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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Denmark.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Denmark.
The Danes consider this something of a Riviera, while Americans liken it to Cape Cod. At the Jutland peninsula’s – and mainland Europe’s – northernmost tip pointing into the North Sea, the small weather-hardened fishing communities who for centuries inhabited these heathered moors and sea-swept coastline have been joined by a thriving artists’ colony – and the tourists who followed. All were lured by Skagen’s simple life – the characterful town and the unspoiled dunes.
The small but excellent Skagen Museum illustrates works of the local, late-19th-century impressionist movement that was inspired by the land- and seascapes, and the shifting colors and quality of the light here. Writers have been equally moved: Isak Dinesen wrote much of Out of Africa while a guest at the wonderfully charming, gabled Brøndums Hotel.
Creaking floors and antique-furnished sitting rooms make this feel like a private home, one distinguished by a number of old paintings given in exchange for lodging. The 150-year-old inn’s intimate dining room produces exceptionally fresh and delicious meals, with a predictable accent on seafood. Every morning at dawn, the local townfolk have the pick of the best at the wharfs barnlike fish-auction house before the day’s catch is spoken for and shipped off to markets all over northern Europe.
A onetime ecclesiastical seat and the royal capital of Denmark until 1455, fjord-side Roskilde recently marked its 1,000th anniversary, and some of the jubilee air lingers on. The city’s hallmark edifice is its 13th-century Gothic cathedral, a kind of Westminster Abbey of Denmark.
It is the burial place for thirty-eight Danish kings, whose royal marble and alabaster tombs reflect the changing styles of the times. Enjoying centuries of commercial prominence as a trading center, Roskilde has never lost its identity as that handsome and pleasant town long favored by royalty. It has a lively student population, and a large colorful market still transforms the town every Wednesday and Saturday.
The nation’s best Viking ship museum, the Vikingeskibshallen, displays five perfectly preserved longships discovered and reconstructed in 1957. Dating from approximately 1000, they were presumably sunk in the Roskilde Fjord to stop the passage of enemy ships.
It’s worth jumping on the old wooden steamer that sails out of Roskilde to cruise this lovely fjord. For four days in late June or early July, an international twenty-something crowd descends upon Roskilde for northern Europe’s largest rock music festival, during which more than 100 bands play at seven venues around the ancient town.
The island of Funen is known to the world as the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. Possibly the world’s most esteemed storyteller, Andersen’s work – including beloved classics like “Thumbelina” and “The Ugly Duckling” – is more widely translated and read than anything except the Bible and the writings of Karl Marx, and his Little Mermaid is Copenhagen’s world-recognized icon.
Odense, his hometown, is Denmark’s third-largest city. With a charming medieval core, it attracts fairy-tale lovers from all over. Born in 1805 to a local shoemaker and washerwoman, both illiterate, Andersen was an inveterate traveler whose battered suitcases are on display at the museum adjoining his childhood home, as is the fire rope he never traveled without, hanging it outside his hotel window.
Visitors can view original manuscripts (officials still await the return of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” which disappeared some years ago) and letters to his close friend Charles Dickens. Also make time to enjoy the island’s bucolic rolling countryside, dotted with thatched-roofed farmhouses, orchards, country manors, and inns called kros.
Located in a picture-perfect farming village on the southern coast of Funen, Falsled Kro consists of a charming complex of elegant but rustic buildings with thatched roofs and large open fireplaces. But the charm of this quintessential Scandinavian country inn isn’t the reason patrons travel here from afar: it’s Falsled Kro’s stellar restaurant.
Together with suppliers and gatherers from neighboring castles and manor houses, chef and co-owner Jean-Louis Lieffroy breeds, fishes, grows, hunts, and smokes much of what winds up on your plate. The result is breathtaking.
If something is rotten in the state of Denmark, it certainly isn’t the garden island of Funen. Nor is it the island’s regal and privately owned Egeskov Castle, widely held to be Europe’s best preserved Renaissance island castle.
Constructed in 1554, it passed into the hands of the current owners’ ancestors in 1784. A Victorian-era suspension drawbridge links the castle to a grand forecourt where white peacocks roam: beyond are some of the 1,500 acres of working farmland that has long been Egeskov’s commercial side.
But the 30 manicured acres enveloping the castle given over to some of Denmark’s most important private gardens (including Europe’s largest collection of fuchsias) are the highlight. A recently constructed bamboo maze re-creates the castle’s 18th-century maze, believed to be the largest in Europe and older than that of England’s Hampton Court.
This castle, too, has a colorful tale: a 16th-century lord locked his daughter away in one of the turrets for five years after he discovered that she and her boyfriend were “each other so near, so she by accident bore a son.”
With rich, aristocratic decor and a main house whose history dates back to 1310, the Steensgaard Herregaardspension is an easy drive from Egeskov. Set in its own shady 25-acre park and surrounded by manicured English gardens, this half-timbered country manor-turned-inn lies at the end of a tree-lined entryway, past a swan-filled pond. It’s a scenario ennobling enough to have enticed Danish Prince Henrik to spend the night upon occasion.
The candlelit dining room is renowned enough that meals are often reserved for guests of the inn only, as if one needed any further reason to check in here. Seasonal game specialties – pheasant, fowl, and wild boar – are raised on the manor’s private 1,600-acre preserve. There are just eighteen spacious rooms, some located in “newer additions” dating to the 16th century.
Don’t be put off by the tale of the manor’s resident ghost: one night in July 1594, the third wife of the lord of the castle Otte Emmiksen, a.k.a. “The Evil One,” conspired with the cook to eliminate her husband. The cook did him in with a meat cleaver, was arrested and drawn and quartered, and the wife escaped free. But legend has it she returns regularly after midnight, attempting to scrub the (imaginary) bloodstains from the floorboards of the library (originally the lord’s bedroom) where the crime took place.
