Stumbling across iconic villages and towns are what makes spontaneous road trips even more rewarding. During our short yet enjoyable time in Iowa, we discovered two quaint towns that really enhance the topic of European influence still impacting the American lifestyle in many societies around the nation. We all know the rich history that the British had on American settlers but what about some of the other European nations? Danish influence for example may not be the first nation you think about when exploring some of the melting pots across USA, but hidden in the heart of Iowa is the town of Elk Horn that may just sway your opinion.
Iowa is a great example of how other European settlers flourished across the Atlantic Ocean and even to this day are still reaping the benefits of locals continuing this rich heritage. Holland and Denmark are two examples of European countries that are iconically represented in Iowa and after reading this post I am convinced that you would struggle to know which side of the pond you are on!
Location of Elk Horn
After leaving the gorgeous capital of Des Moines, we headed west toward Omaha, Nebraska and saw several signs advertising a Danish windmill. Our trip earlier in the weekend to Pella, Iowa proved to be a huge success so we figured why not take a detour fifteen minutes out of our way to explore the metropolis of Elk Horn, Iowa. Ok, so maybe ‘metropolis’ is a little too extravagant to describe Elk Horn but either way it’s a gorgeous little town that I’m glad we stumbled across.
Unearthing a gem like Elk Horn is what road tripping is all about. Of course we missed the hustle and bustle of every day life by visiting on a Sunday morning but we still had the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny this town had to offer.
Located about 10 miles north of I-80 between Des Moines and Omaha, Elk Horn is a perfect place to take a break from interstate driving. With a population of just over 650, it is no surprise that a town like Elk Horn goes under the radar but when you spend time here, you soon realize it is well worthy of a visit.
Stereotypical Danish Heritage
As we approached the town, we were immediately taken back to our time in Copenhagen, Denmark as the first building we saw advertised Tivoli Inn and Suites. Referencing the amazing Tivoli Gardens theme park in Copenhagen, this is a great spot to stay in Elk Horn if you wish to fully experience the Danish influence in this town.
Directly across from Tivoli Inn is the Danish windmill which stands proudly in the heart of the town. Elk Horn boasts the only authentic, fully functioning Danish windmill across the States and was purchased in 1976 from Norre Snede in Denmark before being transported across the Atlantic and constructed in it’s current location.
Danish signs are everywhere and I really want to emphasize that as you stroll around this small town, you really have to think twice about whether you are in USA or Denmark. Everything in Elk Horn typifies Danish culture. “Velkommen” greats visitors as they pass by the windmill and a number of inviting Danish looking restaurants, gift shops and restaurants are in the near vicinity.
Take a moment to stand by the Hans Christian Andersen statue that is a stereotypical focal point of Denmark’s rich history. Although the statue only provides a head shot of Andersen, it immediately takes you back to your childhood days and many of those infamous fairy tales!
VikingHjem and Immigration Museum
If taking a tour of the Danish windmill doesn’t satisfy your appetite of having a true experience of Denmark’s culture, why not head over to the VikingHjem barn that dates back to 900 A.D.
Technically this was a Viking Smithy’s home but from the exterior, this has all the appearance of what we would call a barn.
Although we were not able to go inside as everything was closed, this is a lively spot with demonstrations and lectures frequently available in both the blacksmith and woodwork area of this ‘hjem’ (Danish for ‘home’).
Elk Horn is also home to the Danish Immigrant Museum which provides a self-guided experience and history of the original Danish immigrants that made their way across the pond and settled in this very town.
Find out why they made this move and take a look at some pretty cool exhibits such as an original piano from one of the very first Danish settlers in Elk Horn.
Downtown Elk Horn
After wandering around many of the key landmarks in Copenhagen…sorry Elk Horn, we headed to the main downtown area that still exudes Danish iconography.
The Danish ‘Dannebrog’ (flag) can be seen on almost every post in the town, along with the storefronts that either portray Danish representations or provide visitors with the opportunity to purchase something that you would typically buy in the heart of Denmark.
Elk Horn’s historic train station even has a real European feel to it, whether it’s because of the color scheme or the archaic appearance, it just emanates Scandinavian architecture.
If our weekend visit to Iowa has shown us anything, it is that European culture is certainly thriving in certain parts of the United States. From tulips and windmills in Pella to the Danish influence here in Elk Horn, we have certainly been sold on everything Iowa has to offer.
Just to add a little extra incentive to this part of Iowa, just a few miles up the road from Elk Horn is yet another town with Danish settlers – Kimballton! We decided to leave this town for a future visit but if it is anything like Elk Horn, it will be well worth your time. Did someone say the Little Mermaid? I don’t want to give too much away but I have heard that Kimballton has a pretty cool statue similar to the one on the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen.
Although there is nothing that compares to visiting the original Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen or seeing the home of Hans Christian Andersen, Elk Horn offers a pretty cool representation and the locals are clearly proud to maintain this rich Danish heritage.