Chosen as a 2017 European Capital of Culture, Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city and a great place for visitors–especially those who love modern art.
My trip to Aarhus got off on a strange foot. Standing at a bus stop mere minutes after arriving in the city, I suddenly looked over to see a man getting arrested right next to me. My Couchsurfing host assured me this wasn’t the norm, and beyond the thick clouds threatening rain at any moment I felt completely safe the whole time I was there.
Having just come from Odense, Aarhus felt a bit industrial. It’s got its fair share of cute brick houses and cobblestone streets in the University district, but it also has a distinct edgy vibe in the downtown area that overlooks the bay.
Camera in hand, I wandered around the downtown area, checking out the restaurants along Aboulevarden (pro tip: there are some killer brunch buffets here) and ending at DOKK1, which is the most badass public library I’ve ever seen. Playground equipment outside, air hockey tables and video games inside, tons of events and programs happening all the time, and an incredible view over the bay. It’s obviously not a place where most tourists end up, but it’s a great place to spend a grey afternoon playing and people-watching–families take note!
From Aboulevarden it’s a short walk to Aarhus Domkirke (Aarhus Cathedral), a huge Gothic-style that is still filled with remnants of its previous dedication to St. Clement, the patron saint of sailors. It has surprisingly intact frescoes and lots of nautical-themed decorations. Plus, I discovered that God accepts Mobile Pay now!
Nearby you can also explore Vikingemuseet, a free underground exhibit about Denmark’s Viking history that serves as a pared-down version of the Moesgaard Museum (which is located south of Aarhus and supposed to be fantastic if you have the time!).
I stumbled across Vikingemuseet when I saw a sign with my favorite word (FREE) outside, and it was truly a great intro to Danish history. I finally learned how the word “Wednesday” came to be; it’s named after Norse god Odin, who is also known as Wodin. Wodin’s Day does sound awfully similar to Wednesday–the more you know!
The big must-do in Aarhus is ARoS, a 10-story modern art museum (see, I told you there would be modern art involved!). One of my favorite pieces was a collection of panhandlers’ cardboard signs from around the world, but the true highlight is Olafur Eliasson’s “Your rainbow panorama” that sits atop the building. I walked through the glass hallway and watched as the city changed around me, both in scenery and in the tint of the glass.
Behind ARoS is a Godsbanen, a former train station that has turned into a Mecca for street art. It’s unclear to me whether artists are living there in a sort of commune or whether the small buildings serve as shops in warmer weather, but regardless this is a fascinating place to wander around and see different artistic styles.
I really liked my time in Aarhus–seeing art makes me want to create art, wandering near water makes me feel calm, and staying with locals via Couchsurfing makes me want to connect with others more deeply. Denmark is so much more than just Copenhagen, and I’m glad that I ventured a few hours outside of the city to get a taste of what else the country has to offer.
Speaking of Copenhagen, you can read about my recommendations for a day in the city and a day outside the city. Or if you want a taste of other Danish cities, read about the beauty of Odense.
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