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.
Learn about Danish history at Den Gamle By
A short walk northwest of the centre is one of the city’s best-known attractions, Den Gamle By, on Viborgvej. This is an open-air museum of traditional Danish life, with halftimbered townhouses and actors in contemporary dress. Many buildings date from the 1800s, but a new town expansion features shops and homes from the 1920s and 1970s.
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.
Visit the ARoS Museum of Modern Art
ARoS is one of Europe’s most beautiful contemporary buildings and a fantastic modern art museum. It contains seven floors of works from the late eighteenth century to the present day, accessed from a centrepiece spiral walkway reminiscent of New York’s Guggenheim.
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.
Take a bus to the Moesgaard Museum
Marselisborg Skov, 3km south of the centre, is the city’s largest park. This is also the home to the summer residence of the Danish royals: its landscaped grounds can be visited when the monarch isn’t staying. Ten kilometres south of Århus, the striking, just-refurbished Moesgård Museum details Danish civilizations from the Stone Age onwards.
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.
Enjoy local festivals and markets
There are innumerable ways to get involved in Danish culture in Århus. Event spaces like Godsbanen host markets – try to catch the excellent Finders keepers when it’s in town – and venues all around the city hold art, music and film events year-round.
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.
Discover the city's great architecture
As well as its charming old docks, Latin Quarter and other picturesque historic districts, Århus holds its own in terms of modern Scandinavian architecture. And it’s not only the city’s public buildings which innovate but also its residential ones.
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.
Try danish cuisine
There are plenty of excellent cafés around town, such as the lovely (largely vegan and gluten-free) Café Gaya, which also holds live music and events. It’s worth seeing if any bakeries catch your eye, too. Just a quick glance at the selection of sourdough, rye and cheesy pastries will convince you that there’s a lot more to Danish baking than… well, Danishes.
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).
Go on a day trip outside the city
If you somehow exhaust the city's attractions, you can head off into the rest of the Jutland peninsula. For winter walks and wildlife-spotting head to a national park such as unspoiled Thy (Denmark’s first national park) or rugged Mols Bjerge.
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.
Get amazed at the botanical garden
In addition to its stunning museums, Aarhus boasts a fabulous botanical garden, located in Den Gamle By 'The Old Town Museum'. In this garden, you can take a leisurely stroll amongst the groups of plants characteristic of the different Danish regions.
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.
Take a dip in the Harbor Bath
A visit to Aarhus Harbour, also called 'Havnebadet', is one of the best things to do in Aarhus with children. It is a public swimming spot that provides the opportunity to enjoy swimming, sunbathing and relaxing in the unique setting of the harbour.
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.
Have an adrenaline rush in Tivoli Friheden
Among the other great things to do in Aarhus with children is to visit the Tivoli Friheden amusement park. This park is located in a picturesque area of the Marselisborg Forest near the city centre and offers entertainment for all ages.
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.
What is the weather like in Aarhus, Denmark?
The weather in Aarhus is characterised by an oceanic climate, with mild summers and cool winters. Summer temperatures are between 20 and 25 degrees, but can sometimes rise higher.
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.
- Best for families: Hotel GUESTapart
- Best for couples: Hotel Oasia Aarhus City
- For budget stays: BOOK1 by Brøchner Hotels
- For price and quality: Radisson RED Aarhus
Where to stay in Aarhus
Find more accommodation options to stay in Aarhus.
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