Surrounded by some of the loveliest countryside Scandinavia has to offer, relaxed Billund boasts a truly enviable setting. But for all its natural beauty, it is Legoland that really draws the crowds – and it remains Denmark’s top tourist attraction bar none. Nevertheless, with UNESCO-listed Royal Jelling and a bevy of quaint towns nearby, there’s more to Billund than plastic bricks.
TAptly for a town so closely associated with Lego, its central church, Billund Kirke (Hans Jensensvej 4, 7676 7601), resembles nothing so much as a gigantic brick, dominated by straight lines and Le Corbusier-style modernist architecture. The structure may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is also part of the Billund Centre, a cultural hub which includes a library and a concert hall, that offers information on local history and has a café that serves a decent brew and slice of cake. The Billund Centre is open from 8am-10pm daily.
Less than a century ago, Billund was little more than a tiny village – but all that changed thanks to the efforts of one man, Ole Kirk Kristiansen. His home, the evocatively named ‘Lion House’, now forms part of a new attraction, The Company Town Route, which checks off most of the city’s key landmarks and sets out the intertwined histories of Billund and Lego. Starting at Billund Museum (Borgergade 25; 7972 7490), the trail is marked with brightly coloured tiles and takes you past the imposing Billund Heating Plant and through the town’s lovely sculpture park.
No visit is complete without a trip to Legoland (Nordmarksvej 9, 7533 1333), the theme park that quite literally built Billund. A whopping 65 million colourful tiny Lego bricks were used to create this miniature world where visitors can see major global landmarks as well as classic Copenhagen scenes, including a particularly impressive intricate reconstruction of colourful Nyhavn Harbour. New to the park is the fantastically detailed Ninjago World, which includes a laser maze, a rock climbing wall and an interactive ride that asks you to master the four elements to defeat baddie The Great Devourer. Also worth checking out is Legotop which gives you a wonderful bird’s eye view of the park.
If you don’t fancy lunch in the park or a trip to neighbouring Lalandia, a huge waterpark housed in a tropical dome, head to nearby Ribe for lunch. Awash with crooked cottages and winding cobbled streets, Denmark’s oldest town is also within striking distance of the Wadden Sea National Park (Havnebyvej 30, Rømø; 7254 3634), which is famed for its bewilderingly large array of birdlife. For lunch, try Ribe’s Restaurant Vægterkælderen (Torvet 1; 7542 1400), which serves up Danish classics such as pickled herring as well as excellent steaks.
Like Billund, Ribe is in the heart of Viking land – although nowhere is as authentically Norse as the magnificent standing stones at Royal Jelling (Gormsgade 23, 4120 6331). The UNESCO-listed site offers a unique insight into Denmark’s Viking past and was raised by the Viking king Gorm and his son Harald Bluetooth to 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.
If you feel up to travelling further afield, it’s a 45-kilometre drive from Billund to the picturesque town of Kolding. Here you will find a compact city centre enlivened with rows of brightly coloured houses painted in chic cream or buttercup yellow as well as a fine moated castle, the Koldinghus (Markdanersgade 11, 7633 8100). Slick Danish design and creativity is championed at Trapholt (Æblehaven 23, 7630 0530). Its café has spectacular views over Kolding Fjord and is perfect for a late afternoon coffee or an early evening glass of wine.
Stick around in Kolding for supper, which has plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from – including sushi and traditional Danish fare. One of the cooler options is Bar & Restaurant Berg (Banegårdspladsen 7; 7634 5409); a slick number with stainless steel and neon lighting galore that wouldn’t look out of place in Copenhagen or, indeed, New York. Just as stylish is Restaurant Repos (Skovbrynet 1; 7634 1390), which, like Berg, is a study in slick interior design and serves up beautifully cooked modern Danish food. For something extra special, head out into the countryside to Tyrstrup Kro (Tyrstrup Vestervej 6, Christiansfeld; 7456 1242) – a sprawling manor house that now contains a luxury hotel and a seriously upmarket restaurant. The opulent eatery is another good place to try contemporary Danish dishes and boasts an imaginative, if eye-wateringly expensive, menu
Head back to Billund via the picturesque Filskov Kro (Amtsvejen 34, Grindsted; 7534 8111), a 19th-century coaching inn that combines old-fashioned charm with a well-stocked bar. Rooms are relaxing and restful too, so bed down for the night if the thought of going all the way back to Billund is too much. Similarly lovely is the Hovborg Kro (Holmeåvej 2, Hovborg; 7539 6033), another pleasantly cosy country inn. White-painted and thatched, it is small and friendly and serves generously proportioned drinks. Back in Billund itself, the Hotel Svanen (Nordmarksvej 8, 7533 2833) is home to one of the coolest bars in town, as well as a slick restaurant named No.8. Check in for good - if not cheap - cocktails in the neon-lit lobby bar.