Most visitors, with their clock ticking, dash north of Copenhagen to chase after "Hamlet's ghost" at Helsingør -- and that's it for North Zealand. But as the famous author Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen) might have said, "That would be a shame -- stick around a bit and discover some wonder."
We don't want to oversell North Zealand, because its charms are subtle and it might be a little too slow paced and idyllic for those who want more excitement in their vacation. But the queen of Denmark, who's rich enough to go anywhere, often comes here for a royal vacation. In fact, in July, like another queen in London, she opens her summer palace at Fredensborg, inviting the public in to see how the other half lives. That's why the province is called "Royal North Zealand." And its overall allure is more posh, more stylish, and a lot more interesting (at least in terms of who comes here, and who owns the local real estate) than are the landscapes of the less densely populated, more agrarian, and less wealthy South Zealand.
Hamlet and the queen aren't the only fun things. Just across the sound from Sweden, North Zealand is riddled with sandy seashores, studded with lakes, peppered with fishing villages, and layered with unspoiled woodlands. With Mercury-like feet, you can see most of the goodies in only 2 days. Of course, you'll want to pay your respects to Isak Dinesen (or Karen) at Rungstedlund, even if you aren't so sure of who she was. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art at Humlebæk is one of the most renowned modern-art museums in Denmark and one of our favorite bastions of contemporary art in all of Europe (trust us, we've seen them all).
We've read books on the famous arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen, and a visit to his home near Hundested will give you a vicarious thrill if you're the adventurous type. Devotees of architecture head for the cathedral at Roskilde, the old capital of Denmark. And, once here, you can also take a look at the Viking Ship Museum, reliving the saga of those raping, pillaging men who used to descend on England for some loot, some virgins, and an all-around good time, swilling down tankard after tankard of English brew before continuing with their dirty deeds.
Don't overlook the possibility of a beach outing, although you may at first think the water is better suited for polar bears. Wherever you stay in North Zealand, you are not far from a beach. A blue flag flying over the beach indicates that its waters are clean. Danes can be seen frolicking in the nude -- they're a shameless bunch -- on the beach during their too-short summer days. But they're not just fair-weather friends. Even on a blustery autumn afternoon, or when the Nordic winds of spring are still cold, you'll find them walking along the strands, smelling the fresh air, and listening to the crashing of waves. They even visit their beaches on crisp, fresh winter days for long walks. In fact, it was our Danish friends who taught us the glory of a beach stroll in winter, a custom we've been addicted to ever since.
If you can't make it to Norway, you can sample "Fjord Country" in Denmark. Around the fjords of Roskilde and Isefjord are charming towns such as Hundested, with its beautiful light (praised by artists) and its bustling harbor, and Frederiksværk, with its canal system. On the gentle banks of Isefjord, you'll find such lively centers as Holbæk and the already-mentioned Roskilde itself ("the town of kings").
For North Zealand rail information, you can call the main station in Copenhagen. For train and bus information within Denmark, call tel. 70-13-14-15.