The red and blue tractor-pulled trolley was bumping along the Grenen sandbar at Skagen Odde, a peninsula that marks the northernmost point in Denmark. We had swapped our coach bus for the trolley at the Grenen Visitor Center, where the road begins its transition to gravel and sand. The trolley, officially known as the Sandormen – the sand worm – was the latest addition to my growing list of most unusual modes of transportation, including a railcruiser in New Zealand and a tuk-tuk in Lisbon.

As we neared the end of the peninsula, our driver parked the Sandormen, and we headed to the water’s edge on foot. This is the place where the North and Baltic Seas converge, their waters swirling together as a relentless wind rushes through. Our group took turns trying to stand as accurately as possible on the spot where the two seas meet, and although I have no idea whether we succeeded, I will say that I’m certain we were “pretty close.”

The Sandormen on the beach at Grenen, Denmark.
The “official” spot where the North and Baltic Seas meet…
…and our selfie!
Footprints from the Sandormen.

The Sand-Covered Church

Our visit to the Grenen sandbar was part of a Seabourn Ovation excursion from Skagen (pronounced Skane) that was taking us to three sand-themed destinations. Back at the Grenen Visitor Center, we left the Sandormen behind and headed to our second sandy spot, the Sand-Covered Church, about fifteen minutes away.

Built in the 14th century, the brick church was once the largest in the region, but became partially buried in the 1600s when sand from the nearby dune began drifting into the surrounding fields. Rising levels of sand buried the church’s foundations faster than they could be dug out, and the building fell into disrepair. Valuable furnishings and tapestries were removed from the interior, and the church was closed in 1795. Today only the tower remains visible above the sand.

The Sand-Covered Church is a rather eerie sight, like a ghost town of one rising up from an area of trees, high grasses and hiking trails. The brick has been whitewashed over the years, and wooden posts surrounding the structure outline the area where the entire church stood.

The Sand-Covered Church is also known as The Buried Church and Old Skagen Church.
View of the front…
…and the back. The post in the lower right corner shows where the original church stood.

Råbjerg Mile

The sand dune responsible for burying the Sand-Covered Church is called Råbjerg Mile, a migrating coastal dune that moves in a northeasterly direction of about 18 meters, or 59 feet, a year. Formed more than 300 years ago, it’s the largest migrating dune in Northern Europe. Råbjerg Mile was the final stop on our sand trio tour and a quite a contrasting landscape. It felt as if we’d landed in the desert.

Herb and I walked onto a sand-covered path surrounded by brush and low-lying grasses and suddenly found ourselves looking at endless hills of sand. Thinking there must be a view of something beyond the sand, we decided to head out toward one of the hills to see what was on the other side. But with the exception of a few tufts of grasses decorating the barren landscape, the only sight we found was more sand.

Rabjerg Mile Pathway Skagen Denmark - the modern postcard
Beginning our walk.
Scenes from Råbjerg Mile…

Skagen Lighthouses

Our sand destinations were a short drive from one another, with the route in a sort of loop to and from Skagen. Along the way we passed three lighthouses – two abandoned and one working. The oldest is known as Vippefyr, which roughly translates as “tipping light,” and looks nothing like a lighthouse. Built in 1627, it was used as a navigational light mechanism for over one hundred years. What stands today is a copy of the original. In 1747, the White Lighthouse was built to replace Vippefyr. It was the first brick lighthouse in Denmark and was used as a signaling station until 1858, when the Grey Lighthouse was constructed a little over a mile away on Skagen Odde.

Replica of Vippefyr, Skagen’s first lighthouse.
The White Lighthouse.
And the currently operating Grey Lighthouse.

Skagen Architecture

After the tour, Herb and I spent the rest of the day in Skagen, taking in the charming architecture and the art museum. It’s one of those places where I’d loved to have had more time just to wander. I took a few photos of buildings that caught my eye as we were driving into town as well as some while walking in the city center. There is a required uniformity in town – buildings must be painted a distinctive color called “Skagen Yellow” with red tile roofs and white trim – yet each has a distinctive look that is wonderfully inviting.

