Denmark’s a joyful land: it’s second city, Aarhus, is the world’s happiest and Copenhagen comes in at number three.
It’s also the country of Hygge: the art of being cosy and content in winter. And, just to make things even more delightful, Denmark invented the Christina bike, has an international design style all of its own and comes good on everything from family hostels that are like five star boutique hotels to Europe’s hippest neighbourhoods, prettiest fairgrounds, coolest festivals and friendliest people – they’ve a lot to smile about.
In case you’re not entirely convinced about a family holiday: Copenhagen’s beach resorts are half an hour from the city centre, Hamlet’s Castle is here and Hans Christian Andersen was Danish and his homeland’s truly difficult to distinguish from a fairy tale a lot of the time.
There are low cost, direct daily flights from London to Copenhagen all year round and flying time’s under two hours.
Copenhagen’s the world’s safest city to cycle, has 24-hour public transport and gives under 12s unlimited free travel on its City Card.
Denmark’s the smallest and most widely accessible Nordic country. It’s also connected to Sweden by the Øresund Bridge – you can be in Malmo from Copenhagen in 20 minutes.
This is the country that gave the world LEGO, Hans Christian Andersen, Tivoli Gardens, the New Nordic Kitchen and Christina bikes (hire one and you’ll be a convert for life).
Denmark shares the Wadden Sea with Germany. It’s also home to the White Cliffs of Møn, Jaegersborg Deer Park, the South Jutland Islands, Smålandshavet archipelago and Rold Skov aka the Troll Forest.
Almost the entire coastline’s trimmed with white, sandy beaches and has some of Europe’s most spectacular sand dunes.
Kids don’t start school until age six in Denmark, it’s one of the most educationally progressive countries in the world and one of the most child-friendly and inclusive.
Where to go
One of Europe’s smaller capitals, Copenhagen’s charming and easy to get around, keeps most districts close to the centre and throws in dozens of big, beautiful beaches just for good measure. The historic quarter’s where to find the restored harbour, quaint Nyhavn where Hans Christian Anderson had no less than three homes. Classically lovely Frederiksberg great for shopping and huge parks. Østerbro’s the laid back, green and very Danish, family district. And if you want to feel cool, even with kids in tow, head to Vesterbro: recently added to the world’s top 15 hippest neighbourhoods list.
There really isn’t a bad area to look for somewhere to stay in the centre of Copenhagen. Pretty much every district has a choice of three and four star family hotels. Think design hotels and hostels in the historic quarter, they’re good value and look amazing.
Don’t miss Tivoli Gardens; swimming at Kalvebod Bølge in Vesterbro; Nyhavn for the quaint waterfront and Little Mermaid statue; Frederiksberg Zoo; shopping on Strøget (Europe’s longest pedestrianised street); and Den Blå Planet Aquarium.
Never skip breakfast in Copenhagen, it’s the best meal of the day in a city sensationally famous for food. Try Møller Kaffe & Køkken in Norrebro to start with.
Just half-an-hour from the city centre, Vestegen is the beachy and barefoot seaside Copenhagen for family summer holidays. But it’s an all-year-round attraction for locals who come for windswept winter weekends, sailing in spring and water sports pretty much any time.
Great for heritage guesthouses, waterfront resorts, pretty hotels and self-catering cottages.
Don’t miss ARKEN the contemporary art museum big enough to justify its own island; the Circus Museum; Ole Rømer’s observatory; and the Kroppedal Museum.
North, south and west Zealand surrounds Copenhagen. It’s an amazingly diverse holiday region, easily driveable from the city centre for a day and with a huge choice of places to stay if you’re tempted to linger – you will be.
Head north for beaches and pretty seaside towns on the Danish Riviera; Elsinore and Hamlet’s Castle; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Fredensborg Castle and the Karen Blixen Museum.
South Zealand’s where to find the Møns Cliffs and go island hopping on the Smålandshavet archipelago,
West Zealand is endless coastline and the area for Denmark’s famous fjord beaches.
Denmark’s second largest city and, officially the happiest on earth, is just three hour’s drive from Copenhagen on the east coast of the Jutland Peninsula. It’s European Capital of Culture 2017 (jointly with Paphos in Cyprus) but, even in an ordinary year, you won’t be starved for things to see and do here.
Several of the country’s most celebrated museums are in Aarhus including ARoS Art Museum, Den Gamle By Old Town Museum and Landsbrugmuseum for Children.
