Though it has the alphabetical advantage, Aarhus has always been known as Denmark's second city. Now, with dining and nightlife on par with Copenhagen's, the city is making an impressive bid for the limelight.
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.
After having previously closed its doors, Castenskiold re-opened in late 2011 as Castenskiold Food & Nightlife. The new concept of a cafe by day, nightclub with DJs and dancing after dark, draws crowds, proving the three owners' catering expertise. This popular venue by the Aarhus River draws inspiration from Amsterdam and other European cities, and is outfitted in modern red and black designs—it's now a mecca for fashionistas. With chef Magnus Knudsen at the helm, the restaurant's small-yet-tasty menu offers two of each: appetizers, main courses, and desserts, along with varying sides. The Royal Mojito cocktail is a house specialty.
One of the most popular bars and music venues in Aarhus, Kupé is the sister venue of Train. Kupé serves a selection of wines, beers, cocktails, and champagne and offers both table and bar service. The interior is filled with high top tables and chairs, while lighting sets the bar apart from others in the area. There are projection canopies draped from the high ceilings and futuristic lava lamps designed by Alien. The club is a revolving door for DJs and other live acts.
The place to see and be seen in Aarhus, Train is the city's largest nightclub, with a capacity up to 1,500 people. This warehouse-turned-nightspot has three tiers, each with distinct music and atmosphere. Crowds gather at the expansive bar to order their drink of choice and sit at one of the high-top tables or head out onto the dance floor, where Denmark's best-known DJs spin the latest pop and techno dance hits. Concerts also draw crowds to Train, with popular bands headlining under high ceilings adorned with multicolored lights and mirror balls. Open Thursday through Saturday until 5 a.m.
A unique enterprise founded with the intention of encouraging business development and networking, LYNfabrikken has established a number of ventures in Aarhus. Among these are 28 office spaces, a gallery, and a combination shop and café, which is designed to further the organization’s mission by promoting collaborative and creative thinking. The shop carries merchandise from more than 50 designers, including both LYNfabrikken’s own companies and smaller companies from Spain and Austria, while the café has long tables to foster conversation and free wireless Internet. A menu of coffee drinks, paninis, and baked goods is available.
Founded by Caterina Pinzarrone and Nanna Lynge Larson, who interned together at Junk de Luxe, Bloomers is an upscale clothing and accessories store selling both designer and vintage items. Pinzarrone and Larson began their business by reinventing second hand clothes and selling them to local stores. Bloomers opened in the Latin Quarter in Aarhus in 2004, and today, the store is stocked with items from such designers as Margit Brandt, Miss Bibi, and S’NOB the Noblesse. The store also sells a unique selection of retro fabrics.
Den Gamle By
Cars are nowhere to be found in Den Gamle By (The Old Town). This Aarhus tourist attraction is actually an open-air museum comprised of 75 historic buildings in a pedestrian-only village, which has a post office, school, theatre, grocery, and a customs house. Staff members are dressed in traditional attire and can be seen in and around the village. Most of the structures—which were built between 1550 and the latter part of the 19th century—originated in various parts of Denmark and were later moved to Aarhus during the 20th century. The Old Town opened in 1914 and now welcomes 3.5 million visitors each year.
ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum
Open since 2004, Aros Aarthus Kunstmuseum is one of Northern Europe's largest art museums, with 17,000 square meters of exhibition space. The museum's trademark feature is a circular walkway, which appears to hover above the top floor and is dubbed "Your Rainbow Panorama" because it is enclosed entirely in windows of every color of the rainbow. Three permanent exhibits are displayed at the museum: the Danish Golden Age, Danish Modernism, and contemporary art. Dante's Divine Comedy is depicted on each floor with dark-themed imagery starting on the lowest floors and becoming lighter as the exhibit progresses upward, transitioning from Hell to Heaven.
Forlaens & Baglaens
Literally meaning "forwards and backwards," Forlaens & Baglaens is a small tapas bar serving authentic Spanish-inspired dishes predominately centered on fish and homemade breads. Tables and chairs are arranged close together in a cozy, casual atmosphere that is conducive to sharing. A magazine rack on the wall and colorful pendant lights hanging from the ceiling make for an inviting ambiance, which encourages guests to stay a while and enjoy such house specialties as homemade aioli and calamari, among others. Homemade cakes and organic coffee are also served.
Malling & Schmidt
Husband and wife team Rikke Malling and head chef Thorsten Schmidt have achieved notoriety with their namesake restaurant since 2005. A varied menu changes monthly and highlights New Nordic cuisine: old and new cooking styles are balanced (a trademark of chef Schmidt) utilizing ingredients from the Danish region and organic farms that grow fruits and vegetables specifically for the restaurant. Malling & Schmidt is housed in a spacious villa with an open kitchen where light wood furnishings and rustic linens are juxtaposed against the formal architecture of the building. Standout dishes include langoustine with gooseberry sauce and corn ice cream with herbs and flowers (which guests grind themselves).
Owned by brothers Jesper, Michael, and Lasse Koch, Restaurant Koch overlooks the harbor in Aarhus. The restaurant has an upscale brasserie feel and serves international dishes carefully prepared by the brothers themselves. The Koches take special care in preparing their meals, adhering to their own strict code and “preparing only food that they like.” The seven- to eight-course set menu of the brothers' favorite dishes includes seafood and poultry dishes, as well as fresh vegetables. The dining area has red-walled alcoves housing booths and black leather upholstered chairs at tables.
Owned and operated by Annette and Steen Stenstrup, Villa Provence is a small French-style hotel in the middle of Aarhus. Forty-one guest accommodations, including suites and apartments, are each rustically decorated with patchwork quilts on iron or wooden four-poster beds. Old French movie posters adorn the walls in each room. A wrought-iron gate opens to the hotel's courtyard where there are fountains, lime trees, and cobblestone paths. At night, lanterns and fairy lights create a cozy atmosphere for drinking cocktails under the stars. Breakfast is served from 7 to 10 a.m. in the on-site French-Med café.
Hotel Guldsmeden Aarhus
The Hotel Guldsmen Aarhus may only have 27 rooms, but its organic themes and tranquil setting continue to draw visitors. Organic, natural products are the focus here, from the toiletries to the breakfast buffet. Each room is uniquely decorated in French Colonial style with wood furnishings: some with beamed ceilings, others with canopy beds and eclectic mirrors. A wood-planked walkway leads out to a garden of fruit trees, flowers, and ivy, which trails along stone walls. An Italian restaurant next door delivers to the hotel, while complimentary refreshments are available on site.