Transformation: From a Provincial Town to a Vibrant International City
During the past 15 years, the city of Odense in Denmark has undergone a perceptible change. Fuelled by the rapidly growing European robotics hub in Odense, the city’s atmosphere and mindset have changed from local to global.
As the population of Odense becomes more diverse, a wide range of initiatives, organisations, institutions and services have been launched, all aimed at helping internationals in Odense. In this article, we have compiled a selection of these, and a list of what Odense offers its inhabitants.
A remarkable transformation
An hour and a half by train from Copenhagen, Odense is located on the beautiful island of Funen. The latest official figures show that 205,905 people live in Odense, of these, 34,207 were born in other countries or are second-generation immigrants. A majority have their roots in Europe and Asia. Since 2015, Odense’s population has grown by 7,000 people, 4,000 of them internationals. Businesses have created 6,000 new jobs in Odense since 2020, and 852 new foreign employees have settled in Odense since 2020, a 30% increase. In addition, many international students study in Odense.
To Joost Nijhoff, Head of Economic Growth & Tourism in the City of Odense, the transformation of the city is remarkable:
“The Odense City Council is ambitious as far as the internationalisation of our city is concerned. Our local politicians are very much aware that we are part of a global competition for talent and investments. Because of our unique robotics cluster, we benchmark Odense against cities like Boston, Pittsburgh and Munich. You might call that punching above our weight. Being Dutch myself, and after living in cities like Amsterdam and Berlin, I can tell you that in the last decade, Odense has developed a significant international scene. It’s amazing to see that the international school has doubled its number of students. The expat scene is rapidly growing and is quite visible in the vibrant city centre.”
Energetic new citizens
Julie Fink, a Senior Consultant at International Community Odense, has noticed that in just a few short years, there are noticeably more people speaking other languages in Odense’s streets and establishments. These international newcomers bring a lot of new and good things to the city:
“The proportion of foreigners employed in Odense’s successful tech companies has grown. As a bonus, we have welcomed a lot of international enthusiasts in our city who contribute very positively to the city’s development, also outside working hours. Some spouses start their own businesses, and we are grateful to have these new international entrepreneurs in our city,”
It is job and career opportunities that are chiefly drawing incomers to Odense in the first place. They want to be part of a very unique robotics environment.
“Newcomers in Odense describe it as a small city with everything you need. They praise it as a green and clean city with everything within biking distance, instead of having to spend hours commuting by car,” Julie Fink further mentions
New in Odense
- International Community Odense (ICO) was established in 2015 by the City of Odense. It has a Newcomer Service, a First Home Service, and a Partner Career Advisor to help with the practicalities of moving to Odense. The organisation also helps people coordinate activities and networks of interest to internationals, host welcome events, and much more. For instance, it arranges company visits at Danish workplaces for accompanying partners.
- International Citizen Service South: ICS Odense provides services to newcomers staying for more than 3 months, coordinating cooperation between relevant Danish authorities and helping newcomers to get the necessary paperwork done.
- Odense’s vision is to become the world’s best robot city. Robotic Careers is the leading career portal for talent looking for career opportunities in Denmark’s robotics, automation and drone sectors – whether in industry, academia or government. Robotics Careers is powered by Odense Robotics, Denmark’s robotics, automation and drone cluster organisation. Jobindex offers a list of available jobs in Odense, covering all industries and sectors.
Language training in Odense
- AOF offers free Danish classes to foreigners who decide to settle in Denmark. International Community Odense lists other Danish language offers here.
- Chat in Danish Odense is a mixed group of Internationals and Danes meeting in an informal setting to speak Danish with each other. The initiative was launched by a couple of passionate volunteers who have experienced that it can be challenging to practice the Danish language outside of Danish language classes since most Danes speak and understand English.
- Already in kindergarten, kids in Odense play with robots. This is a part of the city’s vision of giving future generations an understanding of technology, the digital universe and the opportunities and limitations it holds.
- Hands-on robotics is also the focus of Robothus Fyn and Teknologiskolen, providing older children and young people with practical robotics experience and learning.