13% of the entire population are students so the atmosphere’s young, upbeat and lively. It’s also less expensive to eat and live here than in Copenhagen but no less endowed with Michelin stars and annual food festivals.
Don’t miss the Tivoli Freheden theme park; the Moesgaard Museum; Silkeborg Aquarium and Aarhus Botanical Gardens (the Tropical Houses are amazing in winter).
Wild and romantic Jutland is where Denmark keeps its most remarkable fjords, remote and lovely North Sea islands, vast sand dunes, deserted beaches and ancient forests. It’s a mysterious and enchanting region but even its most remote northern point at Skagen in just over three hours’ drive from Aarhus.
Visit North Jutland for gorgeous beaches, the shifting sands at Skagen, Thy National Park and Denmark’s motherlode of Viking heritage.
South Jutland’s where Germany and Denmark share the Wadden Sea and kids can adventure round Legoland Ninjago.
The beaches in West Jutland are the best in a country with no shortage of fantastic beaches. It’s also the area for Wadden Sea National Park and where the coastline’s just known as a 500km long natural playground.
What to do
Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen Tivoli’s one of the world’s oldest and prettiest funfairs. Legend has it Walt Disney pinched quite a few ideas from here and Hans Christian Andersen was a big fan too.
Den Blå Planet Aquarium, Copenhagen Just go and look at the building and you’ll be blown away. As an added bonus, one of Europe’s best aquariums is concealed inside.
Kronborg Castle, Elsinore Kronborg Castle might not mean much to you, but Elsinore should ring a bell. This was the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Prince of Denmark and it’s just as wildly dramatic as you’d expect.
Wadden Sea National Park, West Jutland Denmark’s newest and largest national park is all about the World Heritage land and marine scape of the incredible Wadden Sea.
Jægersborg Deer Park, Copenhagen Just 15km outside Copenhagen this vast 17th century royal hunting forest is one of the most visited places in Denmark. It’s also where you’ll find Bakken, the world’s oldest amusement park still going strong after almost 450 years.
Lego Ninjago World, Billund Built from 60 million Lego pieces this is the newest Lego Land Resort in the country where the world’s most famous bricks were first invented.
Djurs Sommerland Aquapark, East Jutland The biggest of all Scandanavia’s spectacular Sommerland waterparks, this monster has over 60 rides and the only one where kids can ride 12m high waves.
The National Museum, Copenhagen A huge collection describing Denmark from prehistory to the present day. Excellent and great fun children’s tours and a year round kids’ event programme.
Den Gamle By, Aarhus The national open air heritage museum in Aarhus old town has three well deserved Michelin stars and immerses kids beautifully in a living experience of Denmark’s past.
Copenhagen Zoo If you need an excuse to explore Copenhagen’s lovely Frederiksberg this 3000 beast strong zoo is perfect. Feeding experiences and educational events daily all year round.
Educational value for kids
Visit Nyhavn, nod to the unimpressive statue of The Little Mermaid, then take kids exploring. This is the prettiest harbour district in Copenhagen and not one, but three, Hans Christian Andersen homes are here.
Jump aboard one of the Harbour Boats in Copenhagen and see the city’s restored docklands. Good fun and much cheaper than the tourist cruises.
If you think Noma might be wasted on the young, introduce them to Smørrebrød at Copenhagen’s enchanting Royal Smushi Café instead – they’ll never look at sandwiches the same way again.
North Zeeland’s fjord beaches are fascinating and a short cruise from Copenhagen with kids is a great way to see them.
Kronborg Castle has Hamlet everywhere all summer. There are atmospheric evening performances of the play itself and, by day, the place is awash with reenactors, interactive role-playing and kids events with a Shakespeare bias.
Visit Ole Rømer’s Observatory in Vestegen during the winter for family stargazing through amazingly powerful telescopes – Ole Rømer was the Danish astronomer who first quantified the speed of light in this very observatory.
Hire bikes and cycle in either Copenhage or Aarhus, it’s the best way to see the cities and officially very safe.
Getting around with kids in Denmark
If you’re staying in a city and taking the occasional day trip to the beach or countryside, don’t even think about hiring a car. Danish public transport’s the best in Europe, inexpensive and runs 24/7 in most cities. But touring around is easy, even remote areas are very accessible and, for a few days driving, you can see an enormous amount of small-scale Denmark.