Why You Should Seek Out This UNESCO World Heritage Site
Nature, history and culture collide at Stevns Klint south of Copenhagen
Just an hour south of the city sits one of Denmark’s ten designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Stevns Klint is a natural area of white chalk and limestone cliffs that span sixteen kilometers along the eastern edge of Sjælland (or Zealand). Millions and millions and millions of years of the earth’s history are exposed here on this rocky swath of beach. It’s a geologist’s wet dream. I just think it’s really, really pretty. And a perfect place to pack in a picnic for a day out in Denmark.
Layers and layers of history here
What really knocked the socks off the rock jocks at Stevns Klint is buried in one of the four visible strata of the exposed cliff face. A special layer known as “fish clay;” this thin layer of sediment provides evidence of the asteroid scientists believe killed off all the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It’s crazy to think that all that information has been pressed between the rock here for millennia but was only discovered as recently as 1978 by American geologist Walter Alvarez. Walter proved that the clay here contained particles from that impactful space rock, pun intended. That is some very old, very important clay. And also why Stevns Klint has earned a slot on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Ancient chalk and dinosaurs
Other cliff layers here hold keys to understanding what life would have been like in Northern Europe before and after the cataclysmic atmosphere corruption caused by asteroid debris plus violent volcanoes choking out the sun. Not good for the cold-blooded dinosaurs. Even those in the prehistoric seas. Here at Stevns Klint, you can get up close and personal with the white chalky base layer near the beach which would have been under water during the Cretaceous and full of nightmarish mega sharks and swimming reptiles like Mosasaurs. Remember the scene at the end of Jurassic World? That was a mosasaur. Fossils of the epic beasts linger in this chalky layer.
Give the cliff a touch and see how easily the chalk rubs off. And before you wipe it off, process that it is actually the sediment from billions and billions of ancient algae shells condensed at the bottom of the Cretaceous Sea. Cool – hunh? And while you might be tempted to scrape and scratch in the soft wall, please don’t. The walls are eroding well enough with normal weathering. Want to find a fossil yourself? No tools allowed, use only your hands on blocks that have already detached from the wall. No hacking or picking on the cliff face allowed.
Fish clay and limestone blocks
Next comes the fish clay. Look closely. It’s the smallest layer. Only 5-10 centimeters (2-4 inches) thick. It’s thin, but holds the most important information. Free telescopes at the top afford an easier way to find dark brownish-grey stratum that acts as a dividing line between the chalk below and the limestone above. You can easily see the chunky block like layer of limestone that juts out over the softer chalk. Don’t stand under any overhangs as limestone blocks do fall off and crash to the beach as the lower layers erode. Local quarries used to mine both the chalk and the limestone in the not so distant past. The old and new churches here in Højerup are built from this very limestone.
Step inside the Gamle Højerup Church
A medieval church sits atop the cliff built from limestone blocks between 1250 and 1300 CE. What you see today has been rebuilt and fortified as part of it fell down onto the beach in 1928. 15,000 square meters of cliff, including the church’s adjacent cemetery and part of the choir, went tumbling down, witnessed by local fisherman. Shockingly no one was hurt. And don’t you be nervous, authorities assure that the church is safe and secure. From here you can get broad sweeping views of cliffs and the beach.
Getting Down to the Beach
Steep stairs near the Gamle Højerup Church take you down to the beach. Use the handrails and take it slow. Follow paths to get to beach, but know that there is some scrambling across wet rocks to make it to there. Stay back from any overhangs as rocks can fall at any time. The rocky beach isn’t easy to walk on, sturdy shoes are definitely recommended.
Take the footpath to Stevns Lighthouse
Part of the Stevns Klint natural area includes 20 kilometers of trampled footpath that you are welcome to walk stretching from nearby Rødvig to the forest at Bøgeskov. We didn’t do the entire walk, but enjoyed the views and pastoral setting that took us to the Stevns Fyr, or lighthouse. Not open when we visited, you can go inside the Lighthouse during summer months until October 1. The foot path traverses private property and visitors are asked to stay on the route and respect local residents’ space. Despite this being Denmark, bicycles are not allowed on the path and dogs should be kept on leash at all times.
Lighthouse Opening Hours:
Summer to October 1
Monday, Wednesday and Fridays | 08.00 to 13.00
Tuesdays and Thursdays | 12.00 – 16.00
Saturday, Sunday and Holidays | 12.00 – 16.00
GOOD TO KNOW:
Stevns Klint UNESCO World Heritage Site
Højerup Bygade 39, 4660 Store Heddinge
1-hour + drive from Copenhagen, 2 hours by train and bus from central station.
Entrance to Stevns Klint and Gamle Højerup Church | FREE
from Easter until October 31
10.00 to 16.30 | 40 DKK
16.30 to 10.00 | 20 DKK
November 1 to Easter | 20 DKK all day
- Picnic tables available for public use all along the site.
- A large playground for littles of all ages near the parking lot.
- No bicycles allowed on footpath.
- Dogs allowed only on leash.
- Stay on the designated path and don’t use private stairs down to beach.
- Restaurant on site offering classic Danish lunch buffet.
Explore more of the area’s attractions
Kalklandet is the collective name for East Zealand’s museums all nearby in this area south of Copenhagen. Step inside Stevnsfort Cold War Museum and see what a nuclear bomb proof fortress would feel like and learn of Denmark’s strategic defenses on the opposite end of the Baltic as the former USSR. Or dive further into the geology and fossil records at the Geomuseum Faxe.
Overall – a delightful day out in Denmark. Cheers from here.