Copenhagen’s cool credentials are known around the world, but Denmark’s second city has so far kept just under the radar. This won’t last for long, though – people are starting to catch on that Århus (or Aarhus) is a compact, accessible city with more than enough Scandi cool and culture to charm your thermal socks off. Here’s what you need to know about things to do in Aarhus, the “city of smiles”.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, your essential guide for visiting Europe.
You can enter places such as a pastry shop, a haberdashery and a gynaecologist clinic, and there are also pony rides, a bookshop and a working central telephone switchboard.
The Skagen artists head the fine collection of home-grown art, though the likes of Warhol are also represented along with the eerie 5m-high Boy, by Australian sculptor Ron Mueck.
Its standout permanent exhibit is artist Olafur Eliasson’s fantastical addition to the roof, known as Your Rainbow Panorama. Suspended between the city and sky, and loosely inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, this 150m circular pathway spans the colour spectrum and gives panoramic views over the city.
Its most notable exhibit is the “Grauballe Man”, a startlingly well-preserved sacrificial victim dating from around 100 BC discovered in a peat bog west of town in 1952. Also remarkable is the Illerup Ådal collection of Iron Age weapons and the scenic “prehistoric trail” which runs 3km to the sea.
If you’re in the city in summer you shouldn’t miss the long-running Aarhus Festuge. This is one of the biggest cultural events in Scandinavia (which also includes an excellent food festival). Meanwhile in winter you can enjoy a Christmas festival and a slew of Christmas markets.
As in any self-respecting Danish city, you’ll see almost as many bikes as cars, and during the summer months, you can get in on the action for a spontaneous architectural tour. Hop on one of the free (yes, actually free!) city bikes and pedal your way from the university around the historic centre and onto the waterfront (and Moesgård, if you’re feeling active).
In the winter it may be wiser to explore the city’s interiors than its exteriors, preferably by sipping hot chocolate in a steamy-windowed café. If you want to stretch yourself you could perhaps stop off at Jægergårdsgade or Strøget for some hygge-enhancing Danish homewares – before heading back somewhere cosy with a warm duvet.
Any visitor to Denmark should try smørrebrød, literally “buttered bread”, which is basically bread (usually sourdough rye) served with a variety of toppings. Think pickled herring, smoked salmon, cured meats, salad and sauces. It’s infinitely adaptable and surprisingly filling – and it’s not to be confused with smörgåsbord unless you want to be given a very icy look.
Visitors should also explore the city’s impressive restaurant scene, which offers some intriguing modern twists on traditional Danish cuisine beyond smørrebrød.
Foodie Frederiksbjerg is the go-to district for all of these. You can put together your own smørrebrød using ingredients from the district’s markets and delis, then treat yourself to dinner at cutting-edge Hærværk (on Frederiks Allé) or warm, welcoming Nordisk Spisehus (on M. P. Bruuns Gade).
Also nearby is the Kattegat coast, dotted with windswept, white-sand beaches that are just as appealing in winter storms as the summer sun. You could also experience a Scandinavian icon by catching a ferry out to the fjords.
As a pleasing contrast to Jutland’s glut of stunning scenery and highbrow culture, round off your trip by letting your inner child loose at Legoland in Billund – just another reason people in this part of the world are so happy.
There are benches and tables throughout the botanical garden, some of which are adapted for single-use grilling, so you can also have a picnic in a natural setting. Also, look out for tropical houses with exotic subtropical and tropical plant species.
Harbor Bath is located in the heart of Aarhus, specifically in the port area of the city. Thanks to its location close to other attractions and amenities, it is easily accessible to locals and tourists alike.
A visit to the Harbor Bath is a great way to relax in the summer, escaping the heat in the 50-metre pool. It is also fantastic in the winter, when you can plunge into the freezing water and then enjoy a hot sauna.
Adrenaline-seekers will love 'Hjertekig' free fall tower and The Sky Tower, both definitely not for the faint-hearted. And for the youngest visitors, the park offers Bille By, a play city for families with young children. Children aged 5 to 8 can get a driver's licence and drive around in electric cars.
One of the park's main highlights is the Flower Festival, which takes place in the summer and provides entertainment for everyone regardless of age.
Summertime is perfect for various outdoor activities and exploring the city. However, keep in mind that this is the most popular time of year for tourists and the city can be a bit crowded as well as accommodation prices can be higher than in other seasons.
The spring and autumn seasons are characterised by moderate temperatures of 7 to 18 degrees in spring and 15 to 20 degrees in early autumn. Both seasons are great for those wanting to avoid the crowds. However, be aware that the weather at these times of year is unpredictable and there is an increased chance of rain.
Winters in Aarhus are usually cool, with temperatures between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius. If you don't mind the cold, it's also a great time to visit the city and have a unique experience. You can visit museums and the city's festive markets. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that daylight during wintertime is limited and some attractions may reduce their opening hours during wintertime.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Aarhus.
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