Denmark’s classic hits
- 2 Weeks
The beauty of Denmark’s compact size is that it never takes too long to get from point A to B.
To cover the classic sites, start in Copenhagen and soak up the riches (cultural, culinary, retail) of the capital. From there, it’s a short hop west to Roskilde to investigate Denmark’s royal and Viking heritage. Further west, Odense offers up fairy-tale charm in abundance and plenty of ways to connect with the city’s famous native son, Hans Christian Andersen.
Stop in Kolding for a polished mix of the old and the cutting-edge, en route to history-soaked Ribe, Denmark’s oldest town, oozing chocolate-box appeal. From here, you can pause on the history lessons for a hefty dose of childhood nostalgia investigating Lego-themed treats in Billund, then some lakeside R & R in Silkeborg – go canoeing or take a cruise through the picturesque lakes of the area. Squeeze in a quick hop north to luminous Skagen for art, beaches and fresh seafood.
Finally, stop by cosmopolitan Aarhus, the country’s second city. It holds a few surprises – not least its rainbow-topped art museum – and from here, you can take a ferry to northern Zealand for an easy and scenic return to Copenhagen.
Denmark in detail
- 2–4 Weeks
Got some time up your sleeve and a desire to delve deep into Denmark?
Designate Copenhagen some quality time in your itinerary, and make a couple of day trips outside the capital to check out the superb modern art at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk and magnificent castles such as Kronborg Slot at Helsingør and Frederiksborg at Hillerød. Head south to potter about pretty, historic Køge, then catch a ferry out to the Baltic bombshell of Bornholm – spend a few days exploring the island’s bike trails, sandy beaches and gastronomic treats. Once you’re back on Zealand, head further south to Møn, an enchanting island with some of the country’s most exalted scenery – the white-chalk cliffs of Møn rise sharply over a jade-green sea.
Head back across southern Zealand to reach the island of Funen. Odense is a must-see for its various tributes to home-town-hero Hans Christian Andersen, but also take time to visit the Viking ship grave at Ladby and the marvellous Renaissance treats at Egeskov Slot. A day or two on the friendly old seafaring island of Ærø will recharge your batteries.
Onward west – a ferry can take you from Ærø to Als, and on to southern Jutland, where you can reach Ribe for history lessons with a decidedly friendly face (mock Viking settlements, a nightwatchman’s tour of the cobbled streets), plus some great bird-watching and fresh-air fun at the Wadden Sea National Park. Jump on a boat out of Esbjerg for the 12-minute trip to idyllic Fanø, and take a pause in the idyllic hamlet of Sønderho.
A detour to Billund is essential – Legoland and the new Lego House will thrill you with creativity inspired by the humble plastic brick. Then it’s back to the west coast for more mind-blowing activity – this time courtesy of North Sea winds, perfect for kitesurfing in Hvide Sande.
From here, wend your way east to leafy, lakeside Silkeborg, then on to Aarhus for top-notch museum-mooching and gourmet treats. The rejuvenated northern city of Aalborg warrants a stop for its Utzon architecture and a Viking burial ground, but the best comes last at cinematic Skagen, hugging Denmark’s northernmost tip. Make time to admire the artwork, indulge in fine seafood, soak in the incredible northern light and dip a toe in the angry seas.
- 2 Weeks
Why should Copenhagen get all the attention? For some off-the-beaten-track seaside R & R, the underrated further reaches of northern Jutland beckon, with plenty of quirky treats alongside the expected sun, sea, sand and seafood.
Start from Aarhus, with its fine dining, ace festivals and snazzy museums (particularly rainbow-topped ARoS and head-turning Moesgaard), and head north, stopping in Randers for a man-made rainforested dome and a left-field dose of Elvis kitsch courtesy of a replica Graceland (correct). With kids in tow, a detour to the safari parks and sandy beaches of Djursland is a must – but there's lots for grown-ups here too, particularly in the gourmet hotspots at Femmøller outside Ebeltoft.
Sleepy Hobro offers history in the shape of a 10th-century Viking ring fortress, while Rold Skov lets you cut loose on forested mountain-bike trails. Aalborg puts on its best face to impress you with a rejuvenated waterfront and the final design from revered architect Jørn Utzon. At sweet Sæby you can connect with Danish literature and go back for seconds at bountiful seafood buffets.
From Frederikshavn, catch a ferry to the island of Læsø to take a step back in time (salt baths optional). Next is Skagen, a delightful slice of seaside life with a stellar art museum, boutique hotels and alfresco dockside dining. Southwest of Skagen, the walkabout sand dunes of Råbjerg Mile let you know mother nature is still in charge, while in Hirtshals you can admire more of her handiwork at a huge aquarium. Check out the photogenic strand at Løkken and the precarious lighthouse at windswept Rubjerg Knude, then get your heart pumping with amusement rides and a water park at Fårup Sommerland.
Heading south, stop to inspect WWII-era bunkers and devour a fab lunch in Hanstholm before a visit to quirky 'Cold Hawaii' – the celebrated surfing village of Klitmøller, where you can get wet and windblown in various ways. Stop by the sea baths at nearby Nørre Vorupør and take to some walking or cycling trails through the dune heaths of Thy National Park. You’ll return to Aarhus with the cobwebs well and truly blown away.
North Zealand gems
- 1 Week
An easy and accessible circuit of north Zealand offers glam beaches, royal remains, fairy-tale castles, Viking ships and cutting-edge architecture.
Start in fjord-side Roskilde, where you can check out Viking longships and pay your respects to a millennium’s worth of Danish kings and queens at the country’s finest cathedral. North from here is magnificent Frederiksborg Slot, dominating the unassuming town of Hillerød. It’s hard to decide which is more impressive, the baroque interiors or the regal grounds.
For northern light and sunbathing Scandi-style, head to the northern beaches: the chic bathing hotels of Tisvildeleje are worth a stop, as are the sculptures between Gilleleje and Hornbæk. Hornbæk is where the young and gorgeous go to appreciate both natural beauty and their own.
Further along the coast stands historic Kronborg Slot in Helsingør, much more than simply the home of the existential ditherer Hamlet. Helsingør's newest drawcard is the stunningly designed national maritime museum. Be sure to take the scenic coastal road south to Humlebæk and the Louisiana Museum – its splendid architecture rivals its collection of contemporary art. A short but picturesque drive along the ‘Danish Riviera’ leads to Copenhagen.
Southern island hopping
- 1 Week
Most travelling between Copenhagen and Jutland take the quickest, direct route across Funen, but this meandering option is for those seeking slow travel, rural retreats and quiet villages, with small ferries providing island-hopping potential.
From the capital make a beeline south to Møn, then across to Falster and on to Lolland. This trio are known as Denmark’s ‘South Sea Islands’. While they may lack the coconut palms normally associated with that label, they do offer a fine glimpse of rural Scandinavian island life: rolling fields, sandy beaches and rustic manor houses. Allocate time to Møn’s chalky cliffs, Marielyst’s glorious beach (on Falster), and Lolland’s family-focused parks.
Western Lolland connects to Langeland by ferry – and now you’re in the South Funen Archipelago. This sleepy stretch of green connects by road to Funen, and from the yacht-filled harbour at Svendborg you can catch a ferry to Ærø, an enchanting island worth a visit for its maritime history, bike lanes, thatched farmhouses and postcard-perfect bathing huts. When you’ve had your fill, there’s a ferry on to Als, connected by road to Jutland proper at the larger town of Sønderborg. And now you’re in the southeast corner of Jutland, with a whole peninsula to explore…