If there's one thing that's often repeated about the Danish, it is that they are purported to be the happiest people in the world. And, despite the subjectivity of such a thing, they've got a really good argument. The cities are clean, there is virtual equality of income, the violence throughout the country is so low that people leave their infants unattended, everyone bikes, the government works, LGBT rights are highly advocated, and the pastries are outlandishly delicious. It is also quite telling that there are literally no such things as the social niceties (i.e. no equivalent of "excuse me" or "nice to meet you") or conversational hyperbole ("I LOVE those shoes on you") that the much grumpier Americans are known for.
"The happiest people" is a fitting moniker, but it doesn't do nearly enough to describe what makes Denmark an enticing travel destination. With over a millennium of history under their belts that includes the Viking ages, and a world outside of cruise stop and tourist touchstone Copenhagen that is packed with open park lands, remote islands, and castle ruins, you'll find that there is much more to Denmark indeed.
To talk basic geography for a moment: Denmark is made up of three main islands. The largest is Jutland to the west, which is connected by bridge to Funen, which is also connected further east to Zealand, the island where tourists will stop briefly to gaggle at Copenhagen before making waves to their next city of grand importance. Which isn't to say that Copenhagen cannot be a city for adventurers. One would fit right in riding a bike between its cultural landmarks, talking green technology over a smorrebrod sandwich or sipping a microbrew in a cafe along the canal as daylight lingers near midnight in the summer. But don't think that Copenhagen is all there is to see. Not when Aalborg provides the Viking graves of Lindholm Hoje and Jomfru Ane Gade, a whole street of revelry for the weekend warriors among us. Not when the original Legoland is a hop, skip, and jump over to Billund. Not when national parks range from the wetlands of the Wadden Sea, the sand dunes of Thy, and the castle ruins and rolling hills of Mols Bjerge.
And it's true that Denmark is a country of pleasant landscapes; islands like Bornholm and Aeroe are as good as any place to watch the sea trail into endless infinitude. There also numerous beaches, like Hvide Sande, where the young and active spend as much time on the surf as they do in the sand. But what draws many travelers is the rich, long-standing culture that lives on in epic castles and fortresses that first stood as defense posts in the Baltic passageways. Few travelers come for that bike trip along the Limfjord; they come for Shakespeare's Elsinore or stately Christiansborg Slot. They even come to see a small, bronze sculpture of the Little Mermaid. In droves, apparently. We'd rather stand on a sandbar between the Baltic and North Seas and observe the dolphins and seals at play. Maybe that's just us.
One final thing that deserves mention is Denmark's nightlife. The large cities all have an incredible nightlife: Aalborg has the aforementioned Jomfru Ane Gade, Aarhus caters to the youngest population in the country with plenty of bars and cafes, and Copenhagen not only meets the needs of its nightly imbibers, but also proves to be one of the best places to see live music in all of Europe. Browse the nightlife listings of individual cities if you're looking to find out more; otherwise, start browsing the activities that catch your eye. The next thing you know, you'll be booking your flight to Denmark to do a lot more than hang out with a statue of a mermaid.
Visa Requirements: United States citizens or other travelers from the first world do not require a visa. Consult the included page if you have questions or concerns about visa requirements.
Denmark's currency is known as the Danish Krone, which was been retained in spite of Denmark's inclusion in the European Union. Updated exchange rates can be found here.
The Danish government is a combination of a constitutional monarchy and a representative democracy. The figurative head-of-state is the Monarch, while executive powers are shared by the cabinet, whose spokesperson is the Prime Minister. The national parliament, known as the Folketing, is in charge of legislative proceedings, while the Judiciary, which is chosen by the Monarch, takes care of all judicial affairs. A multi-party system that has not seen one party in control of all aspects of government in over thirty years, Denmark is viewed as a model of modern governing due to its transparency, ability to compromise, and accountability of actions, so it'll be quite rare to hear Danish citizens decrying their government. So, although issues like immigration and unemployment are still frequent sticking points in considering governmental policy, the large majority of public programs continue to be successful and the approval of the Danish government is incredibly high.
Barriers to communicating when in Denmark will be relatively minimal if you speak English due to the fact that English is taught early on in school. According to the European Commission, 86% of the Danes also speak English as a second language, while a smaller majority also speak German. Road signs are often in Danish, but quite often travelers will be able to get by in public situations (restaurants/asking for directions/taking a taxi/etc.) with a few Danish phrases and the kindness of the Danish people.
Crime and Safety:
How safe is Denmark, you ask? Consider this: it is not unusual to pass a row of baby strollers outside of an apartment building, mall, eating establishment or other public area. In some parts of the world, this would be a no-no in and of itself. In Denmark, you'll find the babies still napping inside while the parents are elsewhere! Because the Danish believe that the air is good for their sleeping children, this is a frequent phenomenon; thanfully, kidnappings and violent crimes in much of Denmark are next to non-existent, so there is no fear of such things happening. Still, despite low crime numbers, common sense is still key. Walking alone through a run-down area that you don't know is not a good idea anywhere in the world. It's also recommended that you keep your belongings secured. Denmark is one of the safest places on Earth; now if it was only less expensive!
