Exploring Denmark

Tiny Denmark is a jewel box of a country for travelers, with charming villages, sweeping ocean views, good food, and walkable cities filled with shops, gardens, and historic structures. While most people never leave Copenhagen, that’s a mistake. There are beautiful, interesting things to see all across the country and it is an easy place to drive with well-regulated traffic and largely deserted rural roads. Denmark is also a spectacular place for biking.

Although I think of Denmark as a country of islands, the largest portion of the country is comprised of the Jutland peninsula. Copenhagen is located on the eastern island of Zealand, close to the Swedish coast. In all, Denmark has about 400 islands. However, many are very small.

Exploring Denmark

I’ve visited Copenhagen a number of times. I’ve also traveled in other parts of Zealand (Sjælland) and in Lolland, Falster, and Møn to the south. I’m eager to return. When I do, I want to visit the Jutland peninsula, traveling from the windswept shores of the north to the rich land along the German border where my maternal grandmother was raised.

Zealand (Sjælland)

While not the biggest island in Denmark, Zealand is the center of business, commercial, and tourist activity. Copenhagen is located here and the large international airport and Øresund Bridge are busy links to Sweden and the rest of the world.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen is largely a tourist dream city: A lovely, walkable modern city that cherishes its history and culture. It is a beautiful place with good food and lots to see and do – but, like all of Denmark, it is expensive!

Copenhagen is a very walkable city – all one really needs to get around is a good map. There is a good interactive Copenhagen map on the web, along with maps of the Greater Copenhagen area and the city proper. It is also a city famous for the number of people who bike. While I saw bikes everywhere, biking here looked terrifying to me, as the rules were unclear and the bike traffic fast and often unrelenting.

While you can, of course, take a bus tour of the city, I think the best way to tour Copenhagen quickly is to take a canal or water bus tour. DFDS Canal Tours are a little more expensive, it actually operates as a bus and a tour ticket allows visitors to hop off at any of four stops (by the Little Mermaid, Christianshavns Torv, Gammel Strand, and Nyhavn), allowing a brief visit to most of the city’s major sites in a day. An English-speaking guide provides information along the way.

Nyhavn

The “new” harbor, constructed in the 1670s, is one of the most lovely, quaint spots in Copenhagen. Thus it draws lots of tourists and charges tourist prices. It’s worth it though.

Tivoli Gardens

Part amusement park and part public gardens, Tivoli feels like the heart of Copenhagen. It’s beautiful, weird, crowded, and over-priced, but it’s still the best place for dinner and people watching.

Palaces

Copenhagen is a good city for visiting palaces of all sizes and types, some of which include beautifully landscaped grounds. There are interactive maps available, as well as tourist bureau maps.

Churches and other architecture

Copenhagen has a lot of churches, some of which are regularly open for tourists and some of which have been repurposed for other uses. Those that allow you to enter the bell tower provide lovely views of the city.

Copenhagen has an amazing mix of very historical and very modern architecture — often side-by-side. Some of the most striking structures (of all eras) can be seen via a water bus tour, but interesting architecture of all types is located throughout the city.

Museums

The greater Copenhagen area has a wealth of museums of all types. Even the outlying museums are accessible by transit, but you do need to plan ahead a little.

There are quite a number of museums I didn’t get to on my 2011 trip, including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, the Danish Resistance Museum, the Karen Blixen home and museum, the Museum of Danish Design, and the David Collection of Islamic Art.

Shopping

I’ve mostly done window shopping because Copenhagen is such an expensive city, but it’s hard not to do at least a little shopping, as the city seems like one big shopping mall, with beautiful, stylish merchandise on display everywhere. The Strøget pedestrian corridor and adjacent streets have all the big international stores as well as illustrious Danish institutions like Illum. We preferred the funky little shops scattered across the city.

Dragør

Minutes from Kastrop International Airport, tiny Dragør is a picture perfect fishing village with thatched cottages and a harbor filled with boats. Literally 5 minutes from the airport via the back road (you can watch the planes take off from the edge of town), a visit here is a step back in time – but with cuter cottages and better food.

Helsingør

The home of Kronborg Castle, a key component on the Dane’s control of trade in the 11th century that turned the Baltic into a “Danish lake,” the city and its castle are most famous today as Elsinore from Hamlet. Ferry service to Sweden is available here and it is a charming place to visit.

Other places to visit around Zealand

Lolland and Falster

My 2011 trip to Denmark was specifically planned to include a visit to the largely agricultural and untouristed island of Lolland, as this is where my maternal grandfather was raised. Besides the slightly rolling farmland I expected to find, the island’s coastline was dotted with charming fishing villages in need of further exploration in the future.

Møn

Two things caused me to include Møn in my itinerary: white cliffs and wildly painted churches. Møn fully delivered on both and more.

Funen (Fyn)

Noted for its historic structures, idyllic villages, and wealth of natural areas, this is a part of Denmark that is high on my list of places to visit!

Jutlalnd

Low and lined with beaches, the Jutland peninsula looks like a perfect summer get-away. Someday.

Travel tips

There is no getting around that fact that Denmark is expensive. Entry fees to attractions tend to be on the high side and food (and alcohol) are  particularly expensive.

Many people in Denmark speak English and it is easy to visit larger cities without speaking Danish. In very rural area, as many fewer people speak English.

One complication for travel planning is that It is not unusual for towns to have the same name. They are differentiated from each other by a letter that indicates the island on which the town is located, for example, Nykøbing F would be the Nykøbing located on Falster, as opposed to Nykøbing M (Mors) or Nykøbing S (Sjælland/Zealand). Always check to be sure you know where you are headed!

Getting around

Denmark is a small country with a good road system, making it easy to get around by car or bike. However, rural roads tend to be very small and narrow (at least by American standards), meaning that it may take longer than anticipated to travel on some routes.

No one needs a car in Copenhagen and cars are expensive in the city. Many nearby cities and attractions are well-connected to the city by transit, so don’t get a car unless you plan to leave the area.

Copenhagen’s Kastrup International Airport is an easy to navigate gateway for northern European flights. It is connected by rail to Copenhagen’s central station (Copenhagen H), other parts of Denmark, and Sweden. The station is very centrally located and includes many traveler services, including luggage storage.

Although much of Denmark consists of islands, there are good roadway connections between them, many of which include signature bridges. The stunning Øresund Bridge connects Denmark to Sweden at a toll I would consider outrageous were it not for the high price of taking the ferry across from Helsingør.

Trip Journal:

A Quick Spring Get-Away in Denmark (2011)

Share this!

Your turn!