We all know that Copenhagen is a cool city to visit – Nyhavn, the freetown of Christiania, the little mermaid etc. etc. But if you want to discover the “real” Denmark – and possibly avoid hoards of tourists – the rest of the country has an abundance of places to explore and fall in love with. As a proud Dane, born and raised in the countryside of this tiny Scandinavian country, here’s my top 5 things to do in Denmark besides visiting Copenhagen.
1. Anholt: a hidden paradise
You’ve probably never heard of it, but Anholt is a tiny sustainable paradise island in the middle of Kattegat. If you truly want to experience the unique Danish atmosphere, this is the place to go. Whether you prefer beach, forest, hills, flatland or desert, Anholt has it all with it’s completely unique landscape. You can camp out in a tent, book a room at Anholt Bed & Breakfast, or rent a summerhouse. Best of all – the entire island is easily accessible by bike, which you can rent cheaply at the harbor.
As Denmark’s most secluded island community (with only 160 self-sustaining inhabitants), Anholt comes alive in the summer when the sailors dock their boats in the harbor and the Danish regulars return. The atmosphere will take you back to the Danish “hippie era” when everyone gathers at Orakel Bar in the evening to watch the sunset or for an ‘ostemad’ and a coffee at Riccos Kaffebar in the morning.
Take your coffee on upcycled wooden pallets, eat classic danish food at one of the restaurants or cafes, or treat yourself to a home-knitted sweater from Anholt Gartneri. Take a long hike through The Desert to the lighthouse, relax at the beach, or explore the beautiful trails through forests and over hills. The people here are friendly, open, and relaxed, so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation! Everyone knows everyone and you’ll soon be sucked into the very best of the relaxed Danish culture.
Now it’s going to be a little bit of a journey from Copenhagen, but why not hop on a train or bus and have a road trip through Denmark? Stop at Grenaa in Jutland and take the ferry from there to Anholt.
2. Aarhus: a blend of modern and old
Now on the way to Grenaa, why not stay for a couple of days to explore Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city? With just around 280,000 inhabitants, Aarhus was selected as the European Capital of Culture in 2017 – and with good reason. Aarhus beautifully melts charming vintage with vibrant new. Its two most iconic spots being ARoS Modern Art Museum, with its rainbow panorama rooftop walkway, and the magical “Old Town” Open Air Museum of living history, which takes you on a walk through time from the 1800s to the 1970s.
Sunbathe or even take an actual bath with the local students at the harbour, or grab a bite to eat at the Aarhus Street Food Market (or one of the countless cosy cafes). Or explore the sustainable experimental city, ‘Institut for X’. Institut for X is mostly made up of shipping containers, which houses countless creative initiatives and businesses. For a colorful picture to rival Copenhagen’s Nyhavn, go to Møllestien and, for a birds-eye-view of the city, make your way to Kulbroen or the rooftop of the Salling department store. In the evening, sit down for a drink at ‘Alberts bar’, the oldest cellar in Aarhus, or enjoy the music at local venue ‘Fatter Eskil’.
3. Explore the old towns of Funen
Rent a car or a bike, or hop on a bus to explore the smallest of the three main islands making up Denmark: Funen, which combines the two others, Zealand and Jutland. You’ll find an abundance of small charming towns with cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and a mystic, old-world charm. Odense is the “capital” of Funen and famous for being the home of author Hans Christian Andersen – a house you can visit in the cosy old quarter of the city. But Funen has much more to offer.
Visit beautiful Kerteminde, a tiny tranquil harbor town on Eastern-Funen. Wander through the quaint old streets and explore the home of a local artist at Johannes Larsen Museet, or visit the viking museum Ladby with the only ship burial in Denmark. You can also make your way to Faaborg on the Southern coast of the island, one of Denmark’s oldest and most well-preserved market towns.
It’s home to one of my personal favorite art museums, Faaborg Museum, with paintings by the classic Funen painters. And it’s only three kilometers from ‘Svanning bakker’ – a beautiful hilly natural area. It’s also the jumping-off point to tiny island Aeroe (Ærø) – known for its iconic beach huts and Ærøskøbing, dubbed Denmark’s fairytale town.
Quaint and magical, it is the best-preserved town in Denmark and well worth a visit. Ærøskøbing is accessible from several towns – including Svendborg, another charming town with cosy cafes, good restaurants, and cobbled streets – whether you settle for a simple day trip or stay on the island for several days, the romantic and relaxed atmosphere will stay with you.
4. Bike, walk or cano your way through the Danish countryside
Danish nature is beautifully tranquil, perfect for biking and walking with it’s flat landscape. There’s camping grounds scattered generously across the country, whether that be nearby rivers, the sea, or in the forest. A classic – and quintessential – Danish experience is a bike trip around Bornholm, one of the biggest islands of Denmark; rich in sights, nature and culture. But don’t worry, there’s plenty to see and do in Mainland Denmark whether travelling by bike, foot, or kajak (or even canoe).
And in Denmark, no matter where you are, you are never more than 50 km from the sea.
Take a trip up the Suså River, Zealand’s longest river, and explore the many castles scattered across the country, the largest concentration on Funen.
Or visit the town and surrounding area of Skagen, the northernmost point of Denmark and a Danish favorite – where two seas collide at ‘Grenen’ and where ‘Råbjerg Mile’, Denmark’s answer to the Sahara Desert, is found.
5. Immerse yourself in the Danish culture with a workaway
Now, I love my home dearly, but Danes can be a bit tricky when it comes to befriending them. Denmark has been ranked as one of the hardest nations for expats to make local friends in. Don’t get me wrong – Danes are great friends; they are both brutally honest and extremely loyal to their closest ones! But Danes prefer deep, long-term friendships and many might not be too interested in getting acquainted with travellers.
Workaway (or couchsurfing for that matter!) is a great way to really immerse yourself in the Danish culture and travel cheaply in the usually expensive country. Help with a sustainability project, on a permaculture farm, or maybe sign up to take care of a couple of children. No matter what you find most interesting, this is a sure way to truly get a glimpse into the Danish lifestyle and culture. Once you’ve earned the trust of a Dane, you’ll have won yourself a trustworthy ally.
While Danes might not approach you first, don’t be scared to start up a conversation with a local! Most would be happy to chat – just remember that we are brutally honest and subtly ironic. Danes are very relaxed and won’t always waste time on small-talk – don’t take offense from some of the things we might say.
The Danish humor is rough, but it’s rarely meant to be mean-spirited. The more a Dane pokes fun at you, the more comfortable they feel around you!
About the Author
Born in Denmark, Charlotte grew up into a family of spirited travellers in the mud and trees of the Danish countryside. With a passion for exploring and a need for always pushing her own limits, Charlotte booked a one-way ticket to New Delhi the first opportunity she got and set out on what would be the start of a life-changing journey.