Most travelers who visit Denmark stop in Copenhagen for a couple of days, at most, before continuing their Euro-trip and heading off to a new country. But if you have the time to explore and a genuine interest in Danish culture, this Scandinavian country has so much more to offer, and a popular city for an extended visit is the port city of Aarhus. Denmark's second-largest city matches Copenhagen in terms of cultural offerings and vivacity, but with fewer tourists and decidedly more charm.
Aarhus isn't quite close enough to Copenhagen for a day trip, but the city is worth visiting for at least a weekend, if not longer. You could take a flight and be there in under an hour, but then you'd miss out on all of the scenic Danish countryside along the route. The train is one of the best options if you buy tickets early enough, but it gets oppressively expensive for last-minute travel plans, leaving you with the option of the slightly longer bus ride.
How to Get from Copenhagen to Aarhus
- Train: 2 hours, 45 minutes, from $14
- Bus: 3 hours, 30 minutes, from $15
- Flight: 35 minutes, from $84
- Car: 3 hours, 116 miles (187 kilometers)
Trains on Denmark's national rail service, DSB, are comfortable, speedy, and the best option for most travelers—provided that you reserve your place in advance. The tickets start at 99 Danish kroner, or about $14, for non-refundable tickets outside of rush hour time. However, they quickly rise in price as the travel date gets closer, with same-day tickets surging to over $60 for just one way.
When purchasing tickets on the DSB webpage, the Copenhagen station appears in Danish as København H. The cheapest ticket option is called "DBH Orange," which is non-refundable and offered in limited numbers during non-peak times. If that's not available, the next ticket tier is "DBH Orange Fri," which is fully refundable up to 30 minutes before the train departs. The "Standard" ticket is the next tier, which is good for any train on the selected date, and finally, the "DSB 1'" pricing is a Standard ticket with first-class privileges.
The train stations in both cities are centrally located and easy to reach via metro, taxi, or even on foot.
If train tickets have ballooned in price, the bus is a great last-minute option for getting to Aarhus and only takes about an hour longer than the train. Buy tickets from FlixBus, which drives several buses throughout the day departing from Copenhagen directly to Aarhus. Be aware that there are two arrival options in Aarhus: Aarhus C and Aarhus Vest. If you want to be dropped off near the city center, Aarhus C is walking distance from the main train station, while Aarhus Vest is outside of the city near the airport.
Buses start at $15 but also get more expensive for last-minute reservations, especially during holidays or peak travel times. However, if you're flexible with your travel times and dates, you can usually find even same or next-day tickets for under $20.
The flight from Copenhagen to Aarhus is essentially just taking off and landing, with total time in the air only 35–40 minutes on direct flights by SAS. The short ride is ideal for those in a rush, although once you factor in time to get to and from airports, go through security, and wait at your gate, going by plane is only marginally faster than taking the train.
For a faster and more exciting plane ride, Nordic Seaplanes carries passengers on small seaplanes between Copenhagen and Aarhus in 45 minutes. Because these aircraft take off and land on the water, they're able to depart and arrive next to each city center instead of being forced to use the far off airports. It's the priciest way to travel between the two cities, coming out to nearly $300 for a one-way trip, but the seaplane is sure to be an unforgettable experience for your trip to Denmark.
Renting a car gives travelers the freedom to explore the countless Danish towns in between Copenhagen and Aarhus, which is an aspect of local life very much off the beaten tourist path. From Copenhagen, you have two options for getting to Aarhus, and even though one of them requires nearly twice as many miles of travel, both routes take about three hours if you drive straight through.
The drive with less mileage takes you up through the north part of the island of Zealand—where Copenhagen is located—to Odden in the northwest tip. In Odden, you'll have to board a ferry with your car and cross the strait, a 75-minute ride that drops you off right in Aarhus. Ferry tickets start at $60, but get more expensive depending on the time of your departure and the size of your vehicle.
The second option is to drive through the center of the island and cross the Great Belt waterway over the Storebælt Bridge, before continuing north to Aarhus. It requires much more time behind the wheel, but the total trip time is about the same. Plus, you don't have to worry about ferry schedules and you get to see much more of Denmark this way. However, if you're thinking you can save money by skipping the ferry route, think again. The bridge toll alone is about $36, and that combined with all of the extra gas you'll use make both routes comparable in price.
What to See in Aarhus
Aarhus is a city that oozes with hygge, the uniquely Danish concept of coziness, conviviality, and contentment. Stop in any one of the many riverside cafes for a coffee before heading out to explore the city's distinctive blend of traditional and modern architecture. The open-air museum Den Gamle By is a one-of-a-kind attraction, a recreation of a traditional Danish village but with real-life actors who bring the town to life. Home to Denmark's largest university, Aarhus also has the largest youth population in the country, so there are endless options for parties, bars, and nightlife.