I have a thing for small towns that lean hard into their European heritage, like German-tinged New Ulm, Minnesota, and New Glarus, Wisconsin (a.k.a. America’s Little Switzerland). There’s something touching and very American about preserving bits and pieces of the Old Country while settling wholeheartedly in the new one.
So when I had the opportunity to visit Elk Horn, Iowa, one of the most Danish places in America, I jumped at the chance. I was expecting a local museum with some antique furniture, a restaurant serving Danish-inspired food, and a gift shop with “Kiss the cook, she’s Danish” coffee mugs.
And I found those things in Elk Horn. But I also found a town of 650 with immense pride in their Danish heritage (43 percent claim Danish roots). The American flag is flown side-by-side with the Danish one, and people eat aebleskiver for breakfast. There is a small but constant stream of Danish tourists who come to visit the town they learned about from Denmark on the Prairie, a television documentary that made Elk Horn’s mayor a minor celebrity in Denmark (seriously).
Sure, Elk Horn’s Danish heritage is one of its selling points as a tourist destination. But it’s also a genuine way of life, and it makes this small town about an hour west of Des Moines worth checking out.
Here’s how to experience Elk Horn’s unique celebration of Danish culture for yourself.
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