Aarhus, Denmark

In the latest of our Survival Guides, Janus Keck takes us back to his student days with the insider’s view on Aarhus, European Capital of Culture 2017

A scenic city of brick-lined historic buildings, vast shopping streets and narrow alleys, Copenhagen is Scandinavian charm at its most impressive. When thinking of Denmark, places like Tivoli, Christiana or some of the most celebrated restaurants in the capital are what comes to mind of most travellers from around the world. However, with respect to traditional architecture combined with the modern minimalist Nordic Design, world-conquering Scandinavian cuisine or an astonishing variety of aquatics, the countries second-largest city, Aarhus, has a huge amount to offer.

Located central on the east coast of Jutland, the city’s population has in recent years grown significantly, becoming an important counterweight to the all-powerful capital. During the last ten years alone, an international class art museum has been opened, the formerly underground urban river was re-opened and its former industrial harbour is in the process of being transformed into an urban space. It’s not without reason that Aarhus has been appointed European Capital of Culture in 2017. All this besides the already existing historical sites, a vibrant nightlife due to the many students at Aarhus University and a world-leading scientific environment. In fact, Cyros, the world’s largest sperm bank has turned Aarhus into a sperm capital, being responsible for the birth of more than 2,000 babies a year. Even if you don’t have plans to extend your family, let me tell you why Aarhus is worth a visit.


Founded around 770 A.D. by the Vikings as a trading post, Aarhus is one of the oldest cities in the North. Due to its location at the mouth of the Aarhus river, easy access to the sea as well as an emergency route for the slim Viking ships on the river was given in case of an attack. Its historical past is still really well-presented in the cityscape and regularly celebrated in the many museums. For instance, the Vikingemuseet (free of charge) in the city centre exhibits those finds that were discovered in the historic district of Aarhus. Most prominently, Moesgård museum stores the famous Gravballemand, a bog man, most likely killed in the 3rd century BC. In a special exhibition, the museum currently shows ten of the terracotta warriors from the grave of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. If this arouses your little inner Viking, the same museum organizes an annual Viking festival, where Viking costumes can be tried and famous Viking battles are re-enacted.


Surprisingly, the city has also established a multifaceted music scene, which is unequalled amongst Nordic cities of that size. Mainly but not only gathered on Mejlgade, close to the city’s cathedral, several bars and music venues show some of the best live acts the Scandinavian Indie Scene has to offer. Famously, rock- and popstars Tina Dickow, Nephew or TV-2, one of the most successful Danish bands, started out in small bands in the Aarhus music scene. One of the yearly highlights is Northside, a music festival taking place in co-operation and right after the German festival Southside. Although quite new, usually some of the really big names play there.

Northside festival
Crystal Castles playing at Northside Festival | Photo: Kristoffer Concert Photos(Flickr); Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Another quite big cultural event not to miss is Aarhus festuge, a festival always taking place around end of August, beginning of September. Being mainly a week full of music-events, comedy or performing arts sessions, also street food festivals and exhibitions have become more and more important during recent years. Most of the events are free of charge.

And if a rainy day occurs during your visit, you could for instance spend it in ARoS Art Museum, containing large exhibition galleries showing both national and international artists. And as cherry on the cake, you have a tremendous view over the city from top of the building, where Olafur Eliasson built his Your Rainbow panorama.


Most locals don’t know it, but the city has peculiar ties to the famous German 1968 Student riots. Then iconic leader of the student movement in West-Berlin, Rudi Dutschke, took up residence in the city in the 1970s, where he taught at the philosophical institute of the university. Due to remnant injuries from an assassination attempt, Dutschke died in the city in 1979.

Having its days of glory around the same time, the women’s movement with their red stockings as their identifying feature, were strongly presented in the city. Today, as only a couple of these exist world-wide, Aarhus hosts a museum dedicated to women’s rights and their fight for more recognition in Denmark.


Aarhus canal
A lazy evening spent by the canal | Photo: Oliver W (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Located directly at the seaside, some of the most beautiful beaches entice you for a day at the sea or long evening strolls. If you’re more the sporty type of person, there’s a wide range of water sports you can try. Only a 10-minute bike ride away from the city centre is the sea-side bathing club, Den Permanente. Built in 1933, it’s a relict from the old times, but still enjoys an excellent reputation amongst young people. If you’re up for it, skinny-dipping is allowed in a separated part of the site.

Well-suited for day-trips is the nearby energy-autarkic island Samsø, where 100% of the electricity comes from wind-power and biomass. Over there, the spirit of the ecological movement can really be sensed. Silkeborg, pretty much in the centre of Jutland, can be reached by an hour train ride. With its typical Danish small-town charm, Silkeborg is really worth a visit on a nice sunny day and gives you the opportunity to crest one of Denmarks highest “mountains”, “The Sky Mountain”. It’s 147 m above sea level.


Speaking of Scandinavian delicacies, you might think of bad-smelling canned fish or wafer-thin crispbread with only butter on top. Nope, that you can only find across the Kattegat by the chanting neighbours. True Scandinavian gastronomic experiences, transforming traditional Danish dishes into modern versions, the New Nordic Cuisine, can be enjoyed in several outstanding restaurants in Aarhus. Good to know for the adherents of the brown drink made of malt: micro-breweries have popped up across the whole Kingdom in recent years and their products are offered in every conscientious bar in town.

When in Denmark… do as the locals do. Traditionally, a visit to Denmark should contain a short detour to one of the countless Hotdog stands. Real gourmands enjoy their hotdog with a bottle of chocolate milk.

Aarhus Festuge/ Festival takes place on the 28 August – 6 September this year. The programm as well as tickets for selected events can be found here:

For the museums, bring your student card!

Details about Moesgård Museum: http://www.moesgaardmuseum.dk/en/
Details about ARoS Art Museum: http://en.aros.dk
Details about the Womens Museum: http://kvindemuseet.dk/uk/

Northside: http://www.northside.dk

Aarhus – European Capital of Culture 2017: http://www.aarhus2017.dk/english


Teaser photo: Alex (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0

  • retro

    Janus Keck is currently studying for his Masters in Berlin and is writing his thesis on the significance of energy cooperation amongst the Nordic states. Having previously studied in Denmark and the UK, he hopes to be able to continue his focus on Northern Europe within his working career.

You May Also Like

How to: London

We are the most mobile generation yet. Many young Europeans travel and even move ...

A Letter to Future Employers

Drawing from her personal experience, a justifiably annoyed Selva drafts a letter to future ...

The City of Seven Hills: A snapshot

E&M‘s ‘snapshot’ series is back. This time, our writer Phoebe Ollerearnshaw transports us to ...