Modes of Transportation:
Most international travel runs through Copenhagen, whether you are coming and going via airplane or ferry. The Copenhagen airport will connect you to all of the other airports in Denmark (Aalborg, Aarhus, Billund, etc.), while Greenland, Iceland, Germany, and other nearby countries are accessible via the ferry. The large islands of Denmark (Zealand, Funen, and Jutland) are connected via bridge and have an extensive network of roadways free of tolls. While in major cities, you'll find that public transport is timely and efficient (although expensive when compared to other countries), while the most popular way to transport may actually be the bicycle. In Copenhagen the bike culture is most evident; a horde of bikes on a public rack is a daily sight. Also, taking a bike is a more lengthy, leisurely way to see distant parts of this largely flat country. Many cities have a bike-sharing system that requires only a refundable deposit, while other travelers choose to rent bikes if they are moving between cities. Copenhagen recently scrapped its old bike-sharing system for new "Go Bikes," which benefits from map access and other capabilities provided by an on-bike computer. Here's an article from a guy who was less than impressed.
The weather in Denmark is generally mild and temperate, never getting too hot in summer (70 degrees Fahrenheit on average) or too cold (30 degrees Fahrenheit on average) in winter. The one thing that may throw you off in visiting the country is the amount of daylight you may experience depending on the time of year that you visit. During the winter, daylight may last from 8:45 am to 3:45 pm, while summer enjoys much lengthier days, from 4:30 am to 10pm. Because of this, you'll find the Danish taking full advantage of being outside and enjoying the two months or so of true summer.
Eating and Tipping:
Tipping is not necessary when dealing with the service industry in Denmark. In restaurants and taxis, many final tabs will already include gratuity. Then again, you may receive service that you deem worthy of a tip; it's generally suggested to leave up to 10% if that is the case. As far as eating is concerned, Denmark has a high number of Michelin-starred restaurants, especially in Copenhagen, but unless you want to spend all of your money on food, then you'll find that ethnic food and local favorites like smørrebrød sandwiches and the full range of breads and pastries are where the taste is at. Another favorite alternative are the pølsevogn, which are hot dog stands that frequently follow the crowds around Copenhagen and are typically more permanent elsewhere. For more on cuisine in each city, take a look at our city-related cuisine pages.
All is well in Denmark when it comes to its alcohol culture. You must be 18 to drink in public establishments, but it's not unusual for Danish teenagers to be drinking years earlier. There is even a general leniency against public intoxication because the Danish are known for not making a big scene when they've had too much. The truth is that consumption of alcohol is quite often done at house parties and often done any day of the week, while there are also a ton of public options in Copenhagen, including a thriving craft beer scene. The Danish largely avoid imported beer (unless it's German) and stick the revered Carlsberg and Tuborg, which brew basic lagers, and depend on over a hundred microbreweries that go the route of providing IPA's and dark beers like porters and stouts. Wine is also consumed in prodigious amounts and is largely imported, unlike the high consumption rates of domestic beer.
Interesting Cultural Fact:
The Danish do without much of the small talk that English-speaking countries are often known for. For example, there is no Danish word for "excuse me" or "please," while "nice to meet you" seems like an odd thing to say to a Dane upon meeting them because you do not know yet if it is nice to meet them or not.
Peak season:May through August
Currency:Danish Krone (DKK)
Religion:Over 80% Lutheran (Danish National Church)
Roskilde Music Festival
The biggest music festival in Denmark is the Roskilde, where over 100,000 people a year congregate to see some of the biggest acts in the world perform. Expect over 150 bands, including the likes of Pearl Jam and Coldplay, to show up at the beginning of July every year just west of Copenhagen on the island of Zealand for this 9-day event. The cost for the whole deal in 2012 was about $300 US.
The Viking Moot
The most popular Viking festival in Scandinavia is the Viking Moot in Aarhus, with staged performances in full battle regalia and a traditional viking market. It takes place every July at Moesgaard Beach, a gathering place for everything Viking and an ever-growing celebration of Viking traditions and trade. If you've ever been intrigued by the culture and mythology surrounding this ancient civilization, there are few ways to better experience it firsthand.
Northern Europe's greatest carnival is the Aalborg Carnival, a celebration of parades, music, costumes, and a lot of carnival-style partying. Yearly at the end of May, locals and tourists alike are urged to act on their instincts and create costumes and let loose for a week in the streets of Aalborg. Although it lacks the flair of Carnival in Brazil or Tenerife, the carnival in Aalborg will still destroy your local field days as far as a good time is concerned.
Once known as a small event called the Skive Beach Party, this festival has quickly become a force to be reckoned with on the international music scene. Held every May in the town of Skive on the Jutland peninsula, this 4-day event draws over 20,000 music fans for the likes of Linkin Park, DJ Tiesto, Green Day, and the best in up-and-coming Scandinavian bands. There are a few different stages that appeal to diversified musical interests and plenty of space for camping. Tickets (camping included) ran for about $250 US in 2012.
Distortion is not your average music festival. Instead of the open-air concerts you'd readily identify, the streets of Copenhagen become a playground of dance floors and beats that'll do more than get your toes a-tapping. The biggest alternative event in Denmark, Distortion is a mobile block party that moves through various Copenhagen neighborhoods over the course of five days and nights, bringing with it sidewalk raves, euphoric intoxication, and nearly 100,000 people a day packed into the public streets and squares of the city. A pass for all five days of the 2013 event go for about $65 US; just make sure you've got at least that in beer money for each day!