Clean, efficient, child-friendly, plus the home of Lego and super cool Scandi design, it’s no secret Denmark is prime family holiday terrain. As someone who has both a six-year-old and a deep love of 20th-century art and design, it seemed like it might be the perfect destination. There was an obligatory trip to Legoland planned, but would my daughter be happy to tour the rest of the country checking out Denmark’s prime cultural offerings? As it turned out (fortunately): yes.
1 Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus
This museum of archeology and ethnography is a 20-minute bus ride from Aarhus, the 2017 European Capital of Culture. We arrived before it opened and climbed up onto the roof — totally allowed, the large sloping surface is covered in grass and offers bay views from the top. “We’ve climbed a mountain,” shouted Rowan. Inside ‘the mountain’, it was an incredible experience — hugely interactive and exciting. The exhibits involve quite a lot of spoken-word content in Danish but somehow it’s quite easy to follow. We loved the highly evocative and immersive battle reconstruction, which then leads down into a display of a discarded battle horde. The whole place makes time shrink and connects you with the past and teaches you about your ancestors without ever feeling lectured at.
2 Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
One of the oldest theme parks in the world, Tivoli Gardens manages to pack in treats for little ones, terrifying big-thrill rides for older children and remain genuinely beautiful and fairly calm so the adults aren’t on the point of nervous breakdown by the end of the day. The pretty gardens and lake are a lovely setting and the theming is tastefully and neatly done. At dusk, the lanterns and fairy lights everywhere make it feel truly magical.
3 Den Gamle By, Aarhus
This is the world’s first open-air museum; it opened in 1914 and today contains 75 historical buildings brought, brick-by-brick, from all across Denmark. It’s wonderland for kids who like to play pretend: in a 1970s headteacher’s apartment from Copenhagen, kind and informative volunteers encouraged the six-year-old to make a ‘meal’ in the kitchen while we admired the Scandi design. The coffin maker’s house from the 1800s was also a surprise draw, while it was hard to get away from the old-fashioned fairground, complete with swings and bowling. The working 1970s bakery was also a big hit; though I avoided the gynaecologist’s office, unable to quite face the inevitable questions.
Kolding is a fantastic town, with tons to see — Trapholt museum (trapholt.dk) has a wonderful collection of modern art and 20th-century Danish furniture plus a peaceful sculpture park; Nicolai Cultural Centre has a whole children’s building, an arthouse cinema and serves fantastic parent-and-child-pleasing pizza in its cafe. If it’s warm enough you can even sit outside and the kids can play in the courtyard. Stay in Kolding Design Apartments, where every building is designed in a different shape (ours was a star) and there are views of the castle and lake that it sits beside. Most importantly, make sure you head to Slotsisen for ice cream with amazing Wonka-esque creations for instant delight.
5 Wadden Sea Visitor Centre
This beautiful bird-watching centre on the North Sea coast houses hands-on exhibits in a space that merges art, science and architecture into a mesmerising experience. One room houses small, simple wooden models of birds that come to life when viewed through the binoculars provided. A large tank full of plants turns out to be rich in marine life and keeps us busy for ages, spotting fish hiding under the sand and crabs scuttling among the seaweed. The digital ornithology exhibition cleverly uses sound, film and mirrors to make you feel as if you are in the middle of a flock of migrating birds: surprisingly meditative. An excellent place for inquisitive little ones and adults alike.
Jo and husband Tim with Rowan (6).
Design-hungry adults and adventure-loving children.
Tivoli Gardens — “I went on so many scary rollercoasters and I wasn’t scared at all. I loved them!” Rowan
The crowds at the Experimentarium on a cold, wet afternoon: “I couldn’t get to the wind machine, but I did get to make lots and lots of bubbles.” Rowan
How to do it
British Airways, SAS, EasyJet, Norwegian Air International and BMI Regional all fly direct to Copenhagen from the UK. Ryanair fly direct to Aarhus from Stansted. Five days car hire with Europcar, from £125.
Published in the 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family