I was surprised to see a windmill just outside the city center and later learned that it’s a museum.
I loved this old thatched roof house with its matching mailbox.
Another thatched-roof building.
A pristine house painted the proper shade of “Skagen Yellow,” with a roof that looks like it’s trimmed with gingerbread icing.
A flower shop along the main street.
A quiet street off the beaten path.

Skagens Museum

At the end of the 19th century, Skagen became popular with a group of impressionist painters who formed an art colony known as Skagen Painters. The group lived and worked in the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s, drawn to the beaches and other plein air settings and inspired by the light of Skagen. In 1908, several artists and local business owners founded the Skagens Museum, which opened to the public in 1928. In 2014, the museum merged with two historic house museums – Anchers Hus and Drachmanns Hus – and today maintains a collection of more than 11,000 works.

Skagens Museum is housed in a contemporary-looking building connected to an older brick structure. Statues of two of the museum’s artists/founders, Michael Ancher and P.S. Krøyer, stand at the front entrance. Herb and I bought tickets at the information desk and were directed downstairs to stow our bags in a locker.

After trying in vain to figure out how to actually lock the locker and remove the key, a Danish woman at a nearby locker noticed us and stopped by to help. “There’s a coin in the slot which you need to remove and insert after closing the door. Then you’ll be able to remove the key,” she told us. Her friendliness and offer to help transported me back in time to Copenhagen nine years ago, where we were overwhelmed by the happy demeanor and kindness of strangers. Here was that wonderful Danish generosity once again – out of the blue – at the Skagens Museum.

Known as pioneers in plein air painting, Michael Ancher and P.S. Krøyer are portrayed carrying their tools for painting outdoors.

Marie Krøyer

Back upstairs, we headed to the first gallery. I’ve long been a fan of the French Impressionists and was eager to learn about their Danish counterparts. Two of the most prominent were Marie Krøyer and her husband Peder Severin Krøyer, known as P.S. Krøyer. In addition to their paintings, the museum features models of their home, where Marie also began working in furniture, textile and interior design.

Model of the Krøyer’s living room in Skagen.
Marie Krøyer, “Madame Bendsen’s House.” 1891/94.
Marie Krøyer, Painted Chairs.

P.S. Krøyer

Along with other Skagen Painters, P.S. Krøyer was known for his beach landscapes. He was inspired by the light of the evening’s “blue hour,” when the water and sky seem to blend together.

P.S. Krøyer, “Summer Evening at Skagen.” 1892.
P.S. Krøyer, “Midsummer Eve bonfire on Skagen’s beach.” 1906.
I thought the view from this window looked like one of Krøyer’s paintings!
Overlooking one of the galleries from the second floor walkway.

Social Life

A common theme in the Skagen Painters’ work was their daily life. Paintings of parties, social gatherings and group activities are found throughout the museum. One of the best examples is a large painting called “A soirée in the studio,” displayed next to a chart that identifies the various party-goers.

“Painting pictures of themselves and each other became increasingly popular with the artists during the 1890s and contributed to their popularity with a broad audience, but also giving rise to a good deal of curiosity. Social life and dialogues on art trends was the cement that bonded the artists and made the artist colony and the concept of Skagen painters possible.”

~Skagens Museum

Lauritis Tuxen, “A soirée in the studio.” 1905.
Partygoers in the painting.
I loved this gallery that is designed to look like the painters’ dining room. Portraits of the artists line the top of the walls, with some of their work displayed below.
My favorite in the room, “Boat on Skagen South Beach,” by Oscar Björck. 1884.

Epilogue

It was late afternoon when we left the museum to look for the shuttle stop where we could catch the bus back to the ship. When Herb and I reached the designated street, the bus was pulling away from a parking spot across the street and heading in the opposite direction from the port. As we hurried across the street, a man appeared – we weren’t sure who he was; perhaps he worked for the bus company or the City of Skagen – motioning for us to return to the other side of the street.

