Use the following itinerary to make the most out of a week in Denmark, but feel free to drop a place or two to save a day to relax. One week provides just enough time to take in the major attractions of Zealand (an island dominated by Copenhagen) and the neighboring island of Funen, centering on the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen at Odense.
On the first day, you can see Louisiana, the most acclaimed modern art museum outside of Copenhagen, and also the so-called "Hamlet's Castle" at Helsingør. The following day you can head for Roskilde to see both its famous cathedral and its Viking Ship Museum. After a 2-night stopover, you can motor south to the yachting port of Svendborg, your launch pad for the island of Ærø for a 2-night visit. This tiny island is the most enchanting in all of the Scandinavian countries -- and almost no one disputes that.
Day 1: Louisiana Museum & Helsingør
On Day 1 of our driving tour, after wrapping up your visit to Copenhagen and renting a car, head north in the morning to the town of Humlebæk, 30km (19 miles) north of Copenhagen, for a morning visit to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which opens at 10am. This is one of the greatest art museums of Scandinavia, and you'll want to give it at least an hour or two.
From Copenhagen, follow coastal road 152, known as Strandvej. Depending on traffic, the scenic drive takes some 45 minutes. After a visit, continue north from Humlebæk into Helsingør, a distance of 14km (8 2/3 miles), following the same Strandvej route. Once in Helsingør, you can check into a hotel for the night, but if you don't want to change hotels so often, you can use Copenhagen as your base and return there for the night.
There are many attractions in Helsingør, but the one magnet for most visitors is Kronborg Slot, fabled as "Hamlet's Castle," even though Shakespeare presumably never visited it and Hamlet may never have existed. Allow at least an hour for an afternoon visit here after lunch in Helsingør.
Day 2: The Cathedral City of Roskilde
On the morning of Day 2, leave Helsingør (or Copenhagen if you spent the night there) for a drive west to Roskilde. The distance is 30km (19 miles) west of Copenhagen, but a distance of 72km (45 miles) southwest of Helsingør. From Copenhagen, head west on the E21 express highway; from Helsingør follow Route 6 southwest.
If you're on Route 6 from Helsingør, you can stop off for a morning visit to Hillerød, a distance of 25km (16 miles) southwest of Helsingør, or a jaunt of 35km (22 miles) north of Copenhagen. This town possesses one of the great treasures of Denmark and is well worth a detour regardless of where you spent the night. Hillerød is the home of Frederiksborg Castle, which has been called "the Danish Versailles." Surrounded by a moat, it is the most beautiful royal residence in Denmark and the setting for the Museum of National History, with one of Denmark's greatest collections of historical paintings. Allow at least 1 1/2 hours for a visit.
From Hillerød, continue along Route 6 southwest into Roskilde, where you can check into a hotel for the night. In the afternoon, visit the Roskilde Domkirke and try to take a 90-minute boat tour of the Roskilde Fjord. If you can't schedule a visit to the fjord, then call on the Lejre Research Center, which, in spite of its dull name, is actually a reconstructed Iron Age village.
Days 3 & 4: Odense & H. C. Andersen
On the morning of Day 3, leave Zealand altogether and drive west to the neighboring island of Funen, whose capital is Odense, lying 134km (83 miles) to the west of Roskilde. From Roskilde, take Route 14 southwest to the express highway E20, continuing west to the port of Korsør, where you cross the Great Belt Bridge into Funen, entering the island through its gateway city of Nyborg. Once on land in Funen, continue west along E20 until you see the cutoff arteries leading north into the center of Odense. Once here, book into a hotel for a 2-night stay.
After lunch you can take in some of the major sights of the city, including the H. C. Andersen's Childhood Home. If it's summer, you might even hook up with a 2-hour walking tour, taking in all the highlights. Check with the tourist office.
On the morning of Day 4, visit Funen Village, an open-air regional museum depicting life in Denmark in the 1700s and 1800s. In a busy afternoon you can visit both Egeskov Castle, one of the grandest in Denmark, and Ladbyskibet, 19km (12 miles) northeast of Odense, to see the ruins of a 10th-century Viking ship.
Day 5: Svendborg: Favorite Port for Yachties
On the morning of Day 5, check out of your hotel in Odense and drive 43km (27 miles) south to the port city of Svendborg, following Route 9. Once in Svendborg, check into a hotel for the night and set out to see the rather minor sights in town, including Anne Hvides Gård, Skt. Jorgens Kirke, and Skt. Nicolai Kirke. After lunch, you can explore nearby islands, each linked to Svendborg by bridge. These include the horseshoe-shaped Thurø, called "The Garden of Denmark," and Tåsinge, where you can visit several attractions such as the church tower at Bregninge Kirkebakke for its panoramic views. After a call on the 17th-century Valdemars Slot, you can spend the rest of the afternoon just exploring at random. Because the island is so small, it's almost impossible to get lost. Return to Svendborg for the night.
Days 6 & 7: Ærø: Denmark's Most Beautiful Island
On the morning of Day 6, leave Svendborg by driving to the port, where you can board a car ferry heading for the island of Ærø, lying 29km (18 miles) across the water south of Svendborg. Check into a hotel in the little picture-postcard capital of Ærøskøbing for 2 nights, and set out to explore the island.
Begin first on foot by walking the cobblestone streets of this most enchanting of Danish villages, saving the driving tour of the island for the following day. The main attraction of the town is Ærøskøbing itself, although there are specific sights of minor interest, including the Ærø Museum and an 18th-century church, Ærøskøbing Kirke. Dine in an old kro (inn), and later walk down by the water to watch the yachts and other boats bobbing in the harbor at night.
On the morning of Day 7, while still based in Ærøskøbing, set out on a leisurely motor tour of the island, stopping at random to enjoy anything that fascinates you. We'd head east to the "second city" on Marstal, really just a modest port town. After a 2-hour visit here, you can take the southern road all the way to the little port of Søby in the northwest. From Søby, you can drive southeast back to Ærøskøbing for the night.
The following morning, you can take the ferryboat back to Svendborg, where you can drive north once again toward Odense, and link with the E20 to carry you east across the Great Belt Bridge to Zealand and back to Copenhagen. Here you can make air or rail connections to your next destination.