Copenhagen was amazing and quickly became one of my favorite cities. But we wanted to see what else the happiest country in the world had to offer, so we set off on a Denmark road trip. I had learned to drive a stick shift the week before I left in Brooklyn and was excited to take on the challenge, but when I arrived to pick up my car at Sixt they actually gave me an automatic car at no extra charge. I was slightly disappointed, slash relieved. Can we pause for a second and talk about how adorable European cars are? They are the perfect size for people like myself, who were not blessed with tall genes.
The first stop on our Denmark road trip was the city of Odense, famous for being the birthplace to writer Hans Christian Andersen.
Odense is located on the island of Funen, about a two hour drive from Denmark, and can also easily be reached by train. We had to cross a veeeery long bridge to get there that included a toll of almost $50 USD. Fortunately the toll booth accepted credit cards, as we definitely were not prepared for this with cash.
My first impression as we parked our VW Up! in a sleepy neighborhood on the outskirts was that this city is a.d.o.r.a.b.l.e. Cute and colorful homes were everywhere, with blooming gardens and perfectly manicured lawns. I felt like I had stepped into a fairy tale. Odense may have been named for Odin, the Norse god of war, but the city was actually very peaceful, cozy and quiet.
The fairy tale vibe I felt was probably because Odense is sort of the birthplace of fairy tales. The biggest attraction here is the house where HC Andersen grew up, along with a museum dedicated to the poet’s work and life. Hans was the son of a poor shoemaker, and his childhood home is bare bones. You can actually go inside it and see replicas of what his furniture would have looked like back then.
His life may have started out on the rocks, but he actually turned it around and ended up a famous world traveler. The museum documents all the big events in his life and even has the original manuscripts of some of his most prominent works, like The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid. Both were huge parts of my own childhood so getting to see this was very surreal.
The museum also displays some slightly odd things, such as a tuft of HC’s hair and his dentures. Gross, but all must be preserved for history I guess? If I ever become a famous writer and have a museum dedicated to me post-mortem, I’m begging the curators: don’t include my dentures. Please.
The area around the HC Andersen Museum is also very historical and picturesque. I wish I grew up in one of these tiny little homes!
After finishing up at the museum, we wandered over to the St. Canute’s Cathedral (aka Odense Domkirke), known as one of the oldest and most beautiful examples of a Gothic church in Denmark. When we had visited the city’s tourism office and mentioned that we only had a couple hours to spend, they told us that this was the thing we couldn’t miss besides the HC Andersen Museum. I’m not usually that excited about visiting churches and cathedrals while traveling but the Odense Domkirke has an interesting twist: the bones of a king are in the basement. And it’s not just a myth or a legend, you can actually get up close and personal with these bones.
The story goes that King Knud and his brother, Benedikt, were killed as martyrs as they prayed at the alter inside another nearby church in 1086. They were then buried in a crypt inside the Odense Domkirke, and forgotten about until the cathedral was being restored in 1870. The skeletons have been preserved and are now found in caskets with glass covers so that interested tourists can peer inside.
We only had a couple hours in Odense, but I felt like we had spent enough time in Denmark’s third largest city. While the history of HC Andersen was fascinating and the city itself was so pretty, we couldn’t linger much longer if we wanted to squeeze more of Denmark out of our short trip. If you were looking for a relaxing city break, Odense would be a nice place to spend a couple nights. But we were on to the next leg of our Denmark road trip – next stop, Aarhus!
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