Denmark - A Country Overview

Information on the Kingdom of Denmark; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Denmark...


The southernmost of the Nordic countries, Denmark consists of a large peninsula known as Jutland and 443 named islands known as the Danish archipelago. The most notable of the Danish islands are Zealand, Jutland, Funen, Lolland and Bornholm. Out of the 1,419 islands in Denmark with a land area over 100m2, only 72 are inhabited. The Great Belt Bridge connects Funen to Zealand and the Little Belt Bridge links Funen to Jutland.

Denmark has a single land boundary with Germany and a coastline of over 7,300 Km to the North and Baltic seas. Its land area is estimated at 43,000 Km (excluding Greenland and the Faroe Islands), however, this is constantly changing due to coastline erosion and Danish land reclamation projects. Denmark is connected to southern Sweden via the ├śresund Bridge - measuring 8 Km in length, the bridge has four lanes of traffic (via the E20 motorway) and two railway tracks.

The furthest point from the sea in Denmark is 52 Km. The average height above sea level is 31m while the highest natural point in the country is Mollehoj in the Skanderborg municipality measuring just over 170m.

Denmark has a sea territory of 105,000 Km2.


Evidence of human existence in the area of Denmark stretches back 130,000 years. Early civilisation from 13,000 BC consisted of nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes that lived in the forests and hunted elk, red deer, boar and roe. Following a gradual rise in global temperatures during the Atlantic period the sea levels lifted turning Denmark into an archipelago. Humans changed their diets to that of seafood and life expectancy increased.

Agriculture arrived in Denmark in around 3,000 BC and evidence of social classes of the time has been found in the form of bronze religious pieces and musical instruments.

Pre-Roman times saw a decline in agriculture due to climate conditions. Over the centuries tribes from Denmark moved south towards what is now Germany. Iron ore was extracted from peat bogs at around this time during the Germanic Iron Age, while Celtic influence spread across most of northern Europe.

The Danes were amongst those known as the Vikings during the 8th to the 11th centuries. As merchants and marauders they explored and settled in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, France and Britain while trading along the coasts and rivers of Europe.

According to the Jelling rune stones (regarded as Denmark's birth certificate), various kingdoms existed in the area before Harald Bluetooth established a kingdom of the Danes in the latter half of the 10th century. Harald promoted Christianity in the area replacing Norse religious practices. Following the St. Brice's Day Massacre of Danish settlers in Britain (1002 AD) by King Ethelred the Unready, Harald's son Sweyn Forkbeard waged a series of Viking wars against England. Canute the Great completed the conquest by the middle of the 11th century and ruled over Denmark and England simultaneously.

After the death of Canute the Great, Denmark and England became divided. Canute IV attempted to re-conquer England but the financial burden placed on the peasants to fund the expedition led them to rebellion. As a result Canute was killed outside Odense in 1086 and the act signified the end of Scandinavian raids on other northern European countries.

From the 14th century Denmark ruled over much of northern Europe with territory stretching from Nordkapp as far south as the river Elbe. However, war, poor allegiances and arrogance saw the kingdom lose much of its territories and population over the centuries.

The period of the Napoleonic wars shattered years of peace in Denmark. Britain destroyed much of Denmark's navy in 1801 and again in 1807 after bombarding Copenhagen. By 1813, the cost of war had virtually bankrupted Denmark. Following peace in 1814, the Treaty of Kiel stripped Denmark of further territories. Denmark became a constitutional monarchy in 1849 after the Danish liberal movement gained momentum in the 1830s.

After the Second Schleswig War in 1864, Danish territory was further reduced by a third after losing Schleswig and Holstein.

Denmark remained neutral in WWI but suffered as its economy was mainly based on exports. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles saw the return of North-Schleswig to Denmark from Germany, however, popular opinion of the time wanted Central-Schleswig returned despite a plebiscite of 80-20 in favour of staying part of Germany. The King, under the impression he had the backing of the people used his power to dismiss the cabinet and seek more reparations from Germany. However, this led to the Easter Crisis of 1920 where demonstrations and a revolutionary atmosphere in Denmark nearly caused the overthrow of the crown. The King dismissed the recently installed government and installed a compromise, taking a reduced role as head-of-state. This event is an important part of the history of the Danish constitution.

