Denmark is known for being a center of world-class design. Consider the iconic Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen, Royal Copenhagen china, Bang & Olufsen speakers: It’s easy to fill a container ship with souvenirs from Danish brands after a trip to Copenhagen. Let me tell you, I did my best when I was in the Danish capital the other week.
As AFAR’s senior commerce editor, it’s my job to help conscientious travelers find essential travel gear made by sustainable brands we really believe in. I prefer to decorate my apartment and fill my wardrobe in New York with reminders of my travels and items from small businesses that I can’t get back home.
This story would be way too long if I detailed each and every item I bought in Denmark. Of course, my bags were filled with black licorice, LEGO kits for my nephew (LEGO is a Danish brand founded in Billund in 1932), and the full-size hand and foot creams by the Danish organic skincare brand Meraki included in the turndown service at Nimb Hotel.
Here, you’ll find my seven favorite items I bought from Danish brands that I could actually fit in a suitcase (sorry, Egg chair of my dreams). I’ve also included relevant information about where to buy them in Copenhagen, how to get the Value Added Tax (VAT) refund, and how much money I saved purchasing these items abroad versus in the United States (if you can even find them here!).
All conversions from DKK to USD are from when I traveled in January 2023.
- Buy online: $38 (was $45) for six long candles, us.hay.com
- Shop here: Hay House flagship store, Østergade 61
- Price in Denmark: $19 (130 DKK) for three candles of various sizes
Danish home-goods brand Hay has a U.S. website and stocks items at MoMa’s design store, but the flagship Hay House in Copenhagen is a must-visit for any Danish design lover. In addition to Instagrammable views several stories above the Amagertorv public square and its famed stork fountain, colorful porcelain vases, striped towels, and tinted glassware fill its shelves. It’s hard to resist the minimalist dining tables and candy-colored pendant lamps arranged throughout this two-story shop. However, Hay’s on-trend spiral candlesticks, which come in a rainbow of colors and sizes, are the easiest to pack in a carry-on suitcase. Online, you can only buy them in sets of six in preselected lengths and colors, but at the Copenhagen Hay store you can mix and match to your heart’s desire so you can recreate the store’s eclectic look back home.
Rains Gym Bag
- Buy online: $95, us.rains.com
- Shop here: Rains flagship store, Amagertorv 14
- Price in Denmark: $62 (499 DKK/US$73 including 77.34 DKK/US$11 back in tax refund)
Best known for its modern unisex takes on the classic rubber raincoat, Rains also makes waterproof bags, hats, and more. Since I already have a rain jacket and a waterproof fanny bag from the Danish rainwear brand, I decided to add a bright blue coated rubber gym bag to my collection this trip. With room for 27 liters of stuff, this lightweight duffel was perfect for stashing my dirty laundry for the flight home. (All my other purchases took up too much space in my suitcase, oops.) However, this isn’t just a cool-looking laundry bag: Now that I’m home, I’ll be using it for its intended purpose—going to the gym—and I also plan on using it as a roomy weekend bag, too.
Menu Clip Wall 13-Inch Candle Holder
- Buy online: $80, menudesignshop.com
- Shop here: Illums Bolighus flagship store, Amagertorv 10
- Price in Denmark: $58 (450 DKK/US$66 including 61 DKK/US$8 back in tax refund)
Founded in Copenhagen in the ‘70s, Menu is a Scandinavian design brand that specializes in timeless furniture and lighting with a focus on sustainability. I’d spotted Menu’s bottle-shaped salt and pepper grinders and portable LED lamps in chic restaurants around town, but its wall-mounted brass candle holders caught my eye while browsing the three-story Illums Bolighus department store. As a New York City apartment-dweller, I don’t have a ton of table space, so I find anything that I can affix to my walls extra appealing. (You can also find Menu items at its showroom at the Audo, a concept store in Copenhagen’s Østerbro neighborhood that’s part retail shop, restaurant, coworking space, and hotel all in one.)
Henrik Vibskov Floss Scarf
- Buy online: $179 (was $256), henrikvibskovboutique.com
- Shop here: Designmuseum Denmark museum shop, Bredgade 68
- Price in Denmark: $220 (1,510 DKK)
Before my trip, I had my heart set on buying one of those gigantic rainbow scarves from Acne Studios that are trending after blowing up on TikTok last year. Even though Acne is a Swedish brand, I could see online that the exchange rate was in my favor if I bought it in Europe (€260 or about US$280; it retails for US$310 in the United States). Unfortunately, once I got to the store in Copenhagen, I found that it was wildly sold out. So when I was poking around the museum shop at the recently reopened Designmuseum Denmark, I was drawn to the rich yellow, purple, and orange jewel tones of the Floss Scarf from the Danish designer Henrik Vibskov.
