Denmark is a country in northwestern Europe. Denmark’s official name in Danish is Kongeriget Danmark (Kingdom of Denmark). The Vikings founded the Danish kingdom more than 1,100 years ago, making it one of Europe’s oldest continuous kingdoms. The national flag, the Dannebrog, has been in use since 1219. Copenhagen (København in Danish) is Denmark’s capital and largest city.
Historically and culturally, Denmark is part of Scandinavia. In centuries past, the Danish monarch at times ruled all or parts of both Norway and Sweden, as well as the island nation of Iceland. Geographically, Denmark remains a bridge between continental Europe and the more northerly Scandinavian countries.
Today, Denmark is a small country that occupies most of the Jutland Peninsula (Jylland in Danish), as well as the hundreds of islands of the Danish archipelago. The southern border of Jutland touches Germany, Denmark’s only land boundary with the European mainland. The boundary measures just 68 km (42 mi) long. Denmark’s principal islands lie to the east, between Jutland and Sweden. The largest and most important island is Sjælland (also called Zealand). The greater part of Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital for 600 years, covers the eastern shore of Sjælland.
The Kingdom of Denmark also includes the Faroe Islands, a collection of 18 islands that lie northwest of Scotland; and Greenland, far to the northwest across the North Atlantic Ocean, near North America. Politically, both Greenland and the Faroe Islands are part of Denmark, but they are self-governing in all matters except defense and foreign affairs.
Denmark is a wealthy and thoroughly modern country, and its citizens enjoy one of the highest standards of living in Europe. Through skill and imagination, the Danes have made very effective use of limited natural resources. Denmark maintains one of Europe’s oldest and most extensive welfare states. Denmark’s contributions to the arts are numerous, especially in fashion, industrial design, cinema, and literature. Denmark’s best-known writers include Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales are famous throughout the world, and the religious philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
Geography of Denmark
Of the approximately 500 islands in the Danish archipelago, only a few are large and fewer than 100 are inhabited. Apart from Sjælland, the principal islands are Fyn, Lolland, Falster, Langeland, and Møn. Bornholm, a small island in the Baltic Sea, lying about 145 km (90 mi) east of Sjælland Island, is also a part of Denmark. Bridges connect many of the islands. Jutland, a peninsula on the European continent, forms the main body of Denmark.
Denmark is a lowland area. The average elevation is just 30 m (about 100 ft) above sea level. A ridge of low, rounded hills extends the length of central Jutland. They include Yding Skovhøj (173 m/568 ft), the highest point in Denmark.
The western coast of the mainland is low and rimmed by dunes and sandbars, which shelter the land from North Sea storms. The eastern coast, which is slightly higher in elevation, is deeply indented by a series of fjords. The Limfjorden, the most northerly of these indentations, extends in a generally east to west direction and cuts across the entire breadth of the peninsula from the Kattegat strait to the North Sea. Denmark has no large lakes or long rivers. However, the land is dotted with small lakes and bogs and threaded with short streams.
Denmark has a temperate maritime climate, with cool summers and generally mild winters. The winds are strong for much of the year and have a prevailing direction from the west. The mean temperature in summer is about 16°C (about 61°F); in winter, about 0°C (about 32°F), with slightly cooler average temperatures in the eastern part of the country. Average annual rainfall is about 610 mm (about 24 in). The wettest months are typically July through October.
Ethnically, the majority of Danes are of Scandinavian descent. The Scandinavians are a Germanic people who have occupied Norway, Sweden, and Denmark since pre-Viking times. The languages of the three countries are closely related. A small German-speaking minority lives in southern Jutland near the border with Germany. A largely Inuit population inhabits the Danish territory of Greenland, and the Faroe Islands have a Nordic population, the descendents of Viking colonizers. About 6 percent of Denmark’s people are classified as immigrants.
Copenhagen is the capital and by far the largest city in Denmark. About one-quarter of all Danes live in Copenhagen and its surrounding suburbs. Copenhagen is Denmark’s major port and is the leading commercial, social, and cultural center. The city was founded in the 12th century and has served as Denmark’s capital since 1443.
Århus, a seaport and commercial center on the east coast of Jutland, is Denmark’s second largest city. Home to Århus University, the city is the cultural center of Jutland and is noted for its lively music scene and nightlife. Odense, on the island of Fyn, is a port and industrial city. It dates from the 10th century and is famed as the birthplace of the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. Ålborg, a port on the Limfjorden, is the commercial center of northern Denmark.
Religion and language
The Evangelical Lutheran Church, a Protestant denomination, is Denmark’s national church. Nearly 90 percent of Danes are affiliated with the church. Due to accelerating immigration in the late 20th century, Islam is now the second largest religion in Denmark. The nation is also home to a small Roman Catholic minority. By law toleration is extended to all religions. Danish is the official language.
Elementary education has been compulsory since 1814. All children must attend school from age 7 to 16. Students may attend either private schools or free public schools. Primary education consists of a nine-year comprehensive school. All students may continue school through a tenth year of studies, and talented students are encouraged to continue their education beyond that point. Denmark’s adult literacy rate is 99 percent.
Denmark is home to hundreds of folk high schools, agricultural schools, and vocational schools. The well-regarded folk high schools are a distinctive Danish contribution to education. They are designed primarily for people over the age of 18 and offer many opportunities for further education through lectures and seminar discussions. No exams or degrees are given. Many of the schools are private, but the state contributes to their support regardless of their religious, political, or ethnic orientations.
Among the universities in Denmark are Ålborg University (1974), Århus University (1928), the University of Copenhagen, the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (1856), and the Technical University of Denmark (1829), all in Copenhagen; Odense University (1964); and Roskilde University (1972). Other institutions include the Århus School of Architecture (1965), the Copenhagen Business School (1917), and the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music (1867) and Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (1754).
Economy of Denmark
Once dependent on agriculture, Denmark today is a highly industrialized country. The Danes enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. Denmark’s prosperity is largely the result of the Danish peoples’ ability to adapt to changing economic conditions. The Danes have concentrated on producing high-quality manufactured goods, including machinery and metals, furniture, and food products, and providing services—especially banking and finance, insurance, transportation, and tourism. Because Denmark’s economy depends heavily on imported raw materials and exports of finished goods, the nation promotes a liberal trade policy. Foreign trade accounts for about two-thirds of Denmark’s gross domestic product (GDP).
In 1973 Denmark joined the European Economic Community (EEC), a predecessor of the European Union (EU). Denmark conducts about two-thirds of its trade with other EU member nations. However, Denmark has been a somewhat skeptical member of the EU, viewing membership as a potential threat to aspects of Danish sovereignty. In 1992 Danish voters narrowly rejected the Maastricht Treaty (or Treaty on European Union) in a national referendum but later accepted it with reservations. With its fundamentally strong economy and stable currency, Denmark qualified to participate in the European Monetary Union (EMU) and adopt the EU’s common currency, the euro, when it was introduced in 1999. Danish voters decisively rejected EMU in a 2000 national referendum, however, choosing to retain the national currency, the Danish krone (or crown).
The Official Website of Denmark