Why you should visit Bornholm: 15 things to do on Bornholm Island, Denmark
Bornholm is Denmark’s sunny Baltic Sea getaway.
If you’re an avid traveller looking for adventure, the region of Scandinavia offers nearly endless opportunities to see things you don’t often see elsewhere: Majestic fjords, snow-covered forests, and the Northern Lights being just a few.
Denmark, despite being the smallest of the three Scandinavian countries, nonetheless has a seemingly endless supply of surprising places to visit. One of the most fascinating of all would have to be sunny Bornholm Island, Denmark’s hidden Baltic Sea treasure and an iconic holiday getaway for the Danish people.
Wait, what? Sunny? In the land famous for long, cold northern nights, glaciers, and Vikings in longboats crossing icy, grey seas?
Indeed, Bornholm Island offers Danish people and visitors who want to see another side of Denmark a lovely, often sunny nearby getaway with tons of natural areas, miles upon miles of beachfront, and thriving artisan culture. Other reasons to visit aside from Bornholm beaches include wandering through Denmark’s third-largest forest, seeing the country’s first herd of European bison to live there in over 2,500 years, and trekking up some of the highest points in the entire country atop stunning rock formations overlooking the sea.
You can also count on getting plenty of Danish and regional history on your trip to visit Bornholm as well, given that the island’s strategic location in the Baltic Sea has meant that a surprising number o nations have squabbled over possession of the island for as long as we’ve kept records of such things. There are tremendous castles and fortresses, four examples of medieval round churches or rundekirke as they are known in Danish, dating back to the 12th century, and much more to interest the history buff.
Where is Bornholm Island located?
First of all, let’s figure out where we’re going, shall we? Bornholm Island is a 227-square mile rocky island located to the east of mainland Denmark, past the southern tip of Sweden in the Baltic Sea, northeast of Germany and to the north of the westernmost part of Poland.
If that sounds like it’s a long way off, it really isn’t; you can get to Bornholm Island via ferry leaving from Copenhagen in about three hours, a trip that offers spectacular views of Denmark as you head out, and of the southern coast of Sweden along the way.
Another ferry leaving from Ystad in Sweden takes just 80 minutes. Bornholm Island is also served by an airport, and there are flights from Copenhagen and Aalborg that take less than an hour.
Top things to do in Bornholm
So if the idea of a sunny escape from the city to enjoy a peaceful, natural forest retreat, delve into some fascinating history, visit with some incredible and unique artisans at Bornholm markets and enjoy literally miles of pristine, beautiful coastline sounds about right, here are some of the top attractions in the island of Bornholm.
1. Hammershus Castle
History buffs as well as people who simply appreciate a spectacular view are going to have a great time exploring the ruins of Hammershus Castle while they visit Bornholm Island. This impressive ruin is home to the largest medieval fortification in Scandinavia and is located atop a 243-foot promontory at the northernmost tip of Bornholm Island.
Visitors to the castle who make the trek up the hill will be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding sea to the west and north, and the deep, dense forest that rolls away inland to the southeast, giving them an immediate understanding of why this was the most important fortification during the centuries of struggle for control of Bornholm Island.
2. Opal Lake
Just 20 minutes away from Hammershus lies Opal Lake, formed from an old granite quarry. The gorgeous scenery surrounding the lake is rewarding enough for heading over after you spend some time at Hammershus, but you can also swim, or try out a 950-foot long zip-line that drops you right into the water!
3. Rundekirke (round churches)
Bornholm Islands is famously the home of four of the seven historic round churches in Denmark, and anyone visiting Bornholm should make an effort to visit all four because they each offer a unique experience. There’s no mystery as to why the round churches were so named, given their iconic circular shape, but the history of these unique edifices better explains the reasoning behind this design choice.
Not only did they serve as places of worship — the rundekirke were designed so that soldiers manning stations atop the buildings could view attackers coming from any direction and have a great advantage over them. These incredible buildings date back to around 1150, and are open to tourists when there aren’t any church services being held — yes they still function as houses of worship after all this time!
