Entering the second city of Denmark is like flying back to the last century. The airport in Aarhus, was created by the Nazis after WW2, and hasn’t changed much since its conception- super efficient, slightly dated, but it is now a hub for numerous international flights; Which are also co-ordinated with a tightly scheduled shuttle bus, which whisks travellers into the town centre, for every incoming flight.
I went there to see the Christmas lights and visit its famous Christmas Market of Tivoli, which is open every year from the end of November. However we celebrate the festive season in the UK, there is always something magical about snow covered Christmas trees, millions of fairy lights and traditional Santas bobbing for your attention in a winter wonderland setting. Romantic and whimsical- just the way it should be!
In fact, the whole of Aarhus is picturesque- with the old town and its pretty cobbled streets, not looking out of place against the newly built galleries and rooftop bars. The Møllestien, is a must visit, with its 200 year old houses, it is the most photographed street downtown; The street actually dates back to the 13th century, but the houses were renewed in the 18th century, and are still lived in, and lovingly looked after with window baskets full of fresh blooms. Although I’m not sure whether the residents have much patience for the hordes of spectators!
Culture fans will also love the open air museum of Den Gamle By- a recreation of a Danish market town from the time of Hans Christian Andersen. It includes 75 period houses, workshops and businesses which span the 1700’s, 1800’s and 1900’s. It’s like stepping back in time and you really do get to live the way the locals did “back in the day”. Original transport has been restored, and costumed actors mill about daily business. Don’t be surprised if you fall into conversation with a carol singer, town crier or flower picker, who will be happy to answer questions. It is like stepping into a Christmas card, or a TV documentary! You can even get food from the era – the glugg (mulled wine) hog roast or pancakes, are ideal for warming your cockles during the festive period.
Enjoy a tour in a horse drawn carriage, but factor in time to roam around and soak up the atmosphere, and don’t forget to visit the indoor museum. It is easy to spend 2-3 hours or a whole day at Den Gamle By (depending on your fascination with history and ability to handle authentic cobble stones), but wear lots of layers if you go in winter.
Beyond the traditional, Aarhus is a complex combination of the old and new. Built on a canal, the locals are equally as proud of their beach as they are of their culture. Embracing the Danish idea of hygge minimalism, which in a nutshell is clean lines and cosiness, you will find that most cafes, coffee shops, stores and hotels are non fussy and shouty. However, they make a statement with mid-century sofas and chairs, mood lighting, great crockery, pretty plants and polished concrete floors covered in rugs. Basically they want everyone to feel at home, and that is surprisingly easy.
With a contemporary art gallery, modern library and university, the city has a young vibe and vibrant feel. The canal is the hub of the bars and restaurants and in the winter, guests and revellers congregate inside the numerous drinking dens, their outlines barely distinguished behind steamy windows and roaring fires, whilst in the summer, the parties spill outside onto the steps of the canal.
If you’re more of a food connoisseur than a wine lover, you shouldn’t miss the Street Food Market. Open every day from morning till night, and is a great place for a quick and cheap bite with a huge choice of options. Popular with locals, families and tourists alike, there are over 20 stalls with something to suit every taste. Soak up the atmosphere, check out the food that is being prepared and pursue the menus in the buzzy environment, before queing up to choose your own, then taking a seat to tuck in. For the first time ever, I tried vegetarian Ugandan food- a chapati stuffed with avocado, vegetables and sweet potato fries, which I can highly recommend. Warm and cosy in the winter, the tables overflow onto the decking in the summer, and you can spend the night dining al fresco whilst listening to DJs and enjoying a glass of rose.
The ARoS Aarhus Art Museum is a stunning twentieth century building which stands proudly on the edge of the city. A beacon on the horizon, the unmistakable coloured footbridge “Your Rainbow Panorama” created by artist Olafur Eliasson, is a monumental design which takes pride of place on the roof. The 150m-long, 3m wide circular pathway was completed in 2011, and is now a trademark of the town. Offering visitors an iconic 360 degree rooftop walk, it is mesmerising at all times of day and makes a perfect spot for photographs.
