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White sandy beaches, untouched nature and ‘The Danish Riviera’: 12 places you simply must experience in North Zealand

While tourists flock to the west coast of Denmark, North Zealand’s stunning coastline offers gorgeous landscapes, white sand dunes and charming eateries. In this article, you’ll find our best recommendations for places you must experience in the area where the Danish holiday home culture once originated.

North Zealand is no more than a train ride away from Copenhagen and offers a true summer paradise with beautiful beaches, white dunes reminiscent of the west coast, enchanting nature, and small idyllic fishing villages along the coast. Throughout history, this region has been home to both fishermen and artist colonies. In 1886, when the state sold a small plantation area in North Zealand, the fishing village in Hornbæk marked the beginning of the unique Danish holiday home culture that exists today. It didn't take long before holiday homes started popping up along the sandy beaches, and today the area is better known as "The Danish Riviera" – a small Danish version of the Amalfi Coast.

Below, we have compiled a guide including the most beautiful places in the area to help you better pick the places you should explore, dine, and enjoy nature during your summer vacation in North Zealand. Along the northern coast, you will naturally find a string of Landfolk holiday homes, which can provide a truly special setting for your holiday. You can easily get there by train from Copenhagen, and if you hop on the local train lines, you can quickly travel between the old seaside towns.

1. Explore the untouched nature

Tisvilde Hegn is Denmark's oldest dune plantation and is characterized by its magnificent nature – perfect for walking and mountain biking, berry picking, or mushroom hunting. But the forest also contains many special excursion destinations. Visit places like Troldeskoven, where insects and the wind have shaped the pine trees into enchanting formations. If you’re in the mood for a refreshing dip, Tisvilde's sandy beach awaits you behind the dunes. You can reach Tisvilde Hegn by the local train from Hillerød to the last stop in Tisvildeleje, from where it's a 10-minute walk to the forest. By car, it takes just an hour from Copenhagen, and on this map, you can see where you can park.

2. Explore rare butterflies and wild plants at Melby Overdrev

Heading a bit further towards Liseleje, you'll reach Zealand's largest heath, Melby Overdrev. The heath served as a shooting range for the military for over 100 years, allowing nature to grow undisturbed. Take a stroll through the heath's purple heather carpet, where nearly 200 wild plants thrive, and rare butterfly species and insects can be found.

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3. Immerse yourselves in Rabarbergaarden's summer universe

Rabarbergaarden exudes rural charm. The thatched roof adds to the atmosphere, and the food is homegrown and homemade with attention to detail. Enjoy a delicious meal with ingredients fresh from the fields and indulge in this summer universe. After the meal, children and the young at heart can play with kittens and roam around the garden, while you can find local specialties in the green grocer. The sustainable farm is located in Vejby and can be reached by the local train between Hillerød and Tisvildeleje.

4. Seaside swimming in the coastal towns

Among plantations, dunes, and historical seaside towns, some of the country's best beaches lie on the north coast, also known as The Danish Riviera. The beaches at Liseleje, Tisvildeleje, and Dronningmølle are among the best to enjoy your days, while the stretch between Asserbo and Tisvildeleje offers untouched dunes to settle into. At Smidstrup Strand, you can light a bonfire on summer evenings, while the candy-striped beach huts at Rågeleje Strand create a special atmosphere for a refreshing morning swim.

5. Experience local history and ice age heritage in Rågeleje

Like the other seaside towns on the north coast, Rågeleje has a history shaped by fishing. As fishing became more efficient over time, fishermen had to pack up and move to Gilleleje, leaving the locals to take over the town. Rågeleje reportedly had its heyday as a tourist town in the 1960s, with the widening of the road and the opening of Restaurant Søstjernen, among other developments. Visit the restaurant and enjoy delicious food in historical surroundings. Just outside Rågeleje, you'll find several historical landscapes. South of Rågeleje lies Maglehøjene, a beautiful cluster of Bronze Age burial mounds.

