If you are looking to visit a city in Denmark, the capital Copenhagen would be the obvious choice. But the country’s second largest city Aarhus (pronounced ‘ORhoos’) also has it’s own unique charm. Boasting a world-class university, an array of cultural highlights and appointed as the European Capital of Culture 2017, it isn’t surprising that Denmark’s happiest city has been named one of the best places to visit in Europe in 2016. But what exactly does Aarhus have to offer visitors? I recently took a two day break to the city to see for myself.
The City Centre
The city centre (Midtbyen) is small and charming, making it easy to get around on foot and to explore the small pedestrianised shopping streets. When it’s sunny, people relax outside the bars and restaurants lining the canal. Being right on the coast, the wind can make it feel colder than it is, but since most bars provide blankets you can still sit outside comfortably and enjoy the last hours of sunlight.
We didn’t see much variety in the types of restaurants we saw, but we got a delicious gourmet burger from LAVA restaurant, cafe and bar by the canal. Aarhus has been awarded another title in 2017 as the European Region of Gastronomy, so I don’t doubt that the quality of food elsewhere is just as good.
As a university town there are naturally many pubs and clubs, including English pubs, Irish bars and at least one German bar. We went in Waxies, a large pub with a mix of people of all ages inside. The music was good, beer was average, but the atmosphere was fine for starting off a Friday night. I won’t lie and say we partied all night (quite the opposite), but I can see that Aarhus has potential for it.
Museums and attractions
The one paid attraction we visited was ARoS Kunstmuseum. Search results for ‘things to do in Aarhus’ will undoubtedly bring up this art gallery, and with good reason. Sitting atop of the building is an elevated walkway called ‘Your Rainbow Panorama’, a permanent work of art by Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. As the name suggests, the walkway runs in a circle, giving panoramic views of the city through multi-coloured pains of glass. Inside your eyes will start to feel funny, but the photos will look amazing and you can always walk on the roof to get another, non-colourful view of the city.
The gallery inside has an extensive collection of Danish art and hosts exhibitions by world renowned artists such as Grayson Perry and eighties photographer Robert Maplethrope, whose work was on show during our visit. The cafe is also pleasant and reasonably priced.
Another impressive attraction is Moesgård museum, a regional museum dedicated to archaeology and ethnography with a vast collection of artefacts, mainly of Danish origin. The museum is just outside the city, but is accessible by bus from the centre of Aarhus, taking about 25 minutes. We only stopped off here at the end of our coastal walk (see my other blog post on the Aarhus forest coastal walk) to go to the cafe and walk around the grounds. As the museum is so big, you could easily spend at least half a day here and with exhibitions like the review raving ‘Gladiator – Heroes of the Colosseum’ it might even be worth multiple visits. This is one place I would definitely make time for if I come to Aarhus again.
One other attraction worth mentioning is the old town (Den Gamle By). The old town in Aarhus is in fact an open air museum. We didn’t go there on our trip as we were on a smaller budget and the entrance fee was quite high. I had also heard from another recent visitor that (for the price) it was a little disappointing. For us, the churches and architecture in the Midtbyen offered enough. But perhaps on a longer visit it would be worth checking out.
Walking to the harbour area from the canal on our first night, we were first met with the large Dokk1 or Dokken building, a public library and cultural centre overlooking the port. Since we were there on a wet evening we only observed the exterior, but judging by our sudden urge to sit down on the benches overlooking the waterfront, this would be an ideal public space to stop for a moment of contemplation.
As a container port, the landscape is naturally industrial and on our visit much of the area leading up to Aarhus Ø (the harbourfront city district) was a building site, making it hard to navigate. However with a little perseverance we made it to the pleasant Aarhus Lystbådehavn (yacht habour) and were able to admire the modern architectural blocks in the Ø district, which looked out onto a serene ocean view.
We didn’t see the Ø-haven, but if you walk further around the apartment buildings you will find the public city garden, where residents have little plots of land to grow their own plants and produce.
Beaches and green spaces
One of the deciding factors for our short break was to go somewhere peaceful where we could go walking and get away from city life for a while. The fantastic thing about Aarhus is that nature is right on your doorstep. Heading north or south from the city you will find beautiful beaches to relax on, as well as forested areas perfect for bike rides or long walks. We only walked along the coastline south of the city (again, check out my other blog post for details on the walk), but there are many other beaches to visit, such as ‘Den Permanente‘, a popular beach with young people and only a ten minute bike ride from the city (note: it also has sheltered male and female nudest areas).
Besides beaches, there are many parks in and around the city to choose from. We did not have time to go through them all, but to give you an idea there is Rådhusparken by the city hall, Marselisborg Memorial Park by the Marselisborg palace, the University park and the Botanical Gardens, all offering pleasant green spaces to hang out in.
To sum it up, Aarhus has plenty to do for anyone on a short break, however it might take some research to figure out where to go, depending on what you’re interested in doing. If you’re looking to venture to the beaches or anywhere else outside of the city centre, Google maps is your friend. It is however hard to get too lost, since the city is so small and there are still buses and a light rail project underway. For some budgets, the museums and attractions might be a little expensive, but there are lots of nice public spaces and places to enjoy the outdoors for free, especially in the summer.
As the city hosts the European Capital of Culture, with new events and the theme ‘RETHINK’ (aiming to promote progressive and open ways of thinking to create a better society), it will certainly be interesting to see how the city develops in the coming years.
Have you been to or live(d) in Aarhus? Is there anything you’d recommend doing? Any neighbourhoods worth visiting? If so I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!