I just returned from a visit to a place where the past and the present exist side by side in perfect harmony. The Danish people are well known for the Danish Modern design – that special Scandinavian way of designing every day objects so they become perfectly formed works of art unto themselves. Sleek, clean lines, unfussy. And yet they treasure their old buildings.
You would assume their passion for sleek and modern would mean they have torn down all the old and replaced with new. Not in the least. Aarhus was the most perfectly intact city – with cobblestone streets, historic buildings with their ancient timber frames curving and leaning, and block after block of well maintained circa 1700 buildings with their detailed doors and decorative rooflines.
The town looks like it has always been – but it is not a city in mothballs. It has thoroughly modern shops on the ground floor. The main downtown core has undergone a renovation in recent years – uncovering a long-ago covered up narrow river that ran right through the city center. Now it is home a long promenade lined with restaurants with wide sidewalks and plenty of outdoor seating. A car-free zone where pedestrians wander freely amongst the shops and restaurants, hang out on the steps to the river’s edge, and enjoy the well-planned downtown core that should be the envy of all small urban cities.
While there, I visited the Den Gamle By living history museum. It is located right near the town center and is an amazing place. It has rescued, moved, and reassembled dozens of historic buildings from all over Denmark – from humble peasant cottages to wealthy mansion and every tradesman home in-between. They have faithfully recreated what life was like prior to the 1900s in homes and businesses. A few have workers in period dress, some have mannequins, and some are laid out more like a traditional museum. A surprise to someone of my age, was finding they are in the process of recreating an entire city block circa 1975 (does that belong in a museum already??) complete with a travel agent, stereo hi-fi store, jazz club, and grocery store fully stocked with foods you might have found on a grocery store in 1975. Fascinating and well worth the visit.
Aarhus is a University town about a 3 hour train ride from Copenhagen, or a 30 minute bus ride from the Aarhus airport. While a member of the European Union, they do use their own currency. English appears to be everyone’s second language, so you will not have any language barrier. If you are looking for a visit to a small European city that is very walkable, I would encourge you to visit Aarhus.