Every year at Easter, the Danes get a five-day weekend during which most shops are only open on Saturday. Last year I did some touristy things around Copenhagen to pass the time, but as my to-do list gets shorter and shorter, and since I now actually earn money from my job, I thought about going away for the weekend instead. Of course, even though Denmark is the only country I know of to have a holiday on Skærtorsdag (Maundy Thursday), the rest of Western Europe also has a long weekend, and airlines hike up their prices as a result.
So, not wanting to pay several hundred euros for what would be a cheap trip to Bulgaria or Belgium any other weekend, I mulled over other options. And while flight ticket prices skyrocket over holidays, other modes of transportation aren’t so volatile. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to take the train and ferry, with their stable prices, to Bornholm, Denmark’s eastern-most island.
While Bornholm belongs to Denmark, on a map it appears just off the coast of Sweden. And while you could take a five-and-a-half-hour ferry there from Køge, the last stop on one of Copenhagen’s S-train lines, it’s much easier to book an 80-minute ferry from Ystad in Sweden and take a train to the harbour.
I love any excuse to visit Sweden, so my choice was obvious. I booked a round-trip ferry ticket for just €18 that would see me arrive on Bornholm on Thursday evening and leave again about 24 hours later. I wasn’t sure whether that would be enough time to see everything, but staying for two nights seemed too long and the only earlier ferry left Ystad at 8:00 AM; starting my holiday weekend off by waking up at 4:30 didn’t seem like the best idea.
I had a lot of trouble booking my train ticket to Ystad, with tickets not available online or at the major train station nearer to my house. I thought it might be nice to spend a couple of hours in Ystad before the ferry, especially since all the stores were open on Thursday in Sweden and there was nothing for me to do in Denmark that morning. So I got up (at a reasonable hour) on Thursday, headed to the central station where I could finally purchase a ticket across the Øresund, and managed to catch an early train at the very last minute. There is a special train timed with the ferries from Ystad called the Bornholm Express, which leaves from the furthest platform from the station and has a border control. Luckily I am much faster running on an empty platform than the direction signs (which suggested it would take fifteen minutes when I only had about five), and I managed to speed to a halt at the control, show my passport, and flop into an empty seat on the train only to promptly realise I had forgotten to bring a hairbrush for what was sure to be a very windy trip.
I decided I could live with messy hair for a couple of days and stayed on the train. It took just over an hour across the Øresund Bridge and through the rolling fields of Skåne to get to Ystad. Most of the train occupants headed straight for the next departing ferry, but I had more than four hours to kill before I had to go to the harbour.
The reason I explicitly mentioned Ystad in the title of this post is because Ystad is a dream.
I can’t remember where I first heard about it – I think maybe it’s mentioned in one of Stieg Larsson’s books – but nowadays it is most famous for being home to Henning Mankell’s fictional detective Kurt Wallander. In Germany the dubbed Swedish show based on the novels is all the rage, while they’ve also made an English version starring Kenneth Branagh.
I’ve never watched or read any Wallander myself, so there wasn’t any particular famous place in the city that I just had to visit, but I did think it would be cool to see as much of Ystad as possible so I’d be able to recognize something the next time I caught it on TV. I picked up another paper map (I’m a bad millennial) at the tourist information and zig-zagged through Ystad’s cobbled streets.
After hitting up most of notable sights in the city indicated on the map, and stopping for a latte at Espresso House, I decided to walk towards the waterfront where my map showed few roads and lots of green space. A short meander through the harbour’s business park eventually brought me to the quintessential view of Sweden.
Not a kilometre from the city centre was everything I ever imagined the Swedish countryside to look like: plenty of greenery, winding dirt roads, and red wooden houses nestled in the trees.
I didn’t take many photos of the area because all the houses were far apart, and I didn’t want to just photograph individual homes. I can’t even Google a good picture that depicts the absolute charm of this place, though I suppose this painting comes pretty close.
But enough about Ystad. As much as I adored it, it couldn’t really compare to Bornholm. Bornholm was an absolute fairytale.
(I really do mean it was a fairytale, beyond its adorable cobbled streets and tiny houses – everything that happened to me there happened exactly as it was supposed to. More on that later.)
The ferry called at Rønne, a town on the west coast of the island where my hostel for the night was located. Despite being home to the main harbour, Rønne is not very touristy. Especially compared to the east coast I explored the next day, I got the sense that Rønne was more of a labourer city, with plenty of lumber and other exports along the shore.
I stayed at the Danhostel Rønne because it was the cheapest option available for Easter (the tourist season starts at the beginning of May) and I thought it would be convenient not to have to change cities upon my arrival. I didn’t expect much, but the hostel was a dream come true. (I’m going to be overusing the word “dream” in this post. Bear with me.)
Despite being just over a kilometre from the harbour, it feels like you enter the wilderness when getting close. The first sign of good things to come was all the sheep I got to walk past on the way there. But then I entered a big field next to which was the hostel, surrounded by trees that hid the sounds of industry and shielded from the intense wind.
The whole complex reminded me of cabins I’d visit when I was a Girl Guide in Canada, with its mini golf and flagpole and picnic tables. It actually has an interesting history too, having been used as a fort and occasionally holding prisoners during World War II. There were very few guests there and I relished having a room to myself, though I can just imagine how lovely it would be too in the summer when the picnic tables are full of people smiling and drinking beer.
After a quick trip to the grocery store I took a stroll around Rønne at night, then had a late-evening snack at the hostel while poring over pamphlets on what I could do on Bornholm, since I actually had no idea what this little island had to offer.
The next day I woke up relatively early; as it was a holiday, the bus was only running every two hours, so I had to catch it at 10:00 AM if I wanted to see any other part of the island. No one was at reception that early, so I went for another morning walk to see Rønne in the light. By the time I had to leave to catch the bus at the harbour, everyone else in the hostel was still asleep (which is fair, it was a holiday after all) so, with nowhere to stow my overnight bag, I schlepped it along with me.
The holiday hours of the bus schedule and division of zones on the island confused me. Other than visiting old fort ruins in Hammershus, which happened to be at the end of one of the bus lines, I still had no idea what I wanted to see, so I bought a 24-hour bus ticket for all zones so I could get on and off whenever I fancied. My first stop was Hammershus, at the very north of the island, about a 45-minute bus ride from Rønne.
I spent a little over an hour exploring “Scandinavia’s largest medieval fortification”, even lugging my bag down winding steps in extreme winds to visit the lions rock formation.
When I’d had my fill of the place, I decided to skip trying to decipher the bus schedule again and just ask someone at the museum entrance when I could expect to catch the bus. I have about a 40-minute wait, so I took my time eating my enormous lunch and buying an ice cream – after all, the bus was about ten minutes behind schedule on the way there due to some construction, so I wasn’t feeling particularly rushed.
I had just exited the bathroom and turned the corner round the building when I saw the bus already down in the parking lot. I tried to sprint towards it, my travel bag slowing me down, but watched helplessly as it pulled away.
Now, for most of my time in Denmark, even though it’s silly, I have felt that every time I express some joy about being here, it’s immediately quashed, and something is always going wrong. So I actually did shed some tears as I begrudgingly started to walk to the last town we had passed through on the bus ride there, which was about two kilometres away. But like I said, Bornholm was a fairytale. I hadn’t even walked five minutes when a car pulled up beside me and a nice gentleman offered me a ride. And thus I hitchhiked for the first time ever to my next stop: Allinge.
Not wanting to push my luck with public transit, I immediately headed to the town’s tourist office to find out where to go and when in order to catch the next bus. I then had ninety minutes to explore a town even more bright and colourful than Rønne, with a great view of the gorgeous blue sea and plenty of smokehouses along the waterfront.
A short while later, after another near-mishap with the bus (for some reason it was going in a loop and stopped on the other side of the street first, causing me to panic and sprint across the road ten minutes before I was expecting it), I found myself in Gudhjem. Gudhjem topped even Allinge in the colour department; the bright buildings across from the beach made the water look even more blue, and the hills allowed for some great panoramic views.
Gudhjem was the most touristy of the towns I visited. Most of the shops were open even though it was Easter. There were plenty of cars with German licence plates driving by. Almost everyone in town was having an ice cream by the water.
Finally it was time for me to catch the last bus back to the ferry. It pulled up in the harbour about twenty minutes before the boat was scheduled to leave. Good thing I didn’t have to go back to the hostel for my bag, huh? Told you Bornholm was magical.
For an island that I landed on with no expectations, Bornholm certainly blew me away. I was worried I’d run out of things to do in a day, but since I only managed to explore the northern half, I’m already thinking about when I’ll be able to return. After all, I didn’t even get to enter any of the island’s famous round churches or eat the world’s biggest soft ice. And I’m pretty sure that warrants another trip, right?