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MARRIAGE

Why do foreign couples head to Denmark to get married?

Denmark has developed a bit of a reputation as a destination wedding location. The Local’s Sarah Redohl looks into why so many foreign couples head to Denmark to wed.

Married couple on a beach in Denmark.
Getting married in Denmark is a simple and straightforward process and the country has plenty of beautiful locations – such as beaches – to choose from. Photo: Elena Belevantseva

Stephanie Heys and John O’Brien had a whirlwind international love story. 

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, and Los Angeles, United States, the pair met in Croatia in 2014. Living on different continents at the time, they met up in Europe several more times and visited one another before eventually moving to Stuttgart, Germany. 

“It was a non-traditional way to start a relationship, but I knew he was special to me from the moment we met,” Heys told The Local. 

When the couple got engaged in the fall of 2019, they planned to have their wedding in Vancouver, but those plans were quickly derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“I could only spend three months at a time in Germany until we got married,” Heys said. When the pandemic hit and she was back in Canada, it became impossible for Heys to visit the EU or for O’Brien to visit Canada. 

At first, they waited for the restrictions to pass, but eventually they didn’t want to wait any longer. “It felt like our engagement had been outstanding for too long,” Heys said. “Getting married would also resolve the issues we were facing.”

But, they knew that getting married in Germany was unlikely to be a quick process. 

“Even if you’re from Germany, it can take months and months to get married here,” Heys said. That’s when one of O’Brien’s colleagues suggested they look into marrying in Denmark.

Denmark: The Las Vegas of Europe?
“People are now calling Denmark the Las Vegas of Europe because it’s so easy to get married here,” Ditte Rendtorff, owner of the wedding planning company Danish Coastal Weddings, told The Local. “But, it’s a European version, with castles and quaint islands.”

Rendtorff recommends couples wanting to marry quickly look outside of more popular locations, like Copenhagen Town Hall. For example, she recommends Helsingør (pictured), 50 kilometres north, where there is no waiting time. “Plus, it’s a charming little town with a nice town hall,” she said. (Photo by Monica Hjelmslund)

One of the primary reasons for Denmark’s reputation as a destination wedding location is that it’s simple and straightforward application process, which is open to non-residents, can be mostly completed online, requires relatively little documentation, and applications are processed quickly. 

This is in stark contrast to what couples may experience elsewhere, said Rasmus Clarck from the wedding agency Getting Married in Denmark.

“When multinational, multiracial, multi-religious or same sex couples decide to get married, they may discover that it’s difficult to do so in their home countries or current countries of residence,” he told The Local. That is often when they discover Denmark, he added.

Why is Denmark becoming such a popular place to marry?
“It isn’t as though the Danish government saw a market for easier weddings in Europe and decided to take advantage of it,” Yuki Badino, a wedding planner at Danish Island Weddings, told The Local. “The marriage laws have always been simple in Denmark.”

When Badino’s sister, Louise Badino Moloney, started the agency 13 years ago, Denmark was a less common destination for weddings. “Even Danes don’t realise Denmark has become a wedding destination,” Badino told The Local. “It’s a niche, but it’s growing.”

She said this can be attributed both to word of mouth, as was the case for Heys and O’Brien, but also news coverage, blogs, and other online resources directing couples to Denmark. 

That was one factor in the decision of Katharina and Malte to marry in Denmark. Living in Hamburg, Germany, the couple had read about Denmark as a destination wedding location in a German magazine. 


Katharina and Malte got lucky with the weather on their wedding day. “We chose the only weekend in autumn that was 23 degrees and sunny,” Malte said. (Photo courtesy of Danish Island Weddings)

Malte, who goes fishing on Ærø each year, already had the Danish island in mind for a wedding when he proposed in August 2021. “I thought it was a small, hidden, lovely place for a wedding,” he told The Local.

Lastly, marrying in Denmark meant they’d be able to wed before their son’s due date in January 2022. “We wanted the wedding to be sooner rather than later, so I wouldn’t be too pregnant and we’d still have nice weather,” Katharina told The Local.

The couple wasn’t sure if they could make a wedding happen in such a short time period in Germany. The paperwork is more onerous, and nice locations tend to book out a year in advance, Katharina said. Covid-19 wedding postponements only made that more unlikely. 

By choosing Denmark, the couple was able to marry three weeks after their engagement. 

What does the process look like?
The first step is to apply for a marriage licence with the Danish Agency of Family Law (AFL). Lena Hansen, a wedding planner at Nordic Adventure Weddings, said the required documentation is minimal: passports, divorce decrees if divorced, relevant residency or visa information, and the proof of the relationship.

Hansen with Nordic Adventure Weddings said she’s planned weddings on cliffs, in forests, on the beach, and in castles. “Couples can of course get married in town hall, but many people want something more romantic,” she said. (Photo by Justine Høgh)

Previously, couples would apply directly with the local municipality where they planned to wed. However, the law was changed in 2019, Rendtorff said, to prevent Denmark from becoming a target location for pro forma marriages. 

The approval process can take anywhere from a few days to two months, at most, Badino said. 

