From Manchester to: Aarhus

Arriving in Aarhus the city is awash with banners - European Capital of Culture 2017

By Lee Isherwood | Last updated 28 July 2017

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Flying into Copenhagen you could be forgiven for wondering why upon arrival you should immediately board a train and leave such a brilliant city, well dispel that thought for just a few minutes and indulge me if you will in the idea of Aarhus, Denmarks second city.

Consider this, you land at Heathrow, you jump on the Pendolino and head to Manchester, how good is Manchester! This is that journey, only straight from the airport on a really comfortable train with free wifi and some stunning Danish scenery. We’re heading west to Aarhus for 3 days of food, art and culture.

Arriving in Aarhus, the station and the city is awash with banners and larger than life prints announcing ‘Aarhus European Capital of Culture 2017’ and the mantra of this city emblazoned on walls and tote bags alike ‘Diversity, Democracy, Sustainability – Let’s ReThink’ – I’m already pretty impressed. The idea that a city can take these topics as fundamental points to explore and see how it can improve with new thinking for the benefit of the city ecology is frankly applause worthy and that recognition of ECC17 is well earned.

Our stay for the weekend is at Radisson Blu, perfectly central and in the same square as Musikhuset Aarhus (concert hall) an ARoS Modern Art Museum you’d be hard pushed to find a better spot to orientate yourselves from. Worth mentioning the hotel breakfast which given we’re in Denmark is, like any meal, a seriously good affair.

Our first afternoon we spend exploring the 2 opposites of Aarhus. Firstly the Latin Quarter, lovely little streets, the cathedral, independent shops and coffee houses which leads through along the canal out to DOKK1 a modern public space and library looking out over the port.

The port is undergoing major modernisation and redevelopment to create a new maritime urban area with a focus on sustainability. Walking the coastline past the port we head to Aarhus Ø, a new district built from nothing at the tip of the city. Paramount to the development is the iconic Iceberg building at it’s spearhead.

This whole area is Aarhus’ response to the need for large scale modernisation but without compromising the centre of its city. Apartment buildings and public spaces, all with their own architectural merit, green houses and large scale allotments for all residents – it’s truly a Danish response to modern living and if, like me, you love to see what the future could and should hold for living then go check it out.

Later that evening we’re back in the Latin quarter. In my experience it’s not hard to find seriously good food in Denmark, at all price points and styles. We have a couple of glasses of wine outside Cafe Drudenfuss and enjoy Moules Frites passing time and people watching for a few hours. The Danes are all so well dressed!

Sunday we make our way 20 minutes out of town to the Moesgaard Museum and what a place it is. Walking up to see this sheer slope of a building carve into the floor and invite you to walk over it and enjoy the views before heading inside is something that cannot help but inspire and bring an instant sense of joy and play.

The museum is practically brand new and state of the art doesn’t even cut it. It is truly inspired – I can never look at another museum again after this, nothing compares. Immersive projection battle sequences, RFID enabled tokens and VR head sets on which to watch civilisations form this is not a museum, nothing is dead or simply on display here, this is an experience.

Many hours later and as if one world class museum wasn’t enough culture for the day we head back into the city for ARoS. Aarhus’ modern art museum is a fantastic looking cylindrical building and the exhibitions it holds are of a global standard. So why is it that upon flashing our VisitAarhus cards (well worth getting), we head straight for the lift and straight to roof? One name, Olafur Eliasson.

Whilst you may not be familiar with him, Olafur Eliasson recently created the mind blowing scenery for Tree of Codes – the outright front runner spectacle from MIF 2015 – which incidentally will be featuring in Aarhus this November alongside fellow MIF commission “What of Women Ruled the World”.

Back to the roof and Olafur has created “Your Rainbow Panorama” a 360 degree walkway giving not only spectacular views of the city but a light installation experience like no other. We could have spent hours up there taking hundreds of photos of the light bouncing around and every metre you walk there is more colour. As your eyes adjust incrementally you are bathed in light and you notice it all. What a space.
Monday sees us explore Aarhus’ final piece of the puzzle – food. With 2 large markets to choose from we naturally plan time in both. The Central Market an all together polished affair with a considered and quite refined food offering. It has a bustling city feel, and over a light snack and local ale we take it all in.

We head over for further exploration of the Latin Quarter and predominantly shopping. Ceramics is big is Aarhus and home-wares in general. There are some fantastic stores to pass the time in and swoon over furniture and soft furnishings alike. Clothing comes a close second, with a seemingly large sneaker culture gifting a few really well stocked and informed footwear stores.

We end our trip with a few hours in Aarhus’ second large foodie pull, the StreetFood Market. A full time day and evening set up sees shipping containers indoor and out in this huge industrial space serving everything from Bao Buns to Bacon & Egg. The spaces are great and the mix of people as diverse as the food; 2 old ladies sipping guest ales and comparing notes alongside dads with prams and students eating on the cheap. A great space that comes to life even more as the afternoon turns to evening.

There’s masses more in Aarhus – Godsbanen, a former freight yard turned arts & culture space or Den Gamle By, Aarhus’ award winning old town that takes you back to the 1800’s and through the history of the city. This article could go on with more but I’ll leave you with that one initial thought, get off the plane and get the train to Aarhus, it’s the Manchester of Denmark and to me there no bigger accolade.

Check out VisitDenmark and VisitAarhus for further information.
Regular flights to CPH with EasyJet from Manchester Airport.

For the Radisson Blu availability please visit their website.