Travellers are flocking to Denmark in record numbers, but many don’t stray beyond Copenhagen to experience the Nordic country’s charming small towns. Consider Vejle – an unassuming former port city conveniently located about 30 minutes from Legoland in Billund and less than 2½ hours from the capital.
Spend a few hours wandering Vejle’s streets and you’ll find that it’s a microcosm of what Denmark is best known for: innovative art and design, dazzling architecture and a varied culinary scene that includes everything from affordable food markets to fine dining.
Explore historic and contemporary architecture
The train drops visitors in the middle of Vejle’s charming downtown, where you can wander the 900m-long pedestrian street lined with shops, cafes and historic buildings.
Start with the city’s oldest building, the Romanesque and Gothic red-brick St Nicolai Church, built in the 13th century and restored several times since. Walk another five minutes to encounter another red-brick treasure, the neo-Gothic Vejle Town Hall, constructed in 1878. It faces the town’s main square and the bell announces the time as it did when it was in a medieval monastery on the site.
The harbour – a 20-minute walk from central Vejle – contains newer, cutting-edge architectural treasures that add a futuristic dimension to the otherwise industrial area. Olafur Eliasson’s curvy glass and multicoloured-brick office building Fjordenhus is connected to land by a small pedestrian bridge – the hulking edifice floats on water. And Henning Larsen Architects’ apartment complex Bølgen ('The Wave') stands out with its striking, roller-coaster-like undulating roofs.
Take in all the free art
Art lovers will appreciate that the city has 10 free historic and cultural sites, including the Vejle Art Museum, which specialises in modern and contemporary Danish art. The Spinderihallerne Cultural Museum contains fun interactive displays that highlight Vejle’s industrial history as a former cotton mill town and the nation’s second-largest port. It also now houses Haraldskaer Woman, a woman from the 5th century who likely died in a religious sacrifice and whose naturally preserved body had previously been on display in St Nicolai Church.
Some of the city’s best works of art in Vejle are found outside – they're almost everywhere you look. Quirky animal sculptures – such as a horse standing in the middle of a serpent-shaped fountain – are scattered downtown. And, for the past four years, the city has hosted a Floating Art exhibition in July, in which large-scale contemporary sculptures sit on the surface of the water, blending in seamlessly with Vejle Harbour.
Dine on tapas, Greek food and more
Some of Vejle’s best eating and drinking spots are neatly tucked away in enchanting courtyards and side streets. Head to the northern part of the pedestrian street to find the Latin Quarter, covered in multihued umbrellas that shade the cafes, bars and shops from April to October. Among the standouts here are casual, family-friendly Greek restaurant Taverna Hellas, which offers plenty of vegetarian options, and the sleek, modern Scandinavian restaurant MadRick.
At the other end of town, you’ll find a lively patio behind a bright yellow 18th-century building that was once a merchant house and now houses No. 14 Vinbar, a tapas and wine bar. If the weather isn’t agreeable, delight in the cosy, exposed-brick interior, while savouring Iberico ham. A good casual option is Street Food Vejle, a mini food hall with Mexican, Vietnamese and Italian fare, and a bar serving cocktails, beer and wine.
Head down to the harbour for the area’s sole waterfront dining option. Restaurant Remouladen delivers great views along with classic Danish dishes, including smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches) at lunch, and a fixed-price seasonal menu for dinner.