This seems only fitting for Hans Christian Andersen’s island – one would surely be disappointed not to find the countryside so rich with local lore.
Follow one of Zealand’s most picturesque drives north of Copenhagen to this exceptional museum situated at a stunning site on the “Danish Riviera.”
Since opening in 1958, the Louisiana Museum has brought together art, nature, and architecture in perfect harmony. Its highly regarded exhibitions of modern classics of the post – WW II era as well as the (sometimes controversial) vanguard of contemporary art are displayed in spacious, natural-light-flooded halls that embody the very essence of Danish modernism. No less impressive is its permanent collection, including an extensive collection of the fragile and spindly sculptures of Alberto Giacometti and works by Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Georg Baselitz.
The sparkling waters of the Oresund that separates Denmark from nearby Sweden vie for your attention from every window, and the open-air sculpture garden boasts work by such artists as Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Jean Arp. The origin of the museum’s name is a curious one: the original landowner had a succession of three wives, all named Louise.
So Elsinore Castle’s real name is Kronborg Slot, and so it was built centuries after the time of the Danish prince on whom Shakespeare based his tormented, brooding Hamlet. But this fortified Nordic icon of secret passages, with its suitably gloomy dungeon and canon-studded battlements, could not have been a better backdrop for Shakespeare’s dark tragedy.
After several miles of sleepy fishing villages along the coastal road north of Copenhagen, the great moat-encircled castle rises above the town of Helsingor that grew up around it. Filling its vast coffers via “400 years of legal piracy,” Helsingor Castle (as it is also called) collected tolls paid to the Danish crown from passing ships, until the taxes were abolished in 1857.
Originally built in 1420 and enlargened in 1574, Kronborg had all the trappings of a great regal Renaissance residence. Its starkly furnished Knights Hall is one of the largest and oldest in northern Europe; the luxurious castle chapel is still the dream wedding location for many a lucky Danish couple.
Occasional performances of Hamlet are staged in the torch-lit courtyard, where audiences can envision the inky fog and the tormented prince agonizing over the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Meanwhile, somewhere off in a dark and dank chamber reposes the spirit of Viking chief Holger Danske, a mythic Charlemagne-era hero: legend has it that as long as he sleeps, the kingdom of Denmark will be safe.
If you’re looking for “wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen,” you’re guaranteed to find it in the capital’s fabled Tivoli Gardens. No one enjoys this classic amusement park more than the Danes themselves; since the day it opened in 1843, a visit here has been a much-loved summertime tradition. More than 100,000 twinkling white Christmas lights and 400,000 flowers set the fun-filled (and in the evening, romantic) scene.
The park’s 20 leafy acres feature carnival games, marching bands, and amusement rides (the creaky 1914 roller coaster is the same vintage as the merry-go-round of tiny Viking ships). Dance halls, beer gardens, and a full schedule of mostly free open-air stage performances keep young and old entertained and coming back.
There are dozens of restaurants and food pavilions – some of them very elegant but pricey (traditional Tivoli fare of pølser hot dogs with fried onions is usually heaven enough for most). Divan 2 is the most renowned restaurant in the gardens, in operation since they were first built in an area well outside the city center by King Christian VIII.
It is Tivoli’s most refined (read: expensive) dining venue with an impeccable French menu. Its less-expensive and more informal sister establishment, Divan 1, leans more toward local cuisine. Tivoli, said to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland, is light years removed from the archetypal American amusement park.
Those who think a sandwich by any other name is still a sandwich should make a quick stop at this Copenhagen institution, a showcase of the national open sandwich called smørrebrød. Ida Davidsen (“the smørrebrød queen of Copenhagen”) runs this fifth-generation family restaurant, now more than a century old.
The menu of 178 variations, said to be the largest in Scandinavia, is the size of the Copenhagen telephone directory. The sandwiches are displayed in a glass case, and like everything in this aesthetically sensitive country, each is carefully and artfully prepared.
Quantity is important, but quality and freshness are paramount. The choices are delectable, if somewhat improbable: tongue with fried egg, pigeon with mushrooms, and pureed smoked salmon head the more imaginative offerings. More pedestrian palates will pick up at the choice of shrimp, liver paté, roast beef, and chicken. Even the Queen of Denmark has her hankerings for the occasional takeout and has had royal occasions catered by Ida Davidsen at her residence, Amalienborg Palace.
When the Danes recently toasted the impressive renovation and new extension of their most important museum, we can only hope they did so with beer, since the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was founded by the world-famous Carlsberg Brewery.
Bequeathed to the country a century ago by beer baron Carl Jacobsen (who also gave Copenhagen its statue of the Little Mermaid in 1913), the Glyptotek has grown to become northern Europe’s largest and most important repository of ancient statuary, mosaics, and artifacts. It also owns an unrivaled collection of thirty-five works by Paul Gauguin (briefly married to a Dane), which are displayed alongside other 19th-century French and Danish masterworks by artists such as Manet, Monet, and Cézanne.
The museum also houses the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside Paris, and one of only three complete sets of Degas bronzes. The airy 1996 wing, designed by the esteemed Danish architect Henning Larsen, was unveiled during Copenhagen’s successful stint as Cultural Capital of Europe. Contemporary and cool, it holds its own against the museum’s two original late-19th-century and early-20th-century buildings with their great skylit galleries, decorative moldings, painted panels, and richly tiled floors. In the city’s highly civilized and perfectly stylized manner, the buildings are linked by a lovely glass-domed winter garden and attractive café for the weary of foot.