Visit Denmark's youngest city, oldest town and prettiest village all on a short break from Aberdeen...
Recently I was invited over to Denmark as part of a business partnership with Danish Air Transport and Business Esbjerg to check out their new air route between Aberdeen and Esbjerg.
I'll be honest, I had never heard of this part of Denmark before my invite and had no idea what to expect. However, my trip turned out to be completely fantastic and I just had to publish this blog post about it. I wasn't asked to write this article but I honestly think that this is a part of Denmark worth sharing. It is definitely a Danish hidden gem and is perfect for anyone looking for a unique long weekend escape from Scotland.
Esbjerg is a harbour city which sits on the North Sea on the west coast of Denmark. It actually has a lot in common with Aberdeen as it is a large fishing port and an important base for oil and gas offshore industries.
During my trip I was joined by Mr Adventures Around Scotland and we didn't just visit Esbjerg, we also went over to the beautiful island of Fanø which we both fell in love with, before completing our trip in Ribe, Denmark's oldest town. Three very different locations in three days and if you want to follow in our footsteps, I've put all my itinerary details below.
DAY 1 - ABERDEEN TO ESBJERG
We took a lunchtime flight from Aberdeen with Danish Air Transport and I've never been fed and watered so well on a short plane journey - more on that below. Just over an hour later we arrived at Esbjerg airport and picked up our hire car from the Europcar desk and made the 15 minute journey to our hotel.
Its not necessary to have a car, however if you want to explore beyond Esbjerg as we did, it provides a bit more freedom and flexibility. The roads in this part of Denmark are fairly quiet and we found driving on the right hand side to be easy enough as the road systems here are also quite straightforward.
On our first night we stayed in Hotel Britannia which is very central and ideally located for exploring the city. We had a Business Double Room which had nice green views over a little pond area opposite. The hotel has a cool, Scandi vibe and we had no complaints during our stay.
Esbjerg is Denmark's newest city and although it boasts quite a few museums, due to arriving late in the afternoon we decided to go for a wander around the city centre rather than rush around attractions.
One of the first places we stopped by was an old cinema which has now been converted in to a Street Food Hall. It is really quirky inside with lots of clues to its previous life and had we not already had dinner booked elsewhere, I would definitely have chosen to eat here. UPDATE - Sadly I've been informed that the street food hall has been closed down which seems a shame as it looked like a great place.
Esbjerg is a pretty and clean city which boasts the longest pedestrian shopping street in Denmark. The main square is a good place to enjoy a coffee at one of the outdoor seating areas and admire the architecture or do some people watching.
One of my favourite shops that I came across was 'Bring Bag' where everything is sold from containers, without any packaging. There was such a variety of goodies and I love supporting businesses that help make a positive impact on the environment - I just wish there was more of them!
Although Esbjerg is a nice city to explore, it is also great as a base for getting outdoors. On the outskirts you can find some of Denmark's best beaches. It is also next to the Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Denmark's largest National Park which is also one of the most valuable wetlands in the world.
I could tell from the amount of outdoor shops that the Danish love their outdoor activities. If you are a fan too then Esbjerg has lots of local options available including cycle hire, canoeing, surfing and much more.
One other site you must visit when you go to the city is the 'Man Meets the Sea' sculpture which is about a 10 minute drive from the city centre. It was unveiled in 1995 and has become an iconic giant public art attraction in Denmark, a bit like The Kelpies in Scotland.
The huge concrete sculpture of four seated figures is about 9 metres high and can be seen from 10 km away on a clear day. It is meant to represent the meeting of nature and pure, unspoilt man. It is definitely impressive.
A further 5 minutes along the coast from 'Man Meets the Sea' is the lovely Hjerting Badehotel which overlooks the beach of Ho cove. The hotel and neighbouring buildings look more like a scene from Cape Cod than Denmark and I can understand why this is a popular spot with Danish and German holidaymakers. For some reason the British haven't quite discovered it yet!
We ate in the hotel's Strandpavillonen Restaurant which has panoramic views over the beach and is one of the leading gourmet restaurants in the region. Not surprisingly it is very popular so it is recommended that tables are booked in advance.
The menu changes with the season and focuses on local produce and animal welfare. Our two courses included turbot in a butter sauce with vegetables and rhubarb mousse with pickled strawberries, berries and dehydrated chocolate. It was all delicious and the best meal of our trip so I definitely recommend eating there.
However, don't make the same mistake as I did and order a large fizzy drink as my Fanta came in a glass that was bigger than my head!
DAY 2 - ESBJERG TO FANØ
After a great sleep and a filling buffet breakfast we took a morning ferry from the harbour in Esbjerg over to the island of Fanø. The ferry ride is just over 10 minutes although the island feels a world away from the mainland. We both absolutely loved Fanø and I could easily have spent a week there.
