Odense is a delightful mid-sized city in Funen, Denmark’s third-largest island. It also happens to be the third-most populous Danish city, combining old town charm and culture with modern infrastructure.
Despite its 4,000 or so years of history, Odense remains somewhat of an unknown (and underrated) destination for those outside of Scandinavia. Yet, the city can be a breath of fresh air for those seeking a laid-back weekend away. Those with kids will particularly appreciate the family-friendly atmosphere.
In recent years, the city’s harbour has undergone impressive developments and a surge of cultural events have begun appearing. A crop of new cafes and restaurants have opened up too as Odense begins to make a new name for itself.
Are you travelling to Denmark and considering a visit to this up-and-coming destination? Here are 17 things to do in Odense that will make your trip enjoyable and memorable.
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Hans Christian Andersen Museum
Odense is the proud birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, one of the most internationally renowned fairy tale authors of all time. His stories continue to be popular with readers of all ages and have been translated into over 125 different languages. Without even knowing his name, you’ll likely be familiar with some of his many tales, including The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling.
Begin learning about his life and literary influence at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. The museum is located in a quaint yellow house on the corner of Hans Jensens Straede and Bangs Boder in the old town area, where Hans Christian Andersen is thought to have been born. Open since 1930, it holds over 32,000 items detailing fascinating stories about the author’s life. The museum is open every day from 10 to 5.
The Funen Village
You don’t have to go far from the city centre to experience Danish life in the 1850s. Step back in time with a trip to the Funen Village, one of the top Odense attractions, and immerse yourself in a 19th-century rural village. The environment is authentic and historically accurate, with 25 half-timbered farmhouses and buildings originally from nearby Funish villages.
The open-air museum has been open to the public since the 1940s. If you’re interested in learning as much as you can, you’ll appreciate the video presentation at the beginning of your visit, as well as the information available in English.
You can also meet the blacksmith and see the traditional agricultural methods used here. In the gardens, you’ll discover fields of crops that were essential to living self-sufficiently. Best of all, the village is full of adorable farm animals, including horses, pigs, sheep and cows.
The opening hours change according to the time of year, so check in advance to avoid disappointment. Don’t forget to stop by the restaurant for a delicious lunch too.
The ultimate spot for art in Odense, Denmark is BRANDTS. The first of its kind in Denmark, this museum showcases 10 yearly visual arts exhibitions. The collections feature international photography, classical art, contemporary films, and drawings from some of the world’s best artists.
The museum is located inside a former textiles factory, and the industrial vibe of the building creates a fascinating and open environment. The first floor is for the museum’s temporary exhibits, while the permanent collection on the second floor holds over 9,000 pieces. If you want to find out about the exhibitions on display during your visit, head to the English version of the BRANDTS website.
BRANDTS is closed on Mondays, and guided tours run daily during the summer or by appointment. A visit to the museum can be a great evening activity too, as it’s open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Visit Saint Canute’s Cathedral, better known as Odense Cathedral, for a superb example of Brick Gothic architecture. Construction of the current cathedral on Klosterbakken was completed in 1499, replacing an earlier Romanesque structure that burned down in the 13th century.
The immaculate interiors are a definite highlight, with heavenly soaring columns and a bright white nave. The church’s crypt contains the remaining skeleton of King Canute IV, who ruled Denmark from 1080 until his death in 1086. The church is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
The Danish Railway Museum
Danmarks Jernbanemuseum is Denmark’s national railway museum, as well as the largest of its kind in Scandinavia. Across the museum’s 10,000 square metres are over 20 rail tracks with 50 locomotives and railway carriages on display. A highlight is one of the two E class locomotives used to pull Frederick IX of Denmark’s funeral train in 1972. You can also see a retro red lightning train from the 1950s, a 1930s S-train carriage, and the country’s oldest steam engine from 1868.
The exhibitions teach you about Denmark’s railway history and include a plethora of memorabilia to marvel at. There are many small yet beautiful models of engines and carriages too. Vintage train rides around Denmark are occasionally offered and include stories about each place you pass.
Whether you’re young or old, a train enthusiast or not, you can expect to be captivated from beginning to end. The Danish Railway Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Sunday.
Møntergården is another fascinating yet completely different museum in Odense. Located at Overgade 48, the cultural history museum comprises of a Renaissance-style cobblestone courtyard, surrounded by half-timbered 17th-century houses.
This charming setting is your first introduction to the museum’s compelling exhibits. Learn about life in Odense during the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, and take a kaleidoscopic journey through the ancient history of Funen. The oldest human bones found in Denmark, the Koelbjerg Man, are on display here at Møntergården. The remains date back 8,000 years to the Maglemosian period.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Odense Zoo opened in 1930 with only a dozen animals. Today, the 36,000-square-metre zoological garden is home to over 2,000 animals belonging to 147 different species from across the world. It was awarded the title of Europe’s Best Zoo in 2013, and you will quickly discover why.
Located just outside the centre of the city, the habitats at the zoo are designed to suit each species’ natural surroundings in the wild. This means the animals roam freely and you are able to get up close. Take part in an interactive experience and feed the giraffes, sea lions, chimpanzees and penguins.
There are some fun jungle gyms for the kids, and nearby cafes and restaurants for the adults. The food available at Chunga, Bondegården and Café Dyrehaven is all made with delicious, healthy ingredients. You can also grab a coffee or an ice cream at Safari Coffee, viewing the African giraffes and lions while you wait in line.
