawcard is its sweeping stretch of white cliffs, Møns Klint. Crowned by deep-green forest, they’re a popular inspiration for landscape paintings, possibly explaining the island’s healthy artist headcount. But the inspiration doesn’t end there. Beautiful beaches span sandy expanses and small secret coves, there are haunting Neolithic graves, and several rural churches are adorned with whimsical medieval frescoes. Every year more stargazers come for what are said to be Denmark's darkest night skies, and now they're joined by hikers flooding in to walk the well-organized network of trails known as Camønoen, named with a punning nod to the classic Camino pilgrim trail.
The sunniest part of Denmark, Bornholm lies way out in the Baltic Sea, 200km east of Copenhagen (and closer to Sweden and Poland than to mainland Denmark). But it’s not just (relatively) sunny skies that draw the hordes each year. Mother Nature was in a particularly good mood when creating this Baltic beauty, bestowing on its rocky cliffs, leafy forests, bleach-white beaches, and pure, ethereal light that painters do their best to capture. Humankind added the beguiling details, from medieval fortress ruins and thatched fishing villages to the iconic rundekirke (round churches) and contemporary Bornholms Kunstmuseum. The island’s ceramic and glassware artisans are famed throughout Denmark, as are its historic smokehouses and ever-expanding league of food artisans, doing brilliant things with local harvests.
Funen (Fyn in Danish) is Denmark's proverbial middle child. Lacking Zealand's capital-city pull or Jutland's geographic dominance, it's often overlooked by visitors, who rarely do more than making a whistle-stop visit to Hans Christian Andersen's birthplace, Odense.
Certainly, the master of fairy tales makes a worthy favourite son and Odense is a lively cultural and commercial center. But there is much more to Funen. Thatched farmhouses, picture-book coastal towns, and grand Renaissance castles dot the island’s patchwork of fields and woodlands. There's a remarkable Viking-era ship grave near Kerteminde. Rolling southern pastures and orchards grow some of the country's best produce. Curiously minimalist shelters are set up for cyclists and kayakers. And handsome harbor towns give access to a yacht-filled archipelago of idyllic seafaring islands. All in all, if you take the trouble to explore, you'll find Funen is a microcosm of the very best of Denmark.
Denmark doesn't have a north-south divide; culturally, spiritually and to a great extent politically, it is divided into Jutland…and all the rest. You'll find old-fashioned hospitality here and an engaging frankness – Jutlanders stem from hardy fishing and farming stock, and they're proud of their points of difference from big-city Danes. Then there are those picture-book Jutland landscapes, an incredible melange of windswept sand dunes, boat-filled harbors, glittering lakes, and thatch-roofed villages. These are the scenes that have inspired centuries of great Danish art – visit Skagen for a brilliant introduction. Add to this, top-notch museums, ample outdoor adventures, Denmark's oldest town, endless family attractions, and the understated cool of 'second city' Aarhus, and you'll come to understand why Copenhagen isn't the only Danish destination to put on your itinerary.
WHAT TO EAT IN DENMARK
Even the Danes might concede that their traditional cuisine is somewhat heavy and unhealthy. Traditionally the Danes eat a great deal of meat, mostly pork, and usually accompanied by something starchy and gravy like sauce. However, one Danish specialty has conquered the world: smørrebrød, the Danish open sandwich.
Traditional meaty staples include frikadeller (fried minced-pork balls) and fiskefrikadeller (the fish version), flæskesteg (roast pork with crackling), hvid labskovs (beef-and-potato stew), hakkebøf (beef burger with fried onions) and the surprisingly tasty pariserbøf (a rare beef patty topped with capers, raw egg yolk, beets, onions, and horseradish).
Luckily it’s not all land-based offerings, with coast-sourced classics including sild (herring), fresh rejer (shrimp), and hummer (lobster). The Danes are great fish smokers too; you’ll find smokehouses (called røgeri in Danish) preserving herring, eel, cod livers, shrimp, and other seafood all around the coast. The most renowned of these are on Bornholm.
LGBTQ IN DENMARK
The rights of (LGBT) lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Denmark are some of the most extensive in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was already legalised in 1933. Denmark was the first country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions in 1989. Same-sex marriage in Denmark has been legal since 15 June 2012, making Denmark the eleventh country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
Denmark has become one of the most socially liberal countries in the world and Copenhagen has frequently been referred to as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, famous for its annual Pride parade.