The Danish flag may look plain and simple, but its history is actually very interesting! Loved by many, the flag of Denmark is a white cross on a red background – we will get to the symbolism later – and is similar in design to those of other Scandinavian countries.

Do not make the mistake of confusing it with the Swiss flag – get to know the history behind Denmark’s flag here and impress your friends on your next trip to Denmark with your knowledge!

Denmark Flag facts

national flag of denmark
Courtesy: Matt Keifer/Flickr

What is the Flag of Denmark called?

The flag of Denmark is known locally as the Dannebrog. This translates to “Danish Cloth” and is a national treasure! It is so engrained in the nation’s psyche, that there is even a colour called “Dannebrog Red”!

What does the flag of Denmark symbolise?

The white Scandinavian cross on a red background makes for a simple but striking flag. The cross can be seen on the flags of other Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Finland and Sweden. The shape is of course the traditional Christian cross, with the white colour representing peace. And the red background? This is said to symbolise the Dane’s warrior-like bravery and strength.

What is the Copenhagen Flag?

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, does not actually have its own a city flag. There is therefore no Copenhagen flag as such. The capital city does however proudly display the Dannebrog as its own, and you will see it in public places all over town when visiting Copenhagen. It is so loved that it nearly has become the Copenhagen flag after all!

History of the Danish Flag

Apparently, the legend and history of the Danish flag lives on in the homes and hearts of many Danes! The story of the flags’ origins is retold from generation to generation, from young to old. The flag holds a special place in the hearts of many in the country. Let’s hear its history again here:

In the 1400s, the King of the Danes Valdemar the Victorious was leading a campaign in the region that is now Estonia.  Well, let us just say it was not going too well for the Danish army, and it looked like they might have to retreat.

Out of the sky – I kid you not – came a red piece of cloth (cue dramatic uplifting music). On it was a white cross! The army took it as a sign from heaven and advanced. The Danes swear to this day that it was at this moment that things turned around for the better. They won the battle – and decided to keep the flag as their national symbol.

How old is the Danish flag?

Since Danish historians and amateur flag lovers alike claim the flag has been in existence since that day in 1319, the Danish flag istherefore over 800 years old. That means, the red and white flag we know and love in Denmark is the oldest continually used flag in the world! It has undergone some minor changes for sure – the shape of the cross for example – but its essence remains unchanged.

Contender for the title of world’s oldest flag

The title for world’s oldest flag is not 100% in the bag though – the Scots might have something to say about the Danish claiming the title of world’s oldest flag. The Scottish saltire of St Andrew claims to have been around just as long, but rumour has it that it existed only in different colours and therefore perhaps does not qualify as a contender. We will let you judge for yourself.

The Denmark Flag and its different shapes

denmark currency

The Danish flag appears throughout the country in several different forms. Check them out here:

The National Flag

The National Flag of Denmark is the one with which you will be most familiar. The Nordic Cross sits prominently on the red background, with the crossed parts appearing closer to the hoist side of the flag. The red colour is known as Dannebrog Red and although it has no official definition, it is recognisable the world over as the colour of the Danish flag. The Merchant Flag of Denmark takes the same form and is identical.

The Naval Flag of Denmark

It features the same design as the Merchant Flag; however, the flag itself is forked in shape and is known as the Splittflag. Different branches of the Navy adopt the flag – e.g. the Minister of Defence – with a distinguishing emblem in the left cantons. Of interesting note is the colour – the Naval Flag is in a slightly darker hue of red than the National flag

The Danish Flag also appears in many different variants on many royal standards. The King, Queen and Prince of Denmark all have emblems on their own Dannebrog. The army too has its own flags for different senior officers.

Note: The Denmark flag that is officially used by the Danish royalty was introduced on 16 November 1972 when the Queen adopted a new version of her personal coat of arms. The royal standard is the Denmark flag with a swallow-tail and charged with the monarch’s coat of arms set in a white square.

The Danish Flag – Respect and Rules

Like many other peoples of great nations, the Danes take great pride in their national flag, and see it as a symbol of their national identity. Steeped in history, it can be a great insult to deface or disrespect the flag. Rules even exist to protect its honour. The traditions of the Danish flag therefore dictate a number of protocols to ensure the flag is not disrespected in any way.

The issue is such a question of national pride that there is even a body to protect the dignity of the flag. The Samfundet publishes a whole bunch of guidance – nearly 70 pages to be precise! You can check it out here in more detail or read on to discover some of the top rules.

danish flag


The proportions of the flag, including the length and thickness of the cross, are clearly defined. The flag must be 3:1:3 in width – this rule has been in existence since the late 1700s.

Raising the Denmark flag

When raising the flag it should ever touch the ground, and it needs to hang a certain way. And most importantly, the Danish flag should be lowered at sunset – flying it longer is not acceptable and there is even a phrase stating it is “flying the flag for the devil”.

There are some exceptions to this rule however – it is possible to fly the Dannebrog at night time if the area is well lit and the flag takes pride of place – for example, at a state procession or concert.

Other rules about the Danish Flag

  • If the flag is worn out it needs to be immediately changed and disposed of by burning.
  • If other flags are to be flown in the vicinity – for example if a leader of another state is visiting – the Danish flag needs to be raised first, and no other flag can be flown on the same pole.
  • Special rules exist for the management of the flag during state funerals, including when the flag can be hoisted fully again.
  • Generally, the flag must be raised very slowly, and taken down at the same speed.
  • When taking the flag down from the pole and storing it, the white cross needs to be wrapped in side the red cloth.
  • You need special authorisation from the police to fly any other flag in Denmark – the only exception to this rule is the flying of the other Scandinavian flags such as that of Iceland, Norway, Sweden or Finland, and the EU flag.
  • The split flags – the fork shaped flag – can only be flown by the Royal Family or special positions in the navy and armed forces. Do not risk a fine for flying it!
Children Danish Flag Running
Courtesy: Lars Plougmann/Flickr

When is the Danish Flag Flown?

You can fly the Danish flag at any time, however there are special state days and events when it will be flown as a matter of due course. Here is an example of some of them below, but there are many more!

  • June 15th – This is the date used to celebrate the battle of Valdemar, during which legend says the flag appeared from the heavens
  • Birthdays, Christenings, Weddings – Danes love to fly their flags for special family events
  • Royal Family special occasions – Birthdays of members of the Royal Family for example
  • Good Friday – The flag is flown on this day, but only at half-mast·   Christmas Day

Conclusion to the Denmark Flag

Now you have become an expert on the Danish Flag and can impress your friends with your knowledge on the history of this pleasant national symbol. You have also no worries about being fined for using the flag in the wrong way! Why not try to take some pictures of the flag flying proudly when you are visiting Denmark?

On that note, it is perhaps time that you start preparing for a visit to Copenhagen or one of Denmark’s other great tourist hotspots! You are in the right place – we have plenty of resources to get you ready for the trip. Check them out here and let us know how you get on.

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