Acclaimed Danish author Dorthe Nors is an expert guide to her country, from enigmatic oceans and epic coastal walks to a very ‘hygge’ capital city. These are her 5 top things to do in Denmark…
Dorthe walking the Danish coast (Astrid Dalum)
Apart from being a country that for centuries thrived on selling bacon and Lurpak butter to the world, Denmark is more than anything else a nation of sailors. The big peninsula, Jutland, also known as the mainland, balances on the German border, but the rest of the country consists of smaller and bigger islands. That adds up when it comes to shoreline.
Denmark has more shoreline than the United States of America. That means that you should, of course, experience the Danish islands and the Danish shores.
Here’s the coolest thing: in Denmark, you can’t own the beach. The beach belongs to all of us. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can take your tent and camp on the beach in front of somebody’s house. It means that you can walk on the beach as much as you want. I recommend you do that: walk the Danish shoreline.
Nyhavn, the museum harbour in the heart of Copenhagen (Dreamstime)
You should definitely visit Copenhagen, the Danish capital. There are lots of things to do, to see, to experience and to ponder there. If you go, I’d like you to pay attention to the incredible number of bikes. This is one of my favourite things in Copenhagen: all the bikes. When I lived there, I would ride my bike with such pride, because that’s what Copenhageners do.
You should also do some research into the Danish phenomenon ‘hygge’ (pronounced hoo-guh). You might not be able to grasp the slightly dangerous social control issues that are a part of hygge, but you can enjoy the bright sides of hygge: sitting in cafes, drinking coffee, enjoying candle-lit meals, creating cosy interior decoration and so forth.
When you’ve had enough of the ‘hygge’ (and personally I get fed up with ‘hygge’ quite quickly), take the train north to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. You have not visited the Copenhagen area if you haven’t visited Louisiana. It’s setting in the landscape is gorgeous and so is the collection of art.
Wadden Sea at sunset (Dreamstime)
Walking on the southern Jutlandic shoreline, you’ll get to The Wadden Sea. It’s a strange sea: enigmatic, silent, unpredictable and dangerous, and, of course, incredibly beautiful.
I suggest you go to the medieval city of Ribe. Visit the Cathedral and climb the tower. From here you can see the vast and breathtaking flat landscape stretching out into The Wadden Sea. Then drive to Esbjerg and take the ferry to the island Fanoe. Here people have lived in, and prospered from, The Wadden Sea for centuries.
Today, there’s a beautiful, and also a little strange, community with old picturesque boatman’s houses, fruit trees, rose gardens, sea dunes and big beaches you can drive on in your car. The islanders (called ‘fanniker’) quite often dress up in traditional costumes, play the fiddle, and dance the beautiful sønderhoning, a dance that it takes years to master.
ARoS art museum, Aarhus (Dreamstime)
On the eastern side of Jutland, you find the city of Aarhus. It’s the second largest city in Denmark. Aarhus is a college city and it’s also called ‘The Smallest Big City in The World’.
You should go there to sense the cosy, laidback atmosphere of the inner city, and you should visit the art museum, ARoS, and the Prehistory Museum, Moesgaard. Both are quite impressive museums, and since Aarhus is the European Capital of Culture 2017, you should go there this year for sure. Everything that is cool is going to Aarhus this year, so you know you’ve got to go too.
Grenen lighthouse, near Skagen (Dreamstime)
This is the place where I live now. I long for people to come and see this place for themselves: the North Sea Coast. It’s raw, wild, bigger than the rest. The sea dunes (called ‘sea mountains’) are amazing, the salty winds, the moors and the plains induce respect, the fjords, the migrating birds, the entire breathtaking and overwhelming nature of this long shoreline are the reasons I live here.
Thousands of Germans, Norwegians, Swedes and Copenhageners visit here every summer. I was told that a Norwegian was once standing on the North Sea beach looking south and looking north and then he asked a Dane standing next to him how long this beach was. And the Dane answered: “About 560 kilometres.” The Norwegian said: “So it never stops?” And the Dane said: “No, not really”, and that silenced the Norwegian which takes something, since Norwegian nature, as we know, is the greatest in the world.
Dorthe Nors is a Danish author. Her work has appeared in Harpers and The Boston Review, and she’s the first Danish writer to have a story published in the New Yorker.
Dorthe’s new novel, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is out now, published by Pushkin Press (£10.99). Her short story collection and novella Karate Chop/Minna Needs Rehearsal Space is also available on Pushkin Press.
Main image: Dorthe Nors (Astrid Dalum)