The Dreamy Danish Riviera
The view in front of us is idyllic.
We’re facing the ocean and through the open door there’s a slight breeze and the sweet, mesmerizing sound of waves crashing rhythmically on the seashore. The beach right next to us is wide and sandy, with dunes the run slowly inland. Everything is dog friendly of course, and there’s almost no one around. The only thing that interrupts the dream is when the wind shifts every now and then, bringing strong whiffs of fish and seaweed from the marina right behind us. It’s a reminder that we’re parked in a working port, but it’s also what makes this place interesting. Beauty only skims the surface. Grit is what gives real depth, is it not?
We’ve made it the Danish Riviera and what a neat little discovery it has been!
A mere hour north of Copenhagen, and we’re in the land of beach, nature and….lighthouses (yeaaaaahhhhhh!). To be honest it’s turned out to be far more interesting than I expected, and the little 64km strip of coastline ends up giving us a multi-week meander that packs in a whirlwind of impressions and experiences. Of course each spot weaves it’s own story, leaving me with way more material to write about that I could possibly ever have time to tell.
But alas, the blog can only fall so far behind before it gets hopelessly out of date. So today’s travel will be a short but fast one, with multiple stops and many shots. Several beautiful lighthouses, a Polar explorers house, lots of fresh fish and maybe even a microbrewery or two. Are you ready to come with me?
The Dreamy Danish Riviera
Technically we started this tour at our last stop, in Helsingør where I also introduced the area itself.
The Danish Riviera is a ~64km stretch of pristine coastline that runs from Helsingør (Elsinore) to Hundested, across the northern tip of Zealand. A popular summer destination for Copenhageners, the road itself doesn’t actually follow the coastline the whole way, but splits off near the half-point (by Vejby Strand) to veer inland around Troldeskoven (the Troll Forest) so as not to disturb the little gremlins that live there (yes, Danish trolls are real).
It’s a lovely and pleasant drive, but for a fuller coastal immersion you can do it by bicycle too, taking the the fab off-road bike route 47 that follows the water the entire way. We catch parts of this trail at each stop, but our old, heavy bikes prevent us from seeing it all. Once again we dream of electric bikes to extend our range.
Along this small stretch of coast there’s no less 11 quaint seaside towns, and near-endless beaches several of which are “blue flag beaches” meaning they meet the highest environmental standards and thus are some of the most sought-after beaches in Europe*. There’s a lot to see and do, especially if you love the beachside thing.
For the drive itself we make zero plans other than marking a few potential marina stops along the way. Instead we just wing it and stay for as long as we feel in each place, something that’s turned out to be surprisingly easy even in the height of the late Danish summer. This ends up being a few days in each spot, a pace that I would’ve found overly frantic in our old RV, but seems seamless and natural in LMB. I think we’re finally getting into the groove of this small-RV thing….
*Note1: Dogs On Danish Beaches: Denmark is super dog-friendly in general and welcomes dogs on most beaches, all year round. The only major limitation you might find are “blue flag beaches” where dogs are typically prohibited on the beach and in the water. So, if you’re with your paws and see the “blue flag” sign, just be aware. You can find a complete map of “blue flag beaches” in Denmark HERE.
First Stop, Gilleleje Harbor
Our first stop is the working harbor of Gilleleje.
It’s a wonderful little place with three fresh fish shops, a smokery, and several harbor restaurants all backed by a lovely little village that has a great a great bakery and butcher. Oh, and of course the obligatory six or seven ice cream parlors that every Danish seaside town seems to have (us Danes literally go crazy for ice cream in summer).
We park at a free spot** by the working end of the harbor. It’s the perfect location right next to a dog-friendly beach overlooking the water, and walking distance to everything we need. We’re amazed to find it empty when we arrive, but quickly discover the reason why when the wind shifts bringing sand flies and fish smells from the working boats right behind us. Nobody sticks around here too long…
Still, the location is awesome and for the most of our stay the wind blows head-on keeping us at shelter from the worst. Plus of course working boats mean tons of awesome fresh fish. We end up walking with Polly to the marina restaurant two days in a row for fish and chips (and beer) simply because it’s so darn good.
The real reason we’re here however is the lighthouse, two of them in fact (although only one is still working), both accessible along a truly lovely oceanside bike trail a mere ~3km from the marina.
The fabulous Nakkehoved lighthouses*** grace the 33m high cliffs just east of town.
The two lights started as short towers in 1772 using nothing but coal fires in iron baskets (they must have been so very dim!). In 1800 they were taken over by the famous Danish naval officer (and lighthouse designer extraordinaire) Poul Løvenørn who revamped their design. In 1883 they were switched to oil & mirror lanterns, and in 1898 the eastern tower was decommissioned (now known as Østre Fyr or the East Light), while the western one (now known as Nakkehoved Fyr) was raised in height and fitted with a rotating Fresnel lens.
The latter remained manned until 2003 when the keeper finally retired and the entire operation was automated. Her first-order Fresnel still beams a comforting light to the ocean today.
I take off on my bike to see Nakkehoved Fyr on a perfectly beautiful, sunny 20 degree summer morning. It’s a gorgeous ride along the ocean to the cliffs past multiple deserted beaches, through a quiet forest and even past a rather fancy housing area. The lady herself is a beautiful 54m high white tower, with a fabulous museum in her base that covers the entire history of Danish seafaring and lights from 1200 onwards (it’s really, really well done!).