Then, the couple can book their date with the town hall or venue of their choice, Clarck said. The day before their wedding – or even 10 minutes prior, depending on the town hall – the couple will present their documents for final review.

It’s also a simple process to get the marriage recognised in a couple’s home country, Hansen said, since Danish marriage certificates are recognised by all EU countries. “For countries outside the EU, the document must be legalised, which is a quick process by getting an apostille through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” she told The Local.

By default, Badino added, Danish marriage certificates are already translated into five languages: Danish, English, German, French and Spanish. “So, it’s already an international document,” she said.

Katharina and Malte were able to finish the application online from their sofa in one or two evenings. Three weeks later, they were getting married on Ærø with around a dozen of their closest friends and family.

When they returned to Germany, all they had to do was send a copy of their wedding licence to the proper authorities via email. “It wasn’t hard for us, since the German and Danish governments cooperate nicely,” Katharina said. “And it was much faster than it would have been in Germany,” Malte added. 

Clarck said the vast majority of Getting Married in Denmark’s couples live in Germany, the UK, Ireland, France, and the rest of the EU. Pictured, Emma (Irish) and Daniel (American) got married in Denmark while living in Spain, before moving to Ireland after the wedding. (Photo by Elena Belevantseva Photography)

What if a couple wants something more than a town hall wedding?

Although Rentdorff agrees that the speed and ease of the marriage process in Denmark is a major factor, she said Denmark is also a destination in its own right. 

“We’re seen as this romantic little kingdom,” she said. She said the ease of having a beach wedding is also appealing. “We have 8,750 kilometres of coastline, so it’s easy to get married by the beach.”

“You can get a quick marriage in Las Vegas or Gibraltar,” Badino said, “but Denmark has a unique appeal. I think people want to marry in a beautiful place.” 

Getting married in a beautiful place, she added, is also streamlined in Denmark. “There’s a lot of freedom to marry wherever you want in Denmark,” Badino said, “from an aeroplane to a lighthouse. In Germany, you need special permission just to marry on a beach.”

Danish Island Weddings offers locations on beaches, lighthouses, gardens, cliffs and in a private wedding room at an old merchant’s house. “We try to make the wedding for the couples extra special in whatever location they prefer, and to make it more personal than a town hall wedding,” Badino said. 

The company organised Katharina and Malte’s wedding at the auction house in only three weeks, including cake, champagne, flowers, decorations, music, a lunch reception and a photographer. “It ended up just like I would have done it, if I had planned the whole thing myself a year in advance,” Katharina said, “but without the stress.”

Now, one of the couple’s friends’ brother is planning a wedding on Ærø with his British fiance before the couple moves to Shanghai this summer. 

Denmark’s reputation continues to spread, one couple at a time.

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TOURISM

Who visits Denmark in summer and where do the tourists go?

Tourism in Denmark is still rebounding after the bottom fell out in 2020. But which kind of tourists come to Denmark in the summer? Where are they from and where do they go?

Who visits Denmark in summer and where do the tourists go?

The Local scoured data from Tourism Denmark to learn who it is asking for directions in Copenhagen and hogging beach space on Danish shores. 

Overwhelmingly, it’s Danes that visit Denmark — two thirds of all overnight tourism in 2021 was from Danes spending their holidays in other parts of their own country. 

But as for foreign tourism, Denmark’s neighbours to the south take the lion’s share. Germans spent more than 13.2 million overnight visits in Denmark in 2021. 

Next up is the Netherlands, which sent more than 717,000 overnight guests to Denmark. Swedes and Norwegians spent 604,000 and 412,00 overnight stays in Denmark, respectively, while the UK and the US both contributed about 200,000 stays. 

Country of Origin  Overnight visitors to Denmark in 2021
1. Germany 13.2 million
2. The Netherlands 717,900
3. Sweden 604,000
4. Norway 412,600
5. The United Kingdom 208,900
6. United States 199,300
7. France 164,100
8. Italy 161,500
9. India 18,100
10. China 14,500

Where do they spend the night? 

Forty-two percent of all tourists, including Danes, spent their vacations in rented holiday homes, while 23 percent camped outside. Only 23 percent of all overnight stays in Denmark were in hotels — holiday centers, hostels, and marinas round out the rest. 

READ MORE: Summer houses in Denmark: What are the rules and when can you live in them?

Beaches beat the cities 

A whopping 80 percent of overnight stays were for coastal and nature tourism — that’s the summer house culture for you — while only 11 percent was tourism to big cities. Business tourism accounted for the last 9 percent. 

Favourite destinations by country 

German tourists flocked to a region called Vesterhavet (literally ‘the western sea’ in Danish), spending 5 million overnight stays there in 2021. The distant second and third favorite destinations for holiday-making Germans in Denmark were Nordvestkysten (‘the north west coast,’ which saw 2.3 million overnight stays) and Southern Jutland with 1.6 million. 

As far as the US is concerned, Denmark might as well be a city-state — 77 percent of American visitors stayed in Denmark’s capital city, while 63 percent of UK tourists and nearly half of all visits from Swedes were to Copenhagen. 

Norwegians have a broader palate for Denmark’s diverse charms, with about a third staying in Copenhagen and the other two thirds spread across the Danish islands and beaches. 

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