Forget Copenhagen: Denmark has a brilliant new capital of culture
Short breaks in Europe
Denmark's second city is now a European Capital of Culture, writes Pól Ó Conghaile. It's time for a visit.
Denmark and Ireland are similar in so many ways — small populations, big neighbours, fantastic foodie scenes, capital cities that dominate tourism.
But this year, the Danish spotlight could finally switch from Copenhagen to a coastal city you may not even have heard of: Aarhus.
One of two European Capitals of Culture of 2017 (the other is Paphos in Cyprus), Aarhus’s time has definitely come.
This year, a stirring programme of art, gastronomy, music and design promises to “examine our Danish DNA... and of course, we will have plenty of hygge”. But there’s a lot more to this Jutland Peninsula gem besides.
Think of Aarhus as the Cork or Galway to Copenhagen’s Dublin.
Here is a boutique, waterfront city set around a Latin Quarter crammed with oak-framed houses and cobbled streets.
Some 13pc of its residents are students, adding a buzz, and though Michelin-star restaurants are on the rise (three, at the last count), you can find plenty of affordable eats (try the hot dogs at Haute Friture, or the smorrebrod at F-Hoj). The weekend nightlife is kicking along Aboulevarden and Frederiksbjerg too.
The city’s main draws are Den Gamle By (dengamleby.dk, above) and ARoS (see below) — the former a campus of historic buildings taken from their original locations and reassembled brick by brick in a brilliant heritage park.
The structures are arranged into themed areas; my favourite is the 1974 Quarter, complete with retro hi-fi shops and classic cars.
The Moesgaard Museum (moesgaard.museum.dk/en), an architectural gem focusing on archaeology and ethnography, is another must do - and families should note that Legoland Billund (legoland.dk; open from April) is an hour's drive away.
Alas, there are no direct flights from Ireland to Aarhus, but SAS (flysas.com) flies via Copenhagen, as does Ryanair (ryanair.com) from Stansted.
See visitaarhus.dk and aarhus2017.dk for more.
It feels like walking through the colour spectrum. ‘Your Rainbow Panorama’ is the crowning glory in the ARoS Museum of Modern Art (en.aros.dk) — quite literally, as the 150m circular walkway is mounted on the museum’s roof.
The work of Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the skywalk offers a view of Aarhus as if through Instagram filters, and your feelings seem to change as you shift between them. It’s just the start of the collection in a building whose swirling white stairwell descends to nine basement rooms inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Less than an hour’s drive from Aarhus lies one of the best-preserved bog bodies on earth. Reposing in a dimly lit backroom in Silkeborg Museum (museumsilkeborg.dk), you can still see ‘His peat-brown head / The mild pods of his eye-lids / His pointed skin cap,’ as Seamus Heaney described it in his poem, The Tollund Man.
There is stubble on his chin, a tiny noose around his neck (the man died in a ritual sacrifice 2,350 years ago). Coming face to face with the past is unnerving, but somehow life-affirming too. A must-do in Denmark.