Often described as the Danish answer to Milton Keynes, Billund
is a new town but one that has more to offer than a herd of concrete cows. And with beautiful countryside, quaint old towns and the UNESCO-listed Royal Jelling monument on its doorstep, there’s more to Billund than Legoland, says Ruth Styles.
0700-0900. Billund’s city centre is a functional affair offering a generic range of shops and modern amenities but little in the way of inspiration. The exception to the rule, however, is the impressive Billund Kirke (Hans Jensensvej 4, 7676 7601), an enormous lump of a church erected in 1973. Aptly for a town largely built by Lego, Billund’s church resembles nothing so much as a gigantic Lego brick, dominated by straight lines and Le Corbusier-style modernist architecture. Whether or not you’re a fan of modernist design, the area around the church is great for a relaxed stroll or a jog accompanied by a spot of people watching. The nearby cultural centre is well worth a visit and is home to a little café that does a decent coffee as well as some excellent cakes.
0900-1100. Although no longer exclusive to Denmark (there are outposts in London and Manchester), Legoland (Nordmarksvej 9, 7533 1333) is quite literally what made Billund, and the Danish city’s version is both the original and the best. Open from March to October, Legoland is a functional fairyland, Denmark’s most visited tourist attraction and home to Copenhagen’s main sights in miniature as well as a newly added Chinese 4D cinema. But while there’s much to love (and chuckle at) in the resort’s pirate-themed hotel and cinema, the pièce de résistance has to be the astonishingly realistic Lego version of Copenhagen’s Nyhavn harbour area. Made from more than 20 million Lego bricks, it’s incredibly lifelike and even includes a tiny inlet and some pint-sized sailing boats.
1100-1300. If you can tear yourself away from Legoland – and yes, it is pretty addictive – hop in a hire car and head to the picturesque nearby town of Vejle. There, you’ll find glorious views of the Vejle Fjord at the confluence of the Vejle and Grejs Rivers, the entertaining Spinderihallerne culture museum (Spinderigade 11, 2148 8355) and the unique Caféen (Klostergade 1, 7582 9300). Easily one of the most unusual cafés on the planet, Caféen is located in an old prison but is stylish enough to give Copenhagen’s finest a run for their money. While breakfasts and lunches are good, the highlight is the utterly brilliant brunch. Served daily until 1pm, it includes everything from homemade muesli and yoghurt to a good old-fashioned English breakfast.
1300-1500. Located just outside the town is the new Kongens Kær wetland park, which is home to Europe’s largest bird of prey, the rare White-tailed Eagle, and a number of hiking trails perfect for a postprandial stroll. Also nearby is the stunning white beach at Grene Sande, although the real highlight is Royal Jelling (Gormsgade 23, Jelling, 7587 2350), one of the country’s four UNESCO World Heritage sites. A world away from the medieval marvels of Roskilde Cathedral and Kronborg Castle, Jelling offers an insight into Denmark’s Viking past with its runic standing stones and burial mounds. Raised by the Viking king Gorm, and his son Harald Bluetooth, the stones celebrate the latter’s conquest of Norway and Denmark, as well as his conversion of the two to Christianity. A later medieval church stands close by, and there’s a huge museum and visitor centre to fill in any gaps in your knowledge.
1500-1700. Equally historic but missing the Viking pedigree is the lovely town of Fredericia, which was established in 1650 by King Frederick III who modestly named it after himself. Despite beginning life as a military camp – and narrowly missing out on becoming the Danish capital in place of Copenhagen – Fredericia is now a bustling town that has become a magnet for creative types, perhaps because of the large number of museums and galleries it boasts. One of the most interesting is the Smidstrup & Omegns Museum (Præstegårdsvej 74, 7586 0142), which recreates 17th-century rural life in fascinating detail. Round off your afternoon with a spin around the city ramparts and a visit to the Gunpowder Tower (Øster Voldgade, 7210 6980), which dates from 1675.
1700-1900. Head back to Vejle for a few beers to kick off the evening. For reasons unknown, there’s a distinctly British feel to Vejle’s bar scene – most of which is to be found on Vejle’s party street, Dæmningen. Among them is the Tartan Pub (Dæmningen 40, 7583 4029), which as its name suggests, has a bar overflowing with different types of whisky and a warm Caledonian welcome. Also worth a try is next door SevenOaks (Dæmningen 42, 2674 1078), which despite the name, bears absolutely no resemblance to the Kent town. What it does have is a rustic oak bar, an interesting collection of black and white photos documenting Vejle’s recent history and a good line in local brew.
1900-2100. While SevenOaks and the Tartan Pub do a toothsome line in bar food, for a real taste of Denmark, drive out to Henne Kirkeby Kro (Strandvejen 234, Henne, 7525 5400), a charming old inn about an hour’s drive west of Billund. With British chef Paul Cunningham manning the kitchen, the inn offers an award-winning take on traditional Danish cuisine with plenty of local ingredients (including produce from the inn’s own garden) and a menu that changes seasonally.
After 2100. If you can’t face the drive back to Billund, Henne Kirkeby Kro has a couple of lovely rooms in which to crash, but if you are, and you’ve still got room for a few drinks, head to Hotel Svanen (Nordmarksvej 8, 7533 2833) for a nightcap. Conveniently located in Billund’s city centre, Svanen’s restaurant, No.8, offers a chic setting for a drink as well as a terrace, while the lobby bar is a cosy, comfortable alternative.
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