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Visiting Aarhus, European Capital of Culture in 2017

Visiting Aarhus, European Capital of Culture in 2017

Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, has an ancient history and a youthful population that make it a lively and attractive destination in any year, but its designation as a “European Capital of Culture” means that in 2017, there’s even more reason to discover its charms. 

The selection of European Capitals of Culture dates to the mid-1980s, when actress, singer and Greek Minister for Culture, Melina Mercouri, came up with the idea as a way to recognize the importance of art, culture, and creativity. Athens was the first in 1985 and, since then, more than 50 cities have been named. The program helps bring a renewed sense of purpose and community, and it gives some of the continent’s lesser-known regions a moment in the spotlight. 

Located on the east coast of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula, Aarhus is a port city of about 300,000 people that traces its roots to an 8th century Viking settlement. Today, it’s a university city and a center of scientific research. Aarhus has an eclectic music scene with something for every taste, including a jazz festival in July and the SPOT Festival of Scandinavian music in May; attractions like the open-air Old Town Museum, with more than 75 buildings that re-create a Danish market town; shopping in pedestrian districts like the Stroget; and outstanding restaurants, including several Michelin-starred establishments. 

For its year as a Capital of Culture, Aarhus has more than 350 events planned, from theater, opera, dance, and music to art installations and festivals that celebrate Danish food, culture, and history, all organized around the theme “Rethink.” 

One of the most ambitious undertakings is “The Garden—End of Times, Beginning of Times,” organized by Aarhus’ main art museum, ARoS, in collaboration with an international roster of artists. The installation will take place from April 8 to September 10 in the museum’s galleries, at several venues around the city and stretching along the coastline, with the goal of exploring how human beings’ relationship with nature has evolved and been affected by urban life. 

Fans of epic stories should pencil in the Royal Danish Theatre’s production of “Red Serpent” from May 24 to July 1. The Viking saga about a young man’s perilous journey throughout Europe and the Middle East will be one of Denmark’s largest-ever outdoor performances, staged on the grass-covered rooftop of the Moesgaard Museum. It’s in Danish, but the spectacle requires no translation.

Nordic cuisine—from beer to sausage and everything in between—will take center stage September 1–3 at the Aarhus Food Festival. There’ll be tastings and workshops and gourmet picnics along the shore during northern Europe’s biggest food event, with an emphasis on sustainability, ecology, and old crafts. 

To see the Danish countryside like a local, hop on a bicycle. Cycling tours are planned in March, April, and July as part of Culture by Bike. Along the way you’ll explore museums, discover hidden ruins, go swimming, and sample some fresh local fruit and produce.

For help planning a trip to Aarhus, Denmark, contact Travel Leaders COS at 800-273-0793 or

© Travel Leaders Group