The islands were formed during the last ice age, by ice sliding over the area from the south, only the ancient hilltops was spared from submersion, and forms the many islands and islets peaking above the sea everywhere. The area has a milder climate than the country's average, and because of this, is home to flora and fauna not seen anywhere else in Denmark. There are strong local movements to convert the area into a National Park.
Flora & fauna
The area is one of the most diverse natural environments in the country, and is designated as an international wildlife protection area, as it is home of several rare and protected species. If you are interested ornithology the many shallow waters around the islands and islets is a treat with thousands of birds and colonies, one of the more notable is the Arctic Tern, which migrates to Antarctica and back (nearly 40,000 kilometers) every year. This is the longest regular migration by any known animal. You also find Shore Crabs, Beach Otters and - rare for Denmark - Seals in the shallow waters and beaches. On dry land, up on the many islands you can find badgers, stoats and several types of deer. While possibly the most exciting animals are found beneath the water: the Harbour Porpoise, Denmark's only resident whale population.
A few of the islands are connected with bridges, but to most of the islands transportation is done with tiny ferries ploughing through the island sea several times per day. The main entry points are Svendborg which is easily reach both by highway, bus and train - and Faaborg, which is best reached by bus from Odense. Yet another option is Rudkøbing on Langeland from where you can also catch a ferry to some of the islands. For easy reference ferries are listed under the individual islands.
Bringing a car to the islands serves little point but to rob your wallet of your hard earned cash, and you will be much better served by bringing or renting a bike in Svendborg or Faaborg, or just simply walk since the islands are generally small enough to make this feasible. While some islands are connected by the same ferry, you will generally have to go back to the mainland to pass between the islands, if you rely on public transportation.
However the best way to visit is really by boat, and there are plenty of options to do this. A popular option, and one good for your health too, is by sea kayak . There are several mapped routes in the area, but remember to be realistic about your fitness, as some of these routes take you a fair bit away from land. Several rental places also gives you the option of trained guide, which can both provide information about the sights you visit, and make sure you are safe. It is also possible to rent Smack Dinghies with sails to ease the strain, or larger cattle barges if you are in a group at Øhavet's smakkecenter on Strynø.
The archipelago trail (da: Øhavsstien) is a 220 km hiking trail connected by ferries that circles the entire area. Completed in 2008 the trail is well marked with regular signs set on wooden poles. Allow 4-7 days for the whole trail depending on experience and your desired pace, but it is also possible do to day trips along the route. The local tourist offices in Svendborg and Faaborg can arrange baggage forwarding between your chosen camps or accommodations during peak season. Pre arranged package tours are also available from Travel Heels in Taasinge or Vagabond Tours in Tranekær, in cooperation with the local tourist authority. If you choose to do the trek individually be mindful that substantial part of the trails crosses private property, so be considerate. A comprehensive guidebook with excellent maps is available in Danish only for 150 Kr at most tourist offices in the region. Pamphlets with maps, tips and points of interest in English, broken up into 7 parts is available at the tourist offices as well and as pdf files on the introductory link, it is sometimes also available at parking lots along the route, but these are only restocked a couple of times throughout the year, so you may be out of luck.
Islands in the archipelago listed in east to west order; note that there are many more islands and islets in the area, but these are the ones with ferry traffic that are possible to visit without making special arrangements. Most other islands are closed during much of the year for the protection of local wildlife. For the remainder of the year, short stays are permitted, which is interpreted by the authorities as a day or a night. While you are normally not allowed to set up a tent, you are permitted to sleep on the beach in a sleeping bag, if necessary under a primitive cover like a tarpaulin.
Strynø  covers 5km², and is home to around 200 people. It is one of the most successful island societies in the country, and one of few who have managed to stale the endemic depopulation - in no small part thanks to a open and inventive but closely knit community, including many artists and craftsmen, which might be worth visiting.
Like most of the islands in the archipelago, Strynø is a picturesque combination of farms and wetlands with many birds during the summer months. But to many the real attraction is the the pretty village, which is usually densely build up for a Danish island - and in fact before depopulation took hold, it used to be the 2nd most densely populated island in the whole country. The nice red brick buildings are mostly from the 18th and 19th century, and some of them feature some quite spectacular ornamentation, are built up around several village ponds and small alleys and twisting roads- it makes for a very pleasant exploration. Remember to look out for the many inventive Weather vanes on top of the buildings, it makes for good photos and a reminder of the islands maritime history.
Ferry from Marstal on Ærø, 25 minutes, 1 departure per day (but ordering additional departures are possible), 70 DKK .
