At first glimpse, a small town in Southern Denmark with just 3,600 inhabitants might not look too interesting, but Jelling is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most historic places in Denmark.
For this reason, plenty of tourists come to Jelling every year. The main attractions are the burial mounds and the runic stones, so a trip there should be straightforward.
However, it is nice to know some more about the town and it is always useful to get some practical information – that is why we are publishing this Jelling travel guide.
Facts about Jelling
Jelling was established as a town in 956 and the mounds are believed to have been built immediately after. They were likely made for Gorm the Old, the first verifiable king of Denmark according to historians. After Gorm placed the first runic stone at the site, his son King Harald Bluetooth then placed the larger Jelling stone at the site to commemorate his father and to announce the nation’s adoption of Christianity.
Gorm the Old was buried under the church in Jelling. Originally, there was a wooden church on the site, established by Harald Bluetooth. It burned down, but a new church was quickly built and the current church is the fourth one at the location.
Overall, Jelling is the principal destination in Denmark if you wish to see Viking Age monuments. This is literally the place where the ancient kings decided to proclaim their change of beliefs – from Norse mythology to Christianity. And Jelling has been a place of interest ever since.
Aside from the old attractions, there aren’t too much going on in the town. It has just under 4,000 regular inhabitants. But despite the small population, the infrastructure is quite advanced in Jelling, and there are several facilities that make life comfortable for the locals. Jelling has a large school, some supermarkets, banks, a cinema and a library. There are always tourists present in Jelling – even in the off-season. Most visitors, however, only stop by for one day. Jelling is a nice destination for day trip. You can easily see Jelling’s main attractions in a single day, and then go back to stay in one of the larger, more active cities nearby.
How to get to Jelling
Jelling is located 10 kilometers northwest of Vejle, the main city in the vicinity.
To reach Jelling from Vejle, just drive northwest. It takes less than 15 minutes to get there and Jelling has plenty of parking spaces right by the mounds. Buses also go from Vejle to Jelling if you don’t have access to a car or a bike.
From Aarhus to Jelling, you have to drive southwest for about an hour. Most of the time will be spent on the E45 freeway, before changing to route 30 right after passing Horsens.
Billund Airport is the nearest airport. Many tourists in Billund (who primarily stay there to visit Legoland) also decide to stop by Jelling to see the UNESCO Site. It only takes 25 minutes to drive from Billund to Jelling and vice versa. Route 473 is the fastest way to get there. Buses also connect the two towns.
Some tourists staying in Copenhagen also decide to visit Jelling for a day. It is a good way to know more about Denmark’s history. The drive is a bit longer than if you stay in one of the aforementioned places: From Copenhagen to Jelling, there is a 3-hour drive. You can also take the train from Copenhagen to Vejle and then a bus to Jelling the rest of the way.
Attractions in Jelling, Denmark
The principal tourist attractions in Jelling are the runic stones, the burial mounds, and the church. These three attractions are located right by each other, so you can see them all at once.
The runic stones
The runic stones are amazing to see. They are two large stones carved with runes. The oldest of the two stones was raised by Gorm the Old for the people to remember his wife Thyra.
But the most famous is the larger and newer stone: It was raised by Harald Bluetooth and it details how he conquered Denmark and Norway as well as how he converted the Danes into Christianity. These two stones are located right next to the church, protected by a large glass casing. It is free to see the stones.
The burial mounds
While the stones are the top attraction, the burial mounds are interesting as well. There are two mounds, almost 11 meters high, and practically identical although only the northern mound had a burial chamber.
The mounds are older than the stones and date back to the very founding of Jelling. Whereas the large runic stone represent Denmark’s early Christian period, the smaller stone and the mounds represent the final days of Denmark’s pagan age. You can walk to the top of the mounds and get a nice overview of the surroundings.
Another great attraction is the Jelling Church. Harald Bluetooth originally founded a wooden church at the site, but it burned down and had to be replaced. The current church dates back to the early 12th century.
It is a very small church, but it is remarkable for its decorations. Inside Jelling Church we find the earliest Danish frescos. They date back to 1125 although restored by an artist in 1926. Just like the stones and the mounds, the Jelling Church is free to visit. It is open every day of the week – the only times you cannot enter is when there are religious services such as local baptisms, weddings, etc.
The weekly service is at 10.30 on Sundays.
Kongernes Jelling (museum)
Aside from the three historic attractions in Jelling, you should visit the museum Kongernes Jelling. This museum tells the story of Denmark’s early kings and the exhibitions have items from the Viking Age. It mostly focuses on the pagan culture in Jelling, but also on the early Christian culture. One exhibition show what the stones originally looked like, a thousand years ago. There are many interactive screens at the museum and it is very modern.
You can visit Kongernes Jelling Museum between 10 am and 4 pm every day of the week except on Mondays where it is closed.
Where to stay in Jelling
Jelling does not have any hotels since it is such a small town and since most visitors stop by on a day trip. There are some B&Bs in Jelling, but we would recommend staying at one of the nearby inns or in Vejle (the main city, just 10 kilometers away).
Skovdal Kro is a cozy inn just 1 kilometer away from Jelling. That means you can easily go back and forth. Skovdal Kro offers free parking, and all rooms have a terrace. You can choose between a regular double room or a large family room. Prices are reasonable, and the hotel serves some great food, mainly traditional dishes made from local produce. There is beautiful nature around the inn, and aside from visiting the attractions of Jelling, you can go fishing by the lake or go hiking in the hills.
The second option is to stay in a hotel in Vejle. This particular hotel, Torvehallerne, is located right in the middle of Vejle and close to the bus terminal where you find buses that go to Jelling.
On top of the nice location, this hotel has comfortable rooms and a modern interior. Prices are low – they start around 700 DKK per night which is cheaper than most of the nearby inns – and if you stay at the hotel you can also explore the city centre of Vejle during your trip.
If you wish to read more suggestions on where to stay in Vejle, read this article where we describe the top areas and recommend more hotels. It is very popular for tourists to stay in a hotel in Vejle when they visit Jelling – since this is where they find the best options.
Jelling is the perfect place to visit if you are interested in old Nordic and early Christian culture. This little town is a very underrated travel destination since it has some of Denmark’s oldest monuments, but it has made it to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, so that naturally sparks some interest among all travelers who come to the region.
We highly recommend visiting Jelling, even if it is just for one day! You can experience the main attractions in just a few hours, so even with a tight schedule you can make it work!