Only so much you can do in a few days, however, so we settled on Jutland. Specifically, the Aarhus region, an area we’re all familiar with. We have been curious to see it all decorated for advent, and we were not disappointed. Christmas markets here are as fairy-tale as the little country itself, often inspired by Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark’s most famous son.
In this post, we’ll cover the main Christmas venues within the city of Aarhus, as well as in nearby Viborg (Denmark’s oldest city), Ebeltoft and at Gamle Estrup Manor. All are an easy 1 – 1.5 hour drive from each other (most everything is in Denmark) and from Aarhus airport. For a weekend, this itinerary is a bit packed, but doable.
Aarhus is beautifully decked out during the festive season. The pedestrianised zones have golden waves floating above, and Yuletide spirit is all about the place, including Den Gamle By (Old Aarhus), Ridehuset and Tivoli Friheden.
Den Gamle By
We start out in Den Gamle By (Old Aarhus), which focusses on Christmases of yore. This live museum spotlights three different eras: the 19th century, the 1920s and the 1970s, so lots of Christmas history to learn about and experience.
Meet Karoline. Or Ida, if you prefer. In 2019, Karoline is a history student at the University of Aarhus. In 1927, Ida is serving up frikadeller (Danish meatballs) and knepkager (a soft syrup biscuit/cookie; the name means ‘snap biscuits’, after the sound it makes when you bite into it).
You’ll have a chance to watch that most Danish of Christmas cakes, æbleskiver, be made the old-fashioned way. Æbleskiver, meaning apple slices, is usually a misnomer, as they rarely contain apples. (Imagine a sort of deep-fried Yorkshire pudding made of flour, cream, eggs and sugar, served with blackcurrant jam and sugar.) However, in Den Gamle By, æbleskiver is made according to the old recipe from c. 1900, with apples, and fried in pork fat.
We also try honninghjerter, soft, chewy, chocolate-coated, heart-shaped honey biscuits. Delish! And as in all of Scandinavia, everything is washed down with copious amounts of gløgg, a yuletide staple. Try the one made with white wine, oranges and almonds. Trust me, you’ll never want any other mulled wine again.
Christmas at Den Gamle By lasts from 23 November – 5 January in 2019. Entrance fee is 135 DKK (free for children 0-17). It’s a short walk from Aarhus city centre. Come early, especially at the weekend. We walked past on Saturday around 09.00 and a long queue was already formed at the entrance.
At the Christmas market in Ridehuset (the old military equestrian training house), we see 85 stands full of creative craft, everything unique and homemade and sold by the artisans themselves, which often will mean some interesting conversations. I’ve planned to buy exactly nothing, as I’m in a minimalist state of mind lately, but still end up with two tins of moonshine, cleverly disguised as motor oil. One is liquorice flavoured, one is whiskey – the perfect present for my son-in-law; he loves both. (Counting on him not reading this blog, at least not before Christmas).
Christmas at Ridehuset is open 23 November – 22 December, from noon on weekdays and from 11.00 on weekends. Entrance is free. There’s a cafe on site, serving porridge and rich cakes.
Tivoli Friheden is an amusement park, with a free fall tower and other adrenaline kicks. However, our focus this time is – you guessed it – those Yuletide fairs, and Tivoli Friheden does the job very well. So well, in fact, it’s my favourite one.
Also, they have that white wine/orange/almond gløgg on offer. Yum!
A very cool market all round, but what wins me over is the spectacular Swan Lake light installations. Magic!
Tivoli Friheden is open noon – 21.00. Entrance fee is 140 DKK if you’re more than 90 cm tall, and free if you’re not.
Time to leave Aarhus behind, and head for the hills. Naah, only kidding. There aren’t any hills in Denmark (at least, not in this Norwegian’s view). Flat as a pancake. Perfect cycling country.
