Here’s how to spend one perfect afternoon in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city: Head to a coffee shop in the picturesque, cobblestoned Latin Quarter. (Danes are serious about their coffee, so any one will do, but the best is La Cabra, a sleek spot that has a particularly gifted pastry chef.) Order a cortado and a hindbærsnitter, a traditional Danish iced sweet filled with raspberry jam. Snag a spot on a bench outside, and watch the sidewalk parade, coffee in hand: boisterous university students wandering to class; stylish shoppers dipping in and out of nearby vintage and designer shops; locals on bikes swooping gracefully around gaggles of pedestrians.
Aarhus has long been a popular travel destination for Danes, but so far has remained mostly overlooked by international visitors, even as Copenhagen has become a major draw for tourists on par with Paris or Berlin. But with a surge of growth in recent years, the city has been gaining popularity as a destination in its own right—or as a perfect weekend add-on to a week spent in the Danish capital.
In addition to its already busy university and vibrant arts, culinary, and fashion scenes, this year Aarhus got an official nod when the EU designated it one of two European Cultural Capitals for 2017. The city’s art museum, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, drew a record number of visitors last year, in part due to the efforts of director Erlend Høyersten, who has more in store, like a collaboration with American artist James Turrell, who is working with the museum on a massive underground installation and performance space that is slated to open in 2020.
It’s a particularly exciting time for food lovers to visit the city, as well: these days, talented young chefs are opting to skip Copenhagen’s higher prices and crowds to open boundary-pushing spots in its smaller neighbor. Since Aarhus was added to the Michelin guide in 2015, four of the city’s restaurants have garnered stars and the number is expected to grow from there. Chefs and restaurateurs like Christian Neve, one of the four talented Danes behind the recently starred Restaurant Domestic, are lured by the potential to be an early part of a wave of culinary innovation, rather than disappearing into an already-saturated restaurant scene.
And if shopping is an essential part of travel for you, the city’s Latin Quarter is arguably a better shopping experience than Copenhagen’s, with many of the same stores fit into an approachably-sized, picturesque city center; international marques like Marc Jacobs and Isabel Marant are nestled close to homegrown brands like Won Hundred and Ganni, all within a few minutes’ walk of each other.
Whether you decide to plan a side trip from Copenhagen or make Aarhus your primary destination, there’s never been a better time to go. We rounded up our favorites of what the city has to offer.
Aarhus is about three hours from Copenhagen by both train and car. Nordic Seaplanes does quick flights—about 45 minutes one way—four to five times a day between Aarhus and Copenhagen, for about $300 each way. seaplanes.dk
Where to Stay
Luxury hotels are still few and far between in the small city, but Design Hotels member Hotel Comwell is a pleasant option, with simple, well-designed rooms with décor by HAY and an equally sleek in-house restaurant that serves food all day. Hotel Carmel, a restored building from 1918 that once housed a missionary, then a dance theater, is slated to open in early 2018 with ten rooms and a salon inspired by Paris in the '20s.
Hotel Comwell, from $147; Værkmestergade 2, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-86/728-000; comwellaarhus.dk.
Hotel Carmel, Nørre Allé 23c / Klosterport 6, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; hotelcarmel.dk.
Where to Eat and Drink
There’s no fixed menu at this small, cozy restaurant whose name roughly translates to “havoc.” The restaurant’s creative dishes and focus on sustainability—the menu is based on what they get in from local suppliers that day—have earned it a reputation as one of the city’s most innovative spots for dinner. Look for dishes like Belgian waffle with chanterelles and grated cured ox heart, and sweet grilled tomatoes with fennel and crispy sage, all served with a carefully selected menu of organic and biodynamic wines. Frederiks Allé 105, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-50/512-651; restaurant-haervaerk.dk.
The tasting menu at this hip spot in the Latin Quarter, which comes in a four- or eight-course option, is limited to local ingredients and components made at the restaurant—meaning you won’t even find black pepper or lemon in any of the dishes, which include offerings like lobster served with green strawberries and mushrooms and beef with black currant and herbs. Lots of stone, wood, and warm neutrals give the interior the feel of an ancient castle; Bowie and similar on the speakers keeps it from feeling stuffy. Mejlgade 35B (courtyard), 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-71/541-515; restaurantdomestic.dk.