At 1,510 DKK (US$220), it was still expensive, but about $60 cheaper than the scarf I had originally planned to buy. However, I realized I made two rookie mistakes after I left: I didn’t ask if they provided the tax back forms and it was on sale for 1,050 DKK (US$153) at its main boutique at Gammel Mønt 14. If I had done my research, I’m guessing I could’ve saved approximately $90.
Mads Nørgaard Long Sleeve T-Shirt
- Buy now: not available in the United States
- Shop here: Mads Nørgaard - Strøget, Amagertorv 13-15
- Price in Denmark: $42 (289 DKK)
When I say about 50 percent of my T-shirts are striped, I’m not exaggerating. So obviously I’m drawn to Mads Nørgaard, a third-generation family business known for its classic striped tees. The Nørgaard paa Strøget #101 T-shirt was designed in 1967 and is knit, dyed, and sewn in Denmark from 100 percent cotton. These form-fitting women’s shirts come in regular and long lengths and are otherwise stretchy enough to be considered one size fits most. I’m 5’4” and I find the regular size is good for my shorter torso. The styles I’ve bought on previous trips last forever and fit whether my weight fluctuates between a small, medium, or large in other brands. When I popped into its store this trip, I was drawn to its ’90s-inspired space dye pattern over the stripes.
MJM Leather Gloves and Magasin du Nord Cashmere Balaclava
- Buy now: not available in the United States
- Shop here: Magasin du Nord department store, Kongens Nytorv 13
- Price in Denmark: $68 (512 DKK/US$75 including 51.20 DKK/US$7 back in tax refund)
There is no shortage of Scandinavian companies making beautiful—and warm—gloves. Sweden’s Hestra makes durable winter sports gloves and Denmark’s Rhanders provides stylish leather gloves to the Danish royal family and the Queen’s Guard. While I was perusing the winter sale racks at Copenhagen’s grand Magasin du Nord department store, I found a supple pair of yellow leather gloves from MJM—another Danish accessories brand that’s been around since 1829—marked down to approximately $38 from $50 (350 DKK, per the tag).
Those yellow leather gloves weren’t the only steal I found at Magasin du Nord’s winter sales. After seeing all the stylish Danish women wearing cozy chic balaclavas around town, I couldn’t say no to the 50 percent discount (a little over $36 instead of $73) on the store brand’s super soft version made with Oeko-Tex Standard 100 cashmere, which means that its fabric has been certified and tested for 350 toxic chemicals that are harmful to your health.
How to get VAT refunds in Denmark
Citizens of countries from outside the EU and Scandinavia qualify for Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds on their purchases in Denmark when returning to their home country. Since the standard VAT rate in Denmark is 25 percent, it’s definitely worth claiming the refund. (You won’t get the full 25 percent back, but refunds usually are between 12 and 19 percent of the total price, depending on the amount.) To qualify for the refund, the minimum purchase per shop has to be at least 300 DKK, which is why I wasn’t able to get tax back on my smaller purchases. If your purchase comes to over 300 DKK at an individual store, ask the sales clerk if they offer the VAT tax refund forms. In larger stores they’ll direct you to the customer service desk, but in smaller shops they might have them on hand at the register. Some might ask for your passport information there, but generally I was able to fill it out once I was back at the hotel and didn’t need to carry my passport with me when I went shopping.
Once the forms are filled out—but before you leave Denmark—be sure to bring them to the tax refund kiosks at the Copenhagen airport (otherwise you could be charged a penalty fee). There are three different ones—Tax-Free Worldwide, Global Blue Denmark, and the general customs desk if your forms aren’t from one of those other brands—all located on the ground floor between the check-in desks between Terminals 2 and 3. It took me about an extra 30 minutes to get all my forms submitted at the airport, so leave yourself plenty of time there. They’ll also ask to see the items, but if it’s packed away in your suitcase they likely won’t make you take it all out to show them.
One refund immediately landed back on my credit card; the other two took about a week to appear on my credit card.