Sustainability in the City of Smiles

April 21, 2019

See Aarhus through walls of water at the Springvand Endless Connection fountain

IMAGE: RUNI Photopop

Aarhus may be Denmark’s second largest city, but there’s nothing else second-place about it. This small metropolis on the Jutland Peninsula is fast becoming a major destination for meetings and conventions, particularly those with a science focus, and it’s also a leading light in sustainability.




‘Capitals talk, 2nd cities act’ is a catchphrase come true here; without the distraction of being the nation’s capital, Aarhus has been able to quietly focus on productive collaboration and excellence. Named European Capital of Culture in 2017, it’s a modern city, and thanks to its high student population and portside location, it’s a youthful, vibrant and international city too, offering culture and retail therapy in abundance. However, it’s also proud of its heritage.


Aarhus was founded around 770 and originally called Aros (‘river mouth’). The Vikings recognised its position at the mouth of the Aarhus River as ideal for a harbour and trading post, and houses gradually spread up the river to Immervad and down to Mejlgade Street (which still exists). The city expanded, first around the Cathedral and then around the large merchant houses after the Reformation. In the nineteenth century, with the harbour expansion and the opening of the railway line between Aarhus and Randers, Aarhus became a goods and transport hub and soon, Denmark's second-largest city.




Bicycle parking at Aarhus Central Train Station

IMAGE: VisitAarhus

Some of this history can still be seen. The impressive Aarhus Cathedral was built in 1201 and enlarged between 1450 and 1520, while Møllestien Lane, a picturesque cobbled street dating back to the Middle Ages, is lined with tiny, half-timbered houses built around 1870-1885. These characteristic, beautiful, coloured houses with their hollyhocks and rambling roses make the Lane well worth a visit. To find out more about the history of Aarhus, visitors can drop into one of the excellent heritage museums, including the Viking Museum, the Old Town Museum and MOMU Moesgaard Museum.


Today, Aarhus is in joint 22nd place on the Global Destinations Sustainability Index and among the top 75 destinations in the world on the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA’s) scale, often hosting conferences with over a thousand plus delegates. But Aarhus is just as proud of its ability to host smaller sustainable events. It wants to leave its unique mark on visitors and ensure their memories of their time there, whether for business or leisure, are all positive. Since Aarhus, the ‘City of Smiles’, is a shining example of Denmark’s welcoming, tolerant attitude and high standards, that should be easy.



The Infinite Bridge circular pier offers spectacular 360° views

IMAGE: Kim Wyon

It’s all about accessibility and sustainability


It’s said that everything is within walking distance in Aarhus, and that’s no exaggeration. It’s a compact city and nothing is more than a few minutes away. However, there are plenty of green public transport options providing great coverage of the city and beyond, and city bikes that are free to rent. The streets in central Aarhus are pedestrianised, but there are plenty of cycle paths through the city and out to the Marselisborg woods, the Deer Park or local beaches. By bike, within 15 minutes you can be at the beach, at the harbour or in the forest.


Visitors can now swim or have a sauna at the world's largest sea water pool, the Harbour Bath, designed by architect Bjarke Ingells and built from sustainable Swedish pine.

Aarhus is within an hour’s drive of Billund and Aarhus airports, which offer direct flights to 540 destinations. For a greener option, regular buses take you swiftly to the city from both airports.


The AarhusCARD offers free transport by bus and the Letbanen (Denmark’s first Light Railway) all over Aarhus and the surrounding Central Denmark Region, including some local trains and airport shuttles to and from Aarhus and Billund Airports. It also offers free admission to more than 25 museums, attractions and activities in and around the city and discounts on shopping.



A bird's-eye view of Aarhus

IMAGE: VisitAarhus

As one of the fastest-growing cities in Denmark, Aarhus recognises that its goal to become CO2-neutral by 2030 needs to go hand-in hand with responsibly planned commercial development and urban growth, and that the majority of the city’s CO2 emissions are not under its control. That’s why its ambitious sustainability strategies, including its Climate Plan 2016-20, were developed in consultation with business and the public sector.


