For a quiet town characterised by dappled sunlight, crisp skies, and stunning blooms, Denmark’s city of Aarhus has a less than peaceful past.
Vikings founded Aarhus in the medieval age. The word derives from “aros” meaning “place at the river’s mouth”. And it was via the river’s mouth that the Vikings were able to plunder, trade and colonise regions as far as North America. Long after the Vikings left Aarhus remained a busy trading port. During the medieval times, wars broke out between Viking clans. The Viking Kings who ventured to Europe began to absorb the Christian beliefs they were exposed to. They also recognised the benefits of Christianity’s centralised power structure to their efforts to exert their own people. Slowly the Viking’s transitioned from paganism to Christianity. There are few remnants of the Viking age, but it is interesting to note that Aarhus’ central Cathedral sits atop a pagan burial ground.
To find out more about the Vikings of Aarhus you can visit the Vikingemuseet or the Moesgaard Museum.
Take A Gamle
After learning about the Vikings take a walk to the fascinating recreation village “Den Gamle” by way of the picturesque Botanic Gardens. Den Gamle harks back to the times of the famous Danish writer Hans Christen Anderson, when Aarhus was a busy port city. Actors man shops that are fully functional and will tell you about their lives in the historic town. My favourite shop was the apothecary – full of handcrafted soaps and body products packaged like sweets. However, the medieval playground and exquisite apothecary garden full of native Danish flowers (and bees, watch out) were close second and third.
Aros art museum is the must-see in Aarhus. Architecturally designed in an upwards spiral that ends in a 360 skywalk titled “Your rainbow panorama” by Olafur Eliasson the Aros museum offers one of the best views of the city. And aside from geographic and architectural beauty, it has a highly regarded roster of permanent and new exhibitions.
Another unique offering is the Women’s Museum (Kvinde Museet) also located in Cathedral square. Its mission statement is to “create curiosity, dialogue, reflection and knowledge about the importance of gender; historical, current and future.” It is one of the only museums in Europe that focuses solely on issues of gender and is well worth a look. The museum features exhibitions that priorities female and gender-diverse perspectives.
The citizens of Aarhus know how to shop! From high-end boutiques to department stores and vintage, this city has you covered.
View from the Top
The department store Salling has a beautiful rooftop cafe and conservatory where you can catch a break from your shopping and take in the city, Cathedral, and harbour. The star attraction is the “skyhole,” a runway style platform that extends out from the rooftop and over the streets. Fight past frightened local tweens embarking on dares to stand above the glass floor. You will receive a birds-eye view of the bustling street below. I can’t say I was much braver than the thirteen-year-olds.
There are plentiful boutiques and homewares stores in Aarhus, all gorgeously curated so I’ll limit this to my top favorites. Luxury interiors and clothing wear store Utzon is a must. Interestingly, they do offer home interior services and will help you style your house, However, those passing through can simply draw inspiration from the beautifully curated collection of clothing and furniture on offer. From Marni and Olivia Von Halle to Rag and Bone and Zimmerman, it’s a sartorial buffet.
Want genuine Scandi-design? Look no further than Ganni. The brand has all the quirk, sophistication, sustainability and quality you would expect from a Danish husband and wife design team.
Personally, their pale blue crocodile boots were next to impossible to not try and cram into my carry-on. I also checked out a few vintage stores, including PRAG. With the aforementioned very limited carry-on space, I did manage to find room for PRAG’s vintage pearl hair clips. Pearl hair accessories are EVERYWHERE in Aarhus – from high end to vintage and boutique. Maybe the residents gravitate to them because of associations with the seaside, or perhaps they, like me, love that they add the perfect amount of playful chic to any look.
Aarhus is also home to music innovators Dynaudio, which is also high on style and craftsmanship. Check out our round up of the latest innovations in Dynaudio active listening technology .
Find Your “hygge”
The Danes have a peculiar word “hygge” which has gained attention in recent years. Pronounced “hoo-ga” it refers to a feeling of coziness and contentment attained through taking satisfaction in simplicity. Aarhus has a wealth of dining options but my favourites, that felt most quintessentially Danish, achieved this combination of comfort and simplicity. The first night I visited the food market, which is where young people go to eat drink and be merry. I recommend it – they have plenty of exciting options and a lively, young crowd (Aarhus is, after all, a University Town). However, the Restaurant Komfur stole my heart. “Komfur” in Danish means “stove” and it has a warm, homey atmosphere that is part French bistro part Danish fireside. The food was excellent, elegant yet hearty, and we all lost our minds over the white chocolate, and passionfruit mousse served for dessert.
Teater Bodega is also a must visit. Located in Cathedral Square across from the historic theatre it is a heritage restaurant and has long been part of the social life of the theatre community. If you are lucky like we were you will catch performers welcoming waiting audiences into the theatre – in character. Think high, dark wood walls hung with black and white photographs, small booths, and moody green carpet. The food is traditional Danish fare meaning plenty of herring, hearty steak and chips on the menu. Keep in mind options are limited for vegetarians. But it was all excellent news for this carnivore. Those seeking an authentic Danish dining experience need not look further.
I stopped by a dive bar called “Escobar’s” and got a taste of what Aarhus has to offer.
Escobar’s made me wish I had more time to spend in Aarhus. It was as if it had been lifted straight out of Bushwick, Brooklyn, and dropped into this quaint seaside town. The bar was smokey, grungy, and full of raucous university students. It hinted to me that there was a whole side of the city I was yet to explore!
I’ll save it for next time.
Read about Ruby’s visit to the Dynaudio Headquarters.