The largest city on the Island of Funen, Odense is a Danish cultural hotbed.
The composer Carl Nielsen and fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen were born here in the 19th century.
As you’d guess there are several sights and attractions to seek out relating to these giants of Danish culture, but you can also get a feel for a new generation of creators at Brandts a stylish culture district in the Latin Quarter.
Don’t forget to see Egeskov Castle either, a building that, quite fittingly, could be straight out of a fairytale.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Odense:
1. Egeskov Castle
To call “Egeskov Castle” dazzling would be a rank understatement; it’s one of Europe’s most beautiful buildings, a renaissance water castle that looks the same now as it did when it was constructed in 1554.
It sits in the middle of a small lake, forming the castle’s moat and is elevated from the lakebed by oak piles. In essence it’s a stately home with fortifications, as the castle dates to a time of civil unrest in the build-up to the Protestant Reformation.
The conical towers at each end have arrow slits and machiolations (holes for dropping scalding oil or water on attackers!).
Oh, and if you like classic vehicles you’ll love the interior, as there’s a neat collection of vintage cars and bikes to see.
2. Hans Christian Andersen Museum
The beloved author’s birthplace in the old town has been open as a museum for more than a century now.
The son of an unsuccessful cobbler, Hans Christian Andersen was born in this humble little abode in 1805.
The home and its modest furnishings take you back to the time in which the author grew up and worked, displaying a number of his drawings and manuscripts, as well as personal items that shed some light on his personality and friends.
At the shop you can purchase any of his books in a range of languages.
3. Hans Christian Andersen’s Childhood Home
So you’ve seen his birthplace, now you can see where Hands Christian Andersen lived from two to fourteen.
It’s a small half-timbered house and you’ll hear how the Andersen family didn’t even have it to themselves; they shared with a glovemaker’s family who occupied the living room.
Exhibits in the home help to tie Andersen to the city of Odense and even the furniture arrangements have been devised to conform to the author’s personal recollections of his childhood.
4. Brandts Klædefabrik
This was once a large textiles factory complex in Odense’s Latin Quarter, but it has been transformed into a shopping and cultural destination.
There are several one-of-a-kind shops here, as well as a cinema, cafes, concert halls, artists’ studios, workshops, a cavernous venue for students, a catalogue of exhibition rooms and several cultural institutions.
It’s a vibrant, youthful and ever-changing environment where you can check out contemporary art exhibitions, go dancing or treat yourself to some posh shopping along Brandts Passage.
5. Odense Zoo
The city’s zoo is the most popular visitor attraction on the island of Funen, and one of the top ten in the county.
It started out in 1930 as a menagerie with just a handful of animals and now has 147 different species, updating itself with new zones and enclosures every few years.
It will definitely get a thumbs up from the kids, especially if you try one of the special experiences that will bring them nose to nose with giraffes, tapirs or lemurs.
The zoo also attracted a lot of media attention in the summer of 2015 when it dissected a lion as part of an educational event.
6. Carl Nielsen Museum
Nielsen was a luminary of early-20th-century classical music and remains a Danish cultural icon.
He was also born just a few kilometres south of Odense.
At his museum you’ll be presented with a chronology of the composer’s life and work, and the experience is enriched with displays of his possessions.
You’ll see Nielsen’s writing table and writing implements, all donated to the museum by his children.
What’s also interesting is that the museum tailors its opening times to synch with the Odense Symphony Orchestra’s schedule, so you could pair a trip to Nielsen’s museum with one of his symphonies the same evening.
7. Galleri Galschiøt
Jens Galschiøt is one of Denmark’s most famous artists, a sculptor and conceptual artist whose works can be seen in cities around the world.
He has been based in Odense since the 1970s and in the mid-80s he created this extraordinary combined studio and exhibition space.
Galleri Galschiøt is 10,000 square metres, putting it among the largest private art workshops in the country.
The attraction is free to enter and inside you’ll work your way through the sculptors’ bronze foundry, a sculpture garden, gallery shop and a spacious indoor art gallery presenting his work.
