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Are the Danes happier than the rest of the world? Perhaps; Denmark consistently ranks among the top 3 in the World Happiness Report. The Danes credit the higher rating to having achieved work-life balance by focusing on leisure, family, solitude, and a high quality of life. The practice of finding happiness in the everyday, seeking cosiness, security, comfort, familiarity, reassurance, kinship, and simplicity, stands the citizens of this Scandinavian nation in good stead. It’s the way of hygge, the Danish pursuit of everyday happiness. In The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, writes that hygge—pronounced ‘hoogah’—is “about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. 

A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down”. The people of Aarhus—Denmark’s happiest city—would agree.

Dating back to the late 8th century, Aarhus, which draws its name from the city’s location at the mouth of the eponymous river, began life as a harbour settlement. It soon grew into a trade hub, and the town was fortified in the Viking Age. Since then, it has held sway as an important Danish city. Set amid beaches and forests, a connection to nature is easy to forge—be it by biking, hiking, or even kayaking. The city, so easily walkable that it feels like exploring a cosy neighbourhood, is also chockfull of historical attractions such as the Århus Domkirke and Moesgaard Museum. It’s one of the few places that combines what everyone wants: friendly people, old-world charm, cultural offerings, and easy access to nature.

 The Iceberg/Courtesy: Visit AARHUS

Kick off your visit by travelling back in time at Den Gamle By (The Old Town), an open-air museum. The stunning exhibits take one on a journey—from people dressed up in apparel from the 1900s to 
a recreation of a town district from 1970s Denmark, complete with streets, townhouses, shops, backyards and workshops. Not too far is ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, the 10-storeyed art museum, spread over 17,000 sq m.

Established in 1859, it is best known for Your Rainbow Panorama, by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson that lets one move around in a 150m-long, circular panoramic path that offers stunning 360º views of the city. Another important piece is Ron Mueck’s lifelike sculpture, Boy, 4.5 metres in height and weighing 500 kg. The crouching figure seemingly inspired by the Australian aborigines, is fantastically detailed with glass fibre skin and looks surprisingly life-like.

Århus Domkirke, aka Aarhus Cathedral, which dates to the 12th century, is dedicated to St Clemens, the patron saint of sailors. The cathedral was initially built in Romanesque style but was redone in the Gothic style in 1330. Frescoes cover many of the interior walls, including one that’s spread over 220 sq m and represents St Christopher and St Clement. At the Moesgaard Museum, one of the world’s most energy-efficient museums, explore the archaeology and ethnography-focused exhibits. Set in a bucolic landscape, amid grass and wildflowers, the museum is a restful—and thought-provoking—stop. If you are looking for a green space, head to the central park, Mølleparken, which also serves as a concert venue. You could also visit the Botanical Gardens, with the tinkling Hessel Brook, and the Dokk 1 Cultural Centre, which offers a space for contemplation, learning, and play.

An exhibit at the Den Gamle By/Courtesy: Visit AARHUS

After a long day of sightseeing, Frederiksbjerg—better known as ‘the larder of Aarhus’—calls out to all hungry and tired souls. The streets are lined with delightful cafés, modern eateries, and stolid pubs. As you order a pint of beer or a glass of house wine, don’t forget to try the Smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich that’s Denmark’s national dish. Made with a base of rugbrød (rye bread, slathered with salted butter), a topping of herring, mackerel, shrimps, salmon, beef, egg or potato, and a garnish of red onion, capers, radish or micro greens, it is a nutritious and filling meal.

Walking down the quaint cobbled street of Møllestien, one can see picturesque, colourful buildings in the background. As you take in the canvas-worthy image, walk to the Infinite Bridge with its circular, wooden frame, which spans the surf and flows into Aarhus Bay. The bridge, created by Niels Povlsgaard and Johan Gjødes, seems to go on and on, happy to provide passersby a place to walk, think, reflect, and resolve, and perhaps to find your own hygge.  

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