Have you been to Copenhagen? Probably. Have you spent some time outside of the capital? Probably not. Copenhagen is great, but the real Denmark is hidden away in the rural countryside. An excellent place to start exploring is Grenen and Skagen – the northernmost town of Jutland and thereby, the whole country. There are plenty of places to visit in the Danish countryside, but starting from the top will allow you to work your way downwards in a nice and orderly fashion.
Need some help with preparing your visit? You have come to the right place. In this post, we will go through our suggested itinerary for visiting Grenen and Skagen. If you have more than a few days available, you can also check out the local tourist boards for Northern Jutland and Skagen. You should be able to find many more areas of interest you can add to the itinerary!
Skagen is for everyone! It is a popular vacation spot for Danes in particular, but also increasingly so for foreign visitors. We will try to show you why. Skagen is an idyllic and picturesque small town, but if you are not from Denmark, it can be hard to appreciate the subtleness of its charm. We are here to help. We have collected all the sights and experiences for you, and to have a good time you simply need to follow our itinerary below. We have recently visited Skagen ourselves (we hadn’t been since we were kids) and these were our exact stops.
We also prepared this video about summer in Denmark in general, with shots from the country side (including Skagen) as well as Copenhagen. For a bit of Danish travel inspiration.
What's so special about Grenen and Skagen?
Firstly, it is the northernmost town in Denmark. It is pretty isolated from the rest of the country and has thus maintained some of its original charm, even with an influx of tourists. Life just seems to move at a slower pace.
Secondly, it has Grenen – a pointy tip, at the end of a long beautiful beach, which represents the top of the country. When standing on the sand at Grenen, you will see the waves coming in from the East and the West simultaneously, clashing right there in front of you. This means you can walk out into the shallow sea, and have one foot in Skagerrak and the other in Kattegat.
Thirdly, there is said to be a special light in Skagen, which has attracted some of the best and most famous painters in Denmark. You will thus find a number of museums that celebrate the painters who helped put Skagen on the map.
Fourthly, although located in the North, Skagen is the city in Denmark with the most hours of sunshine. That’s important in a country which is generally cold and rainy.
A tiny bit of history
How to get there
Just drive north. It’s quite simple, really. It’s pretty much as far from Copenhagen as you can get, but luckily the country is rather small. Infrastructure in Denmark is excellent, but you will still need about five hours to traverse the 523 km of highway between Copenhagen Airport and Skagen. Ideally, you combine your trip with visiting the second, third and/or fourth largest cities of Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg which are all located right on the way. An alternative option is to take Molslinjen, a fast, modern boat that will carry your car for you, between Sjællands Odde and Ebeltoft. It’s not faster or slower than taking the car all the way, but it will offer a different perspective. Another option is to take the train, which drives in parallel to the highway pretty much the whole way. You can also fly to Aalborg and be within an hours drive from Skagen, or to Aarhus and be within 2 hours of driving.
Which method you choose depends on your timeline and personal preferences, but they’ll all get you to where you need to go. It’s worth noting that fuel is quite expensive in Denmark at about 1.5 USD per litre (that’s about 6 USD per gallon), but cars are modern and economical. Also, you will need to pay 40 USD in road charges when crossing the Great Belt Bridge, which could be bypassed by taking the ferry. Which, in turn, is about the same price.
Taking the train is not cheaper unless you manage to get a so-called orange ticket. These are available a few months in advance and offer much lower prices than usual tickets. Search on the official website of the national railway company and make sure to highlight the checkbox asking if you want cheap tickets (dah!). You need to change trains when you arrive in Frederikshavn, about 45 min from Skagen. If you don’t get an orange ticket, a regional plane likely makes more sense. Unless you are many people in which case a shared car would always be more economical.
As you can probably sense by now, there is no single best way to travel to Skagen. The easiest way is perhaps to take the car, and just take a few breaks on the way. When you arrive, it is convenient to have a car for easy exploration in the area, although you can also rent bicycles to complete the real Danish experience. We were driving a car when we visited Skagen, so the next sections will presume you are as well. We want to stress that it is easier than it sounds to get there by public transportation, so not having a car should not deter you!
Råbjerg Mile is the largest migrating sand dune in Denmark. Don’t skip this stop. It’s a must-see. Pictures don’t do it justice – it really is a spectacular sight. When we first saw it, we almost didn’t believe we were still in Denmark. The dune is about 1 km long and 1 km wide, and at the highest point, it is some 40m above the sea. It offers a unique viewpoint because the surrounding area, and Denmark in general, is very flat. You can walk to the top in about 15 min, but you might need to empty your shoes afterwards. The smaller dunes and marshland around Råbjerg Mile are very picturesque, and you could spend a long time just strolling around in the sand.
Hjorts Beach Hotel
The Sand-Buried Church
The final stop before reaching Skagen is Den Tilsandede Kirke. It’s exactly as the name suggests, an old church that has been claimed by migrating sand dunes. Only the church tower now remains.
From the parking lot, it is a 3.5 km round trip on foot to visit Grenen. However, if you don’t feel like walking, there is a tractor pulling a wagon which will transport you for a nominal fee. For some reason, it is referred to as Sandormen, the Sand Worm. It is not allowed, nor possible, to drive on the sand yourself. That’s fine though because the walk is lovely. Like at Kandestederne, it is a very wide beach with some beautiful sand dunes and perfect, soft, golden sand. There are many more people, though, as this is the most visited natural tourist attraction in all of Denmark. That doesn’t take anything away from the experience, especially if you are lucky to be joined by a few seals in the middle of the crowded beach.
