Ferries in Denmark
Denmark has 406 registered islands. So it’s no wonder that because of all the sounds and straits, there has been a necessity for efficient ferry services in order for the kingdom to be bound together. At the most important ferry ports - the Little Belt, the Great Belt as well as the Øresund strait - ferries can be traced as far back as to the end of the time of the Vikings. The ferries back then were small sailing ships, and at the smallest ferry ports, the traffic was conducted by open rowing boats, which were rowed or pulled by rope across the narrow straits. But times were changing in the little seafaring nation, and in 1819 the first steam-powered ship came to the country, which meant that it was now possible to operate with schedules. In the following years Denmark was steadily being bound together by countless steamship routes. The speed of these new ships meant that the Great Belt could be crossed in two hours.
Steam locomotives and ferries
The steam locomotive went from strength to strength all over Europe during the end of the 1800’s. Railway transportation was easy and cheap, and goods arrived on time. However, it was still a problem, that the goods had to be unloaded by hand to the ferries. The answer to the problem came from Scotland, where ferries carried entire trains. And from 1872 the first Danish railway ferries made sail. Around the turn of the century the Danish State Railways, ordered the building of the first propeller-driven steam ferries. Mainly because the paddle wheels of the old steamers were vulnerable during the winter periods. But also because of better passenger comfort, which found expression in the new ferries having small sea view lounges.
During the 1930’s, the car began challenging the railways’ monopoly of transportation on land. But on sea the ferries still ruled the waves. So as a recognition of the growing motorism, the Danish State Railways ordered the building of several new purpose-built car ferries to met the demands of the motorists. Thus Denmark was far ahead of other countries at the time. From 1925 onwards the diesel engine were fitted into all new ferries, but the steam driven ferries remained in service, and in one case, a ferry remained in service until 1970. The 1930’s were also the decade of bridge building, thus many ferries disappeared during these years. The ferries in the Little Belt, the straits of Storstrøm, Oddesund and Vilsund were all replaced by bridges.
The end of an era
In 1986 the Danish government decided on building a bridge across the Great Belt. And while the plans to the Great Belt fixed link were translated into steel and concrete, the ferries ploughed on with between 11 and 14 crossings each day. But on 14 june 1998 at around 1 a.m. the last Great Belt Ferry moored. Since 1883 the ferries had navigated the belt in regular service, but after 115 years it had ended.
The ferries have not disappeared entirely. You can still cross the Kattegat by boat, get from Germany to Zealand faster than by crossing the Great Belt Bridge, and, to many islands, the ferry is still the lifeline to the mainland. But in general the ferries are no longer a condition for the country to be functioning.
If the trip through Denmark nevertheless becomes too long, there is ample opportunity to find a lot of nice accommodations with cabins, rooms, Bed and Breakfast, apartments and more.