Denmark: so child-friendly it even has a ‘Capital of Children’. This kid-friendly utopia is centred on Billund, the heartland of Lego, but around it there are plenty of other attractions too, including a Viking town, Scandinavia’s best waterpark, and the fantastic Givskud Zoo.

Adults and children playing with brightly-coloured Lego bricks inside the Lego House in Billund © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet
Adults and children absorbed in their brick-based creations at the Lego House in Billund © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet

Being the home of Lego is pretty high on Billund’s list of claims to fame. It was 19th-century toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen who developed the first 'Leg Godt' here – the name meaning ‘play well’ in Danish – and Lego creators carry on the principle to this day.

This being Denmark, home of creative thinkers, the ‘Capital of Children’ is no marketing gimmick. In Billund, children are consulted on town planning decisions, and play is promoted for everyone from babies to pensioners.

Getting creative at the Lego House

Opened in 2017, the wonderful Lego House is where Lego lovers (kids or AFLs – Adult Fans of Lego) can create like never before. You can make Lego art in the studio, construct crazy vehicles to race on slopes, make a stop-motion movie, or build figures, dancing monsters, fish, or flowers. You could easily spend a whole day – or more – here, and adults play as much as kids. There are several restaurants and cafes: greatest fun is the futuristic Mini Chef, where you ‘build’ a balanced menu out of four Lego blocks, and the palatable-if-not-gourmet meals are then ‘delivered’ by two Lego Robots.

Copenhagen's iconic Nyhavn harbour, recreated from the equally iconic building blocks at Legoland Billund © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet
Copenhagen's iconic Nyhavn harbour, recreated from the equally iconic building blocks at Legoland Billund © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet

Whooping for joy at Legoland

Legoland Billund is the biggest and best of all the theme parks' incarnations. Visitors can go the whole blockbusting shebang and stay at the Hotel Legoland, which has themed rooms, wow-factor sculptures and plenty of block-filled playrooms. Over a small bridge is the theme park, which will keep all ages happy for at least a day, with themed areas, including Ninjago, Wild West, Duplo (for younger kids) and the Arctic, plus rides galore, from a drive-through safari (Lego flamingos, zebras and so on) to looping rollercoasters.  A miniature village recreates world landmarks in loving, cubic detail. Tickets include unlimited rides and, even during peak holiday time, queues aren’t so lengthy that you need to shell out the extra to reserve spots on the rides.

Swooshing down flumes at Lalandia

Within walking distance of Legoland is Lalandia, Scandinavia’s biggest water park. You could spend days here: the aquadome may look slightly tired, but it’s still unadulterated fun, with whirlpool-whizzing, flume-racing slides, an indoor-outdoor hot tub, saunas, a wave machine, a lazy river and more. There are lots of other indoor attractions too, such as a tiny ski slope, a normal-sized skating rink, bowling, and (possibly less appealing for those holding the purse-strings) kid-magnet coin-operated amusements. Accommodation available onsite is in swish-yet-vaguely-institutional prefab bungalows complete with Jacuzzi baths and even saunas.

Two boys investigating one of the realistic dinosaur sculptures in the dinosaur park at Givskud Zoo © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet
Some of the prehistoric creatures (plus a couple of modern-day visitors) in the dinosaur park at Givskud Zoo © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet

Meeting dinosaurs and lions at Givskud Zoo

Only a 20-minute drive from Billund (40 minutes by bus) is the marvellous, 120-hectare Givskud Zoo and wildlife park. Yet another great day out, the zoo has lavish playgrounds and a huge dinosaur park, before you even consider all the animals. As well as seeing the animals in large, standard zoo enclosures, it's also possible to take a drive-through safari – in your own car on on the 'safari bus' – which is fantastic fun, allowing you to get close to giraffes, zebras, lions and more inside their huge animal paddocks. Fun extra activities include bashing rocks with hammers (to find fossils, not merely nihilistic violence) and sifting sand to look for geological treasures.

Learning to fight like a Viking

The Ribe VikingeCenter is an outdoor museum that stretches across the countryside, and includes replica Viking houses, a farm, and a church. Enthusiastic museum workers and volunteers are dressed as Vikings, adding to the air of authenticity. There are re-enactments and children can make coins, learn wood carving, warrior skills and archery, and bake Viking bread. Younger kids will love looking for the hidden runes around the site, and there’s also a Viking-themed playground. This is another place that merits a whole day, but you could also combine it with a visit to Ribe, only 2km to the north. Denmark’s oldest town has higgledy-piggeldy, candy-coloured houses, and an atmospheric free tour by a Night Watchman in the summer months – until 1902, the watchmen used to warn the town of floods. Ribe and its surrounding attractions are around an hour’s drive from Billund.

A young girl looks into a telescopic device at the the Wadden Sea Centre in Denmark © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet
The Wadden Sea Centre is full of hand-on exhibits to help visitors learn about the Unesco-protected area © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet

Jumping like a prawn at Wadden Sea Centre

The Wadden Sea is a vast, flat wetland, listed by Unesco for its remarkably rich ecosystem and birdlife. Opened in 2017, the Wadden Sea Centre (VadehavsCentret) is exquisitely designed, with sloping, reed roofs merging with the scenery of the surrounding marshlands. Inside, its exhibition on the area is imaginative and hands-on, and will entrance kids with exhibits on subjects that on the surface may seem like a tough sell (especially following more obvious attractions such as Legoland and Vikings), such as bird migration, the tides, and flight. Outside you’re given the chance to try to jump like a prawn (backwards), or as far as a razor clam (three times its length). This is a good one to combine with Ribe, as it’s only around 20 minutes’ drive away.

Going underground at the extraordinary Tirpitz Bunker Museum

Around an hour’s drive away from Billund, but worth the detour, the Tirpitz Bunker Museum opened in 2018 alongside the concrete hulk of former Nazi bunker. This subterranean museum, with its hidden underground entrance, is another architectural triumph, sitting in harmony with the bleakly beautiful surrounding landscape. Inside it's fascinating, with interactive exhibits, projections about life on the coast, reconstructed bunker rooms, and some absorbing archive material about life here during WWII, when the area was nicknamed the ‘Whipped Cream Front’, as it was considered by Nazi soldiers as an easy deployment. You get to explore the Nazi bunker too, which remains chillingly untouched, with a huge searchlight that you can flash around the interior.

A sandy walkway leading to the underground entrance at the Tirpitz Bunker Museum © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet
A sandy walkway leading to the underground entrance at the Tirpitz Bunker Museum © Abigail Blasi / Lonely Planet

Making it happen

Denmark is expensive, but the 'Capital of Children' attractions themselves are consistently fantastic, making them great value overall. Self-catering can help to keep costs down.

One of the many advantages of travelling in Denmark as a family is that the school holidays don’t always coincide with those elsewhere: Danish children are mostly back to school by mid-August after summer break, and have only a week off at Easter.

You can do without a car by taking the train from Copenhagen or by flying directly to Billund, which is served by operators including British Airways, SAS and KLM. Legoland, the Lego House and Lalandia are all within walking distance of each other, and Givskud is easily accessible by bus. You would, however need your own transport to visit the other sights.

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