Luckily we had a local guide, Paul, to help us make the most of our short time there and he created the most amazing itinerary for us. He also arranged for some fabulous weather which was pretty nice of him.
Our first stop was at the beach to try out Blokarts with Club Fanø. Now I've seen some amazing beaches in my time and I'm not exaggerating when I say the stretch of sand along the coast of Fanø is on a whole other level to anything I've ever come across before. It is over 7 miles long and almost half a mile wide. It really does go on and on and on, so far in fact that it is actually used as a road around part of the island and it felt weird to be driving along the beach, a new experience for me.
It is one of the beast beaches in Europe for land sailing and almost 2 miles is marked off for land sailing vehicles. I had never tried a land yacht before and I was slightly nervous that I would fall over but our laid back instructor assured us that our Blokarts were designed for beginners and it was easier than it looked.
Within minutes I got the feel of it and was quickly racing my husband up and down the beach, doing the equivalent of wheel spin turns around the marker cones. I'm not bragging but I did win every race and I didn't fall over - result! I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time and didn't want our session to end - it was so much fun I can't recommend it enough.
I would love to visit during June to see the kite flying competition on the beach, attended by over 5000 kite enthusiasts from all over the world. I bet it is an amazing spectacle.
Fanø sits within the Wadden Sea National Park and we took a walk through some of the greenery to one of the bird hides. On the way we spotted a couple of white-tailed eagles flying quite close which was really exciting, apparently there are 9 of them on Fanø.
We also climbed Pælebjerg which is described as Fanø's highest mountain. It is actually only 21 metres high but is a good example of the Danish sense of humour that we kept coming across, it is a nation that doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. Someone has come up with a great marketing plan to encourage people to explore the island by rewarding them with a certificate if they visit all the highest points. You will never feel so satisfied climbing such small hills!
Sønderho has won the award of Denmark's most beautiful village and it is not hard to see why. Every street you stroll down is lined with house goals and many of them date back to the 18th and 19th centuries when it was an important shipping town.
We stopped by Sønderho Church which reflects the strong maritime history of the village. It has 15 votive ships, more than any other church in Denmark. This was a really atmospheric little place to visit and unlike any other church I'd been to before.
Another worthwhile stop is the Art Museum which has a selection of paintings, photographs and modern art installations.
After a busy morning exploring and a busy afternoon ahead, I was looking forward to refuelling during lunch. Paul took us to the historic Sønderho Kro, which dates back to 1722 and is one of Denmark's oldest inns.
There are several different dining areas and they all had a quaint and charming feel. We decided to order the 6 small plates option to let us taste a variety of local dishes which included dry salt smoked salmon, Fanø ham, terrine of pig and a sea buckthorn dessert. This was a perfect lunch choice and I really enjoyed the variety of flavours.
After lunch we headed to see Fanø Dagbog, which is the most amazing photographic exhibition. It celebrates the traditional Fanø dress which was worn daily by women on the island for over 200 years and is still worn during special occasions today. It is a really atmospheric attraction and it runs until the end of October 2019 so try to visit before then if you can.
Staying on the creative theme, our next stop was to visit Christel Seyfarth's shop, full of her colourful knitted art designs. It was great chatting to Christel as it turns out she frequently visits Scotland to attend the Loch Ness Knit Fest in October which she helps to organise. The Scottish knitting festival was actually inspired by the Fanø International Knit Festival which takes place in September. During the festival weekend there are many workshops, lectures, exhibitions and events which attracts knitters of all levels from all over the globe.
As our day on Fanø was coming to an end, we made another trip to the beach, this time for a more leisurely stroll. We could see seals lined up along a sand bar and watched numerous amber hunters searching the shoreline for the fossilised tree resin which regularly washes up here.
Possibly the best way to end a day on Fanø is with a trip to the brewery. Our guide Paul very kindly bought us several of the locally produced beers to take back to Scotland with us. American brewers have put their own unique stamp on the beers and it has previously been rated as one of the top 50 breweries in the world. One of their current favourites is Mango Mussolini which features a certain President's smug face on the label and posters declaring 'It's fake beer'. Of course, we just had to try some and I can assure you it is actually very good beer!
I was genuinely sad to leave Fanø and found it hard to believe that the island gets very few tourists from places other than Denmark or Germany. I definitely plan to return for a longer trip as it is one of my favourite travel discoveries in recent years.
DAY 3 - RIBE
After Fanø we drove along the coast from Esbjerg to Ribe which took about 30 minutes and was another straightforward drive. Once we arrived in Ribe, we didn't need to use the car as the town is very compact and walkable.
We spent our second and third night staying in a self-catering apartment in the Ribe Byferie Resort. The holiday complex feels more like a pleasant residential area and a range of indoor and outdoor activities make it perfect for families. We stayed in a well equipped downstairs apartment which had a private paved garden at the rear with outdoor table and chairs. The complex was pretty quiet when we stayed so there wasn't much noise, however if I was staying in peak season I think I would choose an upstairs apartment with a balcony instead.
