Have you ever heard of Aalborg?
Granted, Denmark's fourth largest city was a mystery to me for a long time as well - until I hopped on the ferry from Oslo to Denmark and decided that if I'll pass by Aalborg on my way to Aarhus anyway, I might as well make a pit stop for a day and explore what the city has to offer.
Turns out, a lot!
I'm really glad I visited Aalborg as this city of 200.000 inhabitants is a proper gem of Denmark! It's the capital of the North Jutland region and apparently also "Europe's happiest city".
Nonetheless, it's not quite as overrun by tourists as Copenhagen and still offers plenty to keep you busy for a day or two - making it the perfect destination for a weekend break!
To be fair, I only spent a day in Aalborg but I'm certain that I'll come back for a summer weekend to frolic at the fjord. Yes, Aalborg is situated by a fjord - how lovely does that sound?
What to see and do in Aalborg
1. Viking Burial Mounds at Lindholm Høje
I was so excited when I learnt about the ancient burial mounds on the outskirts of the city, that I decided to head there straight from the train station without even so much as glancing at the city itself!
It was the right decision as I arrived early in the morning and pretty much had the whole place to myself. Granted though, visiting a field of burial mounds all by yourself with the wind howling through the nearby woods was also kind of scary...
The ca. 700 gravestones from the Iron and Viking Age were covered and preserved by sand drift until the 1950s when they were excavated and exhibited to the public. All stones were left exactly where they were found and a museum has been built next to the site where you can learn more about the Age of the Vikings.
Visiting the burial mounds themselves, however, is free of charge!
2. Aalborghus Castle
Aalborg has a castle and it's not just any - it's a half-timbered one! You can't find that much half-timbered architecture in Norway but since I grew up in a half-timbered small town in Westphalia, Germany, I absolutely love this building style and it always reminds me of my childhood.
Aalborghus is situated right in the city centre and just a stone's throw from the Limfjord (which technically, is just a strait nowadays but it used to be a proper fjord back in the day).
Unfortunately, you're not allowed to visit the inside of the castle but you're free to roam the gardens from morning to evening (they close the gates at 9 PM), and in summer, you can even visit the dungeon! Such a pity that I visited during the Easter break...
3. KUNSTEN - Aalborg’s Museum of Modern Art
If you're interested in Scandinavian/Nordic design, a visit to Kunsten should definitely be on your itinerary!
Designed and built by the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, Kunsten now exibits works by the Danish artists Per Kirkeby, Eigill Jacobsen and Ingar Dragset, but also by the Italian Michelangelo Pistoletto.
4. Utzon Center
If you stroll along the waterfront at the Limfjord and you suddenly stumble upon a building with a very interesting-looking rooftop, close to the castle, you've arrived to the Utzon Center.
It was built in 2008 and was the last building the famous Danish architect Jørn Utzen managed to complete before his death. Yes, famous as in: you might not have heard his name before but you definitely know his most famous piece of architecture - Sydney Opera House!
Utzon Center is a cultural center where you can find exhibitions from and about Jørn Utzen, but there's also a restaurant and design shop.
5. Budolfi Cathedral
Confession time: I'm not ususally one to want to look at cathedrals and churches. Growing up in a small Catholic town has branded me enough for life, lol, BUT Aalborg's Budolfi Cathedral wasn't just quite impressive to look at - it also has quite a bit of history to tell!
The cathedral was built in the 15th century on the remains of a former wooden church from the 11th century! It is also situated on the highest point of Aalborg, which, considering we're speaking of Denmark here is only a couple of meters high really...
Make sure to visit when the carillon plays every full hour!
6. Time to hit the spa
Aalborg hasn't just one swimming pool - it has three! After a long day full of sightseeing and strolling around Aalborg, I'd say it's time to relax. Lucky for you that you'll have your pick between Gigantium, Svømmeland and Haraldslund!
7. Go for a drink in Jomfru Ane Gade
No, Jomfru Ane Gade is not a bar - it's a street, the longest one in Denmark that entirely consists of bars, actually! If you don't find a bar with a drink with your name on it here, I think you'd better stay at home...
Last but not Least: Aalborg Zoo
I wouldn't normally recommend a visit to a zoo to you because quite frankly, I find zoos to be quite redundant in this time and age. I simply think that there are better ways to preserve, for example, the species of polar bears than to make them live in Denmark, which simply doesn't have the right climate and environment for them...
That being said, Aalborg Zoo actively works to fight poaching in Africa and also reintroduces their oryx antelopes back into the wild, which is a species that was extinct not too long ago.
I didn't personally visit the place but if you've been (or are planning to go), let me know what it's like!
How to get to Aalborg and around
The easiest way to get to Aalborg is by plane. The city has its own airport with direct connections to/from Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, Oslo and the Faroe Islands (city trip before heading out to explore remote Faroe, anyone?).
You can also take the bus or train from other parts of the country, like I did. Arriving by ferry in Fredrikshavn, the train journey to Aalborg took only one hour and the ticket only cost 100 DKK.
You can reach Aalborg by train from Aarhus in 1 1/2 hours and from Copenhagen in 4 1/2 hours.
Once you're there, you can easily reach most sights by foot. In order to get to Lindholm Høje, though, I took the bus (20min bus ride), which only cost 20 DKK.
If you're staying for several days and want to get around like the locals do, you can rent a bike at Munks Cykeludlejning.
Where to stay in Aalborg
During my trip to Denmark, my parents and I stayed at an Airbnb, simply because it made it easier for us to spend time together, prepare meals ourselves and save a few bucks. Airbnb is a platform where locals rent out their spare room or entire apartment when they're on vacation themselves.
Aalborg, however, also seems to have plenty of hotels and hostels to choose from, which are perfect for a weekend trip. Here's a selection of the ones I had my eye on:
Can you imagine a weekend trip to Aalborg?
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Big thanks to the team of Visit Aalborg for all the help in planning my day in the city!