If you only have time to see one or two, make sure you go to Østerlars as it is the largest of the four and most popular. Some even say that Østerlars served as a secret link between the Danish crusaders and the French Knights Templar, although some scholars are sceptical.
Also worth seeing is Nylars Rundekirke, the oldest and most easily accessible of the four churches, featuring a central pillar that’s decorated with 13th-century frescoes depicting the Biblical creation story with Adam and Eve being evicted from the Garden of Eden. Of the other two round churches, Olsker is the tallest, and Nyker is the smallest, each fascinating in its own right.
4. Dueodde Beach
Visitors to Bornholm Island are almost universally drawn to visit some of the island’s gorgeous beaches. It’s said that you can walk on sand almost the entire length of Bornholm’s western side, and definitely the 50 kilometres between the town of Hasle and Balka are connected by beach.
But probably the biggest draw for summertime tourists from Denmark—and all over the world, for that matter—and the most famous Bornholm beach is Dueodde Beach. This glorious, seemingly endless expanse of coastline is known for its white sand, which is so fine it was once used in hourglasses.
When you get tired of reclining in the comfy white sand on the broad, wide-open beach, or enjoying the crystal-clear water, you can also check out the Dueodde Lighthouse, and there are even camping and hostel operations located right on the edge of the beach.
The gourmet on a visit to Bornholm need not worry about doing without world-class cuisine while on the island, as one of Copenhagen’s top restaurants is represented there. Kadeau Bornholm is the island’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, and is only open a few weeks out of the year during the summertime high season on the island, so you’ll need to make your reservations well in advance.
But you’ll be rewarded with an incredible and creative menu crafted from local ingredients, many of which are sourced right at the restaurant’s own farm on the island. The chef is also fond of using foraged ingredients found only on Bornholm, so you’re looking at a dining experience that literally cannot be had anywhere else if you eat at Kadeau Bornholm.
While we’re on the subject of food, especially for the would-be gourmand looking for a bit more of a budget-friendly dining experience, a must-see is Christianshøjkroen. Located almost at the island’s exact centre in the town of Aakirkeby and built in an old inn, this charming restaurant has consistently won awards and was named the best lunch restaurant in the country in 2015.
The creative team behind Christianshøjkroen is noted for their simultaneous adherence to and ability to play with the notion of the classic Danish smørrebrød.
7. Fishing villages: Svaneke and Gudhjem
But sometimes if you want the freshest and best food, you’ve got to go directly to the source. One thing Bornholm has no shortage of is charming fishing villages where you can find not only beautiful, quaint streets to wander, but also traditional smokehouses preparing herring and a variety of other delicacies from the sea as well as sausages and other traditional delicacies.
One favourite among these fishing villages that frequently gets mentioned by Danes themselves fondly recalling their time on Bornholm is Svaneke, a town of just over 1,000 people located on the southeastern coast of Bornholm Island. Named from the old Danish words for “swan” and “inlet,” this treasured little town has the island’s biggest smokehouse, a well-preserved town centre dating to the 1300s, and winding streets lined with fairy tale half-timbered houses.
Just up the coast from Svaneke is Gudhjem, another captivating fishing village with a minuscule population of just 722. People are drawn to its steep hills, narrow streets, and friendly atmosphere.
8. Brændesgårdshaven (Joboland)
And now for something completely different: Joboland! Denmark’s largest waterpark and also home to a zoo and amusement park, this spot near Svaneke is a family favourite. The Danish name for it is Brændesgårdshaven, which means “Brændesgård’s Garden,” so named for the farm on which it was built, and also because it features a lovely garden perfect for strolling on a sunny summer day.
9. Helligdomsklipperne (Sanctuary Cliffs)
Bornholm Island has two nicknames: one is The Sunshine Island, or Solskinsøen, so named for reasons we’ve already discussed. The other name given to the island is The Rock Island, or Klippeøen, and you’ll soon discover why if you haven’t already.