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6. Spot kite surfers at Heatherhill

A few kilometers from Rågeleje lies the natural gem, Heatherhill. Here, you can connect with the powerful forces of nature in the hills and valleys of the ice age landscape, wandering through juniper and heather. Heatherhill got its name from the English wealthy Vincent family, who had their summer residence in the heather-covered hills. During World War II, the villa was occupied and vandalized by the Germans, and today, the arched stone staircase is the only remnant of the family's beautiful Heather Hill summer home. Enjoy the spectacular view from the cliffs over Kattegat, and watch kite surfers soar over the beach on windy days. If you need a refreshment during your walk, Il Terrazzo near the parking lot offers traditional Italian pizzas and gelato. Heatherhill is only 60 kilometers from Copenhagen and can be reached by car or S-train and local trains.

7. Visit the house of the Greenland explorer

Between his Greenland expeditions, the world-famous polar explorer Knud Rasmussen stayed on the outer edge of Halsnæs. In the soft grassy hills in the fortification area, you can visit the house of the Greenland explorer, which now houses a memorial room and a small museum. Enjoy the most beautiful view of Kattegat and a special piece of cultural history, complete with the researcher's study and typewriter. Hundested is easily reached by train from Copenhagen in about an hour and a half, or by local train from coastal towns, where you can bring your bikes on the train. If you get hungry on your trip to Hundested, you can enjoy a tasty meal at the harbor at Spisehuset Knud, named after the polar explorer.

8. Take a bike ride along the fishing villages

If you've brought your bikes on your summer holiday, you can follow the 20-kilometer marked bike route 47 along the water from Hundested to Tisvildeleje. The first stop is the idyllic Kikhavn with hollyhocks and half-timbered houses. Continuing on, you'll reach the charming seaside town of Liseleje, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee. You can also skip the coffee and simply enjoy the open landscape with sea buckthorn, rose hips, and beach grass.

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9. Have lunch on the farm

A little further inland near Asserbo is the red farmhouse Tinggården, which offers treats from the farm boutique and gourmet meals in the beautiful old rooms of the main house. If you've worked up an appetite on your bike ride, you can enjoy a sourdough pizza under the walnut tree in the garden. Over the holiday, you can also take the weekly home-cooked meal back to the holiday home—a flavorful dish ready to be heated with homemade bread and something sweet to accompany your coffee. Don't miss out on the homemade pastries and local specialties in the farm boutique.

10. Enjoy the lively atmosphere at the fishing harbor

Life at Gilleleje's fishing harbor is something truly special. Imagine fishing boats chugging in, fish auctions in the shipyards, and plenty of fresh salty air on your face with the scent of ropes in your nose. Settle down in the middle of the harbor and enjoy a good lunch at one of Gilleleje's delicious fish restaurants. You can get classic Danish open-faced sandwiches at Brasseriet or enjoy sushi and fish filets on the terrace at the fishmonger Adamsens Fisk. On the harbor, you can, of course, also get freshly peeled shrimp, homemade seafood salads, or fresh fish to take back to the holiday home.

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11. Experience magnificent art in Ruslands Bakker

In the middle of nowhere, in an area so desolate it's been named Russia, you'll find Rudolph Tegner's Museum and Sculpture Park. The museum is a bunker-like structure with an almost futuristic feel, housing around 250 of the sculptor's plaster and clay figures depicting mythical characters and muscular bodies. In the heath landscape, soft heather carpets meet Tegner's grandiose bronze figures, creating significant contrasts and transporting you to places far from Denmark and Dronningmølle. Also, visit Traktørstedet Sørens Café, offering coffee and ice cream during the summer months. Tegner's Museum is about an hour's drive from Copenhagen, with good train connections from local coastal towns.

12. Community dining in a Swedish cottage setting

If you crave a delicious dinner after visiting the museum, consider stopping by the charming Hotel Hornbækhus in Hornbæk. The old seaside hotel is a sister to Folkehuset Absalon in Vesterbro in Copenhagen, offering the same informal atmosphere, and communal dining in the evening. Additionally, the beach hotel is decorated in genuine Swedish cottage style with red planks, eclectic interior, geraniums in the windows, and mismatched tableware. Check out the weekly menu and remember to reserve a spot well in advance. It takes about an hour and a half from Copenhagen to Hornbæk by train via Helsingør. Winter bathing in the Kattegat, a forest outing in Tisvilde Hegn, and hiking along the North Coast Trail. Find inspiration for your next summer cottage trip with our delightful cottages along the North Coast.

Nina Lykke
Written by Nina LykkeDecember 2023
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