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Den Gamle By

Wander through time in the Old Town of Aarhus, Denmark

Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city, and it dates back to Viking times. It was called Aros, which means “at the river’s mouth”. Today, Aarhus is a very vibrant and eclectic city with lots of old and modern buildings, innovative museums and lively cafes and restaurants. But for me – being a history and architecture fan – the major attraction was the open air heritage museum, the Den gamle By (The old town).

I absolutely love travelling back in time, walking down cobbled streets, exploring backyards or how the rich and poor lived. I was enchanted by the charming houses and town scenes that reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen stories. The interactive exhibitions and realistic dummies certainly give a good impression how life was in the past. Although I couldn’t pick a favourite house, I particularly loved old shops like the apothecary or the all ware’s store along with the tailor’s Victorian workshop and home and post office. The whole experience is just amazing. You can easily spend a full day here. There’s so much to take in.

den gamle by denmark aarhus

The beginnings of Den gamle By

Den gamle By was founded in 1909 by Peter Holm, a teacher, translator and historian who was the director from the beginning until 1945. The first building, the Mayor’s House, was exhibited during the Danish National Exhibition in the grounds of the Aarhus Botanical Garden. The historical exhibition was such a success that in 1914, a permanent location was acquired for three more buildings. As such, Den gamle By was the first open-air museum in the world that concentrated on town culture rather than village culture. Since, the museum has grown and today Den gamle By has 75 historic houses from 20 towns.

Den gamle By’s structure

You can travel back through different times as the museum focuses on three main eras:

1700-1800 – The old days

This part of the museum shows how a town would have looked like in Hans Christian Andersen’s time or even earlier. Towns in this period were small, and most houses were timber-framed. You can explore how tradesmen and shopkeepers lived, but also see how the poor tried to make ends meet. The biggest part of the museum is from this era with lots of colourful, olde-worlde houses.

Don’t miss popping in to the bakery and grab a freshly baked pastry or traditional Danish bread with caraway seeds. They are delicious!

1900-1927 – The Modern Era

Towns had been modernised since the early 1900s, but by the 1920s the industrialisation had an enormous impact on urban scenes. Pavements, street lighting, and telephone wires appeared, along with cars and even more shops. This part of the museum gives Downton Abbey or Peaky Blinders vibes. The old books hop and the ironmonger shop have a beautiful ambience and you can buy reprinted old Danish books, stationery or enamelware for your home.

Don’t miss popping in to the soap shop which smells amazing and to see the telephone switchboard which is still working perfectly!

1974 – Welfare Denmark

This part of the museum focuses on life in the 1970s that some of us will still remember and find amusing. Typical orange coloured office interiors, hippy apartments and the old hi-fi shop with radios, televisions and cassette recorders from the 1970s definitely remind us of our childhood or youth. There’s one house though which scared me big time, as much as I wanted to leave the building as soon as possible. That was the Hjørring House Story, where there was a giant house spider in one room!

Museums and collections

Beyond the houses there are 5 regular exhibitions in the museum: the Toy Museum, the Danish Clock Museum, the Danish Poster Museum, the Gallery of Decorative Arts and the Jewellery Box. Just some more interesting and beautiful things to look at.

aarhus old town

Photography tips and what to look out for

Honestly, there’s so much to take in… Everywhere you look you find beautiful details, from shops, grocery stores to homes and streets.

  • Arrive early, the museum opens at 10am. It gets quite busy during the day, even on a weekday. However, people leave around 3pm, so there’s a good chance to take more photos between 3 and 5pm.
  • You’ll need a wide-angle lens to photograph some streets and houses.
  • Look into every corner and look back on the streets to notice different views and angles.
  • Look out for small details like shop signs (there are many).
  • Wait for the horse-drawn hackney carriage, people in old costumes to add more charm to your street scenes.

Where and what to eat

There’s a bakery, a restaurant, a hot dog stand and a tearoom in the museum serving traditional Danish food. Our Frikadeller (pork meatballs) served in the restaurant was absolutely delicious, and I loved the traditional Danish cake called “Goose breast”. It looked heavy and too sweet, but it was very light and well balanced. The caraway seeded bread and the leftover cake from the bakery were also divine. If you haven’t been to Denmark before, try the Danish hot-dog (pølsevogn) as it’s super delicious. If the hot-dog van is not open in the museum, there’s a hot dog stand at the railway station in Aarhus.

How to get to Aarhus

You can fly in directly to Aarhus Airport (from the UK, Ryanair flies from Stansted) and take the shuttle bus (925X) to the city which takes ca 1 hour. You can pay both by card and cash on the bus. However, I’d recommend having cash with you (Danish crowns) in case the terminal didn’t work. (It didn’t work on our return journey and had to find a cash machine quickly!)

If you fly in to Copenhagen, you can take the direct train from the airport to Aarhus city centre. The journey takes 3 hours.

Alternatively, you can fly in to Billund Airport and take the shuttle bus to get to Aarhus town centre. The travel time is approximately 1,5 hours.

When to visit Den gamle By

I’ve been to Denmark in summer, autumn and winter and I can categorically say that the country is beautiful in every season. So when to visit Aarhus is completely down to your preference but I’m sure the town is beautiful in every season. Can you imagine how gorgeous Den gamle By is at Christmas with all the Christmas decorations and activities going on…?

horse drawn hackney carriage

den gamle by bakery

clockmaker sign

summer house

back yard and physic garden

windowsill

den gamle by street scene

tobacco sign

aarhus den gamle by

door in den gamle by

the mintmasters house grandfather clock

the mintmasters house hall

den gamle by fountain spouts

herb garden den gamle by

pont and mill old town aarhus

tearoom sign

fairground

clock booth

clocktower with eagl

beehives old town aarhus

cosmos old town aarhus

greenhouse den gamle by

geese in old town aarhus

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