Situated on the east coast of the Jutland Peninsula, Aarhus is approximately 116 miles northwest of Copenhagen.
A jewel of the Danish east coast, Aarhus bore the title of European Capital of Culture in 2017, and was ranked in that year by both Vogue and Lonely Planet as a must-visit destination. On arriving in the city, it is quickly easy to see why.
Aarhus is characterised by its blend of historical and contemporary architecture paired with a vibrant, friendly and exciting atmosphere.
With a population of just over 330,000 it would perhaps not be considered a large city by modern global standards. Yet Aarhus retains a wonderful metropolitan feel without ever being overbearing or intimidating.
On my first evening in the city, I was quickly struck by two things. Firstly, this place was clean. And I mean seriously clean. Not once as I walked the streets did I see a single speck of litter, and in fact I don’t recall seeing any for my entire stay. This, coupled with the freshness of the air, made Aarhus shine very brightly indeed.
Secondly, Aarhus clearly seemed to be a city of the young. Street life was dominated by students and young people toward whom the cosmopolitan vibe of the town was geared. There was a jovial buzz to be felt in the air on streets filled with excited evening shoppers, and diners indulging in the various gastronomic delights that the city had to offer. I looked around and smiled. I was really going to enjoy it here.
After a long day travelling and feeling more than a little famished, I headed with all speed to Aarhus Street Food. I had been told about this incredible indoor food market, and needed to see it for myself. It did not disappoint.
A superb addition to the city’s dining scene, Aarhus Street Food is a bustling hall of culinary delight, showcasing fast cuisine from all over the world. Diners select their meal from the vendor of their choice and enjoy street food dining at its best – side-by-side at long communal tables, enjoying the experience with friends and strangers alike.
With more than 30 kitchens and bars, the range of food on offer at this permanent market is impressive. And in keeping with the street food philosophy, it is served quickly and at a reasonable price.
From Mexican tacos, Vietnamese bahn-mi’s, American soul-food, and traditional Danish smørrebrød (open-sandwiches), Aarhus Street Food offers a multi-cultural food experience engineered to satisfy the palate of anyone on the planet. And for me the community-vibe created by the seating arrangements was the perfect way to enjoy my first meal in this progressive, contemporary and imaginative city.
Having enjoyed an evening of of exploration, I made my way to my accommodation. WakeUp Aarhus was a stylish and, again, very clean hotel situated a short walk from the city railway station. Its central location positioned it perfectly as a place from which to enjoy all of the attractions the city would have to offer, and as I settled into my very comfortable bed, my head was filled with excitement over what the day ahead would hold.
The next morning I rose bright and early, ready to enjoy my first full day in Aarhus. After a good offering of a continental breakfast at the hotel, I headed out to see what this intriguing city was really all about.
My first stop was ARoS Aarhus Art Museum. One of the largest art museums in northern Europe, ARoS was initially established in 1859, though was re-opened in 2004 with a brand-new modern building.
With 20,700 square metres on 10 levels, ARoS has ample space to showcase its impressive collection of sculptures, paintings and installations. And impressive it certainly is. The superb and varied exhibitions within make ARoS the perfect window into Aarhus’ cultural energy, and when visiting the museum you cant help but reflect on the wisdom of the choice to name the city last year’s European Capital of Culture.
Each level of this incredible gallery offers a fresh and diverse range of thought provoking pieces, only reaching the height of wonder at the building’s summit. For atop the roof of ARoS sits perhaps the museum’s most incredible installation, and one that turns the vista of the city itself into a work of art.
Created by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the stunning piece, ‘Your Rainbow Panorama’, is a 150-metre-long circular coloured-glass tunnel walkway. On the roof of ARoS, it sits 50 metres above ground level, and allows visitors to enjoy a break-taking panoramic view of the city skyline in every colour of the rainbow. While perhaps not one for sufferers of vertigo, the view it offers is spectacular. And literally looking at the city through the eye of artistic expression, you truly begin to understand the cultural magic that makes Aarhus so special.
Following my visit to ARoS, it was time to enjoy some time with the people at play. I headed for what had been promised to be another great view of the city, at the trendy new cafe bar on the roof of the city’s historic Salling department store. Enjoying a glass of Danish mulled wine, or ‘glogg’ on a rooftop in winter may not sound like the most sensible of ideas, but it was the perfect way to enjoy the fun side of the city. The bar at the Salling rooftop is a stunning construct of beam-work and glass, and enjoying my warming beverage there just as the snow began to fall, I really was in a grown-up winter wonderland.
Wanting to see more of the real Aarhus, I decided to go and spend some time in the city’s Latin Quarter. This was a wonderfully vibrant area of town, characterised by narrow cobbled streets, small chic shops and bustling cafes. The Latin Quarter showed off the heart and free spirit of the city at its best, and went a long way to completing the picture I had of a city that deservedly celebrated its own cultural forwardness.
On my final day in Aarhus, I began the day by visiting the Moesgaard Museum, and in a stunning architectural setting, opened myself up to a few new lessons in history. And in a fitting way to end my trip, I enjoyed sometime exploring Aarhus Harbour. Rather than just functioning as a commercial port, Aarhus Harbour is also evolving into a liveable urban waterfront. This development stands testament to a city unafraid of change, and one that appears to be constantly evolving, everyday becoming a more exciting version of its self.
A trip to Aarhus would serve to delight the majority of visitors. The city has an edge to it that will continue to make it favoured by the young, but also a general air of positivity, optimism and friendliness that make it a perfect city-break destination for families of all ages. The locals were amongst the most friendly and helpful I have ever met, making this solo traveller feel that he was completely surrounded by friends.
As my first taste of Scandinavia, I couldn’t have been more delighted with my time in Aarhus, and I will certainly be exploring the rest of Denmark in the future. A perfect weekend in an incredible part of the world.
All you need to know. . .
With an AarhusCARD you get free admission to more than 20 museums, attractions and activities in and around Aarhus in addition to free transport by bus all over Aarhus and its region. A 24-hour card is £35, a 48-hour card is £53 and a 72-hour card is £70.
WakeUp Aarhus: A one night stay in a double bedroom at the centrally located WakeUp Aarhus starts at £60. The breakfast buffet start at £10 per person.
How to get there: RyanAir has several direct flight weekly from London STN to Aarhus Airport. Prices start at £5.99 for a one way ticket.
SAS offers many direct flights to Copenhagen from Birmingham, Manchester and other major UK airports. Prices start at £38 for a one-way ticket from Birmingham.
EasyJet also has a direct flight route from Manchester to Copenhagen, which start at £20 for a one-way ticket.
Copenhagen is located three hours by train from Aarhus. Train tickets start at £11 for a one-way ticket.