Aarhus has undergone a cultural overhaul over the past decade, supported by the year as European Capital of Culture in 2017. Denmark’s largest port and second largest city is just three hours by train from the capital Copenhagen.
Founded as Aros in the late 8th century, Aarhus was an important settlement in the Viking Age along with Ribe and Hedeby. Through the Middle Ages, the city grew rapidly as a trading center and prosperous religious center. Today, nearly 300,000 people call the city their home.
For tourists, the city offers an intriguing mix of historic sites and modern cultural attractions, many built or expanded in connection with the year of Aarhus in the European spotlight. Here are 10 things to consider adding to your itinerary when visiting Aarhus.
Old Town of Aarhus
Unlike other old towns in Scandinavian cities, Den Gamble By is not a part of the city where you can roam freely. It’s basically an open-air museum, with buildings moved here from all over central Denmark.
The result is a series of atmospheric cobbled, gabled and waterfront streets that give you a feel for Denmark during the late Middle Ages. Don’t miss the great underground museum that tells the story of the city’s history and the excellent food on offer in the restaurant and cafe.
Aarhus Botanical Gardens
A perfect complement to the neighboring old town, the Botanical Gardens were founded over 150 years ago and remain free to visit.
Expect plants and flowers from all over Denmark and a central rock garden with mountainous plants from all over the world. In the greenhouses, four climatic zones show plants from more tropical habitats.
ARoS: Aarhus Art Museum
The spectacular rainbow walk atop the city’s art museum is not to be missed.
The tinted floor-to-ceiling windows of the circular skywalk called Your rainbow panoramaoffer visitors an uninterrupted view of the city and its flat surroundings amid the changing colors.
But the museum is about much more than the colorful topping. The permanent exhibition Human nature curates work that presents the history of art through the prism of the meaning of life, while the impressive array of temporary exhibitions ensures there is plenty to see even if you’ve been there before.
Denmark’s tallest church, Aarhus Cathedral is a striking reminder of Aarhus’s religious status centuries ago. Originally built in the last years of the 12th century, the cathedral was the power center of the vast ancient seat of Aarhus.
After a devastating 14th-century city fire, the cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style popular in nearby Hanseatic towns at the time.
Inside you can view the frescoes, the largest in Denmark. The cathedral is open daily, except on Sundays, when the cathedral is only open for the twice-daily services.
It’s a 25-minute bus ride from the center of Aarhus, but the Moesgaard Museum is well worth the trip.
Permanent exhibits cover archaeological finds from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Viking Age in Denmark and Scandinavia. The Grauballe Man, the world’s best-preserved bog body, is the pinnacle of this extensive collection.
Temporary ethnographic exhibits add a global perspective, while the grounds are home to historic forests and several reconstructed buildings.
Marselisborg-Moesgaard Deer Park
The population of sika and fallow deer in the park is generally relaxed and used to people. Expect to be followed if you bring in one of their favorite snacks, sliced carrots or apples.
Private transport is required to reach the park and it can be a long walk from the car parks at busy times.
Modern Architecture in Aarhus
While the old town and Moesgaard are the places to dive into the city, head to the waterfront to see how modern Aarhus is developing.
The neo-futuristic public library and cultural center Dokk1 is located at the former industrial port. To the north of the development, the former harbor areas have been transformed into Arhusa lively, modern city district with matching architecture.