In April 2009, I left Ireland to go to Australia for a year. The plan was to get work experience over there, come back, the recession would be over and I’d find a job. It later turned out that was the plan of every Irish person between the ages of 18-30. It didn’t quite turn out as I thought it would. Since then, I’ve spent 1.5 years in Holland, 1.5 years in London, and nearly a year in Denmark. Now, after a slight detour, I’m heading back to Dublin.
Before I go home, I thought I’d share some of my favourite places in Aarhus. When Ryanair used to have dropdown menus for their flight destinations, Aarhus would obviously enough appear first. Every time I saw this, without fail, I thought, ‘look at all these obscure places they fly to, like Aarhus. Who goes to Aarhus?’. Little did I know.
Update: As was probably inevitable, in my last two days in Aarhus I found two new fantastic places. I wish I’d known about these all year, and have added them below.
Places to go
This is the obvious one. AROS is Aarhus’s signature cultural icon. It’s a modern art gallery focussing on Danish art from about 1800 onwards. It has temporary exhibitions that can range from outstanding (like their recent exploration of angst in the work of Edvard Munch) to pretty bland (I’m looking at you, Danish Golden Age). The highlight is usually walking around Olafur Eliasson’s rainbow panorama at the top, which provides a mesmerising multicoloured 360 degree view of the city. Fair warning: after fifteen minutes in it, the light starts to make you queasy.
A cultural centre housed in a disused train warehouse, Godsbanen offers all manner of performances,exhibitions, gigs, workshops and parties. It has a cafe and restaurant, and all of its activities are reasonably priced.
The north and south of the city are bordered by beaches and forest. Risskov, to the north, provides a more manicured hilltop forest followed ten minutes on by a long sandy beach called Bellevue that stretches for several kilometres along the coast. In Spring you can pick wild garlic in the forest, and in Autumn you can pick rosehips along the beach. It’s a very child friendly beach for swimming in Summer too.
Den Gamle By was the world’s first open air museum. I’m not sure that would have been the idea I would have come up with in a city that experiences minus temperatures for most of the year, but there you go. In order to pronounce Danish words, you need to forget everything you think you know about pronunciation. By is pronounced boo. Den Gamle By means ‘The Old Town, and it’s where Denmark has deposited a collection of medieval and early modern houses from all over the country, which they have been dismantling and transporting to Aarhus since the 30s. It’s genuinely interesting, you can go inside the buildings, people are wearing costumes and the tourguides know what they’re talking about. It’s pricey though.
To the South, you have the Marselisborg beach, forest, and the Royal Palace. The Palace has some nice manicured gardens to walk in, and a huge lawn. I think visits can be arranged when the Royal family is not in residence (which is 99% of the year).
Further on you come to the Dyrehave, home of the deer. You’re not meant to feed the deer, but it’s one of my favourite things to do, along with every other person in Aarhus. It’s better to go during the week, at the weekend it’s filled with nonchalant looking deer getting turnips lobbed at their heads by frustrated four year olds. On weekdays they seem to appreciate the food. Carrots and rye bread are their favourites. They will not eat celeriac. This is generally where we go when we decide to clean out the vegetable basket. Fair warning: in mating season they can get quite aggressive and we have had some angry encounters with stags. In Spring you will also see some adorable baby wild boar. Watching them with their parents is like the Ugly Duckling in reverse.
Places to Eat
When I say reasonable, take this to mean reasonable by Danish standards. Denmark has a 25% tax on eating out, and it’s an expensive country to begin with. Casual dining is a not a concept that has properly taken off in Aarhus, and for a decent sit down meal you can expect to pay anything from 350kr a head upwards.
A newly opened offshoot of Le Coq, the French restaurant beside it, Haute Friture offers gourmet fastfood like chorizo hotdogs, brilliant chips with homemade tarragon mayo and rotisserie chicken all for between 25 and 80kr. It’s standing room only inside, but you can bring the food, on proper plates with real cutlery, to the grassy knoll across the street to eat. A lot of people also bring their own wine and beer. I’m not sure if this technically allowed, but it is certainly tolerated.
Det Glade Van’vid has a unique concept. A few nights a week, you can get a four course set meal along with unlimited wine for 475kr. This is a bargain by Danish standards. The chefs at Brasserie Koch next door use this as a testing ground for new recipes, and the two meals I’ve had there have been excellent. They have a selection of reasonable red, white and rose wines at a serve yourself bar. You sit down at 6:30 on the dot, and you stumble out at 9:30. The elegant dining room overlooks the yacht harbour. You need to book this well in advance.
Restaurant Et serves polished French brasserie type food as well as more innovative ideas for relatively normal prices. Mains start at about 200kr and they have an excellent selection of wines by the glass from about 70kr upwards. The bone marrow starter and quinoa with sweetbreads are my particular favourites.
If you really want to splash out, this is the place to do it.
My favourite of the many bakeries in town. A kanelsnegle (cinnamon swirl) or kanelgifler (squashed cinnamon swirl) will set you back around 10kr.
Lynfabrikken is a creative hub in an old factory (en fabrik is a factory in Danish) in the centre of Aarhus. It has exhibitions, you can rent meeting rooms and attend workshops. It also has a fantastic coffee shop in a beautiful industrial space. Above the coffee shop is fantastic roof terrace for eating your lunch, with views across the rooftops to AROS. Generous paninis are 65kr, tapas plates are 100kr and there is free wifi throughout.
Foodfein is a newly opened gourmet deli and cafe just off Aarhus’ main shopping drag. It sells monkey picked tea, which I’m guessing is a good thing, coffee, cake and amazing sandwiches. The smoked lamb and new potato sandwich is possibly the best sandwich I have ever eaten. Infuriatingly, this place was 2 minutes from my flat, and I only went in on my last day!
Places to Drink
Love’s is a warm and comforting bookshop/wine bar that stays open until midnight. The atmosphere is casual, the staff are friendly, and the wine list is ample. Wines by the glass start at about 40kr. You can also get ‘tapas plates’ of cheese, tapenade, sausages and bread. Tapas can mean nearly anything in Denmark, and rarely is anything a Spaniard would recognise. My favourite was the cafe serving a tapas plate of tomato soup, smoked salmon, duck breast and cheese. It usually more closely equates with antipasta.
Around the corner you have an offshoot of Loves called Vincafeen . This place is more of a polished wine bar, serving the same style of tapas plates. They have a large selection of wines by the bottle, and check with staff to find out which are open to have by the glass. They will also usually open a bottle for you to have a glass if you ask nicely.
A smoky bar specialising in craft beer. It looks like your granny’s living room if your granny was a hipster. They usually have a few craft beers on offer for 25-30 crowns. The musical style is eclectic, and if you are truly lucky, you will be blessed with their one hit wonders of the nineties playlist.
The name says it all really. A bar run by volunteers serving decent craft beer at reasonable prices, where the profits go to various small charities they support. The staff will let you sample a tap beer or two before you buy. They run a lot of events and there are boardgames on hand if you run out of things to talk about. The decor is a bit like a britpop video though.