The museum also houses the sculpture of ‘Boy’ by Ron Mueck- an gigantic but very realistic, 4.5-metre tall sculpture of a boy squatting, which is as wondrous as it is weird! Along with modern art, the exhibitions change regularly, and you can soak up much of Danish heritage here.
Danish design is legendary- neat and composed, so it’s no wonder that none of the buildings in the city centre are high rise. Making logical use of space, the Stalling department store is the highest point. Doubling up as a rooftop bar, it is open during the shop hours, and can be enjoyed by everyone who wants to come and appreciate the stunning views on the glass bottomed viewing point, or just relax underneath a blanket on the landscaped stairs. In winter, it offers a birds eye view of the Christmas street lights, and is the perfect spot to join the locals on the tiered terrace and sip a hot chocolate and Aebleskiver pastry- a cross between a donut and pancake which is traditionally served with melty apple slices or oozy jam and cinnamon. .
Shopping is a serious sport in Aarhus, with many boutiques to tempt you. The city centre is small and perfectly formed, and can find anything you fancy. Interiors stores are unsurprisingly abundant, but vintage lovers will be in heaven in the Latin Quarter which has a selection of unisex stores to rummage in. Street markets are popular with the locals too, with Mega Kup a second-hand flea market that takes place in Aarhus’ Godsbanen huge hall- a hip cultural space once a month. Open from 12-3pm, it is worth a visit for a rummage.
If you are lucky enough to visit at Christmas, the legendary Tivoli Friheden is a must; Go in the evening (it shuts at 10pm) and one entrance fee will get you on to all the old fashioned fairground rides and spectacular lights which fill the town with festive spirit for the month of December. More than a funfair, the twinkling fairy lights, lit up sculptures and lake make for a very memorable experience. There are rides for adults and kids, and plenty of traditional stalls to grab traditional hot dogs, pancakes or glogg, or chance your luck at fairground games and come home with a giant Dime bar or cuddly toy. Authentic Christmas decorations and gifts can be purchased at the market stalls, and visit the sweet shop to see candy being made on the spot.
Another jewel of the city is the Moesgaard Museum in Højbjerg, which is well worth the 25 minute bus ride out of town. Covering the history of Denmark from the Stone, Bronze, Viking to the Middle Ages, you can learn a lot about Danish history. However there are pop up shows too, the current one being ‘The Life of the Dead’ which celebrates death across different cultures. The impressive and spacious museum encourages interaction, with lots of installations and films to immerse yourself in. With a stunning cafe, this is a must do on a trip to Aarhus.
In just over 90 minutes, you can be transported to this dinky city making it is an ideal destination for a winter break. There is a choice of accommodation to choose from, and whatever takes your fancy, you will only be a short distance from the compact city centre. With Copenhagen as the big boisterous sister, Aarhus is definitely cooler and more understated.
Ryanair has daily flights from London Stansted to Aarhus Airport. www.ryanair.com
Where to stay
Hotel Scandic the Mayor in central Aarhus offers double rooms starting at £128 incl. breakfast. www.scandichotels.com/hotels/denmark/aarhus/scandic-the-mayor
Where to eat
Salling Rooftop. Access to the rooftop is free. www.salling.dk/madoplevelser/salling-rooftop-aarhus
Langhoff & Juul creative three course meal is £47 (£22 extra with wine). www.langhoffogjuul.dk/menukort/aftenmenu
Den Gamle By Simonson’s Have in The Old Town offers classic Danish food. Meals start at £9. www.dengamleby.dk/en/den-gamle-by/practical/food-and-drinks
Aarhus Street Food. Meals start at £8. www.visitaarhus.com/ln-int/aarhus-street-food-gdk1083331
What to do
ARoS Museum – Tickets are £16 for adults.
Den Gamle By (The Old Town)
Open air museum entry is £16 and children up to the age of 17 have free access. www.dengamleby.dk/en/den-gamle-by
Entrance during Christmas is £16 and £24 includes free rides pass.