During WWII Denmark signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. Despite this, Germany occupied Denmark in order to secure passage to Norway. Britain invaded The Faroe Islands and Iceland in 1940 to pre-empt a German invasion. Iceland declared its independence from Denmark in 1944 and the Faroe Islands gained home rule in 1948.

German occupation of Denmark became more controlled and after the resignation of parliament in 1943, Germany gained full control until the end of the war in 1945. Danish resistance movements sprang up and Denmark became difficult to control. In 1943, Denmark succeeded in smuggling the majority of its Jewish population to neutral Sweden to escape the Nazis.

Denmark became a member of the United Nations in 1945 and a founder member of NATO in 1949. Denmark joined the EC in 1973 though has opted out of many EU proposals since; the most notable being the single currency.

Politics and Government

The Kingdom of Denmark is a constitutional monarchy. Although given executive power, following the Easter Crisis of 1920, the monarch's power is ceremonial and they are not expected to influence government. The monarch formally appoints the prime minister and ministers.

Legislative power resides with the parliament (Folketinget) in which the prime minister and government ministers head departments. Judicial authority lies with the courts of justice.

The Folketinget consists of 175 elected members. Greenland and the Faroe Islands each elect two further members. 135 seats are allocated by proportional representation of ten districts while a further 40 are allocated using the Sainte-Lague method. Elections are held every four years but the prime minister may ask the monarch to call for an election at any time.

The Danish system has traditionally led to coalition governments.

Those over the age of 18 are eligible to vote.


Although a member of the EU, Denmark has not become a member of the European single currency. The currency unit of Denmark is the Kroner. It is pegged to the Euro via the ERM II at approximately 7.46 Kroner to the Euro.

Denmark has a mixed market capitalist economy and is well known for its strong welfare state. It has an above average European living standard and ranks number 16 in the world in terms of GDP per capita. According to the Economist, Denmark has one of the most competitive economies in the world with a very flexible labour market, high graduate numbers, the highest minimum wage in the world and conversely, the world's lowest level of income inequality.

With over 2.9 million workers, Denmark has a low unemployment rate of 6.6 percent (2010). Over half of its working population is employed in the public sector. It is a primary exporter of oil, gas, chemicals, machinery, animals and foodstuffs.

It ranks at number six on the global Ease of Doing Business scale but has high corporation and income taxes.


Denmark experiences a temperate climate with mild and windy winters followed by cool summers. It rains in Denmark on average one every three days with the average precipitation being just over 700mm a year. The wettest season is autumn while spring is the driest.

Temperatures in winter are not particularly cold with the mean average for January and February being around 0 degrees C. Summer temperatures average around 15.7 degrees C in August.

The average wind speed across the country is 7m per second.


Interpol considers crime rates in Denmark moderate compared to other industrialised countries. The national police have sole responsibility for internal security.

Although a highly developed western nation with a stable democracy, Denmark remains a target for terrorist activity following threats relating to incidents in 2005. Check government warnings before travelling.


Immigrants and their descendants make up for just under ten percent of the Danish population.

As a member of the EU, citizens of other EU member states are able to travel to, reside and work in Denmark.

Denmark is one of the most active countries in attempting to recruit skilled workers to its shores from around the world with schemes such as The Danish Green Card Scheme, The Positive List and The Pay Limit Scheme.


Denmark was ranked at number 43 in the UNWTO global tourism rankings in 2007 with 4.7 million people travelling to the country. Visitors consist of people mainly from neighbouring countries such as Holland, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Norway.

Denmark offers sandy beaches and is often marketed as a 'fairytale country', being the oldest kingdom in Europe and home to Hans Christians Andersen. Other tourist attractions include Copenhagen, Odense, numerous castles and windmills, Jelling's rune stones, Legoland, Svend Wiig Hansen's sculpture Men at Sea, rocky seascapes and the ruins of Hammershus.