Smaller, quieter and more compact than Copenhagen, Aarhus’ size belies the wealth of attractions that make it one of Scandinavia’s most alluring weekend destinations.
Fresh off a successful stint as 2017’s European Capital of Culture, Denmark’s fastest-growing city has never been better prepared to welcome visitors. Though undeniably booming, Aarhus remains decidedly cosy, gracefully balancing its rich heritage with its spirited modern momentum.
You can easily fill three days exploring its numerous historical attractions and top-notch museums while sampling its exciting spread of cafes, restaurants and bars.
The charms of old Aarhus
The cosy streets of the Latin Quarter
Start off your first day in town with a stroll through its oldest and most charming neighbourhoods – the Latin Quarter. Dating from the 15th century, it’s a twisting warren of cobblestone streets lined with trendy boutiques, bars, restaurants and cosy cafes. Pick up a fresh pastry at Nummer 24, among the best bakeries in town, or find a seat at Cafe Jorden, which spills into the open square of Pustervig Torv when the weather allows.
Rising at the southern edge of the Latin Quarter – and visible from almost anywhere in town – is the 96-metre spire of Aarhus Cathedral, the tallest in all of Denmark. Its construction first began in the 12th century, though the old Romanesque basilica was greatly expanded in the 15th century, embellished in the Gothic style with a longer nave, a vaulted ceiling and higher windows to let in more light. The elaborate frescoes from the same era were covered over when the Reformation swept Denmark, though in recent years many have been restored – you’ll find more of them here than in any other church in the country.
Details of Aarhus Cathedral
Hidden underground just a few steps south of the church’s giant doors is another portal to the past, the Viking Museum. This collection features some fascinating finds dug up on the spot and dating back to as many as 1200 years ago, when Vikings first settled Aarhus – or Aros, as it was then known.
A five-minute walk east of the cathedral along Vestergade, another of Aarhus’ favourite shopping streets, stands Aarhus’ oldest church, the Church of Our Lady. Here lie over a thousand years of history, including a crypt church set beneath the main structure. Head one block south of Vestergade to find Aarhus’ most picturesque cobblestone street, Møllestien, fringed with flowers that press the rows of small, half-timbered houses, most painted in pretty pastels.
A 10-minutes’ walk east and you’ll reach Den Gamle By, a fascinating complex of reconstructed historical neighbourhoods. It’s without a doubt the most immersive way to experience Denmark’s olden days, with shops offering historical wares and costumed staff that bring the setting to life – as maids, priests or shopkeepers. Visit all three parts of the park to witness the evolution of technology, cuisine, fashion, style and culture over the years.
Explore the rustic homes, apartments and workshops of Hans Christian Andersen’s Denmark, glimpse the burgeoning modernity of the early twentieth century, and, finally, take in 1970s Denmark – the era of cultural liberation – through wandering the apartments of leftist students, retired couples and communal housing popularised during this era.
A walk through Danish history in Den Gamle
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