Den Gamle By Aarhus Old Town Museum is Denmark’s largest and most impressive open-air museum, with over 75 buildings dating back to the 1550s.
Visiting Den Gamle By in Aarhus is like stepping back into a Danish renaissance village.
Open Air Museums like Den Gamle By in Aarhus give you the opportunity to feel what it’s like to go back in time. The museum collection brings together old barns and half-timbered mansions, bakeries to breweries from 20 different towns, brought to life with period furnishings and actors in traditional dress. What makes Den Gamle By different is its journey through Danish history – right up to the 1970s.
The museum is laid out as a Jutland town, with the promise of experiencing Danish life circa the era of Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark in the 1920s, and Aarhus in the 1970s. Translated from Danish, Den Gamle By means Old City and that’s exactly what you’ll experience here from the moment you push through the turnstiles.
As Denmark’s most popular open air museum, Den Gamle By brings together 75 authentic homes, farmhouses, and structures sourced from across the Scandinavian country. The museum opened in 1909, when the focus was on preserving the many cultural treasures in fields and farmsteads. Over one hundred years, this has evolved to capture early and late 20th century displays – providing an instant connection to a time many of us still remember.
Step back in time – woah, watch your step!
Rough hewn stone pavers, with the addition of light drizzle ensure we’re paying attention to our surroundings. Some of the cottages feature relics from the 80s (the 1980s) in the form of plaster-faced mannequins. Their addition makes it feel a little cheesy, whereas the further you get into the town, there are newer additions and innovations.
The sights, sounds and smells
Typical of this is an ancient outhouse that uses sound samples of farts and groans to add a little scatological humor to the experience.Toilet humor aside, the old town is an immersive experience. Most building are furnished with period antiques and you can walk through them to get a taste of what it was like living in a farmhouse.
Locals dressed in 19th century garb lead horses and carts through the narrow lanes, while the bakery offers freshly cooked Danish pastries using recipes that date back to 1885. Some of the old wooden buildings still exude the aroma of burnt wood and at the tobacco barn, wreaths of tobacco hang drying in the humid breeze. Exploring each merchant’s villa, farmhouse and laneway offers little rewards. From knot gardens to blacksmith forges to village fairgrounds, the attention to detail is astounding.
The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker
Additionally, there are working workshops where the staff use traditional techniques to preserve or renovate the exhibits. The bakery has delicious cakes and fresh bread, there’s a candle maker, and a brewery – though it’s an exhibit and not an active brewery. Running between buildings to avoid the ever-increasing rainfall, each doorway reveals a new surprise. One warehouse is the home of a clock museum, another is devoted to silverware and the largest houses a toy museum with over 6,000 toys.
Back to the future
By far the most surreal, yet familiar section of the museum is a perfect reconstruction of a Danish town from 1974. Here you can go shopping at a radio and TV shop, rendered impeccably with a rack of cassette, vinyl and 8-tracks, black and white and color TVs and old stereos.
Bizarrely there are the same speakers that were on the home system we had back in the 70s. All the prices reflect the original 1974 tags. To the back of the store is the manager’s desk and the repair shop. It’s full of original parts too. Incredible. Other storefronts include a gynecologist’s clinic, a camera shop, a gas station, a pastry shop and even a jazz club.
Den Gamle By has been worth the visit on the way up Jutland. If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll love being able to taste the food, ride in a horse and cart, and wonder at 300 years of toys and history.
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Aarhus Open Air Museum is a family-friendly way to explore Denmark’s past. Located in Denmark’s second largest city, it’s a highlight if you’re heading to the north of Jutland.
Viborgvej 2, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
Den Gamle By is open all year round, with it at its most picturesque in the heart of summer and depths of the winter snow. Admission prices differ based on season.
January 2 – February 6 11am – 3pm
February 7 – March 27 10am – 4pm
March 28 – June 26 10am – 5pm
June 25 – August 7 10am – 6pm
August 8 – Nov 18 10am – 5pm
Nov 19 – Dec 22 10am – 5pm