The old town of Aarhus
And it will keep us looking upwards in 2017 but it won’t be sophisticated Copenhagen grabbing our attention but arty Aarhus, the country’s second city.
This seaside spot is European Capital of Culture 2017 alongside Paphos in Cyprus.
It’s also European Region of Gastronomy shared with East Lombardy in Italy and Riga and Gauja in Latvia.
It doesn’t take long to see why Aarhus calls itself “the smallest big city”. Despite the fact you can walk across the centre in 20 minutes, a lot happens there.
This colourful glass artwork is the signature feature on the Aarhus skyline, like a technicolour halo over the city
There’s a beach, forests and a harbour to explore. It also has the world’s fi rst open-air museum, Scandinavia’s number one shopping hub and a burgeoning Michelin-awarded food scene.
I take it all in from the ARoS Art Museum, following the sculptures and installations up the spiral staircase and ending at the top, where a spectacular 360-degree rainbow hued walkway rises above the streets.
This colourful glass artwork is the signature feature on the Aarhus skyline, like a technicolour halo over the city.
As I look out I can see centuries of history as spires, factories and mills from the city’s industrial past spread from the centre.
It is a very photogenic university city with no shiny skyscrapers. Only the 12th-century cathedral (the tallest in Denmark at 315ft) pierces the sky from the Latin Quarter.
On the east coast of Jutland, Aarhus was once the stomping ground of vikings, who spread panic here a thousand years ago; today the only helmets are those of cyclists.
Back at ground level my first stop is the revamped harbour area which will host plenty of cruise ships this year.
It’s an easy walk to the newly built Dokk1 (Dock 1), with concert plaza, swimming pools and a promenade, a focal point for spectacular celebrations.
I jump out of my skin as a three-ton bronze bell rings out behind me; it sounds every time a baby is born in the city.
Resisting the temptation to wait for another arrival, I instead head straight into the past to peek inside what could have been the home of the young storyteller Hans Christian Andersen in Den Gamle By – The Old Town.
It is an award-winning attraction where I walk through time to experience life during three time periods – the 1800s, 1920s and 1970s.
Aarhus is European Capital of Culture 2017 alongside Paphos in Cyprus
It comprises a collection of authentic Danish buildings that have been restored and furnished to replicate each period, including the almshouse where the famous Danish author spent his childhood listening to poetry and stories.
While open-air museums have become regular attractions around the world, this was the first.
Opened in 1909, Aarhus got in early on preserving its urban heritage. It begins on the cobbled streets of a market town from the 1800s filled with small timbered houses and workshops and leads you through to a neighbourhood from 1920s and then into 1970s.
Outside the city centre at Moesgaard Museum I came face to face with an even older attraction: a peat bog man, a corpse from 2,000 years ago.
When Grauballe Man was discovered in 1952, its perfectly preserved skin and long mop of red hair led to a woman’s claim that it was the body of her long lost relative.
Scientific tests however revealed the man actually dated from the Iron Age and had probably been offered as a sacrifice before his body was thrown into a bog.
The British Museum has long wanted to exhibit this fine example of early man but the remains are too frail to transport.
Natalie Chalk out fishing for oysters and bargain eats
As well as attracting visitors with a taste for history, Aarhus can serve up a weekend of tasty delights – and more than just Danish pastries and bacon. Securing the European Region of Gastronomy title means chefs can show off Nordic culinary skills with local delicacies.
In other parts of the world oysters evoke an image of exclusivity – think fl ashy Champagne bars.
But here it’s easy to pluck one straight from the sea and such oyster safaris are available along much of the Jutland coastline.
I head to Limfjorden and, armed with a bucket and kitted out in rather fetching rubber trousers, I wade waist deep into the into the chilly North Sea.
I plunge my arms elbow deep to pluck these shelled gems from the seabed. My haul would have made me a small fortune in the south of France but 20 minutes later we were cooking them over a smoky barbecue.
To wash those down the area also produces a wealth of drinks. There’s beer from Fur Bryghus micro brewery on Fur Island, once voted one of Denmark’s most beautiful islands.
At Stauning Whisky they’re making their own malted rye. As you can’t produce aged whisky in less than 25 years, they are producing young whiskies using traditional methods and winning awards for it.
Even owners from Scottish distilleries have been visiting to relearn some of the old tricks.
Back in Aarhus, the Latin Quarter is a real foodie hub with café-lined cobbled streets where you could spend a whole day moving from lattes to beer to grazing on a classic open sandwiches, freshly baked rye bread piled high with pickled herrings.
A popular spot for a bargain out is Cafe Lecoq where on Tuesday evening there’s a 50 krones (£5) beer and dinner.
But get there early as when the plates are gone there’s no more food. As a grand finale I eat at Michelin-star Substans. Here the focus is on fine dining but without the formalities.
There are no tablecloths and candles on white wooden dining tables.
The waiters wear leather aprons and trainers as they serve up seven courses including haddock, veal, pork and two desserts. It’s an artful concoction that manages to celebrate the culture and the gastronomy of Aarhus, just as it should be in this special year.
The busy streets of Aarhus
Wexas (020 7590 0644/wexas.com) offers four nights in Denmark from £590pp (two sharing), B&B.
Price includes return flights from Heathrow to Billund, car hire and two nights at Hotel Svanen in Billund, one night at Hotel Hvalpsund Færgekro and one night at Hotel Oasia (all smalldanishhotels.com).
Denmark tourism: visitdenmark.co.uk