From being a little-known, little-understood country wedged between mainland Europe and the rest of Scandinavia, Denmark has morphed into an international cultural powerhouse with multiple Michelin-starred restaurants and raved-about hit TV shows. But this international renown doesn’t make the country any less thrilling to navigate on the ground and on a budget. Food-wise, you’d be hard pressed to find better butter, bacon and beer anywhere around, with some mean cheeses and pastries to boot. But don’t expect this health-conscious people to sit around feasting all day: a bunch will have jogged past your table before you can say smørrebrød, and cycling is ubiquitous. With agriculture its primary industry, technological innovation and a focus on green energy is a big part of the economy of daily life. Culturally, too, it hits the high notes. Expect impeccable design and great musical offerings (especially jazz) at every turn. What’s more, an ultra-efficient transport infrastructure makes Denmark one of Europe’s most enjoyable countries to explore.
The nation has preserved its own distinct identity, exemplified by the universally cherished royal family and the reluctance to fully integrate with the EU (the Danish rejection of the euro was more about sovereignty than economics). There’s also a sense of a small country that has long punched above its weight: it once controlled much of northern Europe and still maintains close ties with Greenland, its former colony.
Geographically, three main landmasses make up the country – the islands of Zealand and Funen and the peninsula of Jutland, which extends northwards from Germany. Most visitors make for Zealand (Sjælland), and, more specifically, Copenhagen, an exciting city with a beautiful old centre, an amazing array of museums and a boisterous nightlife. Funen (Fyn) has only one real urban draw, Odense, once home to Hans Christian Andersen; otherwise, it’s renowned for cute villages and sandy beaches. Jutland (Jylland) has two of the sprightliest Danish cities in Århus and Aalborg, as well as scenery alternating between lonely beaches, gentle hills and heathland.
Top image: Mykines lighthouse, Faroe Islands © Smelov