Bornholm is home to tons (literally) of massive and epic rock formations that are full of Instagram-worthy snapshots. One of the most visited of these is Helligdomsklipperne or Sanctuary Cliffs, located on Bornholm’s northeastern coast.
These incredible cliffs are an iconic landmark well-known not only in Bornholm but in all of Denmark. Visitors can climb down a staircase to the bottom of the formation to explore inner caves — if they dare!
10. Jons Kapel (Jon’s Chapel)
Across the island on the northwest side near Hasle is another iconic rock formation called Jon’s Chapel, a stunning natural area with some incredible hiking areas. The 135-foot cliffs were formed over millennia by the pounding of the waves against the rocks back when sea levels were much higher than today.
A long climb down a stone staircase will put you at the bottom of the cliffs, where you can begin to get an idea of why they are called Jon’s Chapel. The story goes that a hermit named—you guessed it, Jon—came to Bornholm to preach Christianity. He is said to have lived in the caves carved into the cliffs, and indeed numerous caverns bear his name today, most of which can be seen from below: Jon’s Bedroom, Jon’s Dining Room, and even Jon’s Meat Cellar.
Rock climbers adore the cliffs, and there are numerous climbing routes mapped out.
11. Islands off Bornholm Island
Swinging back over to the east coast of Bornholm, you might want to check out Ertholmene, the collective name for a pair of inhabited islands called Christiansø and Frederiksø. You can take a ferry across to them from either Gudhjem or the town of Allinge further down the coast and it’s well worth the trip.
There are old fortifications here, where prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment were once sent, and where today some 40,000 people annually visit for a relaxing spa day. It’s super peaceful also, given that no cars are allowed.
12. Glass and ceramic workshops
Bornholm Island is renowned for its glassblowers, ceramic makers, and other artisans working in glass and with the especially fine clay found on the island. You can visit the studios of a number of the top ones and pick up a souvenir while you’re there, among them Baltic Sea Glass, and ceramicist Torven Lov of Lov i Listed.
Lov, who crafts all the ceramic-ware for Kadeau restaurant, has his studio in his charming old farmhouse where his wife also runs a gift shop. Gudhjem also has a glassware workshop located right next to the smokehouse, and for the kids, you should check out Lilli’s Glasdesign and workshops near Nylars, as they offer kid’s workshops where they can create their very own glass pieces.
13. Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Museum
While we’re on the subject of the arts and especially the crafts specific to Bornholm, it’s worth your time plan a visit to the museum at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Bornholm, where the country’s glass and ceramics programs are located. Their museum is devoted to local craftspeople. Another worthy journey is to check out ACABor the Arts and Crafts Association Bornholm, where you can see the work of a variety of different artisans on display, and pick up something for the folks back home.
You definitely want to take some time away from the beach to visit Denmark’s third-largest forest, the Almindingen. It’s a beautiful, tranquil forest of nearly 10,000 acres, home to the Rytterknægten, the highest point on the island, and with tons of hiking and biking trails.
Finally, attracting some 120,000 visitors annually is Bison Bornholm, a bison preserve within the Almindingen that has a herd of 14 European bison, seven of which were imported from Poland in 2012. The animals are the first of their kind to live on Danish soil in 2,500 years and a source of great pride for the islanders and fascination for visitors.
Getting to Bornholm
A flight from Copenhagen is just under 40 minutes, and the Bornholm Airport is just 4 km away from the centre of Rønne. Other options include the ferry with car service from several places in Denmark, as well as ferries originating in Sweden, Germany, and Poland. There is even a bus-ferry combo available that will take you from Copenhagen Central Station to Ystad in Sweden, and from there you board a ferry to Bornholm.
All in all, a visit even for a day or two to Bornholm Island promises to be an amazing journey for even the most jaded traveller. Come in the summer when the Bornholm beaches and natural surroundings are at their most agreeable, and you’ll be sure to have a unique, memorable time that won’t soon be forgotten!
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