Whether this is your first road trip abroad or your hundredth, it's important to know the rules of the road. Maybe Denmark in Northern Europe—often named one of the happiest countries in the world—is a place you have always wanted to go see the royal palaces in Copenhagen, one of the oldest capital cities in Europe. Perhaps you are drawn to the floating dunes, or some of the over 400 islands with temperate climates that comprise this beautiful area, or another attraction. It's an excellent travel destination with roads deemed to be in good condition, and it's an easy country to navigate around.
Denmark is also is an excellent hub from which you can drive to other countries in Europe. Whatever sites you choose to see, if you plan on taking the wheel during a trip to Denmark, the most southern country in Scandinavia, the driving etiquette may be different than what you're used to at home.
Keep in mind that you will need certain documents if you want to drive in Denmark. You may be asked for a driver's license, passport, your car's insurance certificate, and proof of vehicle registration. Drivers must be at least 18 years old (and 21 to rent a car). Regarding whether you should get an international license, the jury is still out. Some people recommend getting an international driver's license in Denmark, but your regular driver's license from home should be just fine, too.
Checklist for Driving in Denmark
- Driver's license (required)
- International Driver's License (recommended)
- Proof of insurance (required)
- Car registration documents or rental agreement (required)
Rules of the Road
Laws and regulations are similar to those throughout Scandinavia, but there are some specific issues you need to consider before driving around Denmark.
- Headlights: Remember to keep your headlights on at all times—it's a must in Denmark, even during the daytime. Newer cars in Denmark are programmed in a way that you can't turn off the lights in the first place.
- Seat belts: Everyone in the front and back seats being buckled in with seat belts is a national legal requirement, and they must be worn while operating a vehicle.
- Children and car seats: Children under 3 years and measuring less than 135 centimeters must be seated in a properly-fitted child seat. If the vehicle does not have seat belts, children under 3 years old are prohibited from being in the car while it's moving.
- Cell phones: Using cell phones while driving is strictly prohibited in Denmark. The use of a hands-free phone (not a headset) built into the car is permitted.
- Driving on the right: In Denmark, you drive on the right side of the road—similar to the United States and most of Europe. Overtaking (passing) is on the left.
- Speed limits: In Denmark, the speed limits are strictly enforced: 50 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour) in towns and 80 to 90 kph (50 to 56 mph) on most open roads. On the highway, you can usually drive 130 kph (80 mph), but some parts allow only 110 kph (68 mph) with posted signs. Keep in mind that 1 kilometer equals 0.6 miles.
- Cyclists: Denmark is one of the world's most active countries when it comes to bicycling—you'll see bicycles everywhere you go so, along with bike paths and lanes—make sure to watch out for them. Motorists must always yield to bicycles, and they often have their own lanes, but sometimes you do need to share the road. You'll be in the minority in a car at times.
- Alcohol: Driving under the influence of alcohol is a definite no-no if you're a tourist in Denmark. The absolute legal limit of alcohol in your blood is 0.05 percent in Denmark, and that is strictly enforced, especially around Copenhagen. Anything higher than 0.05 percent will attract stiff punishment and fines by local police. Just don't drink and drive—there are plenty of rideshares and taxis available to get you home safely.
- Drugs: Scandinavian countries ban driving under the influence of marijuana (THC, cannabis), methylamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy). If the police believe a driver is under the influence, they will test for various substances. Operating a vehicle while under the influence can lead to a big fine, imprisonment, or even being banned from Denmark.
- Tolls: Usually, you do not have to pay tolls for using highways in Denmark. However, the two major bridges, the Oresund Bridge (Øresundsbroen) between Denmark and Sweden, and the Storebelt Bridge (Storebælt Bro) between the island of Zealand (Sjælland) and Fyn (Fyn) charge high tolls.
- Horns: When in a town, only use your horn in an emergency. Otherwise using your horn may distract drivers and cause an accident.
- Tailgating: While following another car too closely may be legal, it is not a safe idea. Anyone tailgating is prone to receiving a fine.
- Roundabouts: Denmark has fewer roundabouts than other European countries. If you drive through a roundabout, yield to traffic coming from the left.
- Parking: Place your car in the direction of traffic (the right-hand side of the road) with two wheels on the curb where necessary, as long as the car doesn't block the way for pedestrians. Paid parking is by a time-limited meter or ticket machines on the roads; for longer stays, use the municipal or private car lots. On the dashboard, all cars must display a parking disc, which rental cars in Denmark will already have, and those driving foreign cars can purchase from tourist offices, banks, and petrol (gas) stations.
- Petrol (gas) stations: Most of the many petrol stations have automatic payment machines that make it easy to fill the tank when the station is closed. Usually, the machines accept some international credit cards as a form of payment, and many take cash.
- In case of an emergency: If you get into an accident or require other emergency services, call 112 nationwide to reach the Danish police, fire department, and ambulance. Nearly all Danish police and emergency staff speak English and will be able to communicate with you without any major issues. Make sure to carry a warning triangle in the trunk of your car in case of an emergency; these are generally standard equipment offered with your rental car.
Overall, Denmark's weather is mild, but average winter temperatures are just above freezing, so expect chilly days, and if you want to catch a sunset, do so by early afternoon. Snowfall occurs mostly from late December until early March, but the frosty white stuff seldom lasts long, and rain is around just as much. Snow tires are not required by law in Denmark but are recommended for winter road conditions and most people change tires in the winter. Request them from the rental agency when you book your car reservation.
Rental cars are easy to find at all the airports and major cities in Denmark. Typically, to rent a car the driver must be 21 and above and have had a license for a year, though the required age may vary by the category of car and rental company. If you are under 25, you may incur a young driver surcharge. Cars rented in Denmark are not allowed to enter certain countries, so check with your rental agency.
Danish Road Signs and Helpful Phrases
In all public traffic areas, road signs use standard international symbols. They sometimes include the Danish language; it is helpful to learn any Danish phrases before arriving in Denmark.
A few important terms to ease your driving experience include:
- Exit: udkorsel
- Entrance: indkorsel
- Detour: omvej
- Hospital: sygehus
- Police: politi
- Gas station: benzin tank
- Car rental agency: biludlejnings firma
- Toll: afgift
- Highway: hovedvej
- Where can I buy petrol?: Hvor kan jeg købe benzin?