Next up are some of the small towns nearby. First is Viborg in the historic region. At 1001 years old, this quaint little town is Denmark’s oldest. (More about Viborg in this post.) Viborg’s outdoor Christmas market is on Nytorv Square. Just a few blocks away, on Hjultorvet Square, you’ll find Det Gamle Museum (the old museum), with an indoor weekend market, with workshops and lovely Christmas goodies for sale. This minimalist couldn’t resist buying some lovely golden decorations for the tree, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales.
The outdoor Christmas market is open 29 November – 23 December. Entrance is free.
For the little ones, Viborg offers a nisse workshop. The nisse is the Christmas goblin, the little people delivering Christmas gifts in Scandinavia, our Santa Claus, as it were. They’re about 3ft tall, have long, white beards and wear red, conical hats. They’re often cantankerous little ones, a bit like Ireland’s leprechauns, but leave out some porridge for them the night before Christmas Eve, and you’re all good. Naughty or nice doesn’t really come into play here; that’s only when people substitute the nisse with Santa Claus. Nothing good comes of that.
I love the old school map. And do you remember queuing to jump over the barrier in PE-class?
Next is Ebeltoft. This little town doesn’t have a Christmas market per se, but is instead an all-round Christmas town: red-clad women with street organs, a farm nisse on horseback, watchmen of the olden days, nissemor (nisse mother) distributing sweets from baskets – they all wander the cobbled Christmas tree-lined streets of charming Ebeltoft. Shops invite you in to buy – but also to create your own Christmas decorations. How about blowing your own glass bauble?
Fregatten Jylland (The frigate Jylland)
At Ebeltoft’s seafront, the frigate Jylland is the world’s longest wooden war ship. Not any more wars in these parts of the world, fortunately. Gert serves æbleskiver and Bådmandens fryd (the Boatman’s Delight), a lovely red wine gløgg with rum (!) for breakfast. Christmas here is weekend only (wine/rum brekkie and all), but the ship can be visited all year.
Open weekends in December from 10.00 – 16.00. Entrance fee (reduced in December): 95 DKK.
Gamle Estrup Herregaard (Old Estrup Manor)
Our last stop before catching a flight out is the old redbrick manor house, Gamle Estrup Herregaard. I absolutely adore this house, particularly the boldly decorated rooms.
This here is the working room of Count Jørgen Scheel, a firm believer in extravagance and la dolce vita. Let’s not dwell on his spectacular bankruptcy. I want this as my writing quarters. I already have a Keshan carpet very similar to this one, so that’s a start. (I know, not technically Christmas-related, but just had to share).
The Christmas exhibition at Gamle Estrup takes place 30 November – 22 December and is dubbed Christmas Upstairs and Downstairs in 1918. Opening hours in December 2019 is Tue – Sun, 10.00 – 16.00. Entrance is 90 DKK (free for under 18s), and covers Gammel Estrup as well as the neighbouring Green Museum.
Ever seen Dinner for One? Couldn’t this just be same-procedure-James lighting the candles on Miss Sophie’s Christmas tree?
Christmas spirit at the manor
SAS flies you quickly and comfortably to Aarhus from many Scandinavian and European cities. We travelled from Oslo to Aarhus; a 45-minute journey. Aarhus has numerous accommodation options (it’s Denmark’s second city, after all). In little Ebeltoft, we stayed at Langhoff & Juul boutique hotel at the seafront, a bit windswept in December. Cosy by the fireplace indoors, though, with Christmas spirit, delicious, homemade gløgg and a fabulous barman who makes drinks to order (“I’m a wandering drinks’ menu”). Definitely on the summer wish list.
Disclosure: I’ve been in Denmark more times than I can count, sometimes for work, sometimes for pleasure, usually for both; sometimes at the invitation of someone else, sometimes on my own dime. This time, our sprakling collective – The Nordic Escape, Alltid reiseklar and yours truly – were guests of Visit Aarhus and SAS. Every word, every thought, every opinion: mine, all mine. As always, as ever.