While there is no end to the number of activities in Copenhagen, the city’s surrounds have equally abundant offerings – from a world class modern art museum to the sandy beaches of the Danish Riviera to the castle where Hamlet was set – all of which are easily accessible by train in little more than an hour.
If that were not reason enough to combine a visit to Copenhagen with side trips beyond, spending a few days in the countryside also provides valuable insight into how the Danes -- known to be the happiest nationality on Earth -- really spend their free time.
of Modern Art
The world’s most stunningly situated art gallery may be located in Humlebaek, about 40km north of Copenhagen. Louisiana, Denmark's museum of modern art, is housed in a 19th-century villa perched on a cliff on the north Zealand coast and overlooks the sparkling Øresund straits between Denmark and Sweden. Bizarrely, it was named Louisiana by the first owner of the estate, Alexander Brun, who had three wives all named Louise.
The beautifully landscaped gardens that extend down to the sea are home to exceptional sculptures by some of the greatest 20th-century artists. At the centre, a large, reclining figure by Henry Moore serenely soaks up the beautiful sunlight. The permanent collection concentrates on international contemporary art post-1945, including Picasso, Giacometti, Baselitz, Warhol and Bacon. The works are displayed in a series of glass-fronted corridors leading off the original house, and reflected light from the sea fills the exhibition space.
The museum’s cafe offers a tempting buffet of traditional Danish specialities, a picturesque terrace and a gorgeous view of the sparkling sea. In addition, the Louisiana hosts the most prestigious classical chamber music concerts in Scandinavia, and the extensive museum shop is irresistible. Peruse some of the best of Danish fashion and design, and bring home an immaculately tasteful exhibition souvenir.
About 12km north of Humlebaek is Helsingør, a town known for being the setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The legendary play was set in Kronborg, the huge baroque castle that dominates the town. A moat surrounds the fort-like structure, and modern-day visitors picnic on the extensive grassy battlements where Hamlet saw his father's ghost.
When touring the vast spooky dungeons you may hear the moaning foghorn of the ferries to Sweden – a sound that can make “each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine." One wing houses a huge Knights' Hall, hung with tapestries that Shakespeare wrote into the plot of the play. Polonius, for example, is murdered by Hamlet as he hides behind an arras (wall hanging).
Dine at the Ophelia Restaurant (Bramstraede 5; 0045-4921-0591) and visit during the annual Hamlet festival in August.
The Danish Riviera
The most inviting stretch of the Danish Riviera is another 13km north, around the quaint town of Hornbaek, with its soft white dunes and deep-pink wild roses. Eat at Gamle Humlebaek Kro, which overlooks the sea.
Further west along the coast is Gilleleje, an active fishing port. Historically, it is where the Jews from Copenhagen fled when the Germans invaded. They hid in the roof of the Gilleleje church and on nearby farms until Gilleleje's fisherman ferried many across to Sweden. It is now the regional centre of the Danish antique trade, with both extremely pricey showrooms and scruffier places to browse.
The town is also good for Danish fish and chips or fiskefrikadeller (fried fish cakes) and fishy smorrebrod (open sandwiches). It is perfect countryside for cycling, with miles of flat woodland, and there are plenty of bike-hire shops with maps of cycle routes.
For an off-the-radar gastronomic treat, visit -- or even better -- stay at the reputedly still haunted Dragsholm Castle, which dates back to the 13th Century. It is about an hour from Copenhagen, on the edge of Lammersfjord, an islet in northwest Zealand that was only drained some 70 years ago and has the most fertile soil in the country.
The head chef is Claus Henriksen, former sous chef at Noma, for whom vegetables and terroir are at the heart of the cuisine. Henriksen personally forages for wild herbs, seeds and even wild strawberries on the banks of the castle's moat and in its fields and forests. Interested guests may tag along.
Superlative tasting menus are served in the white brick vaulted cellar dining room, formerly the castle's kitchen, and Henriksen could honestly say that his ingredients travel from soil to plate far quicker than is possible at any of Copenhagen's top restaurants. A favourite dish is local Havguscheese, crushed nettle, wild mushroom and buckwheat with aromatic mushroom sauce. For dessert, try the smoked milk ice cream with fir tree oil and wild herbs served with red nettle-infused rum. Upstairs, the Lammerfjord eatery serves more homely Danish dishes, including a creamy fish soup and malt ice cream with raw liquorice and wild sorrel.