Where two oceans meet: Skagen

Skagen is the northernmost point of Denmark – lending its name to the Skagerrak, the strait running between Norway and the southwest coast of Sweden and the Jutland peninsula of Denmark, connecting the North Sea / Atlantic Ocean, and the Baltic Sea. It is a wide and rough country, dominated by long stretches of dunes and grassland.

Early morning in Skagen (seen from Grenen compass rose)

Skagen is a prototypical summer destination – the peak season is during the summer months, when Scandinavians pack up to spend the long and bright summer nights at the beaches and enjoy the sun they so dearly miss in the long dark winter. Which is why the summer season is exceptionally expensive and packed with people, making the end of October (as in: now) the perfect time for an off-season getaway at the coast.

By the end of October, the efterårsferie – the Danish fall (school) holiday – has passed, and prices are much lower by then. You’ll have most of the attractions to yourself (as long as they are open, many close during the off-season). Skagen is a destination for people who like hiking, walking, even riding horses or mountainbiking (lots of sand, though, be aware of that) – and it is a great spot for a long weekend stay.

The long sandy beaches, which in the summer are brimming with party people, now offer long walks and even the occasional glance at seals enjoying a sunbath.

Seals enjoying a sunbath in Grenen

Getting there

From my home base in Hamburg (53°N), it is a relaxed 5 hour drive up to Skagen. There are trains to Skagen from Frederikshaven about once an hour, and of course you can come by ferry from Norway via Hirtshals, too. Starting in Hamburg, a three-night-stay leaves you with plenty of time to explore the surroundings. A car is highly recommended to make the most out of the trip and get around.

What to see

The obvious first thing on the list is a stroll through Skagen. The town is well-known for its yellow-painted early 19th century houses with red tiles and white details, but you’ll find some other eye-candy, too, especially along the harbor with its tiny red fishermen’s houses.

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(Pakhuset is a very cosy and fine fish restaurant right at the harbor).

The Skagens Museum is open even during the off-season, but some parts are routinely closed for setting up new exhibitions, the entrance fee is reduced during these days, usually in the first days of November. The café is closed during the winter months, though. The museum features the work of local painters of the naturalist and open-air painting school, collecting over 1800 exhibits. The museum curators are also active in geocaching and have laid out a few quite interesting geocaches with references to these artists.

A must-see is the Rubjerg Knude lighthouse – or what’s left of it. Climb a huge dune, enjoy a breathtaking view of the Danish North Sea coast, and see a lighthouse being gnawed at by wind and sand. The view is nothing but stunning.

Rubjerg Knude

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A little closer to Skagen is the Hirtshals Fyr. Hirtshals is mainly known for its ferry lines to Norway, and the fish factories from ScandicFish, who even produce surimi for the European market. Close to the hallmark of the Hirtshals lighthouse you’ll also find a bunker museum with somewhat erratic opening hours.

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If you are into WWII history and bunkers, Skagen is a great place to go to. On the inevitable walk up to Grenen, where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea join, you’ll find many bunkers splattered along the coast.

bunker in Skagen

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There is a parking area for Grenen, a nearby restaurant, and if you are not in the mood for the 20 minute walk to the Northern tip of Jutland, you may opt for a ride on the “sand-worm” (a tractor drawing a passenger-carrying trailer).

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The most impressive natural phenomenon of the area is probably Råbjerg Mile, the largest moving dune in Northern Europe with an area of around 1 km² and a height of 40 m. When you start climbing up the dune, you don’t think much of it, but once you’ve reached what you thought was the peak, you are in for a huge surprise – literally.

Rubjerg Knude

Moving sand is a common and recurring theme in Northern Jutland. Don’t miss a wonderful walk to den tilsandede kirke, a 15th century building, which by the end of the 19th century had been buried by the wandering dunes. Today, only the steeple isn’t covered by sand.

2010-10-25 Skagen tilsandede kirke

Where to stay and eat

Many hotels and restaurants in Skagen close after the Danish Fall Holiday. While this leaves you with fewer options, there are still many great places to stay and enjoy traditional Danish hospitality. You can easily book ahead via internet. We stayed at the Hotel Petit, which is conveniently located in the city center, and due to the off-season were even spared the mandatory parking fee. Petit(e), though, is what describes the rooms best – I wouldn’t consider this for a highly romantic getaway. The largest (and well-stocked) supermarket is literally around the corner in a pedestrian area, and the breakfast buffet offers a serious, decent morgenmad, sweet and savory alike, getting you started for a long outdoor day. But there are quite a few more options in the winter – take your pick!

A good handful of local restaurants still cater during the winter, from the traditional fish restaurants along the harbor to a more modern bistro pub in the city and a few smaller restaurants all around. If you stay in an apartment or cottage and are a self-caterer, you may be glad to learn that there is a supermarket which is open until 10:00 PM even on Sundays.

Our travel itinerary

Day 1: Hamburg – Skagen. A stop at Hirtshals Fyr, since Hirtshals is located at the end of the E39 route. Driving down the Skagensvej via Ålbæk to Skagen. A walk through the town, and dinner.

Day 2: Touring the great dunes. Driving to the Rubjerg Knude dune and lighthouse, via Ålbæk, Jerup, Sindal and Hjørring, using smaller roads and enjoying a scenic view of the countryside. A detour to Lyngby to have a look at the erosion on this part of the coast,

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and further on to Mårup Kirke, which is located at the eroding cliffs.

After the cliffs, we went to hike up Råbjerg Mile, before driving back to our hotel and finding us some dinner in the area.

Day 3: Grenen, of course. No trip to Skagen would be complete without a walk up to the point where the Skaggerak meets the Kattegat. You can do some serious ship-spotting along the coast as well, if you are into that. After an extended walk around Grenen, we visited the tilsandede Kirke, before heading to the museum.

Day 4: Breakfast, returning home

More information

The Tourist board of Northern Jutland has set up a very nice information page at http://www.skagen-tourist.dk/, promoting the area as The Land of Light.

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