Odense is one of the idyllic, fairytale towns that defines that sweet, charming, and friendly atmosphere of beloved Denmark. It’s only ninety minutes from Copenhagen on the train, and is most famous as the birthplace of literary genius Hans Christian Andersen. Odense is also the capital of Denmark’s third-largest island: Funen. The largest is Zealand, in case you ever wondered (like I did) what New Zealand was actually named after. When you’re exploring Denmark, we can’t recommend enough a day in Odense to experience the fantastic museums, restaurants, and wine bars of the city for yourself.
For other fabulous day trips from Copenhagen:
– Visit Kronborg Castle (also known as Hamlet’s Castle)
– Take a trip to Malmö, Sweden
The Hans Christian Andersen Trail
Hans Christian Andersen is certainly a prevalent presence in Copenhagen. He spent most of his adult life in Denmark’s capital city, and you can find magical traces of him all over the city. But his childhood home is in Odense, and he is what put the city on the map. When you arrive in Odense, provided you have a full stomach and are ready for a wander, the first thing you should do is visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum and retrace the footsteps of Denmark’s godfather of fairytales.
The Hans Christian Andersen Museum
This gorgeously-designed museum is just across the street from Odense Station, so visiting it first is a no-brainer when you visit Odense. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum is a celebration of the life and works of the fairytale king. When you first enter and get your tickets, you can also pick up a city map which is dotted with all of the things we’ll mention in this article, and a walking route through the city to see them all in a single day. Then, to the gift shop! (Don’t pretend you don’t hit the gift shop first; we all do it). The gift shop is, of course, filled with books of H.C. Andersen’s fairytales. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum itself is beautifully decorated with fairytale murals and silhouettes to make you feel like you’re exploring the pages of a pop-up book.
Upstairs is a VR headset which you can put on and explore a detailed recreation of H.C. Andersen’s apartment in Nyhavn, Copenhagen, where he lived for years and wrote most of his stories. It’s an amazing VR experience that shows you his life like you’ve never seen it before. This is, after all, how he lived – the walls, furniture, and views he admired day after day as he wrote his fairytales.
Visit their website: Hans Andersen Museum
H.C. Andersen’s Birthplace
When you leave the Hans Christian Andersen Museum and cross the little square, you’ll start walking down a sweet, Shakespearean-looking cobbled street of small, colourful homes decorated with flowerbeds – the definition of quaint. Walk a little ways down, and you’ll be at the house in which Andersen was born. Though, don’t confuse that with his childhood home, which comes next. Andersen was merely born here, and couldn’t recall the house in his later life – so brief was his time there. But still, it’s more than just Andersen’s birthplace. It’s also a chance for you to step back in time and see how the average poor and working-class people in small-town Denmark lived their lives in the 19th century.
H.C. Andersen’s Childhood Home
This is another chance to look deep into the life of Hans Christian Andersen, even beyond the VR experience at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. This house is where Andersen lived until his mid-teens, and as such it inspired his life and his career as an author. As you explore the house, you’ll read plaques which detail stories told by H.C. Andersen himself, kind of like diary entries. They tell wonderful anecdotes about his family and the neighbours, or just snapshots from his daily life in Odense and in that house. It’s a charming and delightful place to visit which, when you add a little imagination to your experience, is a very inspiring place to explore.
Read more: In our Bookish Guide to Copenhagen
Brandts Museum (the best place in Odense)
Seriously though, Hans Christian Andersen is a miracle of a writer, and all of his works are a gift. The Hans Christian Andersen and everything else connected to him in Odense is all wonderful. But the Brandts Museum is even better. It’s one of the best museums we have ever visited, and is gallons of strange and wonderful interactive fun.
Brandts Museum of Art and Visual Culture is an ever-changing museum of exciting exhibitions which are all unique celebrations of painting, photography, and all mediums of visual art. There is a room where you can sit quietly at an easel and draw as you listen to music (it’s definitely for kids but that shouldn’t stop you). There’s also a labyrinth of rooms filled with old costumes from the 17th to 19th centuries which you can put on and take photos in for fun.
Visit their website: Brandt’s Museum
The exhibitions shift and change constantly, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when you visit. Plus, you get more reasons to return when you’re next in Odense! When we visited, we were lucky enough to see the photography of legendary rock n’ roll photographer Anton Corbijn, who has spent decades capturing in deep and raw black-and-white photos acts like The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Bruce Springsteen. He even took the iconic photo used for the cover of Nick Cave’s incredible album The Boatman’s Call. It was an absolute treat to see this exhibition, and points to the fact that everything that the Brandts Museum ever displays is always magical and inspiring.
One last thing: the gift shop of Brandts Museum is more a bookshop of delightful books on art, art history, photography, and design. It’s a fantastic shop all by itself, and worth having a real detailed browse!
Read More: In our Arts and Culture Guide to Copenhagen
Where to Eat and Drink
Odense is a surprisingly and delightfully multicultural city, with a huge range of traditional foods from all over the world. If you want to enjoy local Danish food, it’s there; and if you’d rather go international, there’s some quality cuisine to enjoy. There are also pubs and wine bars aplenty to relax in the sun after a day of following in the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen.
Soup Stone Café
This is where we ended up having our dinner after leaving Brandts Museum. It’s a restaurant with a strange name that is dedicated to the freshest health foods from all around the world. Soups, curries, noodle dishes, wraps, and sandwiches are all on offer, all affordable, and all with the highest quality meats, veggies, and spices. Soup Stone is owned by a Canadian guy who told us his entire life story while we were there, and what a story it is! We can’t recommend this place enough, with its expert cuisine of world foods.
Nelle’s Coffee & Wine
If you’re looking for a place to recharge half-way through your wander across Odense, make it Nelle’s. If there are two things that one needs to get themselves relaxed and excited to keep moving, it’s wine and coffee. The coffee at Nelle’s is particularly fantastic. Denmark has a history of good coffee culture; their coffee shops always provide the highest quality coffee available, and Nelle’s is certainly no exception. The place works as a quick pitstop or a more permanent place to relax with a book in the afternoon, if you’ve got time.
The Tipsy Toad Pub
A place with a great name and a traditional British/Irish pub atmosphere. It’s exactly what you need after a full day of exploring every nook and cranny of Odense. The Tipsy Toad opens at 5pm and offers a huge range of beers and ales, with a particular emphasis on hipster IPAs like Brewdog. It’s a proper British pub with a dark atmosphere and a bricky, stoney aesthetic. A great place to while away the evening chatting about all the fantastic things you saw and experience during your day in Odense.
Read More: In our Restaurant Guide to Copenhagen
Where to Stay
A traditional Danish house, a quaint and lovely decor, a literary name reminiscent of Odense’s beloved H.C. Andersen, and a very reasonable price. Fairytale B&B is the ideal place to stay when you visit Odense. The city is very much about the simpler life: hygge, cosy homes, quiet neighbourhoods. So a grand hotel just seems disingenuous. A B&B is far more in-keeping with the atmosphere and tone of Odense, and Fairytale B&B is the best of the bunch: a sweet and cosy little nook, private and very quintessentially Odense.
Read More: Where to Stay in Copenhagen
– including a local neighbourhood guide
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Predominantly writes about the books of Books and Bao, examining the literature of a place and how the authors have used the art of storytelling to reflect the world and the culture around them.