Step aside Copenhagen – why cultural hotspot Aarhus should be on your travel bucket list

By Laura Hall

Photo: Robin Skjoldborg

From the best coffee to where to see world-class art, take a tour of Denmark’s second city

There’s been a buzz about second cities for a while, and with good reason. Hailed as more interesting, more authentic and a dash of something a little unexpected, they offer city breaks in the style of a capital but without so many tourist traps. Not being as overwhelmed with visitors tends to make second city locals a more welcoming bunch, and when you add to this views you haven’t seen a thousand times over in pop culture and the excitement of discovering somewhere that feels new to you, it’s clear what the appeal is.


Aarhus, Denmark’s second city, is known as the 'City of Smiles' for its super friendly locals, and can likely recognise itself in some of those features above. It’s a city of students, a community of volunteers, a hub for artists and a place where sustainability is taking hold in multiple directions. It’s not a huge sprawling metropolis – you can take on Aarhus in a day on foot – and the charm is all in the small, perfectly-designed moments you’ll have there, especially if you follow our guide below.

Where to eat and drink

For coffee, make it La Cabra. This chic coffee bar and bakery is run by people obsessed with quality coffee, and has recently opened up in New York, Bangkok and the UAE. We also recommend their naturally-leavened sourdough bread.

Langhoff & Juul is a great lunch and/or brunch spot in central Aarhus with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients and a little French-Nordic flair.

If you’re in the Latin Quarter, the city’s charming historic area of narrow cobblestoned streets and independent boutiques, stop at either Landcafé or Cafe Englen, both of which are cosy and welcoming.

The Michelin inspectors have been to Aarhus and loved it, awarding 13 of the city’s restaurants one or more stars earlier this year.

Frederikshøj tops this list and was awarded its second star in 2022. Make a reservation in advance for a special night out, and enjoy its creative, geometrically beautiful, French-inspired dishes.

As a student town, Aarhus knows how to keep its people entertained when night falls. Salling Rooftop, perched above a department store, is an ideal spot for sundowners, while cocktail bars Gedulgt and Force Majeure are rated as two of the best in the city.

Where to stay

Aarhus is full of business hotels and it’s not hard to find somewhere to stay.

Look up SOFS Boutique Hotel, which opened at the start of 2022. It puts you steps from La Cabra for your morning coffee and right in the heart of the city in a beautiful property with vintage detailing.

For peak classic luxury, look no further than Villa Provence, a designer hotel with south of France vibes.

On a budget? Try the modern Comwell hotel, decorated with HAY design, or Book1, an upscale design hostel with private rooms.

What to do

The quintessential Aarhus experience is to walk around a rainbow. Yes, you heard right. Exceptional modern art gallery ARoS is topped with 'Your Rainbow Panorama', a rainbow you can walk inside, designed by Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. It’s an Aarhus must-see, and gives you a great view of the city at the same time.

After a trip through the gallery – where recent exhibitions have included Hypernature by Icelandic artist Shoplifter/Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir – wander over to Godsbanen, a creative hub and former freight train station where you can see local artists at work and enjoy exhibitions, events and music.

Your rainbow panorama, Olafur Eliasson, 2006 - 2011, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum. Photo: Robin Skjoldborg

Down in the centre of the city, make a beeline for the Latin Quarter for coffee and shopping (Møllestein, Mejlgade and Møllegade are particularly charming streets), and then explore the waterfront and Aarhus Ø.

Here, stunning modern architecture frames the waterfront, with places to play in between including The Harbour Bath, a winter bathing spot with paddle-boarding opportunities in good weather. On a sunny day, it would also be a shame to miss VinDanmark, for a glass of wine with a view of the sea.


Photo: Robin Skjoldborg

For more outdoor adventures, it’s only a short drive from the city to Mols Bjerge National Park, for a walk in the twisty, Game of Thrones-like trees, or the charming little town of Ebeltoft with its timber-framed houses, making it easy to balance metropolitan living and fresh air fun.

Locals recommend a Sunday stroll from the outstanding anthropology-focused Moesgaard Museum, approximately 9 kilometres from the city centre, through a stunning wooded landscape down to the coast and back into the heart of town. The walk takes in The Infinite Bridge, a circular bridge and work of art by local architects Johan Gjøde and Niels Povlsgaard, open April-October every year, and Marselisborg Castle, the summer residence of the Queen of Denmark.

Den Uendelige Bro (2017) - Johan Gjøde. Fotograf: Dennis Borup Jakobsen

Den Uendelige Bro (2017) - Johan Gjøde. Photo: Dennis Borup Jakobsen.

If you have time, stop for lunch at Skovmøllen, an old mill turned restaurant hidden in the forest near the museum, for a modern classic take on Danish food.