Over the past decade, as Copenhagen’s reputation rose to international levels of cool, Aarhus (pronounced OR-hooss) fell behind to a distant second. Change is afoot, however: The 330,000-person city was declared a European Capital of Culture for 2017, and has positioned itself as the go-to destination for the real Danish experience now that the nation’s biggest burg is officially overrun with visitors.
Happy-hour cocktails at the rooftop bar of Salling, a Danish department store, are the perfect way to get a feel for the metropolis down below while DJ beats waft through the wood-and-windowed space. Test your vertigo on the glass-floored Skywalk, which juts out over Strøget, Aarhus’s high street.
In addition to playing its culture-capital card, Aarhus has drawn itself a constellation of Michelin stars. One such culinary ray of light is Domestic, which carries the New Nordic banner far beyond Copenhagen’s gravity. True to its name, almost every item on the menu—including the wine pairings—comes from within the country’s borders.
Boy at ARoS Art Museum
Hundreds of bicyclists hit the road each morning (this is Denmark, after all), but Aarhus is easily explored on foot. Head down to the water and walk along the harborfront to witness one of the most ambitious feats of urban planning: a gritty industrial seascape transformed into not only a livable environment but a scenic spot where locals love to spend their time.
The newly developed neighborhood of Aarhus Ø, crowned by the Iceberg, a spiky residential complex, is the perfect place to release your inner Viking. A dedicated swimming lane at the Aarhus Havbane attracts tons of denizens who enjoy a refreshing dunk below the Nordic waves—they’ll even crack open a hole in the ice in the colder months for organized polar dips called winter bathing.
Your Rainbow Panorama
Museum cafeterias usually cater to their captive audiences with mediocre fare, but the ARoS Art Museum is worth visiting for its on-site Art Café, perched high on the fifth floor with views overlooking the city. We won’t scold you if you fill up on the freshly baked bread—the waiters dispense some of the finest specimens of gluten in the entire city. Take in the collection of contemporary art (including Ron Mueck’s Boy—you’ll know it when you see it) and don’t miss Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s Your Rainbow Panorama on the roof, providing infinite Instagram filter fodder.
Saturday Evening Cutlery is served in a leather tool belt at Hærværk, our favorite restaurant in Aarhus and a winner of a Bib Gourmand, Michelin’s nod to more affordable fare executed with great finesse. Pronounced almost like “havoc,” the name seems apt even in English, as the owners—a small group of chef friends—cook up whatever’s available that day. With an eye for only the finest produce, the eatery never has a set menu, and courses have been known to change throughout the evening as it switches to different veggies or prime cuts of meat.
Should you crave a late-night snack—though we highly doubt you will—it’s well worth hitting up Aarhus Street Food,housed in an old garage at the central bus station. More than 30 micro-kitchens dish out street fare there, from Vietnamese to Mexican.
If yesterday’s splashing around in glacial temperatures wasn’t enough to get your blood flowing, send a jolt through your veins with a shot of espresso at La Cabra. Located among the boutique-lined cobble lanes of Latinerkvarteret, the city’s Latin Quarter, everyone’s favorite student hangout feels more like a real-life catalog of moving menswear worn by attractive Danes in architectural glasses.
Catch Bus 18 out of the city center to the Moesgaard Museum, an architectural marvel by Danish mastermind Henning Larsen. Cut into the side of a grassy hill, its diagonal concrete bands feel playful in their stoicism; guests climb atop the structure for views of the surrounding forest and sea. Inside the so-called MOMU, you’ll find an annotated timeline of the region, from the prehistoric human remains uncovered in a mossy bog to the vivid retelling of Viking lore.
Den Gamle By
Before leaving Aarhus, there’s one more stop you have to make: Den Gamle By, or “The Old Town,” dedicated to the urban history of the city and, by proxy, the entirety of Denmark. We know, it’s a lot of museums for one weekend, but there’s a treasure buried deep within here.
Skim the sections dedicated to the days of yore where costumed staff are churning butter and writing letters with quills, and head to 1970s Aarhus, where you’ll find a throwback pastry shop serving Danish treats as they were made 40-plus years ago. Scarf down some marzipan-coated cakes with a swig of Peter Larsen coffee, then head to the replica of a college commune and an abortion clinic wallpapered in safe-sex brochures, both set inside a mid-’70s multi-family residence. It’s all proof that Aarhus is a very, very, very fine house, indeed.