When you’ve had your fill of lengthy tasting menus of delicately plated Nordic food, head to this lively restaurant in Frederiksbjerg, where co-owners Martin Fryd Christensen, Esben Kragh Rasmussen, Mads Billenstein Schriver, and Philip Dam Hansen—who runs the organic farm that supplies the restaurant—are serving up homey, Eastern European and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes. The foursome follow their culinary impulses wherever they take them, whether that means experimenting with Italian-style charcuterie or traveling to Serbia to learn to make traditional plum brandy. Expect Georgian dumplings, tabouli salads topped with yogurt and olive oil, handmade pastas made with Danish flours, and lots of that housemade charcuterie. Jægergårdsgade 6, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-86/120-070; saart.dk.
Arguably serving the best coffee in the city, La Cabra is a must-visit for breakfast or an afternoon pick-me-up. Don’t miss the phenomenal bread and pastries by Lasse Tronhjem; order a snack of cheese paired with their made-in-house sourdough or any of their delicate, carefully crafted pastries to go with your cortado. Graven 20, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; lacabra.dk.
This Michelin-starred restaurant (Aarhus’s first) in the inner city serves one seasonal tasting menu in either four or seven courses, plus snacks and optional wine pairings. Owner Rene Mammen and Chef Nicolas Jorgensen focus on elegant Nordic food, with a spotlight on organic vegetables (90 percent of the produce they serve is organic) and organic and biodynamic wines; think dishes like malt pie with mussel cream, pickled vegetables, and smoked cheese. Frederiksgade 74, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-86/230-401; restaurantsubstans.dk.
Aarhus Street Food
A great way to sample lots of the city’s delights is inside this casual food hall behind the main bus station—altogether brighter, nicer, and more orderly than it sounds. With a decent selection of wine and beer, plenty of tables, and everything from smørrebrød and tarteletter (a traditional savory Danish tart) to Afro-Caribbean dishes and pizza, it’s a great place to pop in for a casual lunch, dinner, or afternoon snack. Ny Banegaardsgade 46 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; aarhusstreetfood.com.
What to Do
ARoS Art Museum
Aarhus’s art museum since 1889, ARoS puts on around ten exhibits a year by a mix of international and Danish artists. Don’t miss Ron Mueck’s Boy, a nearly 15-foot, intricately detailed fiberglass sculpture, and the basement’s 9 Spaces, a labyrinthine series of installations from James Turrell to Mariko Mori, inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Head to the roof for an incredible view of the city and a stroll inside Olafur Eliasson’s Your rainbow panorama, a walkway enclosed by colorful glass that encircles the top of the building. And don’t skip the museum restaurant: ARoS Food Hall is a charming space with local charcuterie, Danish cheeses, smoked mackerel, flavorful breads, and other snacks which are easily combined into a satisfying lunch; almost all of the meat served comes from local organic farm Troldgaarden. Aros Allé 2 8000, Aarhus; 45-87/306-600; en.aros.dk.
Den Gamle By
This giant open-air cultural museum in Aarhus’s Vesterbro neighborhood is a tour of Denmark through three different decades. Historical houses from throughout the country have been moved here and outfitted as they were in the late 1800s, the 1920s, and the 1970s, with an attention to detail that’s truly staggering—fridges are stocked, drawers can be opened, and bookshelves pored over. Don’t miss the mini-market, where you can buy old-timey sweets and coffee, and the café, where you can sit and have a cup of tea and a Danish pastry as you would have in the '70s. The Danish Poster Museum—a museum within a museum located in an art building inside the Old Town—is a treasure trove for graphics nerds. Viborgvej 2, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-86/123-188; dengamleby.dk.