Aarhus provides citizens and businesses with green biomass heating and electricity. Around 1 in 20 of Denmark’s 8000 electric cars can be found in Aarhus, and a quarter of those (around 100) are used by employees of the Aarhus Municipality. The opening of the Light Railway in 2017 replaced diesel trains and buses on the same routes, and there’s an ongoing plan to extend its routes. Citizens have free access to 450 urban cycles and numerous cycle routes. The city council is also introducing Intelligent Traffic Management, upgrading streetlights with LEDs, and working with ’Smart Mobility’, which works to change transport habits through innovative means.


The Council are committed to ‘green renovation’ of existing buildings and sustainable construction of new, energy-efficient ones. Another key strategy is the planting of more woodlands, not only to produce biomass but also to ‘bind’ CO2 and offset emissions.

True ‘waste’ is rare here. Recyclables like glass, metal, plastic, paper, cardboard and batteries, plus general waste, are all separated by residents and collected on their doorstep, with the general waste then burned and turned into district heating. There are also innovative projects like the Swapping Market and ReUse, ensuring clothing and household items are swapped, reused or donated to charity.



Overlooking the Aarhus Concert Hall

IMAGE: VisitAarhus

It’s all about unique, sustainable event options


The VisitAarhus Convention Bureau, in cooperation with the Council and local providers, make it easy to hold any event in Aarhus and can help organisers coordinate different venues, providers and accommodation. With so many hotels, venues and restaurants in a small space, it’s easy to use multiple venues to create the perfect event. This year it will host a range of high-profile events, including the IoT (Internet of Things) Week, which expects over a 1000 delegates. The World Economic Forum believes the Internet of Things could be a game-changer for sustainability, with most current IoT projects contributing to the UN’s SDGs (sustainable Development Goals) and its 2030 mission.


The Council and VisitAarhus Convention Bureau recognise that sustainability isn’t just a logical and moral imperative for Aarhus, but also, increasingly, a competitive parameter for leisure and MICE tourism. Sustainability is also a focus for Aarhus University, which implements initiatives such as providing delegates with reusable bottles rather than plastic, single-use water bottles, replacing conference packs with a selection of printed materials delegate can choose to take, and ensuring much of the food is organic and locally sourced. The University organises a great many events in the city and is therefore an important ‘customer’!


However, this demand for sustainability isn’t a problem for Aarhus, as it’s increasingly competitive in this arena. It offers flexible, high-quality venues in the city centre within walking distance of over 2000 hotel rooms, with 1000 more rooms on the outskirts of Aarhus. 83% of these rooms hold an official eco-certification, as do all of the city’s convention venues. There are 10 convention venues that can accommodate over 500 delegates, some of which can accommodate up to 2000. But the locations available for meetings and conventions in Aarhus aren’t all... conventional.




The green and sustainable sloping roof of the Moesgaard Museum

IMAGE: Jacob Due

Salling ROOFTOP Terrace and MOMU Moesgaard Museum are both great locations for welcome receptions. Salling ROOFTOP terrace has fantastic 360-degree panoramic views of the city. Delegates can enjoy tapas and wine just minutes from their hotel and event venue. The Moesgaard Museum offers not just striking architecture and fascinating exhibitions, but also a marvellous location in beautiful natural surroundings, overlooking the woods and sea. Delegates can enjoy a guided tour of the Museum and then a delicious picnic and wonderful views on the grass-topped roof. And the green doesn’t stop at the roof: this is one of the world's most energy-efficient museums, built with sustainability in mind from the start.


