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The harbor town of Aarhus is off the beaten track -- so much so that it might not even be a destination except as part of an itinerary for a Scandinavian or Baltic cruise. It is the second-largest city in Denmark, yet all its main attractions are within walking distance of the port: One is never more than a pleasant stroll from parks, museums and shopping. Athletic visitors will enjoy the 30 bike stands which provide 250 bikes free of charge 24 hours a day for more energetic touring.
The city was settled by the Vikings toward the end of the first millennium, and by 1100 was a major regional port. Aarhus later faded from prominence until the 20th century, when the railway once again made the town a center of commerce. Now, the city is back on the map as an educational and commercial center with the Danish monarch's holiday palace. It is also a lively university town (the University of Aarhus features a wonderful park and museums).
Visitors will be lulled by the charm and ambience of this compact city full of friendly, English-speaking people. The city features many interesting sights, from its medieval cathedral to the World War II Resistance Museum, that offer glimpses of the past. Whether for its shopping, culture, dining or history, Aarhus is a gem -- and a great reason to cruise.
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Danish. Almost all Danes speak English -- and are surprised when you ask if they do, responding with a polite "Of course."
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Danish kroner (DKK); there are ATM's throughout the city, but are particularly clustered around the central, irregularly shaped town square.
Blown glass and miniature sculptures are highly unusual and (relatively) affordable. Two notable shops with unique local art and helpful sales staff are Bulow Duus Glassworks at Studsgade 14, and Galleri-Værkstedet at Studsgade 44. The Latin Quarter is a formerly seedy part of town now occupied by galleries of varying styles and price ranges. Many are located along Mollestien and Studsgade, easily reached on the way back to the dock after sightseeing.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock literally across the street from downtown. The entire city is within easy walk of the pier.
Cruise ships usually dock early, giving inveterate explorers a couple of hours to wander before most shops and museums open at mid-morning. A lovely morning stroll is to the University, with its sleek and stylish buildings, and through its park setting. From there, the shopping streets of Norregade and Studesgade are close by, and visitors can window-shop, and occasionally discover early-opening stores such as a cheese shop in which the entire front is a densely perfumed walk-in cheese refrigerator (nothing wrapped in cellophane to mask the aroma), a wine store whose owner might be delighted to talk about California vintages (and the advisability of avoiding Danish wines), and several galleries.
On foot! The entire city, from the University area on the north side to the Sondergarde (pedestrian-only shopping mall) and the Radhus (city hall) in the southwest quadrant, is compact and relatively flat. Cruisers can walk to every major attraction in Aarhus from the pier. For those who prefer to ride, cabs and local tour buses are available immediately outside the security gates.
Watch Out For
The exchange rate. As in most of Europe, in this day of the depressed dollar, shopping in Aarhus can be painful.
The University of Aarhus is set in a beautiful park and features several museums. A fun spelling fact: Aarhus is also from time to time written as Arhus, but the University still uses the more old-fashioned spelling with two A's. The name is pronounced more like Orhus (as in Oregon) than Aarhus.
Naturhistorisk Museum (Wilhelm Meyers Alle 210, 18.104.22.168, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily) is a natural history museum with much of its collection displayed in dioramas.
Steno Museet (C.F. Mollers Alle 10, 22.214.171.124, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. weekends), DKK 40) is a science and medical museum that features a planetarium and exhibitions on the development of science and medicine from ancient times until today.
Domkirke (Bispetorv, 126.96.36.199, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., free), or the cathedral, was built from the 13th to the 15th century and is the longest church in Denmark. Its whitewashed nave is a splendid example of the stark nature of Scandinavian churches. Highlights include the chalk frescoes that almost whisper to visitors from the high arches and walls. Also of note are the carved wooden altarpiece, the bronze baptismal font from 1481 and the stunning Renaissance pulpit. Energetic visitors may climb the tower for a panoramic view of the surrounding city.
The Besaettelsesmuseet, the Resistance Museum, (Mathilde Fibigers Have 2, 188.8.131.52, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. weekends and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from June 1 to August 31) reflects everyday life in the city during the Nazi takeover. Every country seems to have a different story regarding Germany and World War II. France was invaded and survived via Vichy, Finland was a "co-combatant" with Germany against Russia, and Denmark cooperated for a while after the Nazi takeover, but eventually turned to resistance. The museum contains lots of personal items from the townspeople, uniforms, Nazi and Danish propaganda, maps, and pictures of events as they unfolded in and around the city during the war. Displays also explain the slow transition to an active resistance movement. The exhibits are entirely in Danish, but a printed English guide provides easy navigation through the displays. The museum building itself served as Gestapo headquarters.
The Radhus (Radhuspladsen, 89.40.20.00, tour at 11 a.m. daily), the city hall, features a marble and glass space (and clock tower) that stylistically stands apart from the rest of the city's architecture. It is striking (or ugly, depending on your taste), and while the exterior is the main attraction, visitors may examine the inside during the daily escorted tour.
Den Gamle By (Viborgvej 2, 184.108.40.206, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily) is an open-air museum about a mile west of the center of town. It has over 70 half-timber structures that have been moved from all over the country to recreate a provincial town as it looked in the 1700's. The buildings have been meticulously recreated, inside and out, with workshops, trade stalls and domestic interiors. Also featured are collections of clothing, textiles, furniture, cast-iron stoves, toys, silverware, delftware and porcelain, and musical instruments.
The Women's Museum in Denmark (Domkirkeplads 5, 220.127.116.11, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday - Friday and 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. weekends) offers a look at the lives and work of women through a Danish prism.
Been There, Done That
Visit Legoland Park, located in the Danish countryside near the town of Billund. The park is about 90 minutes from the piers, and visitors can see exactly what over 60 million Lego blocks can build, including miniatures of the White House and Mount Rushmore. There is also an amusement park with the usual distractions.
The garden island of Funen is a full-day excursion and is the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. Visitors can visit his home, which has been preserved as a museum. There is also an open-air museum with buildings from the 18th and 19th century, all preserved to mimic town life as it once was.
The Latin Quarter offers galleries and trendy clothing shops . The streets off of the town square are lined with small specialty shops featuring gourmet foodstuffs and fine wines. The Sondergarde is the main pedestrian mall. It gets crowded by mid-day, and visitors can wander along with the natives, shopping where the locals shop. Some of the more noteworthy stores in the Sondergarde are Georg Jensen (silversmith) at #1, Salling (department store) at #30, and Inspiration Buus (unique gifts of Danish design) at Ryesgade 2.
Unique restaurants and coffee shops abound in the town square. Try Teater Bodega
(Skolegade 7, 18.104.22.168), a theatrical-themed restaurant with Danish country-style food. As cruise ships dock very close to the town center, less adventuresome or budget-conscious diners can easily scoot back to the ship for lunch.
Also, check out licorice ice cream, featured in the ubiquitous gelato shops throughout the town. The locals love it, but it is an acquired taste -- ask for a sample before committing to an entire scoop!
Staying in Touch
Internet cafes come and go, particularly in Europe where libraries and government offices often offer free service. Check out www.world66.com/netcafeguide, a worldwide listing of Internet cafes, for a current list; it includes rates and hours of operation.
For More Information
VisitAarhus.com is full of the latest information on shopping, galleries, museums, and special attractions. It features a powerful internal search engine, and offers several brochures and an online virtual tour.
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Image of buildings in Aarhus appears courtesy of Thomas Nykrog/VisitDenmark.com. Images of lane and cafe in Aarhus appear courtesy of Ditte Isager/VisitDenmark.com. Images of Old Town and Vadestedet appear courtesy of Cees van Roeden/VisitDenmark.com.