This massive festival takes place in Aarhus in early September and is an excellent event to plan a trip around. Over a weekend, nearly 30,000 visitors and vendors turn up to celebrate the Nordic kitchen with cooking classes, special dinners, demos, samples, and a hot dog contest which draws some of the most well-known chefs in Denmark, who come together to pit their most creative takes on the Danish favorite against each other. foodfestival.dk
Worth a visit for the setting alone, this cultural museum just outside Aarhus is housed in a sloping building designed by Henning Larsen, built to blend seamlessly into the landscape. Stroll up the grass-carpeted roof for a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Spend time exploring the museum’s archaeological and ethnographic exhibitions, which explore the origins of the first people to arrive in Denmark in the Stone Age. Head downstairs to see Grauballe Man, one of the best preserved bog bodies in the world—and the museum’s most famous exhibit—which dates back to the late third century B.C. Moesgård Allé 15, 8270 Højbjerg; 45-87/394-000; moesgaardmuseum.dk.
Dome / DOKK 1 / Bike Ride
Aarhus is easy to bike around and the streets much less crowded with bikes than Copenhagen, which makes exploring on two wheels a great and relatively relaxing way to see the city. Bike along the waterfront and stop by DOKK1, the city’s gorgeous public library (the largest in Scandinavia) and community space. From there, continue north along the water and swing by the Dome of Visions, a transparent, latticed temporary structure created to house conferences, debates, and cultural events.
Hack Kampmanns Pl. 2, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-89/409-200; dokk1.dk.
Inge Lehmanns Gade, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; domeofvisions.dk.
Where to Shop
The massive supplier of Danish home and design objects opened a second outpost in Aarhus in 2010 (the original, larger store is in Copenhagen). Head here for stylish Danish souvenirs of all kinds—jewelry, ceramics, furniture, textiles, and other home goods—all with the refined, minimalist sensibility the country’s designers are known for. Badstuegade 19, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-33/259-493; dzoo.dk.
Ilkjaer and Kaibosh
Sleek frames by designers like Thom Browne and Céline line the walls of Ilkjaer, a small eyewear shop and optometrist in the Latin Quarter on Volden. Nearby, on Klostergade, the bright and graphic showroom at Kaibosh houses a wide array of their stylish, house-brand frames at a lower price point, à la Warby Parker.
Volden 7, 8000 Aarhus C; +45 86 25 00 05; ilkjaer.dk.
Klostergade 16, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-42/954-137; kaibosh.com.
Set back from the main street in a small glass building in a cobblestoned courtyard, the Aarhus outpost of Copenhagen-based brand Wood Wood sells sporty, minimalist casual wear from brands like Adidas, Comme des Garcons, Peter Jensen, and Nike. Guldsmedgade 22B, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-35/356-264; woodwood.com.
Danish designer Nikolaj Nielsen launched Won Hundred in 2005 as a small denim brand. It’s since grown into a sought-after line for contemporary mens and womenswear that combines a simple, minimalist aesthetic with small, thoughtful details. Volden 20, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-86/194-427; wonhundred.com.
This Latin Quarter outpost of the brand features ready-to-wear items, accessories, shoes, and jewelry by the Parisian designer, all within a small house with a minimal, wood and stone interior. Volden 14, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-30/732-987; isabelmarant.com.
The world’s smallest Marc Jacobs store is still worth a visit for its carefully curated selection of some of the brand’s best offerings—bags and leather goods, ready-to-wear items, jewelry, and cosmetic cases. Volden 9, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-88/329-202; marcjacobs.com.
The Aarhus location of this Copenhagen-based womenswear brand, on Guldsmedgade in the Latin Quarter, houses its signature slouchy knits, floral dresses, cozy outerwear, and other classic-but-adventurous pieces for women. Guldsmedgade 26, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-86/192-959; ganni.com.
Founded in 1906, this shop is one of the two big department stores with locations in Aarhus—the other being the nearby Magasin, just across the river. Browse the five floors for everything from clothes to shoes to homewares, then head up to its recently opened rooftop café and park, which citizens flock to on nicer days for a drink among olive trees, bonsai, and flowers and an unparalleled view of the city. Søndergade 27, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark; 45-87/786-000; salling.dk.