Tickets for adults cost 200 Danish Krone (DKK), which equals about €27. Kids 11 and under receive a 50% discount, while students with a valid ID can get in for 170 DKK. The zoo is open 365 days a year, although some areas may be closed for events.
One of the most magnificent attractions in Funen is Egeskov Castle. Head just over 30 kilometres south of Odense to Kværndrup, where you will discover the best-preserved moat castle in Europe. The opulent castle was built in 1554 with Late Gothic exteriors and Renaissance interiors. Although peaceful and idyllic today, it was originally intended as a defence structure. The castle is surrounded by water and made up of two long buildings linked by a double wall. It also includes various defence features like arrow slits and scalding holes.
On the first floor alone you can wander the Banqueting Hall, the Victorian Room, the Music Room, the Admiral’s Room and more. There’s also a Tower Room that offers a spectacular view of the castle grounds.
The grounds of the castle feature numerous landscaped gardens, including one of the largest fuchsia gardens in Europe. There are also four hedge mazes as well as the largest bamboo maze in the world.
Egeskov is typically only open to the public from mid-April to mid-October, with the exception of the Christmas Market and other special events. Purchase your tickets online and receive discounts for groups.
Odense City Hall
Another one of the city’s architectural gems is Odense City Hall. The Italian-Gothic building was completed in 1885 and is noted for its red masonry, stepped gables and sandstone statues. Located opposite Odense Cathedral, its central location makes it convenient to quickly stop by for a look. You may even wander into a fun event or market occurring out the front.
Odense Bunker Museum
For something a little different and unique, stop by the city’s 450-square-metre nuclear bunker. The former command centre and hideaway from the Cold War is fully intact, and there are additional exhibits to learn about Denmark’s involvement in the conflict. Entry costs 50 DKK, and informative guided tours run at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.
Munke Mose Gardens
Wondering what to do in Odense on a gorgeous summer day? Do as the locals do and enjoy the sunshine at Munke Mose Gardens. Relax by the peaceful lake with a book for a while, take a short stroll, or pack some snacks with you and have a little picnic. During the summer, you can take a boat ride or rent a pedalo.
You’ll spot some ducks swimming in the water, as well as a few unexpected sculptures hanging from the trees. Many of the small figures are of Hans Christian Anderson characters, so you’ll enjoy looking for those if you’re a fan of his stories.
The Funky Monkey Park
Easily one of the most fun experiences in Odense is a day of adventure at the Funky Monkey Park. The treetop climbing park offers seven high ropes courses for all ages, heights and abilities, as well as 16 different ziplines.
Kids or beginners should opt for the shorter, lower green courses. While the blue courses are longer, they aren’t too difficult for adults with a decent level of fitness. If you’re up for a challenge, take the red or black courses. The most ambitious course is the Scary Monkey, which reaches a height of 15 metres.
The park has varying opening days and hours. Fortunately, there’s a simple calendar you can look at on the Funky Monkey Park website to plan when to visit. If you book online, you’ll receive a decent discount off your entrance ticket.
Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market
Many attractions are unfortunately closed during the winter. However, a visit during this season could give you the rare opportunity to attend the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market.
An old-fashioned market is held during the first two weekends of December, just as it would have been during Andersen’s time. You can count on festive decorations and lights, entertainment inspired by Andersen’s fairy tales, and booths selling homemade jewellery and knitwear, Danish cookies and Christmas ornaments. Don’t forget to indulge in some glögg (mulled wine) and æbleskiver (small Danish pancakes) while you’re there.
If you’re travelling with children, don’t miss stopping by the Tinderbox. Not to be confused with the summer music festival by the same name, this children’s cultural centre is inspired by the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. Each room beautifully immerses you in the different worlds of Andersen’s fairy tales. Interactive activities here include face painting, dress ups, drawing workshops and more.
Why not open up your imagination and join in on the fun with the kids? The Tinderbox is open between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday, and until 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
A whimsical attraction in Odense is Tidens Samling, an interactive museum replicating various 1900s households in Denmark. The permanent exhibition comprises of nine living rooms that show the progression of interiors across the 20th century. Each room features authentic furnishings, including original magazines and books from each time period. There’s also a dressing area where you can try on popular clothing from throughout the decades.
Each year, there is a special exhibition that focuses on an aspect of Danish design or culture. The theme in 2019, Young in the ’60s, focuses on the way Danish youth expressed their identity through fashion, culture and music.
Once you’re done looking around, stop by the cafe for a cup of coffee or tea served in vintage china. They also offer kiksekage, an enticing Danish cake from the 1950s made with biscuits and melted chocolate.
The museum costs 50 DKK to enter and is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
One of the most impressive contemporary galleries in Odense is Kunstbygningen Filosoffen at Filosofgangen 30. With exhibits rotating frequently, it’s always a fantastic spot to see some unique (and often colourful) abstract art installations that are sure to get you talking. The gallery is open Thursday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with free entry.
The Ladby Ship
Less than 20 kilometres east of Odense is the site of the thousand-year-old Ladby ship. The ship was discovered in the 1930s below a burial mound, the only known ship grave in Denmark. It is thought that the King of Ladby was buried in this ship around 925 AD. The subsequent excavation found that the buried Scandanavian longship was 21.5 metres long and almost three metres wide.
The surrounding museum educates visitors on Viking history and ways of life. Anyone with an interest in Vikings will thoroughly enjoy their time here. Stop by the history museum anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday.