Explore Denmark, a country in Scandinavia. The main part of it is Jutland, a peninsula north of Germany, but also with a number of islands, including the two major ones, Zealand and Funen, in Østersøen Sea between Jutland and Sweden.
Once the seat of Vikings and later a major north European power, Denmark has evolved into a modern, prosperous nation that is participating in the general political and economic integration of Europe. However, the country has opted out of parts of the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty, the European monetary system (EMU), and issues concerning certain internal affairs.
Denmark is also the birthplace of one of the world’s most popular toys, Lego. There is no other better place in the world where one can buy Lego bricks than at the Legoland theme park in Billund.
Today Denmark is a society that is often seen as a benchmark of civilization; with progressive social policies, a commitment to free speech so strong it put the country at odds with much of the world during the 2006 cartoon crisis, a liberal social-welfare system and, according to The Economist, one the most commercially competitive. Top it off with a rich, well-preserved cultural heritage, and the Danes legendary sense of design and architecture, and you have one intriguing holiday destination.
Overall, the terrain is dominated by mildly undulating agricultural landscapes, forests, minor lakes, extensive costal dunes, and marshes. Also, there are some scattered moors, especially in Jutland. The coastal scenery can be quite varied, and it includes the white cliffs of Møn, forested and deserted dune areas such as those near Skagen (including Råbjerg Mile and Rubjerg Knude), the cliffs of the Stevns peninsula and those of Bulbjerg and the Fur island. In Denmark, decidedly rocky scenery can only be found on Bornholm and nearby Ertholmene.
Another trait of Danish culture as any tourist pamphlet will tell you is “Hygge”, translating into cozy or snug. Danes will be quick to point out that this is a unique Danish concept. However true, it does take a more prominent place in the culture compared to other countries. Hygge usually involves low key dinners at home with long conversations over candlelight and red wine in the company of friends and family, but the word is broadly used for social interactions.
Another important aspect of Danish culture is understatement and modesty, which is not only prominent in the Danish behavioral patterns. It is also very much an important trait in the famous Danish design, which dictates strict minimalism and functionalism over flashiness.
The Danes are a fiercely patriotic bunch, but in a sly, low-key kind of way. They will warmly welcome visitors and show off the country, which they are rightly proud of, but any criticism – however constructive – will not be taken lightly. However, most Danes will happily spend hours to prove you wrong over a beer without becoming hostile. For the same reasons, outsiders on long term stays can be viewed with a certain amount of suspicion, as the homogeneous society is often thought to be the key to Denmark’s successes. You will often hear resident foreigners complain about a constant pressure to become ever more Danish and the anti-immigrant Danish Peoples Party have seen increasing popularity over the years, taking 20% of the votes at the latest election which makes it Denmark’s 2nd largest political party.
Denmark is often praised as being one of the greenest countries in the world but apart from the ubiquitous bikes, the individual Danes are surprisingly nonchalant about the environment despite their reputation. As with so many other things, environmentalism is viewed as a collective responsibility. The Social Democratic leadership enacted a series of reforms, mainly green taxation, between 1993-2001, that made Danish society as a whole (especially in industrial production) one of the most energy efficient in the world. As a result, these technological advances has become of the country’s largest export. Examples include thermostats, wind turbines and home insulation. Because of this, green policies enjoy unusually broad support among the people and the entire political spectrum. 20% of energy productions come from renewable energy, mainly wind power. This is made possible by the common Nordic energy market and the massive hydro energy resources in Norway and Sweden, which can easily be regulated up and down to balance the unreliable wind production.
All these green visions do have a few tangible implications for travellers:
- Plastic bags cost money; nonrefundable, so bring a bag for shopping groceries.
- Cans and bottles have a deposit, refundable everywhere that sells the given product. This is why you´ll see some people having made a supplementary income or a “profession” of collecting empty bottles.
- Many toilets have half and full flush buttons.
- There is a roughly 100% tax on gasoline.
- In many counties you need to sort your waste in two separate ‘biological’ and ‘burnable’ containers.
Denmark’s national language is Danish, a member of the Germanic branch of the group of Indo-European languages, and within that family, part of the North Germanic, East Norse group.
English is widely spoken in Denmark (close to 90% of the population speaks it, making Denmark one of the most English proficient countries on the planet where English is not an official language), and many Danes have near native fluency.
The national currency is the Danish krone (DKK, plural “kroner”). In the more “touristy” shops in Copenhagen, and at the traditional beach resorts along the Jutland West Coast and Bornholm Island it will often be possible to pay in Euro.
