The sunniest part of Denmark, Bornholm lies way out in the Baltic Sea, 200km east of Copenhagen. But it’s not just (relatively) sunny skies that draw the hordes each year. Mother Nature was in a particularly good mood when creating this Baltic beauty, bestowing on it arresting chalk cliffs, soothing forests, bleach white beaches, and pure, ethereal light that painters do their best to capture. Humankind added the beguiling details, from medieval fortress ruins and thatched fishing villages to the iconic rundkirker (round churches) and contemporary Bornholms Kunstmuseum. The island’s ceramic and glassware artisans are famed throughout Denmark, as are its historic smokehouses and ever-expanding league of food artisans. It’s no wonder that seven out of 10 visitors to Bornholm return.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Rønne is Bornholm’s largest settlement and the main harbor for ferries from Ystad in Sweden and Køge in Denmark. The town has been the island’s commercial center since the Middle Ages, and while the place has expanded and taken on a more suburban look over the years, a handful of well-preserved quarters still provide pleasant strolling. Especially appealing is the old neighborhood west of Store Torv with its handsome period buildings and cobblestone streets, among them Laksegade and Storegade.
The inland town of Åkirkeby is a mix of old half-timbered houses and newer homes. The tourist office, car park, and a couple of simple eateries are at the eastern side of the church on Jernbanegade.
A fifth of Bornholm is wooded, making it the most forested county in Denmark. Beech, fir, spruce, hemlock, and oak are dominant. There are three main areas, each laid out with walking trails (you can pick up free maps at tourist offices). A single bicycle trail connects them all. Almindingen, the largest forest, is in the center of the island and can be reached by heading north from Åkirkeby. It’s the site of Bornholm’s highest point, the Rytterknægten, which has a lookout tower called Kongemindet from where you can view the surrounding countryside. Paradisbakkerne (Paradise Hills) contains wild deer and a trail that passes an ancient monolithic gravestone.
Dueodde, the southernmost point of Bornholm, is a vast stretch of breathtaking beach backed by deep green pine trees and expansive dunes. Its soft sand is so fine-grained that it was once used in hourglasses and ink blotters. There’s no real village at Dueodde – the bus stops at the end of the road where there’s a hotel, a casual steakhouse restaurant, a couple of food kiosks, and a boardwalk across the marsh to the beach. The only ‘sight’ is a lighthouse on the western side of the dunes; you can climb the 197 steps for a view of endless sand and sea. The beach at Dueodde is a fantastic place for children: the water is generally calm and is shallow for about 100m out, after which it becomes deep enough for adults to swim.
Nexø is Bornholm’s second-largest town and like Rønne it makes up for its comparative lack of aesthetic charm with a bustling nature. It has a large modern harbor where fishing vessels unload their catch. The town and harbor were reconstructed after being destroyed by Soviet bombing in WWII. Despite taking a back seat to more touristy towns such as Gudhjem and Svaneke, Nexø has its fair share of picturesque buildings.
Svaneke is a super-cute harbor town of red-tiled 19th-century buildings that have won international recognition for maintaining its historic character. Popular with yachters and vacationers, its pretty harbourfront is lined with mustard-yellow half-timbered former merchants’ houses, some of which have been turned into hotels and restaurants. Svaneke is also home to the island’s most famous smokehouse and a notable microbrewery, both of which are highly recommended.
GUDHJEM & MELSTED
Gudhjem is the best-looking of Bornholm’s harbor towns. Its rambling high street is crowned by a squat windmill standing over half-timbered houses and sloping streets that roll down to the picture-perfect harbor. The town is a good base for exploring the rest of Bornholm, with cycling and walking trails, convenient bus connections, plenty of places to eat and stay, and boat service to Christiansø. Interestingly, the harbor was one of the settings for the Oscar-winning film Pelle the Conqueror, based on the novel by Bornholm writer Martin Andersen Nexø, whose childhood home is in nearby Nexø.
SANDVIG & ALLINGE
Sandvig is a quiet little seaside hamlet with storybook older homes, many fringed by rose bushes and tidy flower gardens. It’s fronted by a gorgeous sandy bay and borders a network of interesting walking trails. Allinge, the larger and more developed half of the Allinge-Sandvig municipality, is southeast of Sandvig. Although not as quaint as Sandvig, Allinge has the lion’s share of commercial facilities, including banks, grocery shops, and the area’s tourist office. The small village of Olsker, is the most slender of the island’s four round churches. If you take the inland bus to Rønne, you can stop off en route to visit the church or catch a passing glimpse of it as you ride by.
The impressive 13th-century ruins of Hammershus Slot, dramatically perched on top of a sea cliff, are the largest in Scandinavia. Construction probably began around 1250 under the archbishop of Lund, who wanted a fortress to protect his diocese against the Crown, engaged at the time in a power struggle with the Church. In the centuries that followed, the castle was enlarged, with the upper levels of the square tower added on during the mid-16th century. Eventually, improvements in naval artillery left the fortress walls vulnerable to attack and in 1645 the castle temporarily fell to Swedish troops after a brief bombardment. Hammershus served as both military garrison and prison – King Christian IV’s daughter, Leonora Christine, was imprisoned here on treason charges from 1660 to 1661. In 1743 the Danish military abandoned Hammershus and many of the stones were carried away to be used as building materials elsewhere. Still, there’s much to see and you shouldn’t miss a stroll through these extensive fortress ruins. The grounds are always open and admission is free.
Hammeren, the hammerhead-shaped crag of granite at the northern tip of Bornholm, is crisscrossed by walking trails leading through hillsides thick with purple heather. Some of the trails are inland, while others run along the coast. The whole area is a delight for people who enjoy nature walks. For something a little more challenging, follow the trails between Sandvig and Hammershus Slot. The shortest route travels along the inland side of Hammeren and passes Hammer Sø, Bornholm’s largest lake, and Opaløsen, a deep pond in an old rock quarry. A longer, more windswept route goes along the rocky outer rim of Hammeren, passes a lighthouse at Bornholm’s northernmost point, and continues south along the coast to Hammer Havn.