Saturday 25 May 2019

Forget Copenhagen: Denmark has a brilliant new capital of culture

Short breaks in Europe

Den Gamle By, Aarhus, Denmark. Photo: Getty
Den Gamle By, Aarhus, Denmark. Photo: Getty
'Your Rainbow Panorama' at ARoS in Aarhus, Denmark. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

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 (, 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 (, an architectural gem focusing on archaeology and ethnography, is another must do - and families should note that Legoland Billund (; open from April) is an hour's drive away.

Alas, there are no direct flights from Ireland to Aarhus, but SAS ( flies via Copenhagen, as does Ryanair ( from Stansted.

See and for more.

Rainbow views

ARoS Aarhus.jpg
'Your Rainbow Panorama' at ARoS in Aarhus, Denmark. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

It feels like walking through the colour spectrum. ‘Your Rainbow Panorama’ is the crowning glory in the ARoS Museum of Modern Art ( — 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.

Tollund Man

Tollund Man: The famous bog body housed in Silkeborg Museum, Denmark. Photo: Getty

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 (, 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.

Read more:

Copenhagen on the cheap: 10 top tips for thrifty eats and drinks Legoland: What's it really like to visit Denmark's top theme park?

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