FOR LONG, AARHUS HAS PLAYED SECOND FIDDLE to Copenhagen, its more chic, more cosmopolitan, and generally prettier sister.
But in recent years it has been on the rise. With a large student population and one of the lowest median ages of any city in Europe, Aarhus has a thriving cultural scene. And while it’s not immediately obvious to visitors, the city has also served as home to several Danish artists. This, along with a number of restaurants and cafes that serve some of the best dishes in Scandinavia, has brought the city to the global spotlight. This was validated when it was voted as 2017’s European Capital of Culture and Gastronomic Capital of Europe (along with the Central Jutland region).
Yanyan and I arrive in the evening after half a day driving from Copenhagen with a short stop in Odense. I start exploring the city center the next morning by taking a stroll in the Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1873 as a research garden for students at Aarhus University, nowadays the gardens serve as a pleasant outdoor space for locals. The sprawling area of open lawns, ponds, and landscaped gardens also houses thousands of different species of plants and a large greenhouse complex whose futuristic design incongruously dominates the scene.
Walking south, I reach the ARos Art Museum, Aarhus’ most popular attraction. Housed in one of Europe’s most striking modern buildings are seven floors of contemporary artworks from the late eighteenth century to the present day, including the creepy giant-sized “Boy” by Australian sculptor Ron Mueck. Unfortunately, the museum is closed on Mondays, so I content myself in walking around the building and the neighborhood.
Later in the morning, Yanyan joins me in touring other parts of Aarhus. We first have lunch in Street Food, a food hall in central Aarhus where (relatively) affordable dishes from around the world are served. I have, of course, a plate of smørrebrød, the traditional Danish dish of buttered rye topped with various ingredients, ranging from salmon to bacon. Yanyan, meanwhile, plays it safe with a plate of carbonara.
Tummy grumbles fixed, we head next to Den Gamle By, an open-air museum populated by 75 traditional buildings built between 1597 and 1909 gathered from all corners of the country. These buildings have been transformed into historical shops and eateries, giving its best to transport visitors to Denmark as it was experienced by Hans Christian Andersen. Actors in period costumes add to the ambiance, often also acting out their occupation, such as the baker’s wife selling cookies and pastries. Yanyan and I ride a horse carriage around the museum’s cobblestone streets, pretending we’re visitors from another kingdom taking a tour around town.
We spend the rest of the afternoon back in the city center, sipping coffee at a cafe with the Aarhus Domkirke looming nearby. We want to explore more of Aarhus before we return to Copenhagen, where we’ll spend one more night before flying out of the country the next day. But we’re also starting to feel exhausted, and our legs are begging us to sit down. So we do, feeling the cold afternoon air as it seeps through our layers of clothing. But it’s fine. We’d rather spend the remaining moments of our stay outside, not insulated from the comforts of our hotel.