Nearly all machines regardless of operator will accept the Danish Dankort, MasterCard, Maestro, Visa, Visa Electron, American Express, JCB and China UnionPay (CUP). While the majority of retailers accept International credit- and debit cards, many still only accept the local Dankort. Virtually everywhere you are required to use a PIN-code with your card, so if this is not common practice in your country, remember to request one from your bank before leaving home. Also beware that most retailers will add a 3%-4% transaction charge (often without warning) if you pay with a foreign credit card.
Note that a few machines will not accept PIN-codes longer than 4 characters, which can create problems for north-american or other european users. Ask the clerk operating the machine if it accepts 5-digit PIN-codes before attempting to operate the machine. Your card may be rejected even without entering the PIN if it is incompatible.
You should note that almost everything in Denmark is expensive. All consumer sales include a 25% sales tax (Moms) but displayed prices are legally required to include this, so they are always exact. If you are from outside the EU/Scandinavia you can have some of your sales tax refunded when leaving the country.
What to buy
Naturally what to buy remains highly subjective, and in an expensive country like Denmark, also largely depends on the size of your pocket, but here are some suggestions:
- Designer eyewear by Lindberg
- Skagen designer watche
- Royal Copenhagen porcelain
- Bang & Olufsen electronics
- Georg Jensen silverware and jewelry
- Kay Bojesen silverware
- LEGO building brick toys
- ECCO shoes
- Aalborg Akvavit spirits
- Danish Fashion
- Danish Design
- Danish Cheese
What to eat
Popular and traditional choices are:
- Pickled herring, plain, curry, or with red spices.
- Liver Paté Sandwich, probably the most popular.
- Stjerneskud, salad, one fried and one boiled plaice fillet, shrimp and mayonnaise.
- Røget ål og røræg, smoked eel and scrambled eggs
- Pariserbøf, beef patty cooked rare with capers, horseradish, raw onions, and a raw egg yolk on top.
- Dyrlægens natmad, liver pate, slices of corned beef, onion rings and aspic (sky).
- Beef tartar, raw lean ground beef served with raw egg yolk, onions, horseradish and capers.
- Flæskesteg, Slices of pork roast with pickled red cabbage.
- Roastbeef, with remoulade, fried onion, horseradish.
- Kartoffel, sliced potatoes, tomatoes, crispy fried onions, and mayonnaise.
- Hakkebøf, pan fried ground beef patty with soft fried onions, a fried egg and pickles.
- Shrimps, you get a generous portion of just shrimp with a little mayonnaise.
- Ost, Cheese. Try a very old cheese served with raw onions, egg yolks and rum.
Apart from the ubiquitous kebab shops and pizza stands, dining in Denmark can be fairly expensive, but a worthwhile cost. Traditional Danish fare includes items as pickled herring, fried plaice, and other assorted seafood items. Hearty meat dishes are also prevalent, as seen in items such as frikadeller (pork only or pork and veal meat balls topped by a brown sauce) and “stegt flæsk og persillesovs” (thick pork bacon slices topped by a parsley cream sauce). Many meals are also accompanied by a beer, and shots of aquavit or schnapps, though these are mainly enjoyed when guests are over. Drinking along with meals is encouraged as the foods are enhanced by the drinks, and vice versa. If looking for a quick snack to grab on the go, try the traditional Danish hot dog, served in a bun with a variety of fixings, including pickles, fried or raw onions as well as ketchup, mustard and remoulade (a Danish invention in spite of the French name, consisting of mayonnaise with the addition of chopped cabbage and turmeric for color). For dessert, try either “ris à l’amande” (rice pudding with almonds and cherries, again a French name with no relation to French cuisine) or æbleskiver (ball-shaped cakes similar in texture to American pancakes, served with strawberry jam and powdered sugar), both normally only available in November and December. For candy try a bag of “Superpiratos” (hot licorice candy with salmiakki).
Do avoid touristy places where no Danes are to be found, popularity amongst locals is almost always an indicator of quality.
Restaurants offering examples of international cuisine are common, mostly in major cities, especially Italian, Turkish and Chinese restaurants, though Japanese, Indian and even Ethiopian restaurants can be found too. Quality is generally high, as the competition is too sharp for low-quality businesses to survive.
The traditional Danish lunch is smørrebrød, open sandwiches usually on rye bread – fish except herring, plaice and mackerel are served on white bread, and many restaurants give you a choice of breads. Smørrebrød served on special occasions, in lunch restaurants, or bought in lunch takeaway stores, are piled higher than the daily fare. The Danish rye bread (rugbrød) is dark, slightly sourish and often wholegrain. It is a must for all visitors to try.
