Dotted throughout Denmark’s beautiful coastlines, serene islands, and idyllic inland areas, are some of Northern Europe’s most charming small towns.
Best known for modern, bohemian Copenhagen, for those seeking to escape Denmark’s well-trodden tourist trail there are vast swathes of the country that remain blissfully free of the visiting hordes who descend on the capital each year. In these parts, a more gentle pace of life has endured, and a distant past preserved. Think colourful centuries-old houses, cobbled streets, and Medieval churches, and more.
Indeed, venture beyond the country’s major urban centres and some truly magical towns and await you, many of which are surrounded by diverse natural landscapes and treasured national parks. Below, in alphabetical order, is our pick of 10 of the most charming towns with populations under 30,000 that Denmark has to offer.
Small, quaint towns are often described as being “like something out a fairytale” – and nowhere in Denmark is this analogy more true than in Aeroeskoebing (‘Ærøskøbing’ in Danish) Perched on the picturesque island of Ærø in the Baltic Sea, the town’s population of less than 1,000 permanent residents are joined by a steady stream of visitors through the year, keen to discover its most alluring nooks and crannies along with some 750 years of history. Dotted with brightly painted houses, cobbled streets, and beach huts lining the scenic shore, its well-preserved architecture and wider cityscape retain vestiges of its Medieval past that add to the town’s almost cinematic look and feel.
A popular destination for those travelling north from south through the Danish mainland, Christiansfeld in the Southern Jutland region lays claim to being the country’s only officially designated UNESCO World Heritage town. A stunningly well-preserved Moravian town dating back to the late 18th-century, it offers a masterclass in town planning, laid out with a pleasing symmetry that makes it a delight to explore on foot. It’s also said to be the birthplace of Danish gingerbread, with a number of local purveyors still serving up the delectable treat from cafes and other eateries.
Once a sleepy fishing village, Dragor (‘Dragør’ in Danish) on the island of Amager is today awash with commerce, culture and achingly pretty views. A popular day trip from nearby Copenhagen, the town is characterised by narrow cobblestone streets lined with low thatched roof houses dating back to the 1700s, while the busy port has plenty of life in it yet, with sailing ships, small fishing boats, and yachts a regular presence. A smattering of gift shops, art galleries and bustling harbourside eateries cater to a gentle tourist trade, and thoughtfully curated museums and two large farm houses offer visitors a chance to delve into the town’s past. For more information about Dragør contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: +45 30108863 Website www.visitdragor.com
An old port town in East Jutland on Denmark’s central east coast, Ebeltoft is without question one of the country’s most scenic destinations. Sprinkled with cute and winding cobbled lanes and crooked timber-framed houses, the otherwise tranquil atmosphere is punctuated by a vibrant summer cultural scene, with the streets sparking to life with live music during the sunny season. Cafes, shops and restaurants add to the daily hubbub of activity, while fans of historic vessels also come here to marvel at the giant wooden frigate – one of the world’s largest – that sits permanently in the town’s dry dock.
Nestled on the rocky coast of Bornholm’s Baltic shoreline, the tiny town of Gudhjem is one of the region’s most popular summer spots – and with good reason. The idyllic holiday town is home to just 700 residents who enjoy its relative anonymity, punctuated only by a smattering but tolerable number of of yearly visitors. There’s a cute alleyway leading to a lively harbour and you can climb ridges above the town to be rewarded by fabulous panoramic views. A sprinkling of shops, boutiques, cafés and restaurants enjoy a bustling trade.
Rural Mariager has come a long way since its early 15th-century beginnings as a small market town. Industrialisation, headed by the creation of a huge salt factory (now a museum), transformed the town into a vibrant commercial hub. Yet Mariager has retained much of its original character and charm, and is lent a colourful flourish by the delightful blooming rose bushes that adorn its cobbled streets and timber frame cottages. Visitors can also explore the town’s bucolic surroundings by hopping aboard a vintage railway, which passes through the beautiful fjord landscapes.
Holder of the hotly-contested title of Denmark’s oldest existing town, Ribe is steeped in over 800 years of history, evidenced in a myriad of landmarks that stretch back to the town’s very origins. The resplendent Ribe Cathedral stands as a major focal point, while the Ribe Viking Center is a veritable living museum that celebrates and educates on Viking culture. Elsewhere, cobbled streets, well-maintained houses and a delightful harbour are tailor made for leisurely strolls, and there’s always the chance to duck into the odd shop or art gallery or three. The town also hosts some excellent cultural events including the annual Ribe Jazz Festival and Ribe Wine Festival.
Bearing a number of hallmarks of the Middle Ages along with a buzzing street scene and summer events programme, Stege, on the northern part of the island of Møn, is an enticing mix of old and new. The ancient market town is made distinctive by the quaint embankment that still encircles much of the town, while its old rambling streets are a delight to amble around. Culture and community is at its most potent in the peak months, when local businesses come together to create a packed schedule of outdoor events and activities.
It may not take geographical centre stage, but the mesmerising town of Skagen, perched on Denmark’s northernmost point, certainly deserves the limelight that is lavished on it by all who come here. A captivating seaside town, its distinctive setting and abundance of natural beauty have served as a source of inspiration for many artists down the years. Indeed, several art galleries and the former home-turned museum of acclaimed poet and painter Holger Drachmann sit as testament to the town’s creative heritage. Other enticements include a busy harbour, long sandy beaches and some top notch seafood eateries.
With a large student population inhabiting the town for much of the year, it’s little wonder that Sonderborg on the island of Als brims with vitality. But it’s not just the wide-eyed residents that give the town its distinctive energy and character; it’s also the numerous remnants to a bygone age, including an 800-year-old castle (now a museum) and giant German naval station. More genteel environs can be found in the town’s narrow streets and alleys, where colourful houses boast flowers entwined decoratively on their facades. The ways to the water with its almost Mediterranean-like promenade are short and will bring you to a redesigned harbour, packed with a mix of modern motor yachts and historic sailing vessels.