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Travel writer and grandma Gillian Thomas recommends Denmark for a hassle-free three-generational trip
How do whales breathe? Through a blowhole. How did Bluetooth get its name? From a rune stone. What does the word ‘lego’ mean? Play well.These are just some of the unusual facts that my grandsons, Herc, eight, and Alexi, six, learnt on a five-day action-packed trip to central Denmark. Our holiday was geared to kid stuff – Legoland and the Vikings – but with some 70 years between the youngest and oldest member of the group (me!), we planned a little shopping, sightseeing and eating too.
Within an hour of landing at Billund you can be installed in Hotel Legoland. As well as thrilling my grandsons with a life-size Lego Darth Vader, a stormtrooper and C3PO in the foyer and boxes of Lego in the rooms, it was also blissfully convenient. We simply walked over a bridge and were in the theme park itself.
Just like its offshoot at Windsor, Legoland Billund centres around Miniland, a Lego model landscape, but with plenty of rides and add-ons devoted to more recent franchises. The boys loved the Star Wars tableaux complete with puffs of smoke, Ninjago World with its laser maze and the Wild West gold mine. But it is smaller and thus a little less overwhelming than Windsor.
Before we left home, the boys would have insisted that little could top a day at Legoland. But that was before we went to Lalandia, Scandinavia’s largest indoor waterpark, also just a short stroll from the hotel. Cue granny retiring to a sun lounger by the outdoor pool while two energetic boys and their mother threw themselves down an array of waterslides under a giant dome. One slide, the Tornado, whooshes you down a vertical drop on a giant rubber ring. My daughter declared it the most terrifying thing she had ever experienced. Then got dragged off to do it again.
As Denmark has a reputation as a bike-friendly country, we had originally thought of a cycling holiday. But discovering that there are so many attractions in the Legoland area, from safari-style Givskud Zoo to whale-watching, we decided it would be more practical to get around by car and hire bikes for day trips.
Bike hire is part of the package offered by the Ribe Byferie Resort near the west coast, where we headed next. About a 50-minute drive from Billund, this is a holiday village of dinky little gabled self-catering cottages. In its reception building the boys soon discovered table tennis and computer games; meanwhile I enjoyed the sauna.
For a full day’s cycling, the popular sandy beaches across the bridge on Rømø Island are a flat, two-hour ride away. Or a shorter bike trail through golden wheat fields takes you to the Ribe VikingeCenter. Here we found an entire costumed cast, including silversmiths, blacksmiths and falconers in thatched huts, depicting life at the time when the Vikings founded a market in Ribe some 1,300 years ago.The boys signed up for a warrior training session, donning real helmets, shooting bows and arrows and sparring with shields and swords. Afterwards, perched on stools, they learnt how to whittle willow, each proudly producing a fiercely pointed stick.
I was more interested in exploring medieval Ribe, so I pedalled back to see how the real town matched up to the one I’d seen built in Lego. Certainly it is just as picturesque, with narrow cobbled streets and colourful half-timbered buildings around an impressively large church. Cafés spill out on to the cobbles, interspersed with tempting but expensive homeware boutiques.
Next we drove to the east coast, staying at the Vingsted hotel near Vejle. In this small town I was pleased to find affordable shopping in the swanky new mall and along the bustling pedestrianised high street. I then treated myself to a superb lunch overlooking the town’s new marina at the Remouladen restaurant, whose young chef Daniel McBurnie trained under Rick Stein in Padstow. Meanwhile, the boys and their mother were occupied at the nearby Gorilla Park, climbing trees with ropes and pulleys between a series of wobbling platforms high in a beech forest.
Museums on holiday are not the boys’ thing, so we promised them only a brief visit to the new Kongernes Viking Centre at Jelling. In fact we ended up staying for several hours. Its clever digital displays, lighting and sound effects proved to be right up techno-mad Herc’s street. He was delighted to discover that the famous Viking king Harald Bluetooth got his nickname because of a discoloured front tooth, and that 1,000 years later the logo of the wireless technology named after him is based on squiggles of his initials. Jelling’s ‘real’ treasure is two huge grassy mounds where the first Vikings were buried. Rows of white pillars mark the boundaries, shaped like a ship, of the 10th-century settlement here, now a Unesco World Heritage site.
We stayed at the museum until closing time, then hired bikes for a spin down the hill to the forest-lined lake from the Jelling Kro inn, a local institution. Here we watched a glorious sunset over the mirror-calm water, eating ice creams from a kiosk.
Another highlight of the trip was whale-watching at Middelfart, a 15-minute drive from Vejle on the east coast. Its harbour is situated on a three-mile inlet that is home to one of the world’s highest concentrations of porpoises, the smallest whales.Boarding Adventura, a 70-year-old wooden ketch, Herc was thrilled to be invited by the rugged captain to help steer us out of the quay. Alexi was handed binoculars and told to look out for the black backs of the porpoises as they popped up out of the water. ‘There!’ he shouted excitedly, only minutes later.
During the two-hour voyage, the chatty crew of modern-day Vikings told us how the boat once transported live eels from Norway to smokeries around Middelfart. We found out how baby whales learn to swim, what they like to eat and when they sleep. We heard how whale oil was once used in street lamps, and how fishermen would corral whales into nets by banging on the water with their oars. Afterwards, Herc and Alexi spent ages in Middelfart’s tiny whaling museum, glued to a touch screen, trying to corral their own shoals of porpoises.
Denmark is not the cheapest place to visit but it is certainly one of the easiest. Roads were uncrowded and distances short to an impressive variety of well-organised attractions. Throw in a range of excellent but child-friendly restaurants and we were all happily catered for. Even in my seventies I continue to enjoy new adventures, and in Denmark they were pleasantly hassle-free.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Legoland Family rooms (up to four people) from £280 per night, incl breakfast and two-day Legoland entry. legoland.dk
Holiday home/apartment for four at Ribe Byferie Resort from £1,150 per night incl breakfast. ribe-byferie.dk
WHAT TO DO
A day ticket to Legoland is £43 (£38 in advance online). legoland.dk
Lego House tickets £27 (£24 in advance online); under-3s go free. legohouse.com
Whale-watching in the Little Belt costs £35 per person (£17 for under-12s). lillebaelt-waters.dk
A visit to the Gorilla Park in Vejle is £37 for adults, £31 for ages 8-11 and £11 for ages 4-7. (Reduced prices in low season or if tickets are bought in advance online). gorillapark.dk
Europcar offers a one-week car hire from £110. europcar.co.uk/denmark
HOW TO GET THERE
British Airways flies from Heathrow to Billund four times daily, from £73 return. BA also flies from Manchester, London City and Stansted. ba.com
FIND OUT MORE
go to visitdenmark.co.uk