Rivers in Denmark: Gudenå, Storå, Skjern, and Others
In Denmark, you are never more than a few dozen kilometres from the sea. Looking at the map, it is obvious that there is not much space for long rivers. Most of the biggest ones can be found on the Jutland peninsula.
Denmark’s rivers are so small that most of them don’t have a commonly used English name. Danish river names typically end with the letter å, which is also a whole word that means river in Danish (actually it’s more like a creek, but all Denmark’s rivers are small enough to be called that; the Danish word for a big river is flod, like flood but with a single o).
Here are the biggest rivers in Denmark:
The longest river in Denmark is the Guden, or Gudenå. It is 176 km long and you can find it in the central (widest) part of the Jutland peninsula. It originated in Tinnet Krat and enters the Kattegat (the sea between Denmark and Sweden north of Oresund) through the Randers Fjord near the city of Randers. When you look at a map, this river flows in a roughly south-to-north direction, making a half-circle about Denmark’s second biggest city Aarhus.
On the way, the Guden flows through some of Denmark’s largest lakes, including Mossø, Julsø, Brassø, Silkeborg Langsø, or Tange Sø. As you might have guessed, lake is sø in Danish (not ø, which is the word for island). The biggest cities on the Guden river are Silkeborg (most of the big lakes are near this city) and Randers; all the others are quite small.
Other places on interest include Ulstrup Castle and Kjællinghøl Bridge – a 90 metres long wooden bridge over the Gudenå, situated in a popular outdoors area with trails, one of them going over the bridge. It is 20-25km west-southwest of Randers and the best point of access is Bjerringbro, where you can get by train from Langå, which is on the main line between Aarhus and Randers, with direct trains also from Copenhagen.
The second longest river in Denmark is the Storå with 104 km (stor means big in Danish, so it is Big Creek or Big River). It originates near Ikast, a small town between Silkeborg (the city on the river Guden) and Herning. It flows to the northwest towards Holstebro, which is the biggest city on the Storå.
Just before Holstebro there is a large dam, Vandkraftsøen, built in 1941 for a water power plant. This dam, as well as the entire lower section of the river, is a popular place for watersports. The Storå is one of the best Danish rivers for canoeing or kayaking.
The Storå enters the North Sea through Nissum Fjord, 15 km west of Holstebro.
While the Guden is the longest, the Skjern river, or Skjern Å, is Denmark’s biggest river in terms of volume. It is only 94 km long and originates actually very close to Gudenå in Tinnet Krat. From there is flows westwards and enters the North Sea through Ringkøbing Fjord, near the town of Skjern.
The lower section of the Skjern is a very precious natural area of wetlands and wildlife, previously considered for the so called Skjern National Park. Although the national park was not officially set up in the end, there are walking paths and basic tourist infrastructure. The surrounding sections of the North Sea coast are also popular for their beaches. You can get there via Herning or Billund (the Legoland town).
Kongeå, which means King’s river, flows roughly parallel to the Skjern in the south. It starts near the small town of Vamdrup (near the bigger city Kolding) and enters the North Sea near Gredstedbro, just north of popular tourist town Ribe. It is 50 km long. In the past (until 1920) most of its flow marked the border between Denmark and Germany.
The river which marks the border with Germany today (since 1920) is the Vidå, also known by its German name Wiedau. It enters the North Sea near Rudbøl, where it also forms a lake (Rudbøl Sø or Ruttebüller See). The river is 69 km long.
The name of this river hints at its location not on the Jutland peninsula, but on the island Funen, where it flows through its main city Odense. The Odense Å is 60 km long and known for cruises and excursions.
The longest river in the Zealand island is Suså with 83 km. You can find it in the southern part of the island. It originates southwest of Køge and flows westwards, later entering Tystrup Sø (lake). There it makes a turn and continues to the southeast to Næstved, which is the biggest city on the Suså. It enters the sea through the Karrebæk Fjord, a few kilometres below Næstved.
Visiting Denmark’s Rivers
Most of the major rivers listed above, as well as many small rivers, have sections which can be explored on a canoe, which is also a popular way to spend a weekend or holidays for the Danish. Thanks to the country’s flat surface, the rivers are generally calm and safe to paddle even for a beginner. The most popular rivers, like the Gudenå, Storå, or Suså, have extensive infrastructure like canoe or kayak rental shops (kanoudlejning) and camp sites. Just note that rules apply, and there are rivers and sections where paddling or sailing is restricted or not allowed. It is best to ask for guidelines regarding the local area when renting a canoe.