Rows and rows of delicately stacked smørrebrød catch my attention to the left of me, competing with the brightly-coloured lakrids to the right. I am in heaven.
I’m not lying on a white sandy beach, or hiking up a picture-perfect fjord. Rather, I am browsing the consumables on offer at Torvehallerne – Copenhagen’s premium food market.
When I first visited to Denmark, I wasn’t expecting to fall deeply in love with the cuisine; I had preconceptions of pickled herring and perhaps a nice pastry or two. To my surprise, I found some of the freshest, most flavourful and nourishing food I have ever tasted. I never imagined I would find myself daydreaming about fisk frikadel (fish meatballs), served smørrebrød (open sandwich) on ryebrød slathered in remoulade, topped with fresh prawns and dill. Or hindbærsnitte, a delicate shortbread-style pastry topped with raspberry jam and lemon icing.
Denmark’s food is as soul-warming as its people. Spend a few days amongst the Danes and you’ll soon understand why the country consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries on earth (this year it placed second to Finland). As the birthplace of hygge, relaxation, wellbeing, cosiness and contentment seep into every aspect of Danish life.
“Denmark is best suited for travellers with a focus on quality,” says Ninna Seerup, VisitDenmark’s Senior Travel Trade Manager, UK & US. “Denmark is not the cheapest destination out there, but the quality of the experience is high.
“It is ideal for travellers who want to enjoy good food, history, architecture, and design.”
With four distinct seasons, Denmark is suitable for travel year round, even in the colder months. “The high season is from Mid-June to July and August,” says Seerup.
“The weather can also be mild and lovely in May and September/early October. The summer is great if you like to enjoy being outdoors as the sun barely sets, meaning you have a long time to explore.”
The Danes have a saying: There is no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing. Visiting in winter is ideal for those in search of the hygge way of life, with candles, cakes and coffee in cities allowing for the cosiest of getaways.
The country is small but mighty. “Travellers who like a day trip whilst at their destination should consider Denmark, as travel times are short,” Seerup adds. Copenhagen is well-connected to the UK with flights from London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Bristol, and makes for a good base to explore with easy access to other cities via train. And combining Copenhagen in the east with a few nights in Aarhus and Aalborg in the west will offer clients a rounded taste of what Denmark offers.
Denmark’s cool capital has been named as the UNESCO World Capital of Architecture for 2023. Take a boat tour from Nyhavn and its clear to see why: the iconic colourful harbour is as picture-perfect as the postcards. As your boat exits the harbour, you will catch a glimpse of the neo-futurist Operaen, which, as one of the most expensive opera houses ever built, quite literally gives the Sydney Opera House a run for its money.
The 18th century Amalienborg Palace opposite serves as the part-time home to the Danish Royal Family.
While the Torvehallerne food market in Nørreport offers classic Danish food, Copenhagen is often lauded for its world-class international cuisine.
Topicàl is a new restaurant with a focus on modern Mediterranean cuisine from Naples and an emphasis on high-quality, Danish vegetables, whilst Korean-inspired restaurant Koan earned two Michelin stars within three months of opening.
Even Tivoli Gardens, the quaint 180-year-old amusement park, has been named a ‘gastronomy destination’ for its wide choice of restaurants dotted between old-style roller-coasters.
“We like to say we’re the smallest big city in the world,” says Palle, a guide from UFO Tours which shows clients Aarhus.
Located on Jutland, around 100 miles (or a three-hour train ride) north-west of Copenhagen, Denmark’s ‘second city’ is certainly compact. Most key attractions are within a mile of the central, recently opened Radisson RED, which makes for a funky-looking base.
As befits a former European Capital of Culture, it’s not short of attractions, with contemporary art space ARoS among the must-sees. Its circular, rooftop Your Rainbow Panorama viewing platform makes for an instant landmark. The rooftop terrace atop Salling department store is a popular hangout spot on a sunny evening.
A short stroll from ARoS lies Møllestien, one of the most photographic streets, with little old photogenic houses and more cute older buildings flanking the restaurant-, café- and bar-lined, bike-plied streets fanning off behind.
The Botanical Garden makes for a lovely wander. Plus, it’s free, and combines well with neighbouring Den Gamle By, or ‘old town’. This popular ‘living museum’ attraction centres on a collection of historic Danish buildings, many housing displays, period interiors and demonstrations of crafts and trades.
Moesgaard Museum, a short taxi, bus or bike ride out of town, is another big draw.
Equally, clients can admire the city’s storied history in sights such as medieval Aarhus Cathedral, or by exploring the cobbled, gentrified streets of the Latin Quarter, which stars in late August’s effervescent Aarhus Festival.
Bastions of the city’s gastronomic scene include Mefisto, an inviting spot where slap-up seafood dinners are on offer, and more wallet-friendly offerings such as La Cabra Coffee.
With its spread of international fayre and craft beer bars, Aarhus Streetfood market is another find – the lively buzz and mixed crowd making for a nice, casual lunch or dinner option, closing at 21.00. For fancier fair, Michelin-starred Frederikshøj won’t disappoint.
After Aarhus, Aalborg – located around an hour north – might seem grittier, cooler and livelier. While a febrile mix of street art, tech start-ups and striking modern architecture have spearheaded Aalborg’s recent regeneration, re-purposed old industrial buildings nod to its blue-collar past. Take Nordkraft, a former power station turned cultural hub, offering everything from a climbing wall and a theatre to art exhibitions and a farmers market on Saturdays.
Then there’s the former Aalborg Akvavit distillery, which is set to showcase its stunning new art installation, Cloud City Aalborg, in 2024.
Established nearby draws include the Streetfood Market, impressive street art and quirky adjacent community of old fishermen cottages.
With its sheltered, terraced swimming area inland from the fjord, Vestre Fjordpark – a mini version of Copenhagen’s Christiania, by Vestre Fjordpark – is a great place to rub shoulders with locals while watching the Midnight Sun go down on long summer days. Over in the open fjord you’ll find the hardy locals taking dips year-round.
Visitors can discover all about Aalborg’s proud Viking heritage at Lindholm Høje. Located over the rail bridge, the old Viking settlement is easily reached by bike, or from Lindholm station. The ring fortress at Fyrkat, some 50 miles distant, is another fascinating Viking site, with more useful background back at Aarhus’ Viking Museum.
Wander Aalborg’s old cobbled streets, particularly those around Hjelmerstald, and the courtyard home of Lange pottery.
There are also loads of cool craft beer and café restaurants in Aalborg, such as Søgaards Bryghus and Surdejs sourdough bakery. aalborg-tours.dk