8. Odense Boldklub
Every other week from autumn to spring, apart from in mid-winter, you can get a ticket at the TRE-FOR Park to see Odense’s local football team play.
Odense Boldkklub are in the Superliga, the top tier of Danish football and are often in the running for the title, although they haven’t won it since 1989.
The Odense fans are among the loudest in the league and are headed by the Odense Ultras, who are more peaceful than the name suggests.
To soak up the match-day atmosphere get to Cafe Sprogø a couple of hours before kick where fans gather to sing songs.
9. Danish Railway Museum
Odense has the largest railway museum in all of Scandinavia.
You don’t need to be obsessed by rolling stock to get a kick out of this enormous attraction that documents the evolution of rail travel and freight in Denmark.
In a converted roundhouse there are 50 locomotives and carriages to see, among them the E Class engine that pulled King Frederick IX’s funeral train in 1972.
You will also find the oldest surviving locomotive in Denmark: The H40 from 1869.
At the museum you can show your children a working steam train or see the lost opulence of rail travel from the early and mid-20th century.
10. The Funen Village
An open- air museum that has brought together 30 historic buildings from around the island, the Funen Village has its own interesting origins.
It was created during the German occupation and in 1944 was a gathering place for locals to sing patriotic songs.
The aim of the museum was to recreate the Hans Christian Andersen era, and the scene is suitably idyllic.
The museum staff get in character, dressing up in traditional garb and going about their day rearing animals, hammering away in workshops or brewing beer.
Interaction is encouraged, especially if you have little time travellers with you.
11. Local Market
If you needed further evidence that food provenance means a lot to Danes, see the stalls at this farmer’s market that pops up in the city centre every Wednesday and Saturday morning.
If you’re renting your own accommodation this is where you need to get your groceries and you can get farm-fresh fruit, vegetables and meat from around Funen.
There’s also no better place to acquaint yourself with regional delicacies, like smoked cheese. This is made with sour milk and soaked over stinging nettles and straw.
It goes great with authentic dark rye bread and radishes.
Found in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, this museum covers Odense and Funen’s history from prehistory up to the middle ages.
This renaissance house is an attraction by itself; with an ornate timber frame and leaded windows.
If you look closely at the wood on the exterior you’ll see intricately carved patterns.
Inside, the most exciting displays are about the city’s development in the late-medieval period, when wealth through trade brought about a golden age.
Odense was a gateway between Scandinavia and continental Europe, and local merchants were able to furnish their homes with items from far and wide.
13. Traditional Danish Food
For many Danish cities the culinary highlight is cutting-edge fancy pants molecular gastronomy, but in Odense it’s an old inn.
Den Gamie Kro is a crooked half-timbered house that has been standing in the centre of town since 1683.
For lunch you could stop by for Smørrebrød, a delicious open sandwich piled with cold meat, fish or cheese.
The menu at this, and every good restaurant in Odense, changes month to month depending on what produce is in season.
Traditional Danish fare like smoked eel and herring are ever-presents on local menus in the summer months.
14. Odense Bunker Museum
A reminder that not so long ago Europe was making provisions for nuclear war, this 450-square metre bunker is free to enter.
Guided tours take place at 11:00 and 14:00, and you’ll make your way through Odense’s subterranean command centre and shelter for key military and political personnel in case the worst happened.
What’s cool is that nothing has been touched since this time.
Military equipment, uniforms, phones, backlit map panels and old computers are a time capsule for a forgotten era.
On the tour you’ll also see the emergency generator and ventilation system, designed to support life for long periods underground.
If you’re visiting Funen in the summer there’s no excuse not to spend some time at the seaside.
Kerteminde is an easy choice from Odense; it’s a quaint little seaside town with rickety half-timbered houses from the 1700s.
Have a day out here playing mini-golf, visiting the aquarium and wandering through the orchards, gardens and meadows in these parts.
You’ll quickly understand why Kerteminde is described as the “Garden by the Sea”.
An exquisite location near Kerteminde is Fyns Hoved (Funen’s Head), with green farmland and coastal marshes supporting all sorts of wading birds.
On rainy days this place has a beguiling light that artists and photographers try to capture.
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