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The Little-Known Danish Coastal Getaway Locals Love and Travelers Overlook

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Beyond the dunes on southwest Jutland’s coastline is the Wadden Sea National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo by Lyndsey Matthews

Beyond the dunes on southwest Jutland’s coastline is the Wadden Sea National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The southwest corner of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula offers the country’s only two-Michelin-star restaurant outside of Copenhagen and a UNESCO-listed national park. But most travelers would struggle to find it on a map.

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As Nordic cuisine and hygge continue to gain popularity outside of Denmark, the small Scandinavian country of less than 6 million residents welcomed a record number of travelers in 2018. But most U.S. visitors fly into Copenhagen and stay put. While there’s plenty to do in the capital city to keep you well fed and entertained for days, take a note from the locals and head about 200 miles west to the southwestern coast of Jutland, the main peninsula of Denmark.

The sleepy beach town of Henne, along with the island of Fano, and medieval town of Ribe, have long been a popular summer getaway for Danes and Germans. But after gaining a two-Michelin-star restaurant—the only one outside of Copenhagen—and a UNESCO-listed national park all in the past five years, southwest Jutland is ready for its closeup.

Getting there

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SAS makes the 50-minute flight from Copenhagen to the town of Billund at least once a day throughout the year and up to four times a day in the summer. From Billund, located in the center of the Jutland peninsula, it’s another hour’s drive to the coast. If you’d rather make a full road trip out of it, the drive to the southwest coast of Jutland from Copenhagen takes under three hours. Either way, you’ll want to rent a car to move between the various towns in the region. To reach the island of Fano, car ferries depart from Esbjerg several times per hour during the day and take 12 minutes to make the crossing.

Henne Kirkeby Kro is the only two-Michelin-star restaurant in Denmark outside of Copenhagen.
Eating and drinking there

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Of the four restaurants in Denmark that hold two Michelin stars, Copenhagen is home to three of them, including Noma. The other one—Henne Kirkeby Kro—is located 200 miles away in the village of Henne. Although the thatched roof and red brick exterior of the 1790 inn (kro means inn in Danish) may lead you to assume the food served inside will be traditional Danish fare, British chef Paul Cunningham draws inspiration from his travels for the menu. A recent dinner included one course inspired by Indian papadums, with local squid in a Hong Kong–style sauce served next. In true Nordic style, Cunningham sources a majority of his ingredients from the vegetable garden behind the inn, as well as using locally procured fish and meat. Guests who don’t want to drive after partaking in the wine pairings can check into any of the inn’s 12 rooms, which have modern amenities like Hastens beds and include breakfast in a renovated stable overlooking the garden.

Oyster lovers should not miss the ferry over to Fano, an island off the coast located within the UNESCO-listed Wadden Sea National Park. Each fall, Fano hosts the largest oyster festival in Denmark in part of a local effort to rid the Wadden Sea of an invasive Pacific oyster population. Even if your travels take you to this part of Denmark outside of oyster season, Sonderho Kro on the island’s southern tip is worth a detour. There, you can enjoy a five-course Danish meal made with locally sourced and foraged ingredients in the inn’s 300-year-old dining room, considered one of the oldest in Denmark. Located within a charming village of thatched roof houses, the inn serves both lunch and dinner, as well as full breakfast spread for guests who choose to stay overnight in any of the 13 tidy rooms.

It’s easy to happen upon hygge scenes like this on Fano.
While you’re on Fano, book a table at Kellers Badehotel, another inn serving outstanding Nordic cuisine in an understated cozy setting. Before heading back to the ferry, stop for a pint of locally brewed beer at the Fano Bryghus, which creates limited edition offerings for well-known Danish breweries like Mikkeller and Evil Twin Brewing.

Back on the mainland, stock up on edible souvenirs to bring home at the Hr. Skov gourmet market in the village of Blavand. Together with his wife, the owner (whose last name Skov is the Danish word for forest) sells a wide variety of wine, charcuterie, and sweets from Danish brands like Lakrids by Bulow and Summerbird. But the thing to stock up on here are their handmade line of jams, mustards, and snaps (try the locally foraged sea buckthorn variety).

Anyone with a sweet tooth will delight in the inventive treats made at Temper Chocolate, located in the medieval center of Ribe, Denmark’s oldest town. Made with Valrhona chocolate and butter from a local dairy, the handmade chocolates are also filled with ingredients like rhubarb sourced from the shop’s garden or local honey from Fano.
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Playing there

The blustery beaches on the Wadden Sea in southwest Jutland make it a popular place for kite flying, kite surfing, and riding blokarts, a small go-kart with a sail attached to it that you can race along the sand. But the coast also has plenty to do for those interested in nature and history, as well.

In 2014, the Danish Wadden Sea area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site that extends more than 300 miles down through Germany and into the Netherlands. While the dunes and mudflats may not be as visually striking as other national parks you’ve visited, a visit to the Vadehavescentret (Wadden Sea Center) near Ribe will give you a greater appreciation for the biodiversity the area supports. A major stopover point on the East Atlantic Flyway, more than 10 million migratory birds—including Eurasian spoonbills and great cormorants—pass through the region each spring and autumn as they move between wintering grounds in Africa and breeding areas in the Arctic tundra.

The recently redesigned Vadehavescentret in Ribe is the gateway to the Wadden Sea National Park.
Even if you’re not a birder, the museum’s unique design will impress architecture fans. A nod to the region’s traditional thatched roof homes, Danish architect Dorte Mandrup created the building’s 2017 extension to feature reed thatching on the roof—and the sides of the building. After you explore the museum, a naturalist from the center can take you out into the Wadden Sea during low tide for a bird-watching tour during the migration or to the invasive oyster beds about 2.5 miles off the coast for an all-you-can-eat Oyster Safari in autumn and winter.

Southwest Jutland is a summer beach getaway for many, but oyster lovers can enjoy an abundance of the invasive Pacific species starting in the fall.
Another architectural highlight is the Tirpitz Museum, a Nazi bunker that was reborn in 2017 as a Bjarke Ingels–designed museum dedicated to the region’s history. Located in the town of Blavand, the museum is built directly into the dunes, making it invisible from the surrounding area. Inside, you’ll learn about what life was like for both civilians and soldiers during World War II through an exhibit that tells the real stories of the individuals who lived and worked near the bunker.

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Before you fly back to Copenhagen, be sure to schedule a few hours in Billund to explore the town where Lego was founded in 1932. Even if you haven’t touched the building bricks since you were a child, Lego House is worth a stop. Opened in 2017, Bjarke Ingels designed the building to look as if it were made from gigantic Lego bricks. Inside, you’ll find four different zones designed for both children and adults to play in, as well as an area to create your own stop-motion Lego movies. If you’d rather admire others’ masterpieces, there are plenty of original works displayed throughout, including three massive T. Rex sculptures made entirely from Lego bricks. In the basement, an official Lego history museum will make you feel nostalgic for the sets you played with as a kid.

Staying there

For the full experience at any of southwest Jutland’s gourmet inns, it’s best to stay the night. But if you can’t secure a reservation for a room at Henne Kirkeby Kro, Henne Molle A Badehotel is a short drive down the road toward the beach. Designed by Poul Henningsen in 1935 to blend into the dunes surrounding it, the rooms are fairly small but feature the lighting fixtures that made Henningsen famous in Denmark.

>> Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Denmark

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