A Weekend Away In Aarhus, Denmark - My Family Travels

Denmark's university town of Aarhus is one of Europe's top getaways for the young and the music follower, with attractions for any age.Denmark's university town of Aarhus is one of Europe's top getaways for the young and the music follower, with attractions for any age.

Denmark encompasses a wealth of fun family destinations and Århus (also written Aarhus), a coastal city on Jutland, is one of its finest. Located just about three hours from Copenhagen by the DSB InterCityLyn train, the university town of Aarhus attracts young travelers from around the world with its myriad concerts and festivals.

Since uncovering a paved-over fork of the Aarhus River (site of an early Viking settlement) to create a "waterfront," Aarhus' street scene has flourished, especially in summer. Sidewalk cafes and cobblestone line the new banks of what looks like a canal but is actually a manicured section of river.

This area has become a mecca for young travelers who fly in on Ryanair for the street life, cheap beer and jazz clubs — so much so that the city has installed public urinals (see photo above) at frequent intervals in park areas. Families interested in Scandinavian culture will find Aarhus a hotbed of innovative museums, design boutiques, organic green markets, and sustainable cuisine restaurants. There's Viking lore at the Moesgard Museum, a few local amusement parks and, only 90 minutes away (accessible by Eurail pass) is Billund, home of the original LEGOLAND.

Medieval Times in Aarhus

Viking hunters will enjoy a trip through time back to the Manor House of Moesgård, in the woods south of Århus. The well preserved Grauballe Man, as he's known, is the highlight of their collection. Historians believe that around the 1st century A.D. a young man was murdered and thrown into a bog, where peat preserved his body intact. At this museum, the victim's glass tomb is in a dimly lit space lined with bench seats. Visitors sit in contemplation, appreciating that the blackened, shiny nude body coated in a preserving tar was once very much alive.

Interesting prehistory and ethnographic exhibits highlight how the bog man (and other possible sacrificial victims) preceded the violent Viking period. In the beautiful rural landscape around the Moesgard are several unexcavated burial mounds, as well as thatch-roof Viking homes.

About a 15-minute walk from the museum is the coast of Jutland where the Vikings moored their warships. Today it is a pretty sand beach tended by a lifeguard and kayak rental concessions — a nice place to end your museum day. Each July the two-day Viking Moot festival draws 25,000 costumed re-enactors from all over Scandinavia who put on jousts, performances and crafts exhibits and it's free.  From the beach there is a public bus that runs back to the center of Aarhus. 

Den Gamle By (The Old Town) is another worthwhile excursion, as this walled community contains 75 authentic houses and workshops ranging in age from the 16th to 20th century Denmark.  Families can watch a laundress at work, see theater imported from Helsingor (home of Hamlet's famous Elsinore castle), admire a shop full of vintage radios or drop by the bakery, all side by side in a recreated market town.

For an 'old school' experience, book a table for the traditional Danish lunch is served in the old school building, Simonsens Have, at the shore of the village's canal.

Danish Culture, Shopping & Dining in Aarhus

Families can spend several days exploring the laid-back home of more than 40,000 students. Begin your tour at the Dom Kirke, the central cathedral located on a cobblestoned square in the center of Old Town, site of the summer-long Jazz Festival.

Within a 5-minute walk is Pustervig, also known as the Latin Quarter. This revitalized neighborhood of warehouses and Danish tenements — once considered dangerous to walk through at night — houses galleries, bistros, shops like Dansk and Marc Jacobs, and the incomparable Summerbird Chocolates boutique.

Shoppers should peruse the Lain Quarter, then continue on across the narrow Aarhus River to Klostergade, the city's Stroget (like in Copenhagen) or main shopping street, where department stores and sidewalk vendors provide the chain merchandise seen all over Europe.

Pause at Drudenfuss Brasserie for a break, or grab a Citybike for a quick pedal around town with the kids, as many streets are pedestrian only. Here's a quick peek at what the streets are like:

The ARoS Aarhus Art Museum is an airy multi-level gallery where we had the good fortune to encounter the Danish Crown Prince, whose sculpture is on display there. (The Danish Royals have their summer palace in Aarhus, and their yacht can be seen at the city pier.) Of the three different permanent collections (the Danish Golden Age from 1770–1900, Danish Modernism from 1900–1960, and contemporary art), young visitors will be most interested in The 9 Spaces, an installation of contemporary art, videos, photographs and changing exhibitions.

In the evening, our host took us to Cafe Mephisto, a small bistro where red brick walls encase a front patio and a large back garden, giving a quiet protected feel to the diners. The chefs at Mefisto love seafood and their extensive collection of filets (salmon, halibut, plaice, monk fish) and wonderful wine pairings make for a long and leisurely evening filled with imaginative new flavors. As in many open-air Danish restaurants, a pile of blankets is available to diners who want to take the chill off once the summer sun descends around 10pm. 

Among the city's other attractions, two will be of most interest to families: Tivoli Friheden, an amusement park with more than 40 roller coasters and rides and Legelandet Arhus, an indoor playspace with arcade games, a bouncing room and minigolf course that are perfect on rainy days.

Aarhus Trip Planning Details

Note that many of these attractions are available at a discount with the Aarhus Card, a one or two-day pass that provides families with free transportation and substantial discounts at attractions and local restaurants. It's sold through Visit Aarhus (+45 8731 5010), whose main office is at Banegaardspladsen 20 opposite the train station.

Our family's favorite residence in Aarhus is the very grand yet eclectic Hotel Royal at Store Torv 4, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark. A creaky cage elevator leads past carpetted halls lined with contemporary art to lovely, large bedrooms bedecked in Louis XV furnishings. Bathrooms have gilded faucets and bidets that recall a bygone era — one that's worth splurging on.

If there are no splurge funds, there's a branch of Denmark's youth hostel, DANHostel Aarhus outside of town, and several B&Bs listed by the local tourist office.

Read FTF's Guide to fun family attractions in Denmark and reviews of recommended hotels and restaurants on the site.

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