There’s a wealth of culture and history to explore in Denmark’s second-largest city, writes Pal Eriksen.
Denmark’s profile has never been higher than it is now. Its inhabitants are the happiest people on earth or so we keep being told by global surveys; its TV crime dramas are the best in the world, and Aarhus has been named (jointly with Paphos in Greece) as the European Capital of Culture 2017.
With a sizeable number of students included in the 330,000 population, Aarhus is a laid-back, fun-filled city that also has enough historical and cultural gems to satisfy any tourist. And some of that Danish design for life is welcoming no matter what time of year you come.
And here is a haven for smorrebrod (open sandwiches) of buttered rye bread topped with meat, fish, vegetables and boiled eggs; frikadeller (fried meatballs) or the ubiquitious hot dog, the street food of choice and which can even come in an organic version.
Scandinavians like to eat meat; it’s centuries of coping in a cold climate that made us ardent carnivores. And strictly speaking, the “Danish” pastry originated in Vienna but those irresistible swirls of flaky pastry, cinnamon, butter and sugar are the best way to start your day, along with a formidably strong coffee.
As in my home country of Norway, cool weather need not preclude you from outdoor dining, as many eateries have canopies with mounted heaters and even sturdy blankets to drape over yourselves as you eat. Actually, if you have enjoyed a sumptuous supper in the desert in a Bedouin tent, you’ll feel right at home.
Are Danes really the happiest people in Earth? Well, they certainly have a solid grip on life. Something is most certainly not rotten in the state of Denmark.
My favourite place One thing Scandinavia does well is the open-air museum, which offers an odyssey through the ages by replicating the residences of bygone eras, and Den Gamle By (Old Town) reminds me of Folkenparken in Oslo, and is a delight. Den Gamle By delivers a time-travel through the eras of the 1800s, 1920s and 1970s, respectively. You can take a ride in a quaint (but solid) horse-drawn carriage across the cobble-stoned lanes and wonder at some wonderfully preserved cottages that look like they have been lifted from the pages of a Hans Christian Andersen novel. Be advised, though, it’s a warts-and-all window on the world of yesteryear and a couple of the exhibits might be a bit, well, lavatorial (quite literally) but don’t let that put you off.
Highlights Aarhus does museums well and covers the whole spectrum; from the mind-blowing ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum to the atmospheric Occupation Museum.
ARoS pushes the boundaries of what a museum visit can be. Start off in the black-walled basement and make your way up a spiral staircase where a striking 16ft sculpture – Boy, by Ron Mueck, will stop you in your tracks. Wonderful works by artists such as Andy Warhol and Wim Wenders are also here. Then, climb up to a circular skywalk where you’ll be treated to a resplendent, rainbow-tinted view of the city.
At the more traditional end, in the Latin Quarter (the oldest part of the city) lies the Occupation Museum (the former HQ of the Gestapo). Here, the Nazis’ occupation of Denmark from 1940 to 1945 is well-documented. Some of the exhibits include dusty, dog-eared old propaganda leaflets and British paratrooper uniforms.
After spending all that time indoors, take some time out to stroll around the Botanical Gardens, which cover 75 acres, two lakes and plenty of open, green spaces to enjoy.
Lowlights This is Denmark so it’s not going to be cheap. Also, banking here is very advanced; the card is king even for minor purchases. You might get a strange look if you attempt to buy a small item and want cash back from a 100 krone note. The vendor might not have enough change in his till!
Souvenirs Despite a plethora of shops offering ceramics, jewellery, and glassware, the best place to bag a memento is at Den Gamle By, which can be a fun part of your visit. At the shop at the 1864 Merchant’s House (where peasants came to sell butter and vegetables), you can buy things you really won’t find anywhere else, such as fine porcelain.
Getting there Oman Air and Emirates offer flights from Muscat to Aarhus but there will be two shops on the way (Frankfurt and Copenhagen (Oman Air) and Dubai and Copenhagen [Emirates]).
Where to stay Most of the major hotel chains here have a presence and there are grand hotels and boutique options to choose from. Hotel websites such as Booking.com or Kayak.co.uk will give you an overview.
5 things to do
1. Visit the magnificent royal Marselisborg Palace
2. Ogle the medieval frescoes of Aarhus Cathedral
3. Channel your inner warrior at the Viking Museum
4. Treat the kids to Tivoli Friheden amusement park
5. Stroll around Renaissance-era Gammel Estrup manor