Where to Stay
The 27-room Hotel Guldsmeden Aarhus (40 Guldsmedgade; 45-86/134-550; www.hotelguldsmeden.dk; doubles from $205, including breakfast) is done up in French colonial style (dark woods, white linens, Oriental rugs on hardwood floors) and located in the cobblestoned Latin Quarter—the epicenter of the city's best shopping and dining. Ask for room No. 47, with a carved Indonesian four-poster bed and a claw-foot tub.
Villa Provence (12 Fredens Torv; 45-86/182-400; www.villaprovence.dk; doubles from $195, including breakfast) brings the south of France to a quiet Danish town square. The 39 rooms are filled with chic Provençal touches: traditional quilts on wrought-iron beds, wide-planked oak floors, and 1940's French movie posters. An international-style breakfast—Greek yogurt with honey, French cheeses, and Italian charcuterie—is served in the cheerful periwinkle-colored café.
Where to Eat
Twins Jesper and Michael Koch are the gregarious chef-owners behind three-year-old Restaurant Koch (2 Pakkerivej; 45-86/186-400; five-course menu for two $213). Their dining room has gained a reputation as one of Denmark's best for putting a modern spin on Scandinavian favorites in dishes such as salted celery with truffle oil, potato, and a béchamel cheese sauce.
With Arne Jacobsen chairs and Norwegian stone candleholders, Malling & Schmidt (81 Jægergårdsgade; 45-86/177-088; five-course dinner for two $200) resembles a stylish Danish apartment. But it's not solely about looks: chef Thorsten Schmidt's creative Nordic menu includes such unexpected (and surprisingly tasty) combinations as goat-cheese-and-smoked-herring ice cream.
The cheerful coffee shop and restaurant Forlaens & Baglaens (23 Jægergårdsgade; 45-86/760-070; dinner for two $71) serves authentic Spanish tapas below vintage enameled lamps, which dangle from the ceiling like bonbons.
What to Do
The ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum (2 Aros Allé; 45-87/306-600) is one of northern Europe's largest museums. When its new addition opened in 2004, it put Aarhus on the art-world map. Be sure to check out the "9 Spaces," a maze of black-walled galleries, each devoted to a single groundbreaking work of video or light art.
History and architecture devotees flock to Den Gamle By (2 Viborgvej; 45-86/123-188), a collection of 75 original Danish buildings dating from 1597 to 1909. They've been meticulously reassembled brick by brick to create an open-air museum village.
The warren of lanes around Klostergade street near the Latin Quarter is peppered with boutiques such as Bloomers (34 Volden; 45-86/120-092), which specializes in Scandinavian clothing labels, and LYNfabrikken (49B Vestergade; 45-87/300-075), an art-and-design collective that doubles as both a store and coffee shop. And don't resist an ogle at the Danish silver in Georg Jensen (1 Søndergade; 45-86/120-100), where a single streamlined teaspoon can set you back as much as $300.
Aarhus's large student population (almost 15 percent of the 300,000-person city) fuels a lively nightlife. Late nights begin at the adjacent nightclubs Train (6 Toldbodgade; 45-86/134-722; www.train.dk) and Kupé (6 Toldbodgade; 45-86/ 174-722; www.kupe.dk), known for their live music, world-class DJ's, and see-and-be-seen atmosphere.
For a mellower evening, stroll on Åboulevarden beside the canal, which is crisscrossed by iron and wooden bridges and lined with high-concept nightspots. Our favorite is Castenskiold (32 Åboulevarden; 45-86/552-223; www.castenskiold.net), a dramatic black-and-red space designed by Danish architect Henrik Bønnelycke that turns from a sunny sidewalk café during the day into a buzzing bar on weekend nights. With its sleek design and creative cocktails, it's become something of a clubhouse for the city's design and fashion elite. If you really want to make like a local, order the beefed-up Royal Mojito. The secret ingredients: dark rum and a splash of champagne.
Aarhus is a quick flight from the international airport in Copenhagen or a 31/2-hour train ride from the city.
To explore Aarhus, which is laced with bike lanes, borrow one of the 400 free bicycles scattered throughout the compact city (see www.aarhusbycykel.dk).
For a great photo op, wander down Møllestien, a picturesque street dotted with 19th-century cottages.
Get up early to hit the stores. Most shops are closed after 2 p.m. on Saturday and all day on Sunday.