St. Nicolas Church in Rønne, Bornholm, is right next to the harbor. Photo by janmadsen/Shutterstock.
With new Nordic cuisine and Scandinavian design as hot as ever, Copenhagen has been on savvy travelers’ radar for some time. But few outside of Denmark know about the island of Bornholm, located just south of Sweden and north of Poland. Each summer, Danes flock to “The Pearl of the Baltic,” said to be the sunniest part of the country, to hike and kayak the dynamic granite coastline, cycle its expanse of biking trails, and enjoy the island’s flourishing culinary scene. Here’s everything you need to know for a successful trip.
Once you’ve made it to Denmark, the Sunshine Island is readily accessible by a 30-minute flight from Copenhagen through Danish Air Transport. Making your way around Bornholm is easiest by car, and while Danes who arrive via Faergen ferry service can opt to bring their own vehicle, plenty of rental options are available at the airport.
Bornholm is also ideal for cycling and boasts some 200 miles of bike trails paved over old railway lines. Most of the major towns have bike rental shops. On your cycling route, keep an eye out for roadside stands selling everything from plants to jewelry, which are operated on the honor system.
Two friends from Bornholm—chef Nicolai Nørregaard and his partner Rasmus Kofoed—kick-started the local food scene and put the 227 square-mile rural island on the map 10 years ago with the opening of Kadeau, a beachside restaurant crafting new Nordic cuisine using only local and foraged ingredients (think wild ramps, Baltic prawns, and pickled pine blossoms). The (now Michelin-starred) restaurant has since expanded to include an outpost in Copenhagen (also Michelin-starred) as well as PONY, also in Copenhagen and a more casual concept that uses the flavors of Bornholm as a palette.
News of the dreamy island has traveled across the Danish capital thanks to these restaurants, as well as Bornholmer Butikken, a shop in the Torvehallerne food market peddling island-made delicacies, such as Johan Bülow licorice, Høstet sea buckthorn products, beer and chocolate from the village of Svaneke, and Bornholms Mosteri juice pressed from rhubarb, elderflowers, gooseberries, and red currants.
Opportunities abound to taste traditional flavors, too. Historically, Bornholm was a fishing village, and the island is still dotted with pyramid-shaped herring smokehouses. While some have been converted into other businesses, like Norresan, a beachside café, a handful of the smokehouses still prepare herring daily and serve it with a spread of accoutrements. Be sure to try Sol Over Gudhjem, an island specialty made from smoked herring, radishes, chives, and raw egg yolk on Danish rugbrød—and best enjoyed at Gudhjem Røgeri, where it originated. Visit farm café Hallegaard for a taste of the Old World–style sausages that butcher Jørgen Christensen crafts, using recipes inherited from island matrons, and smokes over beechwood.
When it comes to accommodations, visitors to Bornholm are spoiled for choice, between the idyllic tiled-roof holiday homes for rent as well as some remarkable hotels. A few years ago, Martin Smidt Kristensen turned a humble seaside motel into a boutique hotel called Nordlandet. This chic specimen of Danish design features 24 well-appointed apartments and rooms, a designated “pool” where the Baltic meets the rocky shore, and plenty of candlelit common areas generating hygge galore. Thanks to a partnership with the team at Kadeau, the ocean-facing restaurant serves artfully composed, nature-driven dishes and natural wines.
For a more traditional bathing hotel with access to a seasonal sauna and outdoor pool, head to Stammershalle Badehotel, a charming beachside location with rustic Scandinavian diamond rugs, white shiplap walls, and a decadent Nordic breakfast spread.
Perhaps just as iconic as the island’s smokestacks are its snowy-white round churches. Of the seven found throughout Denmark, four of them were built on Bornholm, where they are thought to have served as fortresses at one point. Built around 1150, Østerlars Church is the largest, and likely the oldest, of the mysterious round edifices. Hammershus, the oldest and largest medieval castle in northern Europe, is also on the island. A state-of-the-art visitors’ center, currently under construction, will open in the next year, and hiking trails connect the 13th-century structure to the Hammeren lighthouse and Hammeren Havn, a picturesque harbor with areas for swimming.
The island’s best beaches are found at the southern tip of the island, where the white sands of Dueodde are so soft and fine, they are said to have been used for Europe’s hourglass industry. And although you won’t find any hourglasses on the island these days, you will see plenty of blown glass and ceramics, handcrafted by resident artists. Visit the stunning Bornholm Art Museum to become acquainted with some of the local talent, and pick up one of the studio guides printed by the Arts and Crafts Association of Bornholm.
Bornholm’s peak season is short but action packed. The culinary competition Sol Over Gudhjem kicks off summer at the end of June, and the music festival Wonderfestiwall, which attracts acts from across Europe at the end of August, marks the end of the warmest months. The weeks in between are filled with live music at Musikhuzet, barbecue pop-ups, artist workshops, and craft markets.
However, settle into Bornholm for a few days and you’ll find some of the greatest joy in the stillest of moments: a field of orange poppies dancing in the breeze, a glass of wine by candlelight, and the constant glow of midsummer twilight against the horizon.