- Odense International School was founded in 2011 and is a certified Cambridge International Examinations Centre, providing high-quality international education in English for children aged 5-16. Working in partnership with Henriette Hørlücks Skole, it is located in the heart of the city centre. Children with backgrounds from more than 40 nations attend Odense International School, and their exam results are among Denmark’s top ten annually.
- At the upper secondary school level, students can study the International Bacculearate programme at Nyborg Gymnasium, located in eastern Funen, or if your family is located near ‘Trekantsområdet’, then your child can study on the IB programme at Kolding Gymnasium.
- Tietgen Business School in Odense offers ‘top-up’ and continuing adult education programmes.
- The University of Southern Denmark offers English-language education programmes.
- For faculty at the University of Southern Denmark, the International Staff Office is dedicated to assisting their international faculty members.
- ERASMUS Student Network Odense ESN Odense is a student organisation helping exchange students with their stay in Odense and to learn more about Denmark and Danish culture.
- Studenterhus Odense: A non-profit meeting place for Odense’s 25,000 students.
Innovation & entrepreneurship
- Startup Odense is an online platform that provides you with an overview of the entrepreneurial activities, resources and actors in and around Odense.
- In recent years, the number of spaces for entrepreneurs in Odense has grown and offers much more than simply having a workspace outside your home: Coworking Plus, Tech Town Odense, Videnbyen at Cortex Park, Visti Unlimited, Tanken 16.
- The O’Town Garage is a maker space, a shared space for collaborative technical and artistic experimentation within robotics, woodwork, design, development, sewing and more. Some excellent startup companies have started their journey there.
- Invest in Odense, in collaboration with the City of Odense, works to attract businesses to Odense. Their annual international event, Odense Investor Summit, attracts investors, startups and scaleups from all over Europe.
- Facebook (now known as Meta) Data Center opened a large data centre in Odense in 2019 and announced in December 2021 that it would expand its site in Odense.
- The Danish Environmental Protection Agency, moved its offices from Copenhagen to Odense in 2019.
- The New OUH “Super” Hospital will be connected to an extension of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Southern Denmark.
- Medical Cannabis investments have increased in Odense, both as business ventures and in collaboration with Odense University Hospital’s Pain Unit.
- Odense Robotics, Denmark’s national robotics cluster brings together the entire ecosystem in a nationwide setup with regional hubs across Denmark. There are more than 300 robotic, automation and drone companies across the country, employing around 8,500 people.
- Large Structure Production is a new Centre at the University of Southern Denmark researching robotisation and digitalisation technologies that support the maritime, construction, and energy sectors in large-scale production.
- At Hans Christian Andersen Airport located near Odense, you will find UAS Denmark Test Center. This is an unmanned systems technology test and development centre in Odense, Denmark, and it is a collaboration between Hans Christian Andersen Airport, Odense Municipality and the University of Southern Denmark.
- SKAT, the Danish Tax authority, will be moving its local offices into a substantial new building in Odense.
Infrastructure & buildings
Odense has 550 kilometres of cycle paths, 65 bicycle tunnels, and 125 bicycle bridges, all helping to keep the flow of cyclists moving smoothly. In Odense, 26 % of all trips are done by bicycle.
- The Light Rail opened in Odense in 2022, providing seamless transportation to and from the bus or train, with frequent transit times.
- Byens Bro (The City Bridge) opened in 2015 and connects cyclists and pedestrians with the city centre, the harbour area, and the train platforms at Odense Station.
- Odins Bro (Odin’s Bridge) opened in 2014, one of Northern Europe’s largest swing bridges.
- The number of housing developments has steadily increased over the last decade, including near the University of Southern Denmark campus, Odense Harbour, Gartnerbyen, and Marienlund at the edge of the Skibhusvej neighbourhood, to name a few.
- ODEON, a new meeting and conference centre with a large performance space in the heart of Odense, opened in spring 2017. It will be the venue for The European Robotics Forum in 2023, which is the most influential meeting of the robotics community in Europe. It has also been the venue for Thinkers 50.
