Northern Jutland, split from the rest of Jutland by the Limfjord, wows visitors with its magnificent light and beautiful barren landscapes of shifting sands. The region is promoted as ‘Lysets Land’, or the Land of Light, and if you witness the soft blue nuances by the water as day turns into night, you’ll understand why (and begin to comprehend the region’s appeal to artists). But it’s not just painters who flock here. Windsurfers and beach-goers make a beeline for the north the minute the weather turns kind. Families head off to the zoos, aquariums, and theme parks, and seafood-lovers rejoice in the fresh-off-the-boat catch. The area’s most coveted tourist destination is Skagen, at Denmark’s northern tip. It’s both a civilized haven of chichi restaurants and art museums and a wild place where nature calls the shots – which sums up the entire region, really.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The port of Aalborg spreads across both sides of the Limfjord, which slices through the tip of the Jutland peninsula. Aalborg is the leading producer of the spirit aquavit, the fiery Danish national drink. The well-preserved old town has several sights of interest, including the suitably dark and atmospheric dungeons of the town castle, the Aalborghus Slot (1539). The Budolfi Domkirke, a 16th-century Gothic cathedral, houses a collection of portraits depicting Aalborg merchants from the town’s prosperous past. Kunsten (Museum of Modern Art Aalborg) houses a collection of Danish modern art, as well as works by foreign artists such as Max Ernst and Chagall. On the edge of Aalborg is the historical site of Lindholm Høje. Set on a hilltop overlooking the city, it contains more than 650 marked graves from the Iron Age and Viking Age. A museum depicting the history of the site stands nearby.
A transport hub rather than a compelling destination, Frederikshavn shuffles more than three million people through its port each year, making it Jutland’s busiest international ferry terminal. The majority of visitors are Scandinavians raiding Denmark’s supplies of relatively cheap booze and meat. The town itself lacks the historical glamour of its coastal neighbors but can successfully entertain you for a few hours with its feature attraction, Bangsbo – still, Skagen or even Sæby make for more appealing overnight options.
While Skagen is the inspiration behind world-renowned Scandinavian artists, Sæby could well be called the spiritual home (or at least the holiday house) of Danish literature. The pretty town was the inspiration behind Herman Bang’s Sommerglæder (Summer Pleasure) and Henrik Ibsen’s renowned work Fruen fra havet (The Lady from the Sea). In summer, Sæby’s harbor and old town are packed with ice-cream-toting travelers. It’s a sleeper compared with Skagen further up the road, but it has plenty of charm.
With its rich art heritage, fresh seafood, photogenic neighborhoods, and classic characters, Skagen (pronounced Skain) is an utterly delicious slice of Denmark. In the mid-19th century, artists flocked here, charmed by the radiant light’s impact on the ruggedly beautiful landscape. Now tourists come in droves, drawn by an intoxicating combination of the busy working harbor, long sandy beaches, and buzzing holiday atmosphere. The town gets packed in summer but maintains its charm, especially in the intimate, older neighborhoods, filled with distinctive yellow houses framed by white-picket fences and red-tiled roofs. Catering to the tourist influx are numerous museums, art galleries, bike-rental outlets, ice-creameries, and harborside restaurants. Come and see why half the Danish population lights up whenever the town’s name is mentioned.
Denmark’s largest expanse of drifting sand dunes, Råbjerg Mile is an amazing natural phenomenon. These undulating, 130ft-high hills are fun to explore and almost big enough to lose yourself in. The dunes were formed on the west coast during the great sand drift of the 16th century and have purposefully been left in a migratory state (moving towards the forest at a rate of 50 feet per year). The dunes leave a low, moist layer of sand behind, stretching westwards to Skagerrak.
Beloved by discount-hungry Norwegians and largely inhabited by hardened Hirtshals seamen, this modern town makes a reasonable base for sightseeing, but its appearance won’t take your breath away. It has ferry connections to points further north (way north, such as Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Norway); beaches and an impressive show of sea life may add to the appeal.
That the inland town of Hjørring has few hotels speaks volumes – the holiday action is going on elsewhere, at the surrounding seaside towns. Still, if you don’t have your own wheels, Hjørring may be an OK base, given its good transport connections. And it’s a handsome service town, far more atmospheric than Hirtshals, with medieval churches, street sculptures, and good eating and shopping opportunities.
Løkken is an appealing holiday town for all ages. The former fishing town’s biggest drawcard is its wide, sandy beach, and the requisite shops, ice-creameries, and cafes welcome the summer bombardment. Colder months see the town go into hibernation.
Despite its interesting wartime museum and status as the northern boundary of one of Denmark’s new national parks, modern Hanstholm is a charmless place – thanks largely to the fact that a small, lackluster shopping center serves as the town’s heart. There’s still plenty of fish-factory action down at the harbor, and some excellent places to eat there, but overnighting is better down the west coast at Klitmøller or Nørre Vorupør.
Klitmøller’s windy ways and curving waves have transformed the small fishing village into one of Europe’s premier surfing destinations, known colloquially as ‘Cold Hawaii’. It’s a small holiday settlement of summerhouses, where wetsuit-clad surfers roam the streets and outdoorsy folk get around on bikes, seemingly oblivious to the cracking wind. Klitmøller hosts a PWA (Professional Windsurfing Association) world cup event each September.