Aarhus (oar-hus) has long laboured in the shadow of consummate capital Copenhagen, but transformation is afoot. Denmark's second-largest city is busy staking a claim for visitor attention, and building a reputation as an emerging European destination for savvy city-breakers, festival-goers, art and food fans, and those looking beyond the capital-city conga.
This Viking-founded, student-filled hub has accrued some weighty accolades to shore up its appeal, too: in 2017 its titles included European Capital of Culture and European Region of Gastronomy (the latter was awarded to Aarhus and the larger central Denmark region). The ever-expanding menu of architectural landmarks, lauded restaurants, bars, festivals and boutiques is a mark of a vibrant city on the rise. It's a great place to explore – compact, photogenic and friendly (its local nickname is 'the city of smiles'). Here you'll be left in little doubt why Denmark scores so highly in those liveability lists.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Aarhus.
Inside the cubist, red-brick walls of Aarhus’ showpiece art museum are nine floors of sweeping curves, soaring spaces and white walls showcasing a wonderful selection of Golden Age works, Danish modernism and an abundance of arresting and vivid contemporary art. The museum's cherry-on-top is the spectacular Your Rainbow Panorama, a 360-degree rooftop walkway offering views of the city through its glass panes in all shades of the rainbow.
The Danes’ seemingly limitless enthusiasm for dressing up and re-creating history reaches its zenith at Den Gamle By. It’s an engaging, picturesque open-air museum of over 70 half-timbered houses brought here from all corners of Denmark and reconstructed as a provincial market town from the era of Hans Christian Andersen. It also includes a recreated neighbourhood from 1974.
Don't miss the reinvented Moesgaard Museum, 10km south of the city, housed in a spectacularly designed, award-winning modern space. The star attraction is the 2000-year-old Grauballe Man, whose astonishingly well-preserved body was found in 1952 in the village of Grauballe, 35km west of Aarhus. Aside from the Grauballe Man, the museum brings various eras (from the Stone Age to the Viking era) to life with cutting-edge archaeological and ethnographic displays.
With a lofty nave spanning nearly 100m in length, Aarhus Domkirke is Denmark’s longest church. The original Romanesque chapel at the eastern end dates from the 12th century, while most of the rest of the church is 15th-century Gothic.
Opened in 2015 as part of Aarhus' large-scale waterfront regeneration, Dokk1 is the kind of public space Danes excel at, and houses Scandinavia's largest library. It's a great building, home to countless reading nooks, a cafe, kids' play area and an information desk for visitors to the city.
While you’re exploring the old part of town, be sure to wander along idyllic Møllestien, easily Aarhus’ prettiest street – all cobblestones, pastel-coloured cottages and climbing roses.
Set back from Vestergade, the Church of Our Lady is like a Russian matryoshka (nesting doll), opening to reveal multiple layers. It was here that the original Aarhus cathedral was erected shortly after 1060. That cathedral stood until about 1240, when it was replaced by the current red-brick church, whose main treasure lies in its basement: the vaulted crypt of the original cathedral (enter via the stairs beneath the chancel), uncovered by chance in 1955 during a restoration.
Neither as big nor as fabulous as Copenhagen’s major drawcard, Aarhus’ Tivoli is still a fun, wholesome family attraction, full of childhood favourites (dodgem cars and a Ferris wheel) as well as newer, faster rides. You can buy a multi-ride pass (245kr, including admission) and go hard, or pay for each ride individually. The park is at the northern edge of Marselisborg woods, reached on bus 16.
The Moesgård area, 10km south of the city centre, is a must for the Moesgaard Museum, but the area's natural attractions warrant investigation, too. An enjoyable walking trail, dubbed the ‘Prehistoric Trackway’ (Oldtidsstien) leads from behind the museum across fields of wildflowers, past grazing sheep and through beech woods down to Moesgård Strand, one of Aarhus’ best sandy beaches.