I hike up the square wooden staircase and soak in the panoramic view from the top before spending a good half hour in the exhibit below. Afterwards I bike the 1/2 km over to Østre Fyr (the eastern light) hoping to visit that too, but sadly it’s closed and under renovation. Later in the day, Paul bikes over and does the same. It’s a much-needed lighthouse fix and such an awesome visit for us both.
That evening the storms roll in again, and the sea turns an eerie shade of luminescent green and blue. The whole scene is gorgeous and gives us both deep feels. Some days later I find out that Gilleleje was one of philosphers Søren Kierkegaard’s favorite places, where many of his thoughts on nature and things bigger than ourselves were developed. After our stay here, we can totally see why.
**Note2/ Gilleleje Harbor Facilities: If you park at the free parking spot like we did you can still use the marina facilities (toilets, showers, laundry etc.) by purchasing a pay card at the Harbor Office automated booth and loading it up w/ some cash. Just remember to return it for your deposit (and unused cash) back before you leave.
***Note3/ Nakkehoved Lighthouse Tips: Nakkedhoved Fyr (the western light) is open for visits 11am-4pm Tues-Sun. Entry fee is DKK 40. Dogs are not allowed inside, but the lighthouse grounds and trails around it are all dog-friendly. There are also plenty of on-site benches to relax and enjoy your time outside.
Next Stop, Hundested Harbor
The next morning, after another evening of heavy rain we roll out in a slice of good weather.
It’s a super pleasant drive along the coast past several interesting towns, including Rågeleje where we catch a glimpse of some iconic (super tiny) beach houses, and Tisvildeje, one of the most fashionable seaside resorts in N. Zealand (a common place to spot the rich and famous, so I’m told). We decide to bypass both spots however, targeting the very western tip of the Riviera at Hundested.
Once again we nab a waterfront parking, this time in some brand-new motorhome spots on the north end of the (massive) marina**** overlooking the water. The view is awesome and Trekanten beach next door is gorgeous (although guttingly it’s one of those “Blue Flag” beaches that don’t allow dogs), plus we’re close to downtown and walking distance to a slew of marina restaurants, including an outdoor food-stall area and even a microbrewery.
That evening we enjoy a burger and beer in the marina, and then take a stroll with Polly to visit the two key things we came here for; Knud Rasmussen’s House (the famous polar explorer) and Spodsbjerg Lighthouse. Both are located in a large nature reserve on the cliffs a few km east of the beach along a nice hiking trail. The museum is (sadly) closed by the time we get there, but the late afternoon light is perfect and we end up enjoying the entire place to ourselves. A very cool spot!
The next morning we wake up to a whole slew of older naked folks bathing by the beach next to us. It’s a not-uncommon thing in Denmark, where stripping down to your birthday suit for a dip is considered the most natural of things to do, but we see more nakedness here than we have anywhere else before.
More importantly, there’s lots more rain on the way and the fact that we can’t take Polly on the beach makes the whole place less attractive. Our view is pretty, but our spot is not that private (folks come to park and see the sunset here), the marina’s a little too big (it’s a looong way to the washrooms) and Hundested itself just doesn’t give us the feels. So we decide rather unexpectedly to move on. After days of constant marina camping, we’re seeking something else too. Something quieter, somewhere to get some work done and somewhere to wait out the rain….
****Note4/ Hundested Marina is HUGE and has two separate motorhome parking areas; an older one near the industrial section on the south side, and the newer one that we stayed in on the north side. Personally I think the newer one is way nicer and has a way better view, but the older one is closer to facilities (toilets etc.) if that matters to you. Both cost the same DKK 165 per night, and you pay extra for electricity use & showers. The automated booth for this is in the Marina Office.
The Sweet Finale, Byaasgard Camping
Sometimes camping is a bit like eating wild blackberries.
Most of the time its just so-so, a good fruit but perhaps not extraordinary. Other times it’s just awful, a truly bitter experience that makes you wonder why you bother to try at all. But then there are the truly incredible moments, those rare berries that are so sweet and delicious that you want to keep going forever. Those are the moments that remind you why you do this in the first place.
This campground was one of those.
Our last stop in Byaasgaard Camping had such a good vibe we ended up extending our stay twice. It’s only ~10 mins drive from Hundested marina but may as well be miles away. Located right at the entrance to Roskilde bay, it’s a super quiet area with nothing but miles of nature around it. The check-in is an old farmhouse, the land behind it converted into a campground with large, green sites overlooking the water. It’s run by a lovely young couple who keep sheep and chicken on-site, sell locally-made jams and beer and bake fresh bread daily.
Most of all it’s quiet, so very, wonderfully, blissfully quiet…and there’s nothing to do but enjoy nature and the gorgeous views that surround you.
We spend our final days in the Riviera just working online and lounging about in camp.
A cheese truck comes to the farm on the week-end and I spend a delightful half hour buying locally-made produce and chatting to the owner about the state of cheese in Denmark (supermarket stuff is awful, we both agree). The bay trail goes for miles and is covered in sweet-smelling sage and wild grasses, reminding me of fall days spent along Hwy 395 in CA. Polly loves her strolls there and insists on dipping her paws in the water daily and walking the long bathing ramp to check our the teeny fish that swarm around its wooden pillars.
We eat too many pastries (yet again), think about going for a bike ride (but don’t) and barely notice the rain showers. It’s perfect.
After days sitting still we finally decide to move on. Our sweet few weeks on the Riviera are done, but now our wheels are pointing south to something new. Vikings are in our sight, with tombs of Kings and Queens of past, and yet another awesome UNESCO Heritage site. That story however, is yet to come…