Denmark is a modern, progressive country that enchants visitors with its bike-friendly streets, diverse architecture, and innovative cuisine. From historic Viking harbors to a long tradition of sleek modernity of contemporary Danish design, this Scandinavian country is a testament to its history and values. Denmark continues to rise on travelers’ lists of must-see destinations, and Lonely Planet recently named Copenhagen the top city to visit in 2019. Use this Insider’s Guide to Denmark to help narrow down the Danish experiences that speak to you the loudest.
Denmark is the southernmost Scandinavian country, separated from Sweden by the Øresund Strait and Norway by the Skagerrak Strait. It comprises the Jutland peninsula and an archipelago of around 440 islands—the largest of which are Zealand and Funan. Denmark shares its only land border with Germany to the south. The bordering Baltic and North Seas give the country an incredible tidal coastline of 5,440 miles. In total, the Nordic country encompasses a land area of 16,573 square miles.
Denmark enjoys a mostly temperate climate, with mild winters and cool summers. The surrounding seas play a large part in influencing the climate. The average temperature in January hovers around 35° F, while July usually averages around 63–71° F. Spring is the driest season, and fall is the wettest. Because of its northern location, Denmark experiences relatively long summer days and long winter nights.
When packing for your trip, focus on layers. Lightweight jackets and cardigans are a good idea even in the summer. Be sure to bring along comfortable shoes, as the entire country (and Copenhagen specifically) is prime real estate for bikers and pedestrians.
The national language of Denmark is Danish, with German popular in parts of the Region of Southern Denmark. Nearly 90% of the population speaks English as a second language. However, it’s always a good idea to learn a few phrases in the Danish, especially when traveling outside the main cities.
The currency in Denmark is the Danish kroner (DKK). Most establishments (and all hotels) accept major credit cards, but some might charge a small fee of 2–3% for using a foreign credit card. Be sure to carry at least a little cash wherever you go. One suggestion is to research your bank’s foreign partnerships and find a corresponding ATM. Exchange kiosks, especially at airports, can charge commission fees as high as 20%.
Tipping is generally not required or expected in Denmark. Wages are high, and service fees are already calculated in your bills. By law, restaurants must add gratuity and other service charges to menu prices. The same goes for hotels. However, at fine dining restaurants, you may leave a small tip of 10% or less for exceptional service. You may round up the final fare in a taxi if you so desire.
Danish cuisine originally stems from the local produce of peasants. The traditional dinner is a hot meal consisting of ground meat, potatoes and other vegetables, while lunch is often an open-faced sandwich. Local Carlsberg beer is a favorite alcoholic beverage, as is the Scandinavian spirit akvavit. Today, creative chefs across the country take pride in blending local ingredients in innovative ways to create a “new Danish cuisine.” One of the trailblazers of this gastronomic movement is Noma, frequently rated among the best restaurants in the world.
Denmark’s nurtures one of the most socially progressive cultures in the world and draws deeply on rich artistic, intellectual, and literary traditions. Today, the arts thrive on government funding and artists have the money to fully dedicate themselves to their crafts.
Safety & Etiquette
Denmark is an extremely safe country, but visitors should still exercise caution. Passport theft has been increasing in busy train stations, and general pick-pockets operate in tandem at various transportation hubs.
When meeting someone for the first time, use a firm handshake and maintain eye contact. The Danes value punctuality in both business and social settings. If you’re running late, it’s polite to call and inform the host. Remember to remove your shoes inside a home unless you have permission to leave them on.
There are several safety and etiquette considerations to keep in mind when visiting the area of Copenhagen known as Freetown Christiania. The first is do not take photographs on Pusher Street. This is the area’s “green light,” or weed, district and because the buying and selling of marijuana is still illegal in Denmark, residents do not want photographic proof of their goings-on. It’s important that you don’t run during your visit here, as the area is peaceful and running causes panic, especially with the threat of police raids due to illicit activity.
The Capital Region of Denmark sits in the easternmost portion of the country and revolves around the thriving city of Copenhagen. Locals here are extremely jovial and welcoming, and the city maintains many pedestrian- and bicycle-only areas. Explore the parks, eat in world-class restaurants, and take part in the eclectic nightlife. The standout Frederiksstaden region hosts the Amalienborg Palace and Frederik’s Church, while the Nyhavn district features a string of colorful 18th-century houses converted into bars, restaurants, and shops along the waterfront.
The region of Zealand is home to the city of Roskilde. The picturesque city houses a 13th-century Gothic cathedral containing nearly 40 tombs of past Danish monarchs. The Viking Ship Museum is also worth a visit. This fascinating museum features five Viking ships that date back to the 11th century. For a taste of modern Danish seafaring, head to the sleepy fishing villages of Zealand’s northern coast. You may be lucky enough to grab some fresh seafood straight off the boats.
North Jutland’s largest city, Aalborg, attracts visitors with its rowdy nightlife, traditional half-timbered buildings, and nearby Viking burial ground. If you’re visiting at the end of May, be sure to check out the annual Aalborg Carnival. Iis one of Scandinavia’s largest festivals and attracts an estimated 100,000 visitors each year.
Located about two hours by train or just over an hour by car from Aalborg, Skagen is the northernmost town in Denmark. Its claims to fame are its local artisans and galleries and superb seafood. Due to its coastal location, Skagen boasts multiple lighthouses. The White Lighthouse, the oldest brick lighthouse in the country was first used in 1747.
This region houses the country’s second-largest city of Aarhus, where cobbled streets contrast with sleek modern architecture. In 2017, Aarhus was named the European Capital of Culture. The ARoS Art Museum and Old Town Museum, along with the Tivoli Friheden (Freedom) amusement park, are some of Denmark’s top visitor attractions. The Aarhus Cathedral is the tallest in the country, and the Aarhus music scene is not to be missed.
This region encompasses the southern portion of the Jutland peninsula and the island of Funen. The city of Odense is one of the region’s most-visited destinations and was the birthplace of beloved children’s author Hans Christian Andersen. The home where he was born is now the Hans Christian Andersen Museum.
Outside of the city, Faaborg is an old port town boasting a historic harbor, winding streets, and a museum with one of the most notable art collections in Denmark. If that’s not enough, lovely, quiet fishing villages cover the region’s coastline.
From trendy, modern districts to villages dating back to the Vikings, Denmark is a land of contrasts. These contrasts work together to create a spectacular progressive country with an invigorating culture.
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