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Scandinavian winters may have a reputation for being long and dark, but that doesn’t mean you will be stuck indoors. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! From skiing, skating, and stargazing, there are a ton of fun things to do in Denmark in winter, from ice skating to floating saunas, oyster foraging and more
What is Denmark’s weather in winter Like?
Let’s start with the basics: what is the weather like in Denmark in winter? Well, that’s easy to answer: cold. But not as bitterly cold as, say, Moscow. Being surrounded by sea, Denmark has milder winters than one would expect. That said though, it can be quite windy too, which can make things worse.
Winter in Denmark lasts from October to April, with a peak from December to February. Days are shorter and the sun sets around 16.00 (although the day is longer here than in say, Glasgow, where I lived as a postgrad student). As regards the temperature, this hovers around 0o C (32o F). On the other hand, snow makes everything magical and a frozen Nyhavn canal in Copenhagen is a beautiful sight.
But the cold and dark of northern winters doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. In fact, a winter trip to Denmark is a great opportunity to experience the country like a local. Danes learn to embrace the cold from a tender age. Everyone aims to spend some time outdoors during the day, even small children in kindergarten and nursery schools. So don’t be surprised to see people in Copenhagen dining al fresco even in the heart of winter.
To inspire you to plan your next trip, here is a list of the best outdoor things to do in Denmark in winter.
Go winter swimming in Denmark’s northernmost waters
The concept of winter swimming is a freezing, yet popular hobby enjoyed by many Danes in the colder months. Denmark has 8,700 km of coastline. This provides plenty of opportunities to head to the beach or harbour pool for a dip, even in the winter. Many Danish towns have their own club, where people gather and jump in the water.
Check out the Harbour Bath in Aarhus Ø, which was designed by the famous Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. In the winter months, you have access to the pool, locker rooms, and restrooms on Saturdays and Sundays from 08.00-12.00. Or explore the Kastrup Sea Baths in the Øresund Sound, which has views all the way to Sweden.
In Skagen, which is on the North tip of Denmark, there is an annual festival for winter bathers every January. Since 2012, a local club called ‘The Icebreakers’ has held a four-day festival, where winter bathers join them in the waves while also experiencing the rest of the historic town of Skagen. This town is especially known for its art and delicious seafood, as well as having two oceans meet at ‘Grenen’.
UPDATE: Because of the current coronavirus situation, the upcoming festival has been moved to 24-27 March 2022.
See Copenhagen covered in lights
In February, you can explore the multicoloured lights at Copenhagen Light Festival. Rainbow-coloured lights decorate Copenhagen’s many bridges, while light beams aim at the passing clouds. Any of these installations you can enjoy just by strolling through the capital. All in all, this festival is a joyful attraction for visitors to Copenhagen in winter.
Ice, ice, disco
Broens Gadekøkken is a popular street food area located centrally in Copenhagen. In the colder months, a large ice-skating rink opens in the area. This rink is unique in that it has various events happening in January and February.
These include ice discos every Friday in January and February. Also, as the Danish traditional day of dress-up Fastelavn falls in February, any visitor, who is wearing a costume of some sort can enter the rink free of charge.
Starry winter nights
About an hour away from central Copenhagen, the largest observatory in Denmark, Brorfelde, has welcomed a new initiative, where visitors can sleep in unique shelters with a window on the roof, allowing them to view the starry night sky. In fact, you can purchase wood to make a bonfire, either for warmth or to cook dinner.
If you’re looking for interesting natural sights, Møns Klint on the island of Møn is worth a visit. Here, you have the possibility to see nature at its finest. Take your time to experience the spectacular white chalk cliffs and gaze at the stars in Scandinavia’s first Dark Sky Park. On clear nights, you are able to see the starry sky with a view of the milky way! The cliffs are only 1,5 hours’ drive from Copenhagen, and if you’d like a secluded experience, try the lighthouse cabin Fyrhytten on the edge of the island cliffs. It is never fully quiet in the little cabin with the sound of waves crashing against the stones on the nearby beach and the sounds of seagulls flying high above.
Heat up in a floating hot tub and sauna
Why not keep warm while sailing in a floating hot tub? Rest assured that a guide controls the boat, so visitors can relax in the warm water and enjoy the sights of Copenhagen harbour. CopenHot also offers harbour-side hot tubs with heated seawater as well as a sauna heated with firewood. As the water in the tubs is always at 40 degrees, any weather is spa weather.
Until recently, only members of winter bathing clubs could use good facilities for winter swimming. However, in November 2021, GoBoat opened its new sauna facilities in the centre of the city, making winter sauna and swimming accessible to all. More specifically, the sauna floats on the water and fits up to 12 people. Furthermore, it does not require a club membership, which allows tourists to enjoy a good sauna like the locals. Finally, visitors can book the sauna for either one or two hours.
Go skiing in one of the world’s flattest countries
Denmark is quite flat. In fact, it is one of the five flattest countries in the world. That said, it is still possible to go on a sustainable skiing adventure in the capital Copenhagen. More specifically, on CopenHill. This is an activities facility, in a central Copenhagen location, on top of an energy plant that uses waste to create energy for the city. True to Denmark’s eco-conscious spirit, the plant provides electricity to 30,000 households in Copenhagen, as well as central heating for 72,000 households.
CopenHill opened in October 2019 and features four lifts and three slopes of varying difficulty. The top of the hill is the steepest of its kind in the world with an incline of 30%. In addition, it has a climbing wall, a hiking trail and a run track and offers the possibility of sledging as well. Moreover, to make CopenHill a year-round facility, a form of green plastic that looks like grass, called Neveplast, covers the surface. This way, people can use the slope even without snow.
The hill is also complete with its own rooftop café, where there is a chilled vibe and the possibility to enjoy the view of Copenhagen and Sweden. At the base of the hill, there is a ski bar for the perfect ‘aprés ski’ complete with schiwasser, wheat beer, and other drinks.
For other skiing experiences, look to the Danish island of Bornholm. It is a rocky island in the Baltic Sea, and one of the hilliest places in Denmark. It also has a ski slope with a lift. If the weather allows it, and there is enough snow, this hill will provide a fun day for the entire family.
Forage Denmark’s two oyster variants
In the Limfjord in North Denmark, you’re able to go on an oyster safari, where you can collect your own oysters and learn how to prepare them while trying some Danish-produced whisky from Stauning. The whisky will add new layers to the experience and taste of the oysters, which have risen in popularity in the later years. For a truly unique experience, try the Oyster Stout. It is a one-of-a-kind beer, made of European oysters (Ostrea Edulis), from Limfjord.
Similarly, it is possible to enjoy fresh oysters in the UNESCO World Heritage awarded Wadden Sea National Park on the West Coast of Denmark close to Rømø. In colder months, the low waters offer plenty of opportunities to collect oysters. These you can bring back with you and enjoy while a local guide tells you all about the Pacific oysters (Crassotrea Gigas) of the Wadden Sea.
The oyster season in Denmark starts every year in October and ends in April, so there are plenty of opportunities to go foraging this winter.
To sum things up
If you are willing to brave the cold weather and shorter days, winter is a great time to visit Denmark. From floating saunas and stargazing camping to fairytale Christmas markets and ice skating discos, there are tons of fun things to do for fans of outdoor adventures.
Cover photo ©Daniel Rasmussen, Visit Copenhagen