Gilleleje Past and Present

Our stay would end with all the girls lining up with the kindergarten leader Vibeke to get a French braid before we got back on the bus and returned to our parents with all the tales of adventure.

I’ve always loved to travel and to explore new parts of Europe and the world. I enjoy writing long and way too detailed blogs on the places I visit.

Therefore, this May I was surprised that I had never attempted a blog on that little slice of heaven, which I have visited year after year since I was in pre-school.

Childhood memories

I was so insanely lucky to be in a pre-school in central Copenhagen, which offered the parents a reprieve every summer for two weeks and the children some of their happiest childhood memories.

Every summer we would fill up a bus and drive north to the small and lively coastal town Gilleleje. Here we would eat strawberries, bath in the sea, go on treasure hunts and tell secrets in the hidden caves of the rosehip bushes. We would attempt to make perfume from the amazingly scented rose hip flowers and give it a try at finding amber on the beach – though I don’t think I actually ever found any.

Our stay would end with all the girls lining up with the kindergarten leader Vibeke to get a French braid before we got back on the bus and returned to our parents with all the tales of adventure.

Wednesday is a time for shopping

But one part of this trip beat all the rest, because on Wednesday the preschool teachers would take us into the centre of Gilleleje. Here we were each given 30 DKK which our parents had paid before hand, and with these in hand we were let free on the streets of Gilleleje.

It sounds absolutely crazy that a bunch of pre-schoolers should be running around a town on their own with no adults to follow on their tail. To me it was the absolute freedom.

Gilleleje centre is small and the main shopping street Vesterbrogade does not have much traffic. The pre-school teachers would walk around the street enjoying the atmosphere while we would run in and out of shops calculating what we might get for our 30 DKK. I have a feeling when I look back at these summer Wednesdays that every shop in town knew we were coming.

We would make our way to Lilys Legetøj (Lily’s Toys), Mosters Chokolade (Auntie’s Chocolat) and the butcher where we would get a small bag of flæskesvær (pork crackling) which seems a national snack in Denmark. We would stand there looking up at the counter with our coins and calculating whether we would be able to get too more liquorice pipes and still get those cracklings next door or not.

It was in many ways an education into responsible finances. We only had 30 DKK, not a cent more. Yet we were ecstatic at all the treasures we managed to bring back. Never did any candy taste better than that from Moster nor was any toy as fun as the cheap plastic wheel we bought at Lily’s.


I have been lucky, because I have also had a connection to Gilleleje after kindergarten. Every year apart from a few years in my college days when the world beyond the borders of Denmark seemed to draw my attention more than the Northern Coast of Zealand, I’ve spent at least a few days in Gilleleje.

Moster’s Chokolade is no longer there, nor is Lily’s Legetøj. Today the town is far more touristy as more Copenhageners have opened their eyes to this little slice of heaven. Fancy shops with trinkets for your home fill every corner, and more lifestyle gurus have made their entrance.

But it is okay. As any other place Gilleleje is moving forward. This year a new grand Kulturhavn (Cultural Harbour) opened up with cinema and restaurant offering cultural activities for the true inhabitants and an extra option for the seasonal tourists on the occasional rainy day.

My old haunts have been replaced with new places as my 30 DKK have been exchanged with MobilePay or plastic cards. And while the nostalgia of returning to Gilleleje is always with me, I continue to enjoy the town as it is in the presence.

These years I always visit Lumi – a second hand shop with knick-knacks and books and all kinds of stuff for no money. I have a delicious ice cream with freshly baked cones from Hansens Is (Hansen’s Ice Cream) and I order a fried fillet of plaice with chips and remoulade (a Danish kind of tartar sauce) at Adamsen’s Fisk on the harbour.

And this is Gilleleje’s best feature. The harbour. Not because it is picturesque, which it is, but because it is alive. With fishermen struggling these years and small ships sinking in economy and quota politics, it is wonderful to see the strength of the fishing community in Gilleleje.

To me Gilleleje is summer, it is home and it is some of the best that Denmark has to offer. Should people ever ask me if I feel privileged in life, I will answer yes, because I got to grow up exploring Gilleleje.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.