I knew that I would be traveling to Copenhagen for a conference and wanted to see more of the country while we were there. I started hearing a lot of buzz about Aarhus sometime last year so it was on my short list as a side trip contender. I first found inspiration from yet another wonderful article in Travel + Leisure that highlighted the young and fresh culinary and art scenes that Denmark’s second city was offering to the world. Once I realized that one of Ron Mueck’s pieces was on exhibit at the ARoS, my interest was further piqued. Then the article included a conversation with the creator of Dicte, a Danish crime drama on Netflix. I became an instant fan and thought it would be fun to see the show’s backdrop in person. That sealed the deal.
Aarhus is about 3-hour train ride from Copenhagen and we were welcomed at The Comwell Hotel, which is walking distance from the train station. On outside appearances, The Comwell looks like any other business building, but the inside is cheeky and stylishly decorated in Hay House goodies. We were treated to a corner room that gave us a view of the ocean and swept over the downtown area that includes the iconic City Hall bell tower and the ARoS rooftop art piece, Your Rainbow Panorama, that is now synonymous with Aarhus.
Not to miss:
The Canals– This is the heart of the city and should be the first place you stroll to. Lined with restaurants and shops, this is the place to sit and chat while taking in the charming architecture and basking in the light breeze that billows in through the buildings that line the canals. We had lunch at Cafe Faust, which I thought was going to be a bit of a tourist trap, but it turned out to be one of the best meals in all of Denmark. Go with the chicken and leek pie (quiche). You can also wander to the most picturesque street in the city, Mollestien, with its colorful residences, perfectly placed bicycles, and abundant hollyhocks.
Sondergade– The is Aarhus’ version of Stroget, the shopping strip in Copenhagen. It’s a good way to get acquainted with the city. Wander off of the main street for more great shopping like Hay House and White Stuff. Here Hay House, take more of my money…
La Cabra- Hands down, the best coffee shop in Aarhus. Small, but not tiny; friendly expert baristas; and sweet tunes from the turntable. Oh, and macchiatos and cinnamon buns that I could devour every morning. The adorable street near the Latin Quarter is worth the stroll and lends its hand to more quaint shopping opportunities.
Dokk1– This oddly named location is the public library of Aarhus, which is along the dock area, nearest the canals. We visited too early in the day to go inside, but it offered quiet views of the water and the docks. We enjoyed our coffee while watching a young family getting their “pirate ship” ready for the day. All along the upper level of the building, they have children’s play stations that kept the kiddo busy for longer than expected!
Aarhus street food- How lucky were we that this street food warehouse was conveniently located behind our hotel? Open until 11pm, this community treasure offered great beers and wine, as well as a variety of food. They even had a grilled cheese station, but I would recommend the banh mi sandwiches and the Korean pork buns.
ARoS- I can’t say enough about this contemporary art museum located in the heart of the city. The cube building looks like a modern wind-up music box with its colorful 360 degree rainbow walkway high above the city. It houses several intriguing exhibits within the 9 floors and includes a rooftop wine bar and relaxation space. The real gem is Ron Mueck‘s Boy. Seeing his stunning work in person was 10x more surreal than studying the images online. I guess I have to make my way to Finland to see the rest of the collection!
Moesgaard Museum- MOMU is a bit outside of the city and focuses on archaeology and ethnography. We took a cab (no Uber in Aarhus) but buses are a cheaper option. However, you get there- just be sure you go! This was the loveliest day in Aarhus. The slanted modern exterior allows the grass from the grounds to continue onto the roof. More about that later. We saw a hauntingly beautiful exhibit on the Vikings and wandered through rooms dedicated to the various ways cultures honor the dead. We were also treated to the Gladiator exhibit, which featured relics from ancient Rome and was the first time the items were allowed outside of the Italian capital. We stepped into a room designed to mimic what a gladiator may have experienced within the walls of the Colosseum Crowds roared on large digital screens as we walked between lifelike sculptures of men fighting other warriors and vicious animals. Finally, we enjoyed a delicious meal on the roof of the building, complete with provided blankets and plenty of sunshine.
Isbjerget (The Icebergs)- Okay, so this was kind of a bust. The Icebergs are beautifully designed condos that sit at the edge of the water in a new area of Aarhus referred to as Aarhus O or Nordhavnen. They are absolutely stunning and I really wanted to see them in person. Everything I had researched before the trip said that this was a newly developed area that had a place for sun bathing (including a beach bar!), an observation deck, and just an overall hip, beachy place to hangout. I was really looking forward to a day of R&R on this trip. It was a bit of a trek from the hotel, but totally walkable. However, there is a ton of construction going on in the area right now. Most of it was not accessible and the “beach bar” was a shipping container with a lonely bartender who informed us he only had a few beers (the menu touted ice cream, food, and cocktails). However, we were able to make it to the Icebergs property and I spent good amount of time admiring their unbeatable architectural beauty. If you can figure out how, I would suggest viewing them from the water.
Our hotel was steps from the police station featured in Dicte and the views from Dokk1 overlook much of the harbor and dock areas used in the show. The main character’s newspaper office is easily spotted along the canals, as a rounded tower on a larger red building. The City Hall bell tower is also a neat visual marker to see in person, especially when it’s lit up at night. I’ve let some of my favorite TV shows lead me to wonderful places in this world and it’s always fun to walk in the footsteps of some iconic characters. Ironically, I spotted the show’s lead character when we were in Copenhagen before heading to Aarhus!
My takeaway from Aarhus is that it’s another fairly busy city, but it is enveloped in wonderful museums and locations that obviously cater to making it a wonderful place to live and visit. I’m sure it will be even more of a shining star next year when the construction is finished and it welcomes the world for the European Capital of Culture festivities that will take place.
We want to thank Visit Aarhus and The Comwell Hotel for making us feel absolutely welcome! Despite their generosity, all opinions are our own.
*Some images provided by Visit Aarhus.