Coveted Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's 'Your rainbow panorama' at the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum

IMAGE: Anders Trærup

The ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, right next to the Concert Hall, will open exclusively for events and has a conference room seating 170. The restaurant (seating 175 people) is located at the top of ARoS with spectacular views of the city and Aarhus Bay. For 175-600 delegates, dinner can be served throughout the museum while delegates tour the museum, enjoy the views from the rooftop terrace and take a walk in ’Your rainbow panorama’- a 150 meter long, circular path with 360º views of the city. The Museum takes sustainability seriously. Around 95% of its lighting is LED, as are all screens and projectors. Its Food Hall and Art Café focuses on seasonal, organic local produce, and serves Fairtrade tea and coffee. Its food waste is collected by Daka Refood, a company that collects and recycles organic waste, and its coffee grounds are used for mushroom cultivation. The Museum implements many sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices, including use of sustainable, eco-friendly materials and cleaning products; reduced paper usage; and internal use of electric bikes.


For a truly unique venue, the Tivoli Friheden amusement park is just a 10 minute trip away by shuttle bus. Its conference venue accommodates 800 guests, but there are smaller meeting rooms and various food options. The park’s ‘Climate Portal’ allows guests to see how much power Tivoli Friheden uses versus the power produced by a 3kw wind turbine produces and some of the rides that can be opened to guests are green too. The Freedom Carousel runs on renewable energy, and the Liberty Carousel is powered by a ‘wind tree’ and three ‘sun trees’. A battery system stores excess energy, meaning the carousel won’t stop when the sun goes down! The sun trees also power the park's information screens and lighting of the entrance area.


If you want to go more conventional, Conference Campus encompasses the two largest venues: the eco-certified Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel Aarhus and Aarhus Concert Hall. Each venue accommodates up to 1,600 conference delegates and offers numerous plenary and break-out rooms.


Currently, a new state-of-the-art conference centre and 500-600 room hotel is being built by the waterfront with room for more than 2,000 delegates, operated by the Nordic hotel brand Scandic and designed by Danish star architect Bjarke Ingels (BIG).



The charming Latinerkvarteret (Latin Quarter) in Aarhus

IMAGE: VisitAarhus

It’s all about sustainable, top-class cuisine


Aarhus is an epicentre hub of food innovation and quality, named the European Region of Gastronomy in 2017. Lonely Planet say Aarhus is “where to go in Denmark if you place food above all else.” Why?


Firstly, it boasts 4 Michelin starred restaurants: Frederikshøj, Gastromé, Substans and Domestic. Also, in Aarhus, it’s easier to list what’s not on the menu than what is: you can find kombucha, seaweed pesto, fried insects, and a range of biodynamic wines. Aarhus’ position, next to the ocean and surrounded by farmland, means fresh seafood and produce is always on hand, and ecology, animal welfare, sustainability, and local produce are key to the majority of the city’s eateries—of which there are many. Aarhus isn’t nicknamed ‘The City of Cafés’ for nothing!


Great food isn’t just found in the restaurants and cafés, though. Aarhus has many street markets and culinary events. The annual Food Festival is the biggest food event in Northern Europe, attracting around 30,000 visitors and offering everything from gourmet picnics to sausage-making workshops.


The city also does well when catering for large groups. Centralværkstedet, built in 1862, was once a Danish State Railways repair shop but can now provide an authentic atmosphere and great food and serve as a meeting venue for up to 900 guests. Dinner can also be served for up to 150 guests in one of the buildings at the Old Town Museum or for 300 at an exclusive opening of the Aarhus Central Food Market, where delegates can choose from the stalls of street market vendors.


Outside of the Isbjerget (Iceberg) situated in the Aarhus Docklands

IMAGE: Kim Wyon

It’s this gastronomic expertise and its reputation as one of the best convention destinations that led to Aarhus hosting the launch of the Michelin Guide Nordic Countries in February 2019 – the first time a city that’s not a capital has hosted this prestigious event.


This combination of sustainable credentials, top-class facilities and cuisine and a warm Danish welcome make Aarhus the ideal location for modern, green business events of all kinds.



Find out what makes Aarhus a world leader in green events by visiting:





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