1. Where to Stay
Save a few extra kroner for beer by squeezing into Cabinn (from $90), a tidy option that’s popular with young travelers. The nautical-themed rooms are pint-size and utilitarian, but perfectly located on the Aarhus riverfront—the banks of a formerly underground waterway that, in recent years, has been uncovered and transformed into a bustling promenade with bars and cafés.
Get a taste of the much-heralded new Scandinavian design movement blanketing bigger cities like Oslo and Stockholm at Scandic Aarhus City (from $149), a modern, boxy structure that opened in the heart of the city’s historic center last summer. The first hotel of its kind in Aarhus, its 228 rooms are spacious and elegant in a subdued way, while the lobby bar attracts locals for orange flower gin fizzes and D.J. sets on weekends.
Go green at Hotel Guldsmeden (from $178), where everything from the all-fair-trade bath products to the biodegradable wooden key cards meet standards for ecofriendliness. Located on a cobblestone street in the trendy Latin Quarter, the 27 rooms here feature an eclectic take on French colonial style, mixing Persian carpets with Balinese beds and bamboo fiber sheets. The hotel serves organic breakfasts under fruit trees in the back garden and also offers bikes for urban exploring.
2. Where to Eat
Taste ingredients foraged from the Scandinavian wilderness at Nordisk Spisehus—a long-standing restaurant that was reopened by a local architect last year—where sea plants peek out of glass openings encased under the sleek wood floors. Splurge on the five-course lunch menu ($64), a panoply of new Nordic cuisine featuring dishes like fillet of wild boar with mushrooms and leeks, and rillette of duck with unripe peaches.
Mingle with the young creative class huddled over MacBooks at LYNfabrikken (which translates to “lightning factory”), a compound for artists and designers that’s housed in a former industrial space. Head above the gallery and workspaces to the third-floor coffee shop for open-faced smørrebrød ($11), made with local cheeses, seasonal produce, and rye bread, then browse the design book shop or take in a pop-up gig from a local band.
Take your seat inside a historic Latin Quarter home for a candelit dinner under the tree branch-accented ceiling at Mefisto Café and Restaurant. Complimentary bites of fennel popcorn and dry toasted almonds with smoked cream cheese start the meal, which proceeds with hearty dishes like bakskuld, a salty-smoky fish served with tarragon mayonnaise, pumpernickel, and pickles ($17), and is best finished with the daily selection of Danish cheese ($13).
3. What to Do
View the drab winter skies as a multi-hued wonder at ARoS Museum ($18 admission), a nine-year-old contemporary-art hub that received its crowning glory in 2011: Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s dramatic Your Rainbow Panorama walkway. Stroll around the circular rooftop installation and gaze at the city in shades of red, green, and blue before heading inside the ten-story building to survey the collection of Danish artwork and special exhibitions showcasing international artists. Through May 26, catch the works of Indian-British sculptor Anish Kapoor, French nouveau realist Yves Klein, and American installation artist James Byars.
Go from theater to dance hall to art gallery at Godsbanen—formerly one of the country’s largest freight yards—which was converted into a gigantic arts complex in 2012 by the municipal government in conjunction with local arts groups. The complex is home to ten art, film, and theater groups, with something different on tap each day and night. Upcoming events range from a Danish-language synth-pop showcase to a dreamy theater performance based on the music of the Doors to the artsy sideshow acts of Circus Krone.
Soak up more alternative culture at Bora Bora, a seven-month-old dance-and-visual-arts center that hosts cutting-edge performances like the upcoming …And It Ends Twice, a video art/modern dance collaboration between Copenhagen-based choreographer Tina Tarpgaard and Danish-Colombian dance guru Nelson Rodriguez-Smith. After the show, play a game of foosball and sip Tuborgs at the lively on-site lobby bar, HQ, which stays open until 3 a.m. Thursday to Saturday.
Stay up all night cruising the city’s eclectic live music scene. You’ll find dozens of diverse acts to choose from on any given weekend just by wandering down the narrow cobblestone streets of the Latin Quarter, from singer-songwriter sets over merlot at Love’s Bog & Vincafe to big-name Danish pop acts like Danser med Drenge (Dances with Boys) at oversize music venue Train to funk-soul-disco D.J. nights at popular Café Drudenfuss.
4. Insider’s Tip
Even though the city is becoming a postgrad playground, it’s still a college town at heart since it’s home to more than 40,000 Aarhus University students. Start your weekend early by arriving on Thursday, when classes let out, to experience the best party night of the week. Begin the night with a zombie film or blaxplotation screening at indie house Slagtehal 3, a basement cinema series open only on Thursdays at 8 p.m., then have a glass of Champagne ($16) on the roof of the ARoS Museum for a nighttime view of the city. Afterward, stay up until morning at the D.J. mash-up party at Vestergrade 58, one of many nightclubs that keep the party going until 5 a.m.
5. Oddball Day
Take a break from culture to experience nature both inside and outside the city. Begin the day with an espresso-spiked varm chokolade at Street Coffee ($5), then hop on the yellow No. 19 city bus at City Hall for fifteen minutes to stroll through the Marselisborg Forest. Here, you’ll spot fallow deer and fenced-in wild boar among the 300-year-old beech trees; if you want, you can also see the grounds of Maresligsborg Palace, the royal family’s summer residence. Head back to the city center on the bus and continue your foliage tour inside the sprawling greenhouses of the 140-year-old Aarhus Botanical Gardens. Afterward, cross the Aarhus River to find greens, bread, cheese, sausage, honey, and more at the large farmers’ market that lines Ingerslev Boulevard near downtown every Saturday until 2 p.m. Next, head to the Aarhus Skøjtehal ($8 admission), where you can lace up a pair of skates and try your hand at curling. Follow that with a dip in the 93-degree massage pool, followed by a steam bath at Badeanstalten Spa ($15). For dinner, sample the tastes of the season at Café Gaya, a quirky eatery serving an all-organic buffet of vegan and vegetarian fare ($21). Wind down the day at nearby Sidebar, where cocktails ($12) feature creative ingredients like homemade brandied cherries and cumin bitters.
Go Green Arhus provides profiles on environmentally friendly businesses across town, with a focus on independent shops and restaurants.
Visit the city’s This is why I ♥ Aarhus Facebook page, which offers daily updates on where to eat, drink, and stay.
Aarhus on a Budget is filled with suggestions of free and low-cost events around the city.
Find English-language instructions for navigating the public transportation system in and around Aarhus at Midtraffik.dk.