Aarhus is somewhat like Boy, the enormous sculpture in its ARoS Art Museum. Appearing rather shy and calm at first sight, but as soon as you see it from another angle, you know it’s always up to something. The city is bustling with culture and creativity.
That said, the trip to Aarhus that I was fortunate to take part in, checked all the boxes.
Jaw-dropping cultural experience, check.
Food (!), check.
Time travel, check.
Exercise that I don’t hate (aka cycling), check.
Crazy party, check.
Here are some things you can do in Aarhus that will completely shift your view of Denmark’s second largest city.
MEET YOUR ANCESTORS
2300 years old and in perfect shape. No, I’m not talking about a viking vampire (even though that would be quite hot, right?). There is a way more interesting gentleman waiting for you in the Moesgaard Museum (MOMA), the Grauballe Man – one of the best preserved bog bodies in the world! The rest of the museum is equally unique and takes its visitors on a great journey through history, which starts in the stone age and ends in the Viking era. From the outside its brand new building looks like ground shifted by a shovel and blends beautifully into the surrounding landscape.
FACE A GIANT
Boy is a 4,5 meter high and 500 kg heavy sculpture in the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum. You know why he’s only wearing pants? Because after the artist’s (Ron Mueck’s) wife tiresomely sew them, she decided that she’s not up for knitting a matching sweater, which she had planned initially. Because, duh, it would only take forever. But seriously, the sculpture is amazing and makes a huge impression. Huge.
At the same time, it’s just one of the many amazing artworks in the ARoS Museum. Its ten floors are packed with permanent and temporary exhibitions. The No man is an island exhibition is one that I found particularly thought-provoking. It’s there, for now, so make sure to visit it on the museum’s 6th floor. A word of warning though – if you are a car lover, be prepared to have your heart broken.
WALK IN A RAINBOW
Arguably the most photographed landmark in Aarhus today, it looks stunning both from the inside and outside. Your rainbow panorama crowns the ARoS museum like a colourful halo. Olafur Eliasson’s installation is 150 meters long and it may be the slowest 150 meters you’ve ever walked (if you have the time), because the changing views are so captivating, they will probably make you stop every two steps to take a photograph or just to soak them in.
HIT THE PEDALS WITH CYCLING AARHUS
Exploring this city on two wheels is easy and extremely pleasant, if the weather plays along. The system of free (deposit based) self-service city bikes is one great way to do it. 280 miles of bike paths at your disposal. However, if you feel like you could use some guidance, you’ll really like the offer of Cycling Aarhus, who organize guided bicycle tours around town. One of the tours will take you to Aarhus Ø, a rapidly expanding new quarter on the harbour water front with cool contemporary architecture, urban gardens and a hip atmosphere.
FORGET WHAT YOU KNEW ABOUT COFFEE
There is a guy in Aarhus who understands coffee on a whole different level. But the best thing is, Søren Stiller Markussen is open to share this fantastic knowledge with you. His Great Coffee, located at Klostergade 32, is the place where you can find him, unless he is currently out in the world tracking down the best beans. At Great Coffee you’ll discover, among other things, that the right coffee can be sweet without sugar and that brewing methods are a never ending story.
TRAVEL IN TIME
If nobody warns you about it, you might be a little surprised when a 18th century gal is casually putting together flowers inside a house you just entered. Even more surprised, when she starts chatting you up in a renaissance slang and asks whether you might know any decent men who could be a match for her. In Den Gamle By, things like this can happen… The open air museum comprises 75 original Danish buildings from three different time periods – the 18th – 19th century, the 1920’s and the 1970’s. An apartment building from 1974 let’s you wander around flats inhabited by many different examples of Denmark’s then population – from a hippie family to guest workers from Turkey. A truly unique experience. Also, Aarhus story, a great new underground exhibition inside the museum, was just opened for public on April 12th.
The brilliant Danes invented this brilliant word to describe seemingly ordinary moments and situations in our daily life, which actually make it worth living. A meal shared with family or friends, enjoying a cup of warm tea on a cold day, taking a hot bath, reading a great book, enjoying a beautiful view… The list goes on and on. The term, which the rest of Europe is now discovering due to hygge-themed books, was part of a Danes life all along. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they call Aarhus the city of smiles? Either way, if you won’t experience a hygge moment in Aarhus, there must be something seriously wrong with you, because it’s impossible not to.
GET LOST (Same thing in all of my posts, I know… But crucial!)
Admittedly, I didn’t have the opportunity to do it this time around, because, annoyingly, there was always someone tagging along who knew the way too well. And, oh yeah, I wasn’t allowed to get lost, because I was part of an organized trip. People were always super-kind, explaining everything before I asked, putting food and drinks under my nose constantly… What can I say, it was tough. But once in a while I’m willing to sacrifice myself like this in order to please my five readers.
Ok, what I actually wanted to say is that I believe loosing yourself in the narrow cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter, the oldest part of Aarhus, seems like a great thing to do. I will, next time.
Nah, I’m kidding… Or, am I? Let’s look at the facts quickly. We are in a city largely inhabited by young people, mainly students. Carlsberg is not the only beer kind in Denmark and craft beers are no novelty in Aarhus either. There are schnapps kinds, which names I can’t even pronounce, but it doesn’t matter, because people will bring them to you whether you want it or not. Don’t fight it. Enjoy it. It seems like the best place to do so is along the Aarhus canal, where life is celebrated in numerous venues, often with summer gardens. Apart from there, a place called Waxies will stay in my memory for a long time (wink at those who know).
HAVE A SMØRREBRØD
Ladies and Gentlemen, the star of Denmark’s cuisine – the sandwich! Wait, what? Well, yes. But before you judge, there’s more to it than it seems. The slice of dark Danish rye bread is a healthy base, but the real magic happens between the many layers of the topping – veggies, fish, shrimps, cold meats, cheeses, egg, sauces, herbs – whatever makes your taste buds dance, it’s probably one of the varied choices in any eatery. Visit the Central Food Market at Sankt Knuds Torv to try smørrebrød or any other of the hundreds of food options offered by the mini-restaurant stalls in the market hall – often branches of well-known restaurants located in other parts of Denmark.
TRY THE LATTER IN A MICHELIN-STARRED RESTAURANT…
…and eat a sandwich masterpiece. Or eat something else, if you had enough sandwiches. The point is, Aarhus currently boasts four Michelin-starred restaurants, so you’re in for a treat, if you’re willing to stretch your travel budget a little bit.
Aarhus is the European Capital of Culture 2017 and there’s plenty going on now, ALL THE TIME. For specific events go here.
Aarhus is also the European Region of Gastronomy 2017.
And if the above doesn’t interest you (you culural ignorants), Aarhus was also named Scandinavia’s best shopping destination.
As you can see, there is something for everyone in the city of smiles, so bring your smile over there too!
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