In Copenhagen, as we chatted with strangers and they asked what else did we have planned during our trip to Denmark, I mentioned we were going to Aarhus (pronounced oar-hus). Most of the people we talked to have not been there, but everyone said they’ve heard it was beautiful. When I was planning our trip, I thought Aarhus was going to be more like my base to travel around Jutland. But actually, this university town is a veritable destination on its own.
On January 21st, Aarhus 2017 opened as the European Capital of Culture. With this privilege, Aarhus has taken the opportunity to showcase everything about Danish culture, from their Viking past to their modern designs that solve the problems of the future. This year’s mantra, Let's Rethink -- "is much more than a theme - it is a mindset for change, innovation and courage, a progressive way of thinking and acting smarter" (aarhus2017.dk).
2017 is eventful for Aarhus and several municipalities in Denmark, so definitely check the event calendar to plan your trip! We saw many signs and preparations for Aarhus 2017 when we visited in September 2016 (and I thought, 'man, I'm early by a few months!').
Nonetheless, our visit was nothing short of impressive. Here are some things that we did that you can fit in a 2 day visit (though this year, I’d add another day or two).
Start your day with a walk along Stroget. Obviously, it’s not as lengthy as the one in Copenhagen, but it has a similar energy. There’s a lot of good shops and cafes for breakfast. I so wanted to shop at this modern home store, Sinnerup, but luggage control was so important so I had to pass!
From the Stroget, it’s an easy walk to the magnificent ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum. Give yourself ample time here, there’s a lot to see! The highlight is the circular skywalk, Your rainbow panorama by Ólafur Eliasson. I went around quite a few times - to admire the actual rainbow walk, to look down at a colorful Aarhus, and to take photos of my husband going around. Naturally, the earlier you get here, the less crowded, so I’d recommend to go check out the skywalk first before the actual museum. If you love herb gardens like I do, there’s some cute planter boxes on the Roof Pavilion.
AR0S gave me the Guggenheim Museum feels with the all white interiors and a spiral staircase that resembled the ramps in the NY museum. When we went, there was a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, On the Edge, and it is every bit that title. The Boy, is also one you shouldn’t miss, it will be hard to do so. Ron Mueck's sculpture is both imposing and eerie, in my opinion.
It’s a doable walk from ARoS to Den Gamle By, The Old Town. I say doable because, yes, my husband was able to do it using his cane, but it is a good mile or so out, and there’s a bit of an uphill walk.
At first I thought the buildings in Den Gamle By were built as replicas of structures from times gone by. I was mistaken; the buildings here were actual structures from before the 1900s to the ‘70s from all over Denmark, relocated and restored in this location in Aarhus. We had lunch here before going around the site. My husband and friend ordered smørrebrød and I ordered a traditional Viking stew - very hearty!
You can walk back to town, we took the bus as we have been walking all day, and make your way to the Aarhus Godsbanen. It used to be a goods station at the end of the train tracks. Now, it’s a cultural center that provides people with spaces for all creative things - a theater, workshops, studios, project rooms, everything you'll need when you're creative juices are flowing. Around it, there's a self-governing community, Institut for (X), which is a DIY town for the creative startups. For us, we went there to check out the roof! I'm super proud of my husband for his determination in reaching the summit!.
Aarhus is home to 3 Michelin-starred restaurants so these are good options for dinner. But, alas, my Michelin star restaurant budget have all been spoken for in Copenhagen so I needed to skip this treat in Aarhus. On my next trip, I would like to check out Restaurant Gastromé as it says it's country-inspired. And Aarhus does have all that countryside feels.
The towering spire is from the Aarhus Domkirke, a cathedral dedicated to St. Clement, the patron saint of sailors, from when it was first established in the 12th century. If you're used to the gilded European cathedrals, this is relatively minimal. There are large frescoes though, which I was able to appreciate with the white background. The present Domkirke is that of a Gothic style built in the 15th century and is the longest church in Denmark. Organs are common in cathedrals, but two imposing ones are not. The Principal organ built in 1730 is above the entrance door, and there's a modern one that was built in 1970. There are guided tours here, but there's enough information in the premises for a self-guided one.
Not far from the Domkirke on Sankt Clemens Torv is the Viking Museum. It's not imposing at all and you might miss it because it's literally in front of a bank. It's small, underground and free. What you see here is a site of an excavation. It's a quick tour but still interesting. And for us, it really was a precursor to my favorite, Moesgaard Museum.
The Moesgaard Museum (MoMu) is an easy bus ride from Aarhus (Bus 18 from the Busgaden - the name of the street where buses stop - is a direct bus to MoMu in Højbjerg, a suburb of Aarhus). I would have been able to spend the whole day here. MoMu is the perfect definition of a museum for me that not only shows you the past, but lets you experience it.
The modern Henning Larsen building houses artifacts from the Viking Age, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age and prehistoric times. Stare in awe at the Grauballe Man, the best preserved bog body of a man from 3rd century BC. Experience a voyage with the Vikings through the lives of one of the characters (I picked Queen Tove to follow). MoMu has raised the bar of museum experiences for me. It's interactive, and this really is how museums should be. In addition to experiencing life of yore, you can even experience a burial in one of those historic mounds.
There's a lovely cafe here. You can pick a table outside on the roof patio during the summer with a view of the forest and the sea. From there, walk down the grass-covered slope and back to the bus stop.
Back in Aarhus, cap off your day with a walk along the canal that's perpendicular, and under, the Stroget. You can access the Latin Quarter from here, which is a vibrant area, and pick any of the restaurants along the canal for dinner.
We enjoyed our stay at Scandic Aarhus City located along the Stroget, therefore easy access throughout the sites. This is a winner for us because of the buffet breakfast included. It's a full breakfast with a wide selection of breads, cheeses, cereals and grains, pastries, fruits, meats and eggs. The rooms are modern, clean and spacious.
As we always say, 48 hours is never enough! But hopefully these suggestions help you! Enjoy your visit at the beautiful town of Aarhus!
Bianca is one of the founders of get there | get lost. She is an avid writer and photographer based in Northern California. Her love for history, literature, architecture and food culminate to her passion for traveling and learning about different cultures. She advocates for accessible travel, and continues to explore with her husband and travel partner, Jesús, despite physical limitations. Follow their adventures on Instagram as @gettheregetlost and @coffeeandtherapy.