Denmark: land of Vikings

The Danes have given the world many great gifts. From innovations in physics from the likes of Tycho Brahe and Niels Bohr to the often terrifying but always excellent fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, or the equally terrifying but excellent philosophical musings of Søren Kierkegaard, Denmark has supplied much for which the rest of the world can be grateful. Nor are Denmark’s accomplishments limited solely to the realm of the mind, as the fabulous cheese pastry named after this culture will remind you. The Danes have a masterstroke, too, since they were the ones who invented Legos.


Getting in, out, and about


Denmark is a party to the Schengen Agreement in Europe, which allows for near-borderless travel throughout much of Europe. For US travelers, you do not need to apply for a special visa to enter any one of the Schengen countries, and once in one of them, you can travel to others without needing to get an additional visa. Most Schengen countries will want you to get your passport stamped when you enter, however. Your US passport should have two blank pages and remain valid for up to 90 days beyond your intended departure date from the Schengen area, including Denmark. Once you enter the Schengen area, you can stay for up to 90 days within a six month period. Denmark does require you to report entering or leaving with more than €10,000 in cash, or the equivalent.


Denmark has some of the best health care in the world, and its food and water standards are at the very least the equal of that in the US. You can drink the tap water safely. Nevertheless, the US Center for Disease Control recommends that all travelers should be up to date on the common vaccinations when traveling to another country. In some cases, travelers may want to consider getting additional vaccinations against Hepatitis A & B, and rabies. Whether these are necessary for you depends in large part on what your vacation plans entail. Your best practice is to consult with your local doctor well in advance of your vacation to determine if any additional vaccinations would be appropriate for you.


The landscape in Denmark is relatively flat or rolling, with forests and rivers. Renting a car is one way to get around outside of Danish cities. Keep in mind that gasoline is heavily taxed in Denmark and can be double what you’re used to in the US, and sometimes even more expensive than that. In order to drive legally in Denmark, you must be 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license from your home state. This state driver’s license is valid in Denmark for up to 90 days. If you stay longer than that, you need to get a Danish driver’s license.


The highway system in Denmark is well-maintained and extensive. Drivers tend to be more conservative than you’ll find in other parts of Europe. By law, you must keep your headlights on at all times, and all passengers must wear seatbelts. The legal blood alcohol limit in Denmark is much stricter than in the US at .05%.


Renting a car in Denmark is not a necessity. The country is rather compact, consisting of islands that are connected via bridges, ferries, and an extensive train system that links the entire country together. Inside the major cities, you’ll find exceedingly well developed mass transit systems, so if you want to save on gasoline costs, Denmark is a great country to ditch the car.


The traveler’s tongue


The national language of Denmark is Danish, which is related to Swedish and Norwegian closely enough that the three are somewhat intelligible to each other. Learning a few words and phrases in Danish can add a bit of spice to your experiences with local residents.


Danish is also distantly related to English, but these aren’t mutually intelligible. However you can note the relationship between Danish and English in some of Denmark’s place names. For example, the region of Denmark that covers the peninsula that juts out from Europe’s mainland into the Baltic Sea is referred to as Jutland, and the large island in the Baltic Sea where Copenhagen is located is called Zealand (like sea land). It will probably rarely be necessary to know Danish since most of the country speaks English rather fluently. Many people also speak German or French in Denmark as well.


If you come to Denmark expecting a 24-7 party, you will probably be disappointed. The culture of the Danes puts more of an emphasis on quiet and intimate gatherings, an expression of their notion of hygge, which translates roughly to “coziness.” Enjoying a quiet meal with a small group of friends and family, and spending hours in conversation while you polish off a bottle of wine is more in keeping with the Danish pace of life.


Money matters in Denmark


Denmark does not use the euro as its main unit of currency. Instead the Danish krona (plural is kroner). It comes in bills of 1000, 500, 200, 100, and 50 denominations, as well as coins for 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 krona. In some heavily traveled areas, you may also be able to pay with euros, but be careful about presuming upon this.


Travelers can find ATMs throughout the country, but expect for access to them to be unavailable late at night. In addition you can change money at designated money changers in the airports or at most banks. Some banks even have an automatic machine that will allow you to exchange US dollars for Danish kroner.


In Denmark, things are expensive. A modest three star hotel room averages between $150 to $175 USD per night per person, while staying in a hostel will average around $35 USD a night per person. Meals can get expensive as well, with a standard dinner sized entrée running about $35 USD. Nevertheless, you can find ways to minimize costs in Denmark. Booking hotels, travel, and activities in advance often saves you moneys, and taking advantage of the numerous public transit options can also help. In fact, the price for luxury versus a three star hotel is not that different, so if you can afford it, it might even be worthwhile to splurge in Denmark.


This is not a tipping culture. While it may be appropriate to tip change for exceptional service, workers in Denmark get paid much greater wages than they do in the US. In addition, almost everything already has a 25% tax on it, called moms. You can get that tax refunded when you leave Denmark, however.


Highlights of a vacation in Denmark


The temperature in Denmark is fairly mild year-round, with winters that don’t get too cold (averaging about 32° Fahrenheit) and summers that don’t get too hot (average 60° F). While June and July constitute the high tourist season in Denmark, it actually doesn’t get too crowded then, and you can also enjoy Denmark throughout the rest of the year as well. Here are some highlights for a vacation in Denmark:


  • Copenhagen. Located on the island of Zealand in the Baltic Sea, Copenhagen gets frequent mention at the top of lists of the greatest places to live in the world or the happiest people in the world. You can see fantastic architecture at the Amalienborg palace, where the Danish royal family lives. Nearby beaches are great for a relaxing dip in the summertime. The bohemian neighborhoods of Christiania and Norrebro are great places to explore or grab a coffee and people watch. If you like amusement parks, Copenhagen features two of the oldest in the world: Tivoli Gardens and Bakken.
  • Billund. The main claim to fame for this small town in the Jutland region of Denmark is that it’s the birthplace of Legos. You can visit the Lego factory where the toys are built. Be sure to check out the Lego theme park, Legoland, from April through October when it’s open. Outside of Copenhagen, this theme park is Denmark’s biggest attraction.
  • Elsinore. This medieval city features Castle Kronborg, which is where Hamlet first noticed that something might be “rotten in Denmark.” This Renaissance style castle is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Roskilde. This city is home to another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Roskilde Cathedral. This gothic style cathedral is where Denmark’s kings and queens have been laid to rest over the centuries. Another highlight of Roskilde is the world famous Viking Museum, which explores the seafaring history of the country. If you come to Roskilde in late June, be sure and check out the Roskilde Festival, a rock music festival that was inspired by Woodstock and has been held annually since 1971.
  • Jelling. This town is the third of Denmark’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. It features the Jelling stones, which are huge rocky slabs with runes inscribed on them that relate the story of Denmark’s conversion to Christianity. In addition, you can explore the huge burial mounds around the city.
  • Samsø. This island located centrally in Denmark is a notable example of the Danish culture’s concern for environmentalism. All of the energy on the island is produced by renewable sources, and visitors have a chance to tour the power plants and see how it’s done.


With numerous beaches (reputedly a longer coastline than Brazil’s) and extensive hiking trails throughout the country, Denmark is a great place for camping, walking, and taking in the beautiful sights. Start making your plans today to see the land of the Vikings.