Most Northern European summer holidays abroad involve the Med, or its surrounding countries, but we reckon the cooler attractions of the north need to be sampled. There are several pristine white sandy beaches as well as self-catering coastal holiday cottages and holiday homes where you can indulge in coastal hygge in Denmark.
No wonder that famous artists like Krøyer and Drachmann often found their way to the coast of North Jutland. Also, Kierkegaard found his way to those old seaside resorts up in the north of Denmark. And life in the charming towns of Sletten, Hornbæk, Lynæs, Liseleje, Gilleleje and Tisvilde. is still as charming today as at the time of the famous painters and philosopher.
Coastal hygge in Denmark – Jutland
Denmark can be characterized by its anthem “Der er et yndigt land” (There is a lovely land). For while the country covers a landmass of only 16,562 square miles — 72,182 less than Great Britain — it is pure pastoral backdrop, a shifting image of sea and sand; flat and arable with few built-up metropolitan areas.
Jutland is a pointy-peninsula which, as its name suggests, “juts” out to the North Sea towards Norway and Sweden, where the land consists of long beaches and high-rise dunes like monstrous sandcastles. It has long been a holiday spot for southern Danes and is associated with fishing and a thriving art scene.
The fishing port of Hirtshals
Let’s start our exploration in the town of Hirtshals. At first sight it appears as a tough little fishing port with few obvious attractions, but it soon proves fascinating. The harbor is full of busy boats and there is a wonderful chandlery, its cafe furnished with tables and chairs made from crates and driftwood. Nearby is a fiskehus (fishing house), an outdoor fish restaurant, a common feature of Danish seaside towns, with a serving hatch, a blackboard menu and picnic tables.
The Hirtshals specialty is stjerneskud (shooting star). The dish was apparently invented to mark the visit of Yuri Gagarin to Copenhagen in 1962, a year after he became the first man in space. It’s an example of smørrebrød, or open sandwich, but this one is a spectacular assemblage of cod, smoked salmon, roe, shrimps, asparagus, dill, poached egg and rye bread.
Visit the Hirtshals museum to get the flavor of the town. The museum appears to double as a distillery and off-licence, making and selling various types of a “heritage” drink called bjesk, a kind of schnapps.
The town of Skagen is a maze of picturesque lanes and offshoot alleys, with seaside houses painted monochrome yellow, some apricot. The paint is a symbol of wealth, having started in the 19th century with the use of ochre transported from France. It doesn’t take long to walk around Skagen.
Today, nearly every house, hotel and boutique is daubed in a shade of yellow. In his foreword to the book Skagens Huse, poet Klaus Rifbjerg writes: “You could call the town a mishmash, but actually because the houses in Vesterby and Østerby are — despite certain common characteristics —different, there’s a harmony that lies a long way from the suffocating and conformist.”
We’re getting the sense that Denmark, under a composed and tranquil exterior, has hidden depths of eccentricity. They just don’t market it.
Aalborg is the capital of North Jutland and Denmark’s fourth largest city. It dates back to the Middle Ages (circa AD 700) and with its natural harbor and thriving herring fishing industry, contributed to the town’s growth.
2016 was the year that Danish hygge became a global lifestyle phenomenon adopted by hoards of disgruntled westerners after an excess of international books, magazine and newspaper articles and television programs showed the world how hygge contributes to continuously keep Denmark at the top of worldwide happiness and quality of life surveys.
Hygge also became a canonized defining Danish Value by the Danish Ministry of Culture together with gender equality and freedom and seven other values.
The Danish holiday cottages are the epitome of hygge to the Danes and over a quarter of a million Danes own their own holiday home. They all have an intimacy with their natural surroundings. A Danish seaside dwelling is ultimately an open door to nature. Imagine waking up to a cloudless sky and the sound of soft waves. See the sun heat up the horizon while you put on your bathing clothes and take a swim in the clear blue sea. You can enjoy bread directly from the oven, freshly squeezed juice and coffee on the wooden terrace of the resort waiting for the day to start.
North Zealand – the Danish Pacific Coast
Just an hour’s drive north of Copenhagen, the area is often referred to as the Danish Riviera or the “Hamptons of Denmark”. For a night or two away from it all, try the Helenekilde Badehotel, a remote seaside getaway. At Helenekilde Badehotel you can enjoy a 3-course dinner with a fantastic view of Kattegat, while the sun sets at sea and peace reigns.
Visit the new Kulturhavn Kronborg in Elsinore that consists of Kulturværftet, M/S Museet for Søfart, Kronborg Slot and Helsingør Havn. The new M/S Museum for Søfart was recommended by New York Times as ‘a must see in 2014’.
Sankt Helene Feriecenter, Tisvildeleje is the perfect place for the entire family. There are farm animals, summer activities and playgrounds. And it is not very far from the beaches on the riviera which are some of the best in the country. Take a trip to the town and do not miss the flea market that offers bargains every Saturday.
There is a very special atmosphere and evening light in Tisvilde with the sunset over the beautiful Kattegat Sea and the informal luxury of the small streets in town. Tisvilde Cafeen is located in the middle of Tisvildeleje in fantastic surroundings close to the forest, the beach and the sea. Have a look, feel the atmosphere and enjoy a good dinner.
It is time for a porpoise safari with Øresundsakvariet in Elsinore. A unique experience on Øresund – getting closer to the big fish. Nature guides and diving instructors will show you a North Zealand that is quite different from what you have explored on your own.
Hygge for all
Time itself seems to go slower here and the hygge life becomes a series of breaks. You can escape the superficial hustle and bustle of city-life and pull out the plug and let the quiet embrace you. The spa lover, the culture freak or the gourmet will not be disappointed, and the hyperactive family can easily spend weeks enjoying nature under and above water.
Feature image (on top) Bathing houses in Tisvildeleje. Photo: Visit Denmark
Coastal Hygge in Denmark, written by Tor Kjolberg