Situated in the north of Denmark, the relatively undiscovered city of Aalborg is rich with Viking and Renaissance history, restaurants and bars, and the ubiquitous drink, akvavit
The city may be small but there is nothing sleepy about Aalborg. It is, after all, the country’s leading akvavit, or schnapps, producer. Quirky and colourful, it boasts more restaurants and bars per inhabitant than any other town in Denmark. Hidden streets stuffed with multicoloured houses boasting ornately carved doors and ancient, half-timbered buildings hint at the wealth enjoyed by the city’s merchants during the Renaissance. With many of the main sites within easy strolling distance there is plenty of time to sit back and soak up the atmosphere at one of the many pavement cafés.
What to do
Budolfi Cathedral’s Baroque spire (www.aalborgdomkirke.dk) functions as the visual centre of the city’s old town and though much of it has been rebuilt, the hotch-potch of design styles results in a striking interior. Take a moment to perch on the intricately designed wooden pews and gaze up at the colourful 16th-century ceiling frescoes. Next door is the old post office, smarter than any you are likely to see at home. In the rooftop tower are small openings (now bricked up) that, up until the end of the Second World War, were home to the only publicly employed carrier pigeons in Denmark.
Turn to the right along Gravensgade, one of the city’s best shopping streets, and head down the narrow staircase leading off the street to your right, known by local children as ‘the mousetrap’. A few paces along the alley and you’ll find yourself walking next to the walls of the former Monastery of the Holy Ghost. Only some parts of the building are open to the public but even the decorative exterior is worth a look.
The five-storey Jens Bang’s Stenhus, whose facade is covered with gargoyles and floral ornaments, and Jørgen Olufsens’ house on the waterfront are the city’s most treasured Renaissance buildings. Continue to walk along the waterfront to the modest Aalborg Castle and take time to admire the Utzon Center (www.utzoncenter.com; Slotspladsen 4), built in honour of the Aalborg-born Sydney Opera House architect and designer of the city’s Nordjyllands Art Museum. Stroll to the Church of our Lady and the half-timbered houses on Hjelmerstald. For a subterranean adventure, visit the small but fascinating underground Franciscan Friary Museum (Algade 19).
Where to stay
As a relatively undiscovered city until now, Aalborg’s accommodation standards have been allowed to slip a few steps behind many other European cities; however, the waterfront renovation continues to see the arrival of new, contemporary hotels. Radisson SAS is situated next to the river so many rooms enjoy watery views – it is probably the most modern hotel in town. But for a more historical, characterful building, the city’s most famous hotel is Helnan Phønix. It has a great location and you can be sure of a friendly welcome. Hotel Hvide Hus is a 15-minute stroll from the centre but is well priced and enjoys a tranquil spot on the edge of a park.
Where to eat and drink
For such a diminutive city there is an abundance of great eateries, and lively outdoor cafés abound; try Behag Din Smag (www.behagdinsmag.dk) for fresh cakes, traditional open sandwiches and herbal teas. Brunch is a popular choice with the locals and on Saturdays nowhere draws the crowds more than Rosdahls (00 45 9812 0580; www.rosdahls.dk), particularly when there’s live jazz on offer. Or head to the Utzon Center for seafood and champagne overlooking the waterfront. Mortens Kro, where celebrity chef and proprietor Morten Nielsen focuses on local fare, remains the hottest place in town. The seven-course tasting menu is well worth it (00 45 9812 4860; www.mortenskro.dk). For a different dining experience, hop aboard the moored icebreaker, Elbjørn (00 45 4342 3434), for seasonal delicacies from land and sea. Enjoy a glass of hot wine toddy or local beer at Duus Vinkælder (00 45 9812 5056) in the basement of Jens Bang’s Stenhus.
Time running out?
On the 15-minute drive to the airport is Lindholm Høje, Scandinavia’s largest Viking burial ground. Over 700 graves, many marked out by stones placed in an oval to mimic the shape of a Viking ship, lie scattered across a peaceful hillside.
If you don’t have time for brunch, stock up on cakes, local cheeses and cured meats at the charming family-run Penny Lane deli (www.pennylanevin.dk), the perfect picnic suppliers.
Currency is the Danish kroner. Aalborg is one hour ahead of GMT and a one-hour 10-minute flight from London.
Norwegian Air (020 8099 7254; www.norwegian.no) has direct flights from Gatwick to Aalborg. Scandinavian Airlines (0871 521 2772; www.flysas.com) has flights to Aalborg from Heathrow and London City via Copenhagen.
Visit Aalborg: Østerågade 8 (00 45 9931 7500; www.visitaalborg.com). Visit the website for opening hours.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.