Birkholm  Is only 1km² and home of a stubborn but loving 8 people, making it one of the smallest populated islands in the country, how long the island can sustain a full year population remains to be seen, but permanent life on the island will probably be a thing of the past in a not too distant future.
Non the less it is a pretty, but incredibly flat place, with the highest point towering a proud 1,8 meters over the sea! some fine old farm houses which the remaining population does a commendable job trying to maintain, since many of them are now empty and the rest used as vacation home for "Danish foreigners". There are some nice beaches and good fishing once you've toured the island. If you are a hunter, you might be lucky to run into the yearly Pheasant or hare hunts - you can even rest assured your "evil deeds" does some good, as it supports life on the island.
Hjortø  means deer island in Danish, but as there have never been deer living here, it is more likely to refer to a name. The island is only 0,9 km2 and 12 people live on the island, though they have neither a shop, church or anywhere to eat but home, and although there is room for a single car on the ferry, the island is car free. Like Birkholm the island is incredibly flat, and consequently it is protected by dikes, which has failed during storms several times during storms over the years. Outside the dikes you'll find meadows with a rich bird life reaching all the way to coast, which are mostly rocky, but there are some beaches with sand, mostly at Hjortø hale on the eastern part of the island - around the old mill is a good spot, if the tide is low, you can walk across to several small islets surrounding the island on the sandbanks. Due to a fire set on by lightning, many of the old houses burned down, and the remaining homes have replaced the picturesque thatched roofs with more practical and fire resistant tiles.
Skarø  is 2 km² and located at the exit of the pretty Svenborg sound, because of the proximity to the main land it gets many one-day visitors, and since the ferry ride is so short it allows for commuting, the island has like Strynø, managed to halt the depopulation and gained new blood in the last few years, so that 36 people live permanently on the island now, most of them in the nice village build up around a village pond.
The island is like most of the islands very flat, but the tallest point towers an impressive 8 meters over the island sea, and has fittingly been named Vesterbjerg - the "Western mountain", it has some good views and a small chapel dating back to around 1900, which includes a memorial for the soldiers of a downed RAF bomber from WWII. The coast is mainly rocky but still invites for a good swim, particularly on the west coast or on the sand reef to the north. On some of the grassland, you can see Scottish Highland cattle. Local resident Preben Sørensen conducts casual guided tours during the summer, where he tells about life on a Danish island (phone +45 22 56 31 99).
Drejø  is at a staggering 5km² one of the larger islands, and it has around 70 inhabitants, due to the long sailing times it is also in real threat of island death, with many of the houses used as vacation homes. But the ferry, which arrives on the western part of the island, also takes you to the border between the shallow waters - on the southern part of the island, which is mainly rocky, but have a few beaches, and the more open and deeper waters to north, where there is good fishing to be had. Only half the island is farmland, the rest is made of grassy meadows, lakes, and other picture perfect landscape, which is home of the islands famous white deer, and then of course there is also the islands only village - with some pretty half timbered houses, though tragically many of the old houses burned in a tragic fire in 1942. Remember to watch out for the house numbers - which is not really house numbers but old symbols.
The locals jokingly refer to a local driving rule which dictates that you are not allowed to use seatbelts on the island, since if you do, in all likelihood you are driving to way too fast - so leave the car in Svendborg, and jump on the local taxi instead - a tractor with a wagon for passengers going between the harbour and islands accommodations, or grab a bike, rental is conveniently available in the first house you see walking of the ferry.
Avernakø  is at 6km² one of the larger ones in the island sea, with around a 100 people living on the island, which was originally two, Avarnak and Korshage, but were joined together by a dam in the 1940'ties, after one too many had drowned crossing the shallow water in bad weather. The island is unusually hilly compared to the other islands, with cliffs up to 18 meters facing the coast, which while mostly rocky, still invites for a swim in a few places - mostly on the northern coast. For good wide views over the entire archipelago, hike over Bjergs Banke near the islands wind-turbine.
The two villages Munke and Avernak are protected for preservation, and makes for some good photo's in the right spots. The ferry harbour and one of two marinas, are a few hundred meters northwest Avernak, and it is possible to rent bikes here, to the east is Korshavn, a small fishing hamlet - with no fishermen, but the other small marina. South of Munke and Avernak you'll find the remains of 3 dolmens (Viking burial mounds), you can also trace down Høje Stene which used to be even more impressive, but are now essentially a pile of rocks.
