Rick Steves' Favorite European Island Is A Charming Hidden Gem

While you might associate the idea of a beach vacation with sun, sand, and turquoise sea, one of travel expert Rick Steves' favorite secluded beach getaways is the island of Ærø in Denmark. Visitors to the island have described it as being like something out of a fairy tale, where you can walk down cobblestone streets between rows of colorful pastel houses, many of which have been exactly the same for hundreds of years. The entire island is smaller than Lake Tahoe, and one of the best ways to get around it is on a bike.


"Few visitors to Scandinavia even notice Ærø, a sleepy little island on the southern edge of Denmark," Steves wrote in his book, "For the Love of Europe." "It's a peaceful and homey isle, where baskets of strawberries sit in front of farmhouses — for sale on the honor system."

Rick Steves loves to recommend hidden gem spots instead of ones that are often packed with tourists, and Ærø is no exception. In 2020, Rick Steves estimated the island only had 7,000 people living there, and while the largest town, Ærøskøbing, has businesses that cater to tourists, it's never crowded, even in peak season.

Learn about Ærø's fascinating history

Walking through the streets of Ærøskøbing is like taking a trip through time to the island's past. As noted by Steves on his website, Rick Steves' Europe, this port town has many buildings dating back to the 1700s, with even older cobblestone streets. With a little exploring on the island you can find even older history. 


For example, one secluded spot is home to a 12th century church that would be well worth the bike ride to it on its own, but near it is something even more ancient and fascinating: A 6,000 year old burial site.

As Steves described on his show, there are 13 prehistoric rock tombs on Ærø, and this one was also revered by the Vikings. Just as the church was in a field near the burial ground, evidence has been found that VIkings burned a ship and likely performed other religious rituals there. "This raised mound, roughly the shape and length of a Viking ship, evokes the scene when chiefs gathered here around their ancestors' tombs a thousand years ago," Steves wrote. "The stones were considered fertility stones. For centuries, locals in need of a little extra virility chipped off bits and took them home."


Planning your trip to Ærø

As Rick Steves has often told his fans, there is a perfect season to visit any European country, and Denmark is no exception. Scandinavia's peak season is the summertime: Late June, July, and August. That's an ideal time to visit Ærø and enjoy a gorgeous sunset on the beach or a bike ride across the island's hills for a fantastic view of the waves hitting the coast. Luckily, the island is never too crowded, so you can enjoy the best weather without worrying about fighting crowds. If you're looking for a different kind of picture-perfect trip, however, you could also consider heading to Ærø for Christmas, to appreciate the gorgeous decorations, see this little town with a dusting of snow, and check out the beautiful Christmas market in Ærøskøbing.


The most picturesque way to kick off your vacation on the island of Ærø is to take a boat ride. There are ferries you can take, with this trip taking around an hour, during which you can have a hot coffee and watch the island get closer. Once you arrive, you might want to stay in the Arnfeldt Hotel or Hotel Ærøhus. If you want to follow Steves' advice for finding accommodations on a budget, you can also check out one of the island's two hostels, or even get closer to nature by camping out, and sleeping with the stars above you and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore.