It was Saturday, my second week of traveling around Scandinavia and we decided to visit Skagen (pronunciation: Skay-en). Spending the past ten days frowning upon rain in Denmark, I was thrilled to finally see a sunny morning. The drive to Denmark’s most northern tip was quite enjoyable – open road, windmills, green fields around us and unbelievably cute little houses built in a typical Scandinavian manner.
Sea, beach, artsy town, lots of history – I liked Skagen even before we got there, better say – I liked my expectations of it. And then, just like in any other good travel story – my expectations were surpassed.
“Are you a painter? Then follow us up here.” Hans Christian Andersen wrote this back in 1859, inviting people to come and feel the charm of this small town, a home for many artists back in the 19th century. This is what the city is actually known for – back in the days, it was a haven for impressionists painters.
Things to do in Skagen
Today, Skagen has about 9 thousand citizens and about 2 million tourists visiting it each year, during the summer peak it has up to 50 thousand guests daily. Danish people love coming here as it’s one of the places that has plenty of sun and rain never stays for too long. And as one of the locals told me – people come here to celebrate the light. This special light is what brought many impressionists here back in the 19th century and made this town a legend. These are the things to do in Skagen if you want to enjoy everything it has to offer:
Embrace the spirit of 19th century impressionists
Driven with romantic notion of the calm fishing life in the region combined with luminous light and interesting landscape, impressionists of the 19th century were heading to Skagen looking for a creative spike and new inspiration. Trend of the time, painting outdoors (painting en plein air) perfectly corresponded with lovely nature of Skagen. Painters PS Krøyer and Anna and Michael Ancher started the movement that would later be known as Skagen School.
Skagen Museum was founded in 1908, aiming to preserve the works made by the artists’ colony right in the place where they were initially created. Since 1928, museum is located in a building designed by famous architect Ulrik Plesner. In atmospheric garden of the museum you can see The Garden House where many artists would rent their lodgings as well as the warehouse where P.S. Krøyer established his first Skagen’s studio.
Museum showcases the incredible art pieces produced in period between 1870 and 1930.
Collection includes over 1800 paintings, sketches, graphic works, ceramics and sculptures. Majority of these artists were recognized worldwide during their lifetime and their continuous work created the image of Skagen as a perfect place for work and leisure.
The most prominent artists of Skagen school were Anna and Michael Ancher and P.S. Krøyer. Krøyer was known for his efforts to ‘paint the light’, he was enchanted with so called ‘blue hour’, the time when the day turns into night and it seems like the sky and the sea merge into each other in the same shade of blue. Other well known names are Holger Drachmann, Viggo Johansen, Carl Locher, Laurits Tuxen, Christian Krohg and Oscar Björck.
Learn more about Anne and Michael Ancher
While Michael was one of the painters that came to Skagen, Anna was the only Skagen painter that was actually from the town itself. She got her first painting lessons from Karl Madsen, Viggo Johansen and Michael Ancher in 1870s.
Just after they got their first daughter, Michael and Anna bought the house at Markvej in 1884. In the first 30 years they lived in a small part of the house – a low wing facing the road. When they decided to make it more spacious they’ve called Ulrik Plesner who designed a studio building on the north side of the original house. After their death, Helga, their daughter, continued to live here. She died in 1964 leaving the house to the foundation and in 1967 it was restored and opened as a museum. The house has been preserved in order to look just like it did when they lived there.
Take a photo standing in two seas in Grenen
I’ll admit it can be a bit ‘touristy’ thing to do – to wait for your turn and take almost the same photo as so many people before you, but can you resist the urge to say you had your two feet standing in two seas? Grenen is located at the tip of the peninsula and it’s the spot where two seas meet – Skagerrak from the west side and Kattegat from the east. Due to strong tidal currents, swimming is strictly forbidden. If you’re lucky, you might enjoy seeing the seals, they got used to tourists so often they just rest on the beach among the crowds.
Grenen is situated several kilometers north from the city. It’s a perfect opportunity to rent a bike and enjoy the surrounding sceneries on your way there. Bike rental will cost you around £10 a day in the city. You can also reach it via tractor-pulled bus called the Sandormen, it starts running at 10am each day at the Grenen car park.
Bike your way to Tilgengrade
Tilgengrade, or the famous church covered in sand was built late in the 14th century, serving as the biggest church of the region. Due to a sand drift that started in the 17th century the church started to sink in the ground. At one point, people who wanted to get in the church had to dig their way in, however as the situation got significantly worse they closed the church in 1795. Seeing the lonely tall building in the midst of nowhere I somehow expected it’s exactly as it was since it was made. I was quite surprised to see the table explaining the story of this church and showcasing rather big complex of the church and its additional constructions. However, the nature took its tool on it and today, you can only see how it looked via the photo reconstruction.
Tilgengrade is located about 5km from Skagen and you will enjoy the bike ride if you take the Gammel Landevej trail from Skagen.
All in all, Skagen is a perfect place to go for a day trip in case you are staying somewhere in Denmark or for a relaxing weekend if you have more time. Enjoy the scenery and activities offered in the city and see how much you can appreciate the light that brought so many artists here during the past. With good selection of seafood in local restaurants, you’re in for a cuisine delight as well
p.s. If you’ve been there as well, and know some tips I didn’t mention in the post, please share it in the comments.