What to drink
As any foreigner who has spent time observing the Danes will tell you, alcohol is the fabric that holds Danish society together. And when they are off their face in the dead of night, they suddenly let their guard down, loosen up, and while a bit pitiful, they somehow trans morph into one of the most likable bunch of people on Earth. Rather than the violence associated with binge drinking elsewhere, because it seems to serve a very important social purpose, the natives get very open, friendly and loving instead. It takes some time getting used to, but if you want to form bonds with the Danes, this is how you do it – God help you if you are abstinent. This also means Danes have a very high tolerance for drunken behavior, provided it takes place in the weekends. Drink a glass or two of wine for dinner during the week is normal, as well as 20 pints on a Saturday night, and puke all over the place.
There is no legal drinking age in Denmark, although a legal purchase age of 16 is in effect in shops and supermarkets, and 18 in bars, discos and restaurants. The enforcement of this limitation is somewhat lax in shops and supermarkets, but quite strict in bars and discos, as high fines and annulment of the license can incur on the vendor. The purchaser is never punished, although some discos enforce a voluntary zero-tolerance policy on underage drinking, where you can get kicked out if caught with no ID and an alcoholic beverage in your hand. Some would claim that the famous Danish tolerance towards underage drinking is waning in light of recent health campaigns targeting the consumption of alcoholic beverages amongst Danes. As adult Danes do not approve of the government interfering with their own drinking habits, the blame is shifted towards adolescents instead, and proposals of increasing the legal purchase age to 18 overall have been drafted, but have yet to pass Parliament, neither is it likely too in the foreseeable future.
Drinking alcoholic beverages in public is considered socially acceptable in Denmark, and having a beer out in a public square is a common warm weather activity there, though local by-laws are increasingly curbing this liberty, as loitering alcoholics are regarded as bad for business. Drinking bans are usually signposted, but not universally obeyed and enforced. In any case, be sure to moderate your public drinking, especially during the daytime. Extreme loudness may in the worst case land you a few hours in jail for public rowdiness (no record will be kept, though). Most police officers will instead ask you to leave and go home, though.
Danish beer is a treat for a beer enthusiast. The largest brewery, Carlsberg (which also owns the Tuborg brand), offers a few choices, as well as a delicious “Christmas beer” in the 6 weeks leading up to the holidays. Other tasty beverages include the Aquavit (Snaps) and Gløgg – a hot wine drink popular in December. Danish beer is mostly limited to lager beer (pilsner), which is good, but not very diverse. However in the last few years Danes have become interested in a wider range of beers, and Danish microbreweries’ excellent products are increasingly available. The Danish Beer Enthusiasts maintain a list of bars and restaurants with a good selection of beers as well as a list of stores with a good selection.
Tap water is potable unless indicated. The regulations for tap water in Denmark even exceeds that of bottled water in general, so don’t be offended if you notice a waiter filling a can of water at the sink. Restaurants and other places selling food are visited regularly by health inspectors and are awarded points on a 1-4 “smiley scale”. The ratings must be prominently displayed, so look out for the happy face when in doubt. While pollution in the major cities can be annoying it doesn’t pose any risk to non-residents. Nearly all beaches are fine for bathing – even parts of the Copenhagen harbor recently opened for bathing.
As of 15 August 2007, it is illegal to smoke in any indoor public space in Denmark. This includes: government buildings with public access (hospitals, universities, etc), all restaurants and bars larger than 40m2 and all public transport. You have to be at least eighteen years of age to buy cigarettes in Denmark. As of 1 July 2014, smoking is technically forbidden on all railway platforms in Denmark; however, the law has not been enforced, and both travellers and railway staff can regularly be seen smoking on the platform. However, it’s important to remember that it is still illegal – put out your cigarette if asked by personnel; unless you want to get kicked off the platform.
While Internet cafés are present in larger cities, they are usually not geared for tourists and hence they can be a bit tricky to find. Hotels usually provide both wireless internet and computers with internet access, but whether this service is provided for free, varies greatly – many cafés and bars also provide free wireless internet for paying customers, even when it is not signposted, so it is always a good idea to ask. The easiest way to get online is often the public library, as there is one in almost every town, they are usually centrally located, well signposted (look for Bibliotek) and always free – there can be a bit of waiting time to get a free computer though, but there will normally also be some sort of reservation system in place, so you can time it better.
For historical reasons, Denmark is a central hub for access to the truly fascinating North Atlantic region, with direct flights to and from several cities on Iceland, Faroe Islands and Greenland. Hirtshals in Northwestern Jutland has weekly ferry services to Torshavn on the Faroe Islands and Seyðisfjörður on Iceland. Longyearbyen on Svalbard can be reached from several cities, once or twice weekly with a single stopover in Oslo. If you are a fan of the cold weather and the bikings then feel free to explore Denmark.