Denmark Road Trip: Witches, Vikings and Storks in Ribe, Denmark’s Oldest Town

Denmark Road Trip: Witches, Vikings and Storks in Ribe, Denmark’s Oldest Town

We’d traveled to Copenhagen, Odense and Aarhus and had yet to meet a single Dane not fluent in English. Not that this is a bad thing – in fact, it was quite convenient since I obviously don’t speak Danish. But I was surprised that everyone was so used to foreigners everywhere. This was not the case when we finally arrived in Ribe, the last stop on our Denmark road trip. My interest in the town was first piqued when I heard it was famous for nesting storks. Anyone else a fan of Dumbo? Unfortunately when I began researching Ribe, I found out that the storks sadly don’t visit every year now. But there are plenty of other reasons for humans to go to Ribe, which happens to be Denmark’s oldest and most well-preserved medieval town.

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark is located in southwest Jutland, about two hours from Aarhus and three hours from Copenhagen. We knew we were getting off the beaten path when we started driving through remote farm lands and had to stop every now and then so an enormous tractor could cross the road.

Once we arrived in Ribe we were starving, so we stopped at a small place called Cafe Haileys. None of our credit cards worked here, not even my life-saving Chase Sapphire Preferred that contains a chip for Europe. The waitress had no idea how to handle our strange foreign credit cards, and since she didn’t speak English there was no way to figure it out. Good thing we had cash for our delicious bagel sandwiches, because I was hungry enough to kill.

Ribe, Denmark

Sandwiches for Lunch in Ribe, Denmark

After lunch we walked toward Torvet, the town square, in hopes of locating the tourist office and finding a map. As we wandered the quaint little streets of Ribe, we quickly realized we were the only foreign tourists in town. Located on the water and dotted with inns and ice cream shops, Ribe seemed more like a relaxing vacation spot for Danes, versus an international travel destination.

The tourism team of Ribe, however, really has it together for visitors. When we arrived at the office we were given an English brochure and a map that would lead us on a town walk, basically enabling us to take a self-guided tour of all the historic homes and buildings. Each stop on the walk had a full written explanation of its history and significance. This brochure truly made our trip to Ribe, as without it we would have just been walking around, snapping photos of things we didn’t recognize.

Ribe, Denmark Domkirken

The first stop on our town walk was Domkirken, the Ribe Cathedral. It’s the most prominent landmark in town and located right in the main square by the tourist office. The cathedral was begun around 1150, but has some modern touches such as mosaics, frescoes and stained glass windows created by artist Carl Henning Pedersen in the 1980s. While the inside is pretty, the real reason to visit is to climb to the top of the tower to see Ribe from above. It’s 248 steps, and by the time I reached the top I was thankful I was rocking that Danish sneaker fashion trend!

Ribe, Denmark Domkirken Inside

Ribe, Denmark Domkirken Stained Glass

Ribe, Denmark

As you can see, Ribe is pretty small. We were totally able to finish the rest of the town walk during our two hour visit. We hopped from one historical landmark to the next, most of which were buildings that have been around since the 16th century. A few highlights were…

  • A grammar school (Latinskolen) at the corner of Skolegade and Grydergade, where famous journalist Jacob A. Riis was born.
  • The house of a former bishop on the south side of the Cathedral.
  • Puggaardsgade, an old curved street that has been around since 1200 and still has one red gabled house standing that’s been there since 1597.
  • Sonderportsgade, a street where the tailor Laurids Splid lived. His claim to fame? His wife, Maren, was burnt at the stake for witchcraft on 1641.
  • Klostergade, a row of small houses that were built in the 17th century to house the poor. One is less than 100 square feet, which I’m sad to say is probably the same size as some Manhattan studio apartments.
  • Museet Ribes Vikinger, aka the Viking Museum. I expected to see lots of vicious, violent history inside but was surprised that the vikings seemed relatively civilized (and even friendly?). Ribe is one of the oldest Viking settlements and it was interesting to learn how these people lived.
  • Ribe’s pedestrian-only high street (where you can find the aforementioned ice cream shops!).
  • The town wharf.

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark

Ribe, Denmark Stork Nest

Ribe, Denmark Viking Museum

Ribe, Denmark Viking Museum

Ribe, Denmark Viking Museum

While Ribe was definitely out of the way, it was worth the trip for a relaxing break from the big cities of Denmark and the chance to learn more about the country’s viking and medieval history. After all, what’s a trip to Denmark without a few vikings?

Ribe also offered a peek into the lives of Danes who don’t live in the modern, fashion-forward and tech-savvy world that is Copenhagen. If you’re visiting Denmark for an extended period of time during the summer, it would make a perfect weekend getaway or place to disconnect. If you travel to Ribe during the warmer months (aka the high season), there are daily guided tours and a popular free “Watchman’s Rounds” tour at night, where a costumed actor plays the old watchman and walks around town making sure everything is OK. It sounds really fun, but unfortunately an overnight in Ribe didn’t fit into our schedule.

We ended our trip by ordering pastries at a bakery right across the street from Cafe Haileys. They were delicious and the perfect treat to hold us over on the long ride back to Copenhagen.

Eating a Danish in Ribe, Denmark

I’m also happy to report that while we missed out on the storks, we did spot this beautiful swan nesting in Ribe.

Swan in Ribe, Denmark

And that concludes my trip to Denmark! So where to next? Stay tuned for all my posts from Ecuador that will be running shortly, and follow me on Instagram for this week’s adventures in Nashville, Tennessee.

Practical-Stuff

  • I visited Ribe as part of a 9-day Denmark & Norway vacation, which required 5 vacation days from work.
  • Ribe is about a 2 hour drive from Aarhus, and 3 hour drive to Copenhagen.
  • This stop was part of a 3-day road trip to explore Denmark outside of Copenhagen.
  • Our rental car was $50 per day, or $25 each.

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4 Comments
  • Thank you for your insight on Ribe. Just returned and unfortunately Cafe Haileys out of business. Food looked great in photo. Excellent bakery is still there and they even made sandwiches to fill the void. Really charming town filled with character.

  • Richard White says:

    Hi Anna- My (Danish) wife and I were in Ribe July 1-4, Your photos and description were great- and you even have a photo of the custard pastry I enjoyed so much from that bakery. Your short visit didn’t allow you to visit the old fort, with its statue of Queen Dagmar. (We stayed at the Hotel Dagmar!).

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