10 free things to do in Aarhus, Denmark
Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark, and a place that I have fallen in love with. Named the culture capital of Europe in 2017 (which they are very, very proud of), it’s filled with plenty to see and do. And the best part is, there's heaps to do for free! This is particularly good when you’re traveling on a budget; all of the Scandinavian countries are incredibly expensive for foreigners.
1- Deer Park (Marselisborg Dyrehave)
Let's start with my favourite place, Marselisborg Dyrehave. The Deer Park is located about a 40-60 minute walk from the city centre, but as is the Danish way, a bike ride will probably only take you 15 mins. I went at least twice a week during my stay, either with friends or while on a run. The park is filled with sika and fallow deer, and there is a special area for wild boar but this is fenced off and not open to people.
It’s free to enter the deer park and you can take carrots or apples to feed the deer. They love it! As soon as they realise what you have, they swarm around you, hoping to get fed. It could be a little intimidating if you’re not comfortable around animals, especially if you’re short! There is is no closing time which is handy because a lot of things seem to close quite early here. One of my tips is to take lots of small pieces of fruit because once it’s gone, you’re no longer of interest to them.
2- The Dome of Visions
You'll need to go here in 2018 because next year the Dome of Visions is moving to another city in Europe. The idea of the Dome is to utilise unused spaces in a city, like the empty dock in Aarhus, and help people connect in a space that is something between urban and nature. Shaped like a half dome with a glass exterior, it is filled with comfortable seating arrangements and plenty of greenery. You can chill out, use the free wifi and have a coffee (10 kroner if you have your student card) or experience one of the many events they host. I was meant to go to a free gig there but we went on the wrong day….oops.
3- Salling rooftop
Take the elevator or escalator to the top of the Salling department store for one of the best views of the city. I was actually using their free wifi while I wrote half of this post, enjoying some late evening sun and doing a bit of people watching. There's also a platform you can walk out onto (also free) which looks down onto one of the main shopping streets through a glass floor. It makes me nervous so I prefer to enjoy the view a bit further back.
You can see out to the harbour and all around the city, including icons like the church and AroS, and my hostel, Danhostel Aarhus City. They would argue that theirs is the best view of the city, but I think Salling takes the cake because of the viewing platform. The food and drinks are a little pricey and I’m not sure how they’d feel about you smuggling your own in, but might be worth trying!
4- Risskov park
I really rate this park. Nestled just to the north of the city and right beside the water, it offers amazing views and the perfect mini escape from city life. You can access a couple of beaches, work out for free or head to one of the higher spots for a great view of the entrance to the harbour. I’ve seen a couple of squirrels too and at the start is a dog park if you love animals. Be warned though, the beaches there are open to nudity, which was quite confronting for me when I was out for a run with a friend and we decided to stop at the beach. I've never seen so many naked old men in one go. I got over it quite quickly, but initially I was quite taken aback because I wasn't expecting it somewhere like Denmark. I guess maybe most of the continent are pretty open about it, unlike us prudes in New Zealand!!
5- Marselisborg Palace
If you're going to the Deer Park, you'll be just around the corner from the Marselisborg Palace, which is the summer residence of the royal family of Denmark. It’s free to enter the grounds and have a walk around the palace. Though they aren't overly grandeur, I think they’re beautiful in their simplicity. Danes don’t like to toot their own horns, so it’s quite fitting. I’m yet to see the other palace but it’ll probably be just as nice, and probably a bit bigger.
Godsbanen is a really cool space for creative types. You can walk around for free and explore the area filled with containers that have been transformed into little cafes and stores for artists etc, or spaces to host events. There's a main building there for larger events too. I've heard that it isn't permanent though, and the landlords are going to build on the land so you might only have a year or so to visit.
7- Botanical Garden
On a sunny day, this is the perfect spot to enjoy some beautiful nature both outside and in the indoor botanical gardens, which feature plants from around the world. There's a huge hot house with butterflies too, so definitely worth taking a stroll. It's free for both indoors and outdoors, and the heated rooms would be a great place to escape the cold Scandinavian weather. I couldn't stay long with the butterflies because I was already hot from the sunny day we were having, but lying outside in the afternoon sun was the perfect end to a beautiful Spring day.
8- Take a photo of ARoS
Unfortunately there is a fee to enter ARoS, but that doesn't stop you from from admiring the amazing rainbow walkway atop one of Northern Europe's largest museums! It's worth going there to take a look, there are some quirky sculptures in the yard too.
However, you can get in for free if you purchase the Aarhus card, which would be good if you are tight on time but want to see ARoS and a bunch of other attractions. I didn't purchase one because I was able to explore at a more leisurely pace, but you can grab one for a specific amount of time and it will give you free entry to over 25 museums, attractions and galleries, free travel and a bunch of other discounts. The initial payment isn't super cheap but a lot of the things it includes will add up over time anyway. Food for thought.
9- Come for a festival or event
Aarhus reminds me a lot of Melbourne; it has heaps of great festivals and events, quite a lot of which are free. Apparently they have a huge celebration for Carnival which is always before Lent and Easter, which sounds amazing, and just when I was leaving there was the Spot festival which was a music event with free and paid gigs. I went to one on the water near my hostel, I have no idea who was playing but it was just so cool, everyone was standing around on the street or sitting by the river listening.
Another huge event in Aarhus is the University boat race, Kapsejlad, which attracts thousands of people; I'm struggling to find an estimate for this year but I heard it could've had up to 30,000 attendants! I was stoked that this year the event was during my stay, so I headed along. I arrived at about 1pm but most people had been drinking for hours; some camp out at 5am to get a good spot, and I guess they just drink to pass the time. I didn't get to see much of the actual race because it was so crowded, but from what I could gather, there are a bunch of faculties who each have home-made boats that the students have made, and the students have to race the boats, while drinking. I'm unsure of how long the race is, what the rules are, how much they're drinking, or what's at stake, but I had a great time watching drunk, sunburnt Danes party all day. It was a really fun event.
10- See the new waterfront with the Iceberg
It seems like all of Denmark is currently under construction; big things are on the way! The waterfront of Aarhus is currently having dozens of new apartment complexes built and they're aiming to have thousands more people living there in the next few years. One of the buildings is called the Iceberg, and you can easily see why. Tucked away on the corner, The Iceberg is a quirky, iconic apartment block that is worth a look. There's also a sculpture of giant sunglasses and a little canal running behind some apartments where the owners can climb a ladder from their boat up to their waterfront balcony.
Let me know if I've missed anything, or if you have plans to go to Aarhus/Denmark soon, I can't recommend it enough!