Hjelmerstald (picture ATN)

A former stronghold of the Vikings, Aalborg (Denmark’s fourth largest city) is now a vibrant cultural centre in Jutland. With a medieval heart and an attractive old town, it is a popular university and industrial centre for Danes. Aalborg has an incredible waterfront and some of the country’s most iconic buildings, so much so that the New York Times included it among the 10 places to visit in 2019.
The starting point for getting to know Aalborg is the old town, a mix of old and new where you can stroll along the cobbled streets, admire the unmistakable half-timbered houses, museums, theatres, street art and cosy cafés. Right in the centre, on the Lim fjord, is Aalborghus Castle, built as a fortress for defensive purposes in the 16th century and later to become the residence of the king in North Jutland: today it is a half-timbered red building with whitewashed wall panels, home to administrative offices. Then there is Jorgen Olufsen’s House, one of the best preserved Renaissance-style merchant’s palaces in Denmark, and Jens Bangs’ House, in Dutch Renaissance style (1624), with large red bricks, carved gables and interesting window decorations. Hjelmerstald (Hjelmer Stable) is a street with four houses, and it is one of very few preserved neighbourhoods in Aalborg: the surrounding streets are equally charming, and the place oozes “hygge”. The area was built around the 17th century with stables for the city’s many horses, hence the name of the street. Today, the houses are private homes, so please refrain from looking through the windows. The Cathedral of St. Budolphus (late 14th century), in Gothic style, with its distinctive yellow bricks, is noteworthy. It derives its name from the English Benedictine monk Botholphus and was rebuilt with three naves, a tower and a portico after a fire destroyed its original wooden structure in the year 1000. Aalborg’s pride and joy is the waterfront where some iconic buildings such as the Utzon Center, the Musikkens Hus and the Nordkraft stand out. The Utzon Center is an architectural gem dedicated to architect Jørn Utzon who designed the Sydney Opera House: in it you can explore his works and enjoy exhibitions on ground-breaking Nordic architecture and design. The Utzon Centre also works with social sustainability for children and young people, and the core of their exhibitions is that materials and more must be recycled. Another magnificent building is the ‘House of Music’, or ‘Musikkens Hus’, a landmark for all professionals and music lovers, venue for concerts by Danish and international artists and home to the ‘Aalborg Symphony Orchestra’. Nearby is Nordkraft, the city’s beating heart and vibrant cultural centre opened in 2009 in a former power station from 1947. It includes a theatre, a cinema, a gymnasium, a music hall and a tourist information point. The Danes love bathing at the harbour, in the ‘Vestre Fjordpark’: relaxing on wooden platforms, diving and kayaking, just a short walk from the centre. ‘The Lighthouse’ is an old furniture factory and a popular local hangout that also is Aalborg’s first permanent street food market: here one can try food from around the world and get imbued in the local atmosphere. To the north of the city is the archaeological area of Lindholm Høje, a Viking burial site dating back more than 1,500 years: it was a centre of great importance for trade, as evidenced by the discovery of gems, Arabian coins and numerous decorative objects made of silver and glass. It is divided into two areas: in the upper area are the remains of a settlement dating back to 400 B.C. (Iron Age), while on the southern side are finds from the year 1000. It consists of approximately 700 graves, 150 stone ships, and a settlement inhabited until 1200 AD, with remains of fences, houses and wells. The ‘Lindholm Høje Museum’ allows visitors to immerse themselves in the Viking era with magnificent reconstructions, dioramas, illustrations and 3D animations.