The Grey Lighthouse
On the way back to Skagen from Grenen, you could check out Det Grå Fyr. Before it was placed there, seafarers were afraid of passing Skagen. The waters are incredibly shallow, and it is easy to get stranded. They had to pass though if they wanted to go from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea. Today the Grey Lighthouse is a government-sanctioned information hub for migrating birds. That makes sense since Skagen is considered the best place in Northern Europe for bird watchers to spot migrating birds. It’s not only for bird-lovers though, if you visit, you will also be able to enjoy the view of Skagen and Grenen from the top of the 46m tall tower.
An exciting day of sightseeing comes to an end. We go to the harbour for a well-deserved pint and a snack in the form of fried calamari et cetera. The harbour is a lively place where many people are either enjoying a drink, like we did, or enjoying their dinner. There are also people wandering by, eating ice creams, as well as small, traditional, fishing boats taking to the sea. On a day with beautiful weather, the harbour is not to be missed. There are a few great fish restaurants in this area, and you could easily find a good, well-priced meal here. We suggest Skagen Fiskerestaurant. However, we decided to take our dinner in a slightly different area. We started to get hungry around 8 pm and suddenly noticed that all the restaurants in Skagen seemed to close at 9 pm. So we had to hurry.
Ruths Hotel in Old Skagen
For dinner, we went to an area known as Gammel Skagen. This was the old fishing village, which has been totally renovated but otherwise still looks and feels like it did back in the day. There are a few more exclusive hotels out there and some great restaurants. We ate at Ruths Hotel, which because of its heritage is somewhat famous in Denmark, at a restaurant called Ruth’s Brasserie. The chef here, Michel Michaud, is known to have brought French cuisine to Denmark back in the ’70s. He has worked in a number of gourmet restaurants in Denmark, earned a few Michelin stars, and even invented his own chocolate cake which has become very popular. This is to say that it’s possible to travel to the very end of Denmark and still eat gourmet food. Many people think this is only possible in Copenhagen, but there are actually many amazing restaurants spread out over the entire country. At Ruth’s Brasserie, we had a lovely 3-course meal, primarily involving fish of course, and left happy and full.
The Sunset Kiosk
Skagen High Street
The next day would be much shorter. We had some personal commitments to make in a different part of the country, so only had half a day available. We decided to spend it in the city centre of Skagen. Our first stop was the shopping street. Or rather our second stop, because first, we had to sample a few delicious pastries from the local bakery and get some caffeine. When that was out of the way (we highly recommend visiting a Danish bakery!) the day could begin for real.
The shopping street in Skagen has a lot of handicraft stores, which are not particularly cheap. However, you can buy a piece of Danish design that is of higher quality than in most other places around the world. Danes are quite proud of their homes, and they like to fill them with pretty, and high quality, stuff. We no longer buy into all that, living a more minimalistic lifestyle, but it was still interesting for us to see what was on the shelves. There are also numerous art galleries as well as the flagship store of a local jewellery brand called “Skagen”. They had some beautiful watches that were reasonably priced.
If you don’t feel like shopping, you can always visit a museum. Compared to the size of the city, Skagen has them in spades. We mentioned earlier all the famous painters that helped bring tourism to Skagen. Their legacy is of course celebrated in Skagen, where many of their original paintings are still hanging. We are not museum people ourselves, so we skipped all of these. But don’t let that deter you! We heard good things about them from people in the know.
Anchers Hus is the original house of Anna, Michael and Helga Ancher – some of the most famous painters and art collectors in Scandinavia. The house is still standing exactly as it was when Anna Ancher died in 1935. It should be quite interesting to see their interior design choices, as the family was quite forward thinking for their time.
Drachmanns Hus is like Ancherhus, the original house of Holger Drachmann. He was a Skagen-based painter and poet. At the time, in the 19th century, he was the most famous author in Denmark and was known in particular for wearing exotic hats.
Skagen Museum celebrates the legacy of all the famous painters who came to the town in the 19th century and helped put it firmly on the map. It is a museum solely for paintings, where most of all their masterpieces are collected.
The Teddy Bear Museum – Not quite sure what the point is, but supposedly it is the only one of its kind in Scandinavia. Take a look if you love teddy bears!
The Old Water Tower
We might rarely be visiting museums, but if there is a tall tower or building we can get a cool viewpoint from, you bet we’ll be there. So when we passed by the old water tower and saw the entrance fee was just 3 USD, we simply had to climb the 130 steps to the top. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, but we don’t think it ruined the magnificent view of Skagen!
The rain started to increase in intensity, so walking around in the open on the shopping street became less fun. Looking for a place to keep dry, Skagen Brewery was the obvious choice. Being the local microbrewery, we naturally had to sample some different brews. What better way than to try out their tasting menu. We sampled five different beers, ranging from a summerly weissbier to a stout black as the night. All were excellent, and we highly recommend taking the time to visit this small brewery. When the weather permits, they serve on a large outside terrace and have live music as well.
After our tasting, it was, unfortunately, time to head back. We had a lovely trip to the top of Denmark, and we highly recommend visiting Skagen. It is a good experience for tourists to get outside of Copenhagen, to get a taste of the real Denmark and to experience the authentic culture of the country. Skagen is the perfect place for that. There are many other great areas to try out in Northern Jutland as well though, and if you stay tuned on the blog, you might be lucky that we cover some of them in the near future!