Bjørnø  is 1,5km² and the island nearest Funen which has worked to its advantage in recent years, and the depopulation of 60 man strong community have been kept at bay. The terrain is undulating, with the highest point, Højbjerg towering 24 meters above the sea - it is vigilantly guarded by a rather large bull and its cows - so watch out. To the south-west you'll find tall erosion cliffs, home of a large colony of Sand Martins which nests in holes in the cliffs, and beautiful views of Funen and the neighbouring islands. On the opposite side the island flattens, and in the north west you'll find a salt marsh with a rich bird life. The beaches around the island are narrow and rocky, but popular with fossil hunters. Water Voles are known to undermine the roads, so be vigilant if you bike around the island, which is the only alternative to walking, since the ferry does not take cars.
The small village in the centre of the island, is probably the islands greatest attraction. Unlike the rest of the country, Bjørnø did not experience the parcellation, where farms were moved from villages out in the fields during the 18th century agricultural reforms, so many pretty white half timbered houses, many with thatched roofs, still stand along the villages two streets just as they were hundreds of years ago, its all really idyllic on a summers day. North of the village stands a lone defunct canon, possibly a hint to the islands popular smuggling activities in the old days. There is no shopping on the island, other than a small summer-only kiosk selling ice cream and other sundries.
Lyø , Fairly large at 6km², today around 160 people live on the island, but during the 16th century the whole population was eradicated by pillaging and epidemics, it was resettled by 24 families the local squire had been kind enough to give the choice; "Lyø or your head?" to add to the history, most of the nations school children have heard of the capture of King Valdemar the Victorious for ransom, which happened on this island, adding to the sense of history are the many burial mounds dotted around the island, most famous is Klokkestenen.
The landscape is varied with two lush valleys, separated by a 24 meter high ridge, cheekily called 'The Mountain' (Bjerget), but it does offer some great views, save a small forest to the east, most of the island is dominated by lush farmland. The coast is mainly rocky, with low cliffs on some parts, but to the east there are some good bathing spots around what called Revet and Det Ny Land to the east, you can walk around the island along the coast in around 5-7 hours.
On the middle of the island you find the the lone village, it's incredibly well preserved and have serveral protected buildings, many dating back the 18th century and a few even earlier. It's mainly made up of old half-timbered houses build up around a few village ponds and criss-crossed by small alleyways and broken up by some huge beautiful old trees. There is also a fine church, and a nice old 4 winged vicarage, one of the finest buildings on the island. To get here there is a bike rental at the harbour (+45 62 61 73 80) or you can event rent a horse (+45 62 61 96 10).
Naturally, given the geography, fishing is a very popular activity in the area. The main hunts are Sea trout, Cod and Flounder. As everywhere in Denmark a license is cumpolsory for all anglers between age 18-67, and can be bought at all tourist agencies in the region for a small fee.
If you are up for cultural challenge, and more importantly can convince the organisers into speaking English, Ølejr  (en: Island camp) is something to consider. It has been a summer fixture since the 70'ties and still holds a grain of the bygone hippie days. Primitive camps are set up on several small islands; including the archipelago islands of Drejø, Lyø and Skarø, during the the summer - each week usually with a different theme like Yoga or Folk music. Everything is done collectively, including the finances, and responsibility for a successfully camp shared equally among participants. Contact +45 70 22 55 81 or email  for inquiries, and remember to point out that you don't speak any Danish.
If you are fortunate enough to wind up dining on the island, it will likely be a real treat. Dive into traditional danish food made from fresh produce sourced locally, most likely from the very island you're on. Unfortunately as most of the islands as mentioned suffers from depopulation, its hard to keep up to date with the many closures and the occasional, but usually short lived, new openings. Best to check with locals once you arrive, or the tourist agencies on the mainland before you depart. If you're planning to stay overnight, make sure you bring some provisions with you in case dining is unavailable. That being said, if you are not a German tourist or a Danish mainlander, most locals will probably invite you into their homes for dinner if you are shameless enough to hint the possibility, and show a genuine interest in the island you're on.
Don't come here for the night-life, as there is none! That being said, locals jokingly refer to Drejø as the local Ibiza, and during July, the primitive camp grounds on the island, is sometimes home of some ravish parties, though it is hard to predict exactly when they happen. If you are on the island, you could always try your luck, as there really isn't likely to be anything else going on.
Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts are rare, and when available, often booked out way in advance during the summer months. Most visitors stay in houses available for rent throughout the year, of which there are many since abandoned properties around the islands, left behind by depopulation, are often bought up by mainlanders for use as vacation homes. The tourist information desks in Svendborg and Faaborg, can usually book or refer you to those properties. Camping is a popular alternative, and most of the islands have designated areas where you can freely put up a tent, except for those islands who have commercial campsites available, where you expected to pay a little towards the islands economy.
A few of the major islands are large enough to support their own guides, though practically they are part of the region.