Freewheeling around a culture capital

How else do you get around a city built by students? We saddle up.


A small city has been built in the centre of Aarhus, the up-and-coming but lesser-known cultural capital of Denmark. The student population has been allowed to run riot with creativity, displaying their university art projects, elusive theatre and musical constructs for the 50th anniversary of the ten-day Aarhus Festival - one of the largest cultural events inScandinavia.

Towers of colourful big block seats have been built around an artificial waterfall as shoppers take a seat on The Sofa Experience and listen to jazz musicians play on street corners.

The concert hall has been turned into a live instrument by students at the Aarhus School of Architecture and the Royal Academy Museum. Metal ropes reaching from the pavement to the top of the makeshift scaffolding have been connected to disco lights and over-sized speakers. Passers-by are encouraged to #PlayTheStrings and ping a tune on the ropes as they walk past.

A large mirror installation, called SAME, stands perched on scaffolding above concrete stairs between the concert hall and the Scandanavian Congress Centre, also the brainchild of architecture students. People, walking up or down the staircase, stop to take selfies of the parallel construction.

New blooms have been planted near an outdoor seating area around the Central Park. Slapstick telescopes have been placed around the area too.

Getting there

Ryanair has direct flights from London Stansted to Aarhus and Billund from £19.99 one-way. Where to stay: Comwell Aarhus
The 240 guest rooms are distributed on 12 floors. All the rooms have free Wi-Fi access.
The hotel is located just 300 metres from the Central Station and is, therefore, close to the centre.
Top selling point: Boutique Scandinavian hotel; ecologically aware, cards and hotel details made with recyclable paper.
Worst selling point: The location is good, but the view from my room - of a construction site - wasn't.

Look through them and you'll not only see a tree ahead - you'll also see a naked couple embracing on a branch.

It's all about illusion, changing the perception of reality, imaging things that could or should be there, I'm told by the festival's executive director, Jens Folmer Jepsen, as I start to blush, peeking through one telescope and then another, and another.

I've come to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, to see the festival's highlights ahead of it being named the European Capital of Culture 2017, a year in which it will celebrate with the theme "rethink".

And as I find myself a bicycle and push off from the pavement, one thing becomes clear: culture, and the home-grown Aarhus University students who are behind a lot of it, are a major driving factor for tourists and residents alike. I'll admit that, ahead of my visit, I knew little about the city. Like most of Denmark's tourists, Copenhagen would be been my first port of call.

But the second-largest city punches above its weight. From the moment our five-strong press team lands, the city's Visit Aarhus marketing department are on a clear drive to show off the culture-factor set to drive up the city's tourism industry.

Here are my highlights from the trip, a guide to taking on the cultural capital you never knew existed:

Aros Art Museum

Do what we did. Start at the top and make your way down. You'll enjoy a 360-degree spectacular skywalk view through the prism of a rainbow-tinted window, from the red side all the way through to violent.

The construct - Your Rainbow Panorama - pays homage to the importance of architecture that has helped to define the city. Take a selfie against the backdrop before making your way down the spiral staircase.

The museum is internationally noted for its progressive thought-provoking graphic art. But my favourite was the second in-the-rainbow experience.

You walk through the Atmospheric Colour Atlas - designed by artist Olafur Eliasson - looking, but failing to find the tour group in front of you. We seemed to enjoy the experience more fervently than the group of schoolchildren behind. Our guide gently ushered us on. We ended with a glance at one of the museum's most famous pieces, Boy. The 16ft sculpture has attracted a fan-club of children, who write him letters, so life-like is this piece.

Under 18: Free admission

Moesgaard Museum

Unfortunately, at the time of our trip, the museum was still under construction. But from the wrapped-up pieces on the construction site, it was a promising one if you're one for history over art. The story of the Vikings is a powerful one that will be told from the beautifully sculptured building. Again the tour from the top, is one not to be missed in the surrounding of forest and sea view.

Under 18: Free admission

Den Gamle By

Have you ever walked into an open-air museum, to be greeted by a woman in Danish eighteenth-century market dress? Well, here she lives. The lady will welcome you on a tour of Denmark through the ages, up to 1974. The cobblestones and buildings are reconstructs but literal.

Under 18: Free admission


Take a boat tour

On arrival, we made the five-minute walk from the hotel to the dock. We sped off by boat, courtesy of Searangers, to the spot that the Vikings used as a base to fend off attackers. Our tour guide - an Aarhus marine biology student - said researchers had recently discovered electro-magnetic currents running through the seaweed below us.

Explore by bike

And finally ... why not get around on two wheels, like most locals do.

We rented from Cycling Aarhus and took a ride by through the town and by the sea front before stopping near an array of restaurants by the pier.

And it's safe. Drivers patiently pull over and let you pass, not honking, as you struggle to get to grips with steering the basket on the front.

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