- Hans Christiansen Andersen Airport recently started offering charter flights to multiple European destinations through several travel companies.
Whether you’re into fine dining, street food or traditional Danish food, Odense has it all. You can also visit the city’s food market, and sample the fresh Funen vegetables or local cheeses.
- Although Odense cannot yet claim a Michelin star, it is home to three Michelin guide mentions: Vår, Passfall, and ARO https://guide.michelin.com/dk/en/southern-denmark/odense/restaurants
- The Street Food phenomenon arrived in Odense in 2017, and now it is possible to enjoy delicious international street food here: Storms Pakhus, Thrigehallerne, GASA
- The website of Visit Odense provides an outline of Odense for foodies.
- Odense Main Library is one of the largest public libraries in Denmark. The library hosts various events throughout the year.
- For ages 14-29 years, Ungdomshuset on Nørregade offers a wide variety of after-school and evening activities.
- For ages 11-18 years, there are a number of Youth Centres that offer a hangout for after-school hours.
- Outdoor swimming pool at Odense Harbour (free and open year-round).
- Padel court, at Odense Harbour: https://www.visitodense.com/tourist/plan-your-trip/padelsport-odense-harbour-gdk1010361
- Odense Rundt website: Find everything from 250+ playgrounds and outdoor fitness areas to parking and much more.
- Learn more about sports opportunities in Odense.
Festivals / events
It is said that there are enough festivals in Odense to keep you busy every weekend for the whole year. These cover flowers, rosé wine, gin, beer, cake, asparagus, “brunsviger” (type of Danish sugary cake originating from Funen), film, spoken word, femi, and pride festivals and much more.
The following is a selection of some of the most well-known festivals:
- HCA Festivals: In late August (calendar week 34) each year, Odense plays host to a huge range of cultural activities for people of all ages, based on the well-known world of Hans Christian Andersen, with everything from theatre performances, lectures and guided tours, to street art installations, concerts, international shows and more.
- Tinderbox, established in 2015, is a music festival that lasts for several days, held in late June at Tusindårsskoven https://tinderbox.dk/
- Generator, the ‘Study Start’ festival, held in early September.
- Odense Harbour Culture Festival is held the last weekend in May.
- Since 2015, Odense has also hosted various events, of which many are initiated by internationals in Odense, such as NBA 3x, Thinkers50, and TEDxOdense, Odense International Toastmasters, and Sofar Sounds Odense
- OFF – Odense International Film Festival is Denmark’s oldest and only Oscar- and EFA-qualifying short film festival.
Odense offers international exhibitions and attractions of international standard, but also plenty of galleries, theatres, music venues, festivals and smaller, local initiatives that form a cultural base and the backbone of the city’s cultural life.
- The world-famous author Hans Christian Andersen grew up in Odense. The city has recently built the New Hans Christian Andersen House. Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the museum is designed with the author’s famous fairy tales in mind. Exhibitions include experiential tributes to the tales: in a Little Mermaid–inspired area, for example, visitors can lie down beneath a glass ceiling to look up into a pool of water and imagine they are in the ocean.
- North Atlantic House, is a cultural centre, which will act as a platform to raise the profile of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland in Odense and Southern Denmark. The house features lots of activities focusing on culture, experiences, information, local associations, food and fellowship.
Christmas in Odense
Odense is never more pretty than during Yuletide, when white lights festoon the streets. At the heart of the celebrations is the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market, which takes place in the old part of town during the first weeks of December each year. The H.C. Andersen Christmas Market in Odense has been named as one of Europe’s ‘Most Charming Christmas Markets’ by Travelmag. The historic market is surrounded by charming townhouses, old merchant houses and centuries-old crooked half-timbered houses that add to the atmosphere. As for the market itself, more than 60 stalls sell handicrafts, gastronomic delights and mulled wine, while the live entertainment is inspired by H.C. Andersen and his famous fairy tales, with musicians, choirs, actors, and showmen helping recreate a 19th-century Christmas feel.
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