Smart Cities: Aarhus, Denmark

Copenhagen gets all the attention, but Denmark’s lesser known city of Aarhus is giving Nordic travelers many reasons to go west.

Situated about a hundred miles northwest of Copenhagen, Aarhus has been designated a 2017 European Capital of Culture, and both the city and the central Denmark region received the title of the 2017 European Region of Gastronomy. To see it now is to witness a city undergoing a transformation, as new food markets, light-rail links, futuristic libraries, refurbed hotels, and value-centric restaurants—an alternative to Copenhagen’s exorbitant prices—have reinvigorated this Danish city.

But Aarhus’s makeover has been in the works for the past several years. In 2009 it announced plans to go carbon neutral by 2030, and it has stayed on track since. The city has evaluated 70-plus new technologies to determine which will have the biggest impact on carbon reduction.

Most of all, it’s presenting a variety of ways to experience its charms, both new and old.

Food Fit for Vikings and Visitors

Last August, Aarhus Street Food market opened in a former bus garage with around 20 vendors offering options such as grilled cheese with truffled vesterhavsost (a Danish Gouda), bao buns stuffed with beef and kimchi, and spicy Nigerian stews. Bryggeriet Sct. Clemens restaurant and brewery, located on the site of a Viking-age combmaker’s workshop, serves turbot with apple butter and fennel, dry-aged steaks, and hoppy pilsners. Aarhus has three Michelin-starred spots, but eco-bistro Pondus was one of two to receive the Bib Gourmand, awarded to restaurants serving quality food at reasonable costs. Daily specials include goat cheese with lemon and walnut and silky cod soups.

Coastal Views, Modern Comforts

Rest up on a quiet beach along a stretch of sandy Jutland coast at Marselis Hotel, a mid-century Aarhus respite that faces the calm Kattegat Sea. For those who’d rather be downtown, try the Hotel Oasia, near Rådhusparken (City Hall Park), where 65 design-forward rooms are fitted with custom furniture from Danish makers like Montana and Kjærholm. The newly revamped First Hotel Atlantic overlooks the city’s bustling harbor and the walled Aarhus River.

Architectural Amusement Park

Mounted atop a dock at the edge of the harbor, Dokk1 is a heptagonal library that opened in 2015. The mixed-use facility is the largest public library in Scandinavia and hosts cultural events ranging from 3-D printing demos to table tennis meet-ups. The wedge-shaped exterior of Moesgaard, an archaeology museum, protrudes from the ground like an excavated relic. Its galleries house the 2,000-year-old Grauballe Man, a famed bog body discovered in Denmark in 1952, and interpretive displays on the Vikings and the Bronze and Iron Ages. And in 2017, ARoS, Aarhus’s massive art museum, will receive an open dome extension designed by American artist James Turrell.

Cultural and Creative Souvenirs

Den Gamle By is a living re-creation of an old town, playing up several of Denmark’s historical periods. The 1864 Merchant’s House still hawks timber and porcelain, while 1920s chain store Schous Sæbehus sells perfumes and washing flakes. For one-off designs of divider screens, tea cozies, and pillows, head to 1+1 Textil, which sells avant-garde Danish craftwork.