“The bus is just turning around at the end of the street,” he told us. “Wait here and I will make sure he stops for you.” By that time, we were joined by several other people returning to the ship, and this incredibly kind man was standing in the street, waving down our bus. And most amazing of all, he didn’t leave until all of us were on board and the bus was on its way to the port.

Once again, thoughts of the friendliness and generosity of the people we’d me in Copenhagen nine years ago came flooding back. Suddenly this man’s behavior made perfect sense. I turned to Herb and couldn’t stop smiling. “Of course!” I told him. “We’re in Denmark.”

12 Comments

  • Mary, splendid job of rendering Skagen for your readers…and, as always, superior photographs accompanying. S. and I also liked the town and its artist colony and today’s museum were revelations. Particularly Marie Kroyer’s paintings and her furniture were impressive and deserve wider audience. And the sand dunes!….reminded me of White Sands, New Mexico, and Sandhills State Park, Monahans, Texas….something about endless hills of sand…. -J. Daniel

    • That’s so kind of you, Josiah…thank you! We loved Skagen as well. There was such a breadth of things to see packed into our day there. The Danish Impressionists are a real treasure, and I completely agree with you that they deserve a wider audience. I loved the story of the artist colony and how this small community drew such great talent. And yes…the sand dunes…utterly fascinating!

  • This is another very insightful and well photographed post Mary! We also loved Skagen and marveled at the new to us painters represented in their excellent museum.

    • Thanks so much, Susan! The Skagen Impressionists were a great surprise and one of those things that makes me think, “How did I not know about this?!” I’m glad to hear that you were as delighted as we were with Skagen!

  • A lovely Danish town. My one regret is that we had a very short time here when our ship called on Skagen. Went to the spot where the two seas are married, opting to walk instead of taking the sandworm. Managed a short stroll in town as well, but that was it. From your blog, I see that there was so much more to see. Perhaps we will have another chance to visit Skagen so we can see what we missed this time.

    • Erin, I was surprised by how much there is to see in this little town of about 7,500. The North and Baltic Seas spot is definitely at the top of the list – by Sandworm or on foot 😊. I’m glad to have offered an idea or two for a future visit, and I agree with you that “another chance” would be most welcome!

  • Thank you Mary, for taking me back to one of my all time favouriie places! How lovely to see Skagen through your eyes, to share your delight and to be reminded of what I loved about that small town too. Your lovely photographs br0ught it all back to me and reminded me of a truly magical day.
    G x

    • Gill, I definitely will join you in placing Skagen on a favorites list! From the beach to the dunes to the town and the inspiring art, I was truly delighted by our day there. I’m happy to have rekindled some great memories for you and hope we both will have a chance to return!

  • Mary, Chuck and I just finished the exact Seabourn trip, but we were a few weeks behind you. It would have been fun to cruise with you and Herb again. However, we hung on every excursion that you mentioned. We were thrilled that you would post a few days before we arrived at the next destination. In the end…if it had not been for you, I am guessing that we would have missed out on some of our favorite excursions. Please keep us informed on your next adventures. We truly enjoy following you. Our best to you and Herb.

  • Shelly, I’m delighted to know that these blog posts helped with some of your excursion choices, but I’m SO disappointed that we weren’t on the same cruise! We would love to cruise with you and Chuck again, and hopefully we can make that happen. We do seem to share the same taste in itineraries! 😊 I’m glad you had a great trip, and I really appreciate you checking in here. Hi to Chuck and greetings from Herb!

  • Hi on my way to Skagen this summer, I am a plein air artists and want to send and invite to any Danish plein air artists who would like to join my in Skagen. How do I do this, I can not find a plein air site for Danish artists anywhere, can you help.

    • Christopher, what a wonderful opportunity! My only suggestion is to contact the Skagens Museum. Someone there might know how to best get in touch with Danish plein air artists. There may be a local group or organization that you’re not familiar with because it doesn’t have an online presence. Also, the museum might be willing to post a notice to its members about your plans and that you’re inviting Danish plein artists to join you. Best of luck with your search, and have a great time this summer in that lovely little city!

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