A Short Break in Denmark: Aalborg
Aalborg is not a name that immediately leaps to mind if you are planning a mini break on foreign shores. But - continuing our One Minute Guide series - Chris Leadbeater finds plenty to occupy him in summertime Denmark...
What to find: A pretty waterside city in Denmark with an arty atmosphere and plenty of links to its past. As the fourth largest urban area in the country (behind Copenhagen, Aarhus and Odense, for the record), Aalborg is not a large place – but it is an historic one. It dates back to the start of the eighth century, when it began life as a Viking trading post.
You won’t find much in the way of pillage, plunder and be-horned helmets in 21st century Aalborg, but you will find a lively outpost perfect for a weekend away. You will also find evidence of its earliest days. Lindholm Hoje, just north of the modern city (www.nordjyllandshistoriskemuseum.dk), is a onetime Viking settlement and burial ground that was inhabited until around 1200AD. The stone circles that mark its graves on a grassy hillside are a powerful sight 800 years after the Vikings moved out.
Where to Go: In northern Denmark, towards the top of the Jutland peninsula that makes up most of Scandinavia’s most southerly country. Framed by the Baltic Sea to the east and the North Sea to the west, the tip of this landmass is a favourite of painters, who have long been drawn to the area by its astonishing natural light and flat landscape.
Aalborg sits roughly 40 miles south of Skagen, Jutland’s uppermost point. On a clear day, you can see much of the surrounding area (and Aalborg itself) from the city’s 105-metre Tarnet tower (www.aalborgtaarnet.com, adults 30 Danish Kroner/£3.60).
Why go? Because Scandinavia is lovely at this time of year, with the midsummer daylight stretching towards midnight. And because there’s much to do in a place that, as a less-known stop on the tourist trail, will delight more intrepid mini-breakers.
The centre is dotted with buildings that hark back to its medieval heyday – of which the 14th century Cathedral of St Budolf (www.aalborgdomkirke.dk) is the most prominent. The city’s cultural side is showcased by Kunsten (www.kunsten.dk), a gallery of modern art housed in an airy, open structure that counts as an impressive work in its own right. The culinary scene offers a number of decent choices, not least Mortens Kro (www.mortenskro.dk), the flagship restaurant of Danish celebrity chef Morten Nielsen. And if you fancy a drink to finish (or begin) the evening, Jomfru Ane Gade – a narrow-but-lengthy strip of watering holes – is often referred to as ‘Scandinavia’s longest bar’.
Random fact: Aalborg is home to a secret sect of sorts, the Guild Of Christian IV (Dan Brown fans, feel free to go ‘ooooh’ round about now). Actually, the guild isn’t much of a secret – past and present members include Ronald Reagan, American actor Richard Chamberlain and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. But it does have an intriguing story.
It was set up in 1942 as Denmark laboured under the strain of Nazi occupation. Peeved locals, seeking a place to drink away their wartime woes beyond the steely gaze of their occupiers, opted to make one of the city’s hostelries a members-only club. Foreign soldiers (and anyone seen to be collaborating with the Germans) were banned. Fifty-seven years on, the guild is still a closed shop. But the bar where it traditionally meets – the Duus Vinkaelder wine cellar in the basement of Jens Bangs Stenhus (a five-storey 15th century merchant townhouse that occupies a prime location at the heart of Aalborg, 9 Osteragade) – is open to outsiders, and has an enjoyable of-the-past ambience thanks to its vaulted ceiling and dark corners.
Best bit: The waterfront. Aalborg straddles the Limfjord, a broad river-like expanse that gave the city its reason to exist when the first settlement was founded – and has informed its daily life ever since. It’s a pleasant area for a stroll as Aalborgians pedal bicycles on the walkway or stare patiently ahead, fishing rods outstretched. Rosdahls (www.rosdahls.dk), a swish eatery in a converted warehouse, is a nice spot for lunch.
The Utzon Center also overlooks the fjord (www.utzoncenter.org). Although there is little in this shiny cultural space (beyond a cosy café with views of the water) that will hugely interest tourists (the Center is more a research facility), it is worth walking past to glance at its oddly familiar appearance. The building was constructed in the style of Jorn Utzon, an architect raised in Aalborg who went on to design Sydney Opera House. According to legend, Utzon found his inspiration for Australia’s most famous edifice in the choppy waves of the Limfjord – and the Center, built in tribute to his career, echoes that great auditorium in the sharp peaks that spring up from its roof.
Downside: It’s a minor complaint, but there is a sense of work-in-progress about the city. That said, the artistic butterfly that finally emerges from its industrial cocoon is likely to be beautiful. Take Nordkraft, for example (www.nordkraft.dk). This defunct coal power station, which also lurks on the waterfront, is being converted, in a Tate-Modern way, into a music and arts venue capable of staging concerts for up to 8,000 people. It will be magnificent once overhauled – but visitors won’t have access until the autumn.
When to go: This month or next if you want to take advantage of the dreamy summer evenings – Aalborg enjoys around 18 hours of sunlight a day in June and July. On the other hand, if you can wait a year, July 2010 will be the month when Aalborg pops up on the world map in flashing lights, as the host of the Tall Ships Race (www.tsr10.dk).
More information: The official tourism website at www.visitaalborg.com. A 24-hour Aalborg Card, which grants entry to 14 attractions, as well as public transport in and around the city.
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