Ribe has some lovely restaurants, however self-catering is great for saving a bit of money so we ate out on the first night and cooked in the apartment on the second night. There are a couple of large supermarkets in the town so eating in is an easy and convenient option.
On our first evening in Ribe we ate at the Porsborgs Gastro Bar next to the cathedral. This is a laid back pub which serves a seasonal menu. Again we opted for a selection of dishes and wow, did we underestimate how much food we would get! We had a snack board while we enjoyed a drink, followed by their 'All On One Board' option and to be honest one between two would have been enough as a starter. Mussels, potato salad, polenta and drumsticks are all served in small plates but the portions were filling, especially after our snack board.
Instead of getting a main each, we decided to share a steak with potato wedges, sour cream and local greens which also came with a side salad. The food was good but disappointingly I just couldn't manage a dessert which is totally unheard of for me. I made another mental note to not only order small sized fizzy drinks but also to show more restrain next time I order in a Danish restaurant as they are very generous!
After such a big meal, we decided that a free walking tour of the town was the perfect solution to work off some of the calories. Every night during the summer you can join the Night Watchman tour which visits some of the streets that would historically have been included in the rounds of the real night watchman. Today it is only for tourists, however it is a great introduction to the history of Ribe and a fun way to spend the evening. Tours are conducted in Danish with the option of an additional English translation if required.
The following morning we walked back to the town centre for a quick breakfast and couldn't resist the look of the pastries at Rådhus Conditoriet. You have the option to takeaway but we decided to sit in and ease in to our morning. Relaxation actually became the theme of the day as we had quickly slipped in to the laid back Scandinavian lifestyle.
After breakfast we took a stroll around the Medieval centre of Ribe where I drooled over even more house goals. The town dates back to 710 AD and is very picturesque with cobbled streets and well-preserved houses. This was an important trading port for the Vikings and many of them set sail from Ribe to visit and sometimes conquer other parts of Europe.
There are a couple of Viking themed museums and although I didn't manage to visit them on this trip, they are definitely on my list for next time.
One place we had to visit was Ribe Cathedral which dominates the town and is visible for miles around. It doesn't just dominate the town physically but also audibly as the bells play different tunes at certain times of the day.
The cathedral dates back to the middle of the 13th century and is the oldest cathedral in Denmark. It has had several additions since then which makes it an interesting building to view from the outside and explore on the inside.
There is a paid option to visit the cathedral museum and climb the bell tower to an outdoor viewing platform with a seated area. This was my favourite part but beware that the bells chime regularly and there is a good chance they will go off at some point as you climb up and down past them!
We visited on a particularly nice day and it was lovely to just sit and enjoy the views from the top. The museum is also really interesting with lots of information boards detailing the history of the building.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the pretty shops, buying some cute souvenirs and eating gelato!
We also noticed that lots of the houses had nests on the roofs. After some Googling we discovered that Ribe is actually known as 'the town of storks' due to the large number of storks that once visited in the summer. However, I was sad to read about the decline of these birds in Denmark in recent years.
Quite a bit of our day was spent relaxing by the riverside where there are pathways, seating areas and cafes. It also turned out to be a great spot for watching the sunset.
Our last night in Denmark coincided with the annual 'Ribe by Night' festival and there was a real buzz about the town. Lots of shops had discounts, live music filled the streets and a market took place in the square. It seemed we had picked the perfect time to be in town.
The festival finished with some impressive fireworks over the river and I honestly couldn't think of a more magical way to end our time in Denmark. The trip exceeded my expectations in every way and I'm planning to return again next year, hopefully for a longer stay next time.
FLYING WITH DANISH AIR TRANSPORT
My trip to Esbjerg was in partnership with Danish Air Transport. Earlier this year they launched regular flights between Aberdeen and Esbjerg and it is an ideal route if you want to explore this part of Denmark.
Our flights and check-in were easy to arrange and prices start from approx £55 per ticket which makes it affordable for a short European break.
Expect to be well fed and lubricated during the journey as on our short flight we started off with crisps, followed by an open sandwich lunch, finished off with ice-cream. Tea, coffee, juice and even alcohol are all freely available too, and yes, this is all included in your ticket price which amazed me. I'm personally used to budget airlines charging you for everything so it was refreshing to experience a generous service.
I can't fault my flight with DAT and would happily recommend them.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Arrange your own trip to Denmark with flights from Danish Air Transport and build your itinerary using VisitEsbjerg
Disclaimer - My trip to Esbjerg was part of a business partnership with Danish Air Transport and Business Esbjerg, however there was no request to provide this content.
As always, my blog post is based on my personal opinions and experience
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