The industrial spirit of Aalborg once ran through Denmark’s fourth city as deeply as the Limfjord, which slices North Jutland from coast to coast. But with the demise of many factories, the city has transformed itself, and added new cultural attractions. And with a new thrice-weekly Ryanair flight from Stansted (Norwegian already flies daily from Gatwick) it makes for a great city break.
Aalborg’s £52m regeneration is centred on its 3km waterfront, home to the 2008 Utzon Center, the last building (and a more modest younger sibling to his Sydney Opera House) designed by the city’s most famous son, Jørn Utzon. To get an overview, I take the lift to the 13th floor of the imposing nearby former power station, Nordkraft. Since 2009 it has been home to theatres, cinemas, restaurants, galleries and concert halls. From its top I can see the new Vestre Fjordpark, on the Limfjord just west of the centre, a vast recreation area with free open-air swimming, cycling and kayaking.
My next stop is the Missing Bell in the centre, a cosy brewpub with furniture from an old church, so you can sit on a pew to sip your drink. But there are many more bars to enjoy, so I pay DKK 125 (about £15) for a Beerwalk box. It contains a 15cl glass, six vouchers and a list of eight pubs where you can taste a variety of beers and is part of a scheme to encourage visitors to venture beyond popular party street Jomfru Ane Gade. Wandering through the old centre reveals a mix of half-timbered and colourfully painted houses, particularly on Hjelmerstad, a pretty, flower-adorned cobbled street with houses dating from 1787.
The city’s dining scene is enjoying a renaissance, too. Influential Mortens Kro restaurant is celebrating its 20th anniversary but other restaurants are honing the city’s culinary reputation. These include Applaus, Mads Hyllested’s popular restaurant, opened last year and famed for its 10-course sharing menu (£47). And, on 15 September, Dennis Juhl, voted chef of the year several times in Denmark, opened Textur , aiming to reduce food waste by using only seasonal produce on a menu that changes every two weeks. For street food, The Lighthouse, a market opened in June in an old kitchen factory, is a great option. I try a succulent flæskesteg, traditional roast pork with crackling, red cabbage, pickled cucumbers and mayo, and devour it at one of the tables lining the water’s edge.
The next day I rent a bike and cycle over the fjord, spotting seals in the water from the Culture Bridge, opened this spring. A short ride brings me to Værket, an old factory that’s now a playground for graffiti artists. A year old, it’s already popular with established and new talent. This is not the only place to enjoy Aalborg’s prolific street art scene. Since 2014, the city has invited artists to brighten up walls with inspiring paintings. There are about 50 artworks and I enjoy an hour or so admiring the large-scale murals with a self-guided map (you can do tours too, aalborg-tours.dk).
Art lovers will also like Skagen, 70 miles up the coast. This most northerly town in Denmark was the home of PS Krøyer and the Skagen artist colony in the late 19th century – painters drawn by the glorious light at this spot where the North and Baltic seas collide. They would meet at the historic Brøndums Hotel, whose rooms feature in many of their paintings at the Skagen Museum.
More art is coming Aalborg’s way in the form of the Cloud City project. Businessman Martin Nielsen has bought the 86-year-old Aalborg akvavit distillery (closed in 2015), which he plans to transform into a multi-use “mini-city”, with arts centre, theatre, design stores, food court and hotel. When it is finished in 2020, it’s expected to be the jewel in Aalborg’s cultural crown – with a 30-metre-high sculpture of glass polygons by Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno.
Nielsen tells me: “Aalborg has recently gained a lot of interesting art and culture, and we are the next important brick, moving Aalborg on to a worldwide perspective.”
• The trip was provided by Visit Denmark, with rooms at Hotel Comwell Aalborg from £117 B&B; and Brøndums, Skagen from £110 B&B. Ryanair flies from Stansted from £54 return. Norwegian flies from Gatwick from £69 return