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Aarhus versus Copenhagen: The differences (and similarities) between Denmark’s two largest cities

The capital of Denmark and the biggest city in Jutland. There’s a lot more than the three-hour journey between them to distinguish the two largest Danish cities, Copenhagen and Aarhus.

Aarhus versus Copenhagen: The differences (and similarities) between Denmark’s two largest cities
Images from Aarhus (L) and Copenhagen. Photos: Malik Skydsgaard on Unsplash / Razvan Mirel on Unsplash

New York or LA. Sydney or Melbourne. Oslo or Bergen. In many countries, picking between the two major cities often turns into a contest of culture, a question of lifestyle and a matter of preference. 

Copenhagen has often dominated as the most famous and influential Danish city, but Aarhus has had a run on the capital in recent years, undergoing development and growth. It was the European Capital of Culture in 2017.

Each is a quintessentially Danish city which represents the country well. I’ve spent several years living in both and can’t pick a favourite, but they each have their own distinguishing charms and features.

READ ALSO: Why Aarhus is worthy of all of the hype (2016)


Once you understand Danish at almost any level you can hear the difference between the Copenhagen and Aarhus dialects.

To give an example, the Copenhagen accent (københavnsk) can put a ‘break’ or stød into the middle of a word so the tone changes during the vowel, effectively breaking pronunciation of the word into two halves. Dør (“door”) pronounced this way can sound more like dø-er.

Aarhusiansk sounds different not just in its rhythm but in certain pronunciations. For example, the letter o is replaced by the deeper å in some words, such as sort (“black”) which can sound more like sårt.

There are words and structures which are more common in one dialect than the other. In Aarhus, you’re far more likely to hear something described as træls (“tiresome, annoying, a nuisance”). When you hear træls in Copenhagen, you can probably guess with a reasonable level of confidence that the speaker is not in fact from Copenhagen, but from Aarhus or somewhere else in Jutland.

If you ask people where in Denmark they are from, a native of Aarhus might say fra Aarhus af (“from Aarhus”, but more literally “from of Aarhus”) whereas a Copenhagener will just say fra København, omitting the superfluous af.


Copenhagen’s central lakes link neighbourhoods on one side of the city to the other, spanning from Vesterbro in the west to Østerbro in the east, with the historic Inner City and diverse Nørrebro districts also on each side of the shallow lakes.

These lakes form a breathing space in the centre of Copenhagen where hundreds of city residents use them each day to go for a walk or run. In the summer, the popular bridge Dronning Louises Bro takes the character of a park as Copenhageners sit on its rails and benches to share a beer or listen to music.

Copenhagen’s lakes. Photo: Mathias Svold/Ritzau Scanpix

The closest literal equivalent of this in Aarhus is the section of the canal between Mindeparken and the central square Store Torv, but it’s a far less popular spot. Unlike Dronning Louises Bro, which connects two busy but distinct parts of the city, the Aarhus canal doesn’t have naturally heavy footfall.

Aarhus doesn’t have one place that immediately springs to mind when you think of a place in the city centre to go for a run, walk or to congregate within the city space. Instead, it has several alternatives: the University Park, the area around the Dokk1 library and the redeveloped harbour, and the small grassy hill on Graven street in the Aarhus Latinerkvarter “Latin Quarter”.

The latter spot, occasionally dubbed “Hipster Hill”, is a popular space to gather on warm summer evenings, just like Dronning Louises Bro in Copenhagen.

Other natural spots

Both cities are remarkably close to nature with easy access to parks, forests and the sea. Both have a botanisk have (botanical garden) and a dyrehave (“animal park”, a protected park where wild animals, particularly small deer, freely roam).

The Copenhagen versions are both somewhat larger than their counterparts in Aarhus, but all are a good size.

They also both have beaches within the city limits: Amager Strandpark and Bellevue Strand in Copenhagen; Den Permanente and Marselisborg Strand in Aarhus (the latter is home of the Uendelige bro “Infinite Bridge”).

Just outside Copenhagen, you can trek and camp in the expansive Naturpark Amager. South of Aarhus, the 7-kilometre forest belt Marselisskoven awaits.

They might be the two biggest conurbations in Denmark, but both offer fresh air and natural surroundings in spades.

Aarhus’ Infinite Bridge. Photo by Jona Troes on Unsplash


It’s not easy to say something authoritative about the difference in the “vibe” between the two cities, because all individual experiences will be subjective. Mine is that Aarhus feels more laid back and relaxed and is comfortable with its status as a small city (despite being Denmark’s second largest) because it has so much to offer relative to its size: culture, nightlife, nature and more.

This hasn’t always necessarily been the case. When I first lived in Aarhus in the late 2000s, there was less to do and there seemed to be more of an inferiority complex towards Copenhagen. Aarhus has flourished since then and is now more aware of what a great place it is to be, without needing to live up to anywhere else.

As for Copenhagen: while also small on a relative scale (compared to Berlin, London or Paris), it is probably the coolest city in Scandinavia and still the place many people aspire to be.

Copenhagen feels like a big city despite its relatively diminutive size for a national capital: It has distinctive neighbourhoods with palpably different personalities, busy traffic and people in a hurry on the Metro and S-train. It’s just about big enough to swallow you up, which I don’t think you can say about Aarhus. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but I liked it. At the same time, it still feels like a very “liveable” city.

READ ALSO: Copenhagen ranked ‘best city for quality of life’ for first time in seven years (2021)

Size and infrastructure

As mentioned above, the difference in size between Copenhagen and Aarhus is an important part of what gives them distinct personalities as cities.

Aarhus has a population of 361,544 in its municipal area according to latest figures. The Copenhagen municipality is nearly twice as populous with 653,664 and if you add the population of Frederiksberg – a separate municipality but geographically part of Copenhagen – the number rises to 758,328.

Copenhagen becomes larger still when outlying municipalities, often referred to as Vestegnen (the “Western Area”) are brought into the equation as part of the Greater Copenhagen metropolitan area.

You can spend a lot longer travelling through urban sprawl in Copenhagen before reaching somewhere that looks rural. You can do this on the S-train, an equivalent of the overground rail services in London or Berlin’s S-Bahn, or on the newer Metro which recently added two new lines and is set to continue to grow.

In contrast, Aarhus has city buses and a light rail which was constructed in the 2010s, opening in 2017. It’s not universally popular but has made local transport more convenient in the part of the city it covers.

Cost of living

The worst thing about living in Copenhagen is its impenetrable rental housing market and the painfully high rent once you – after months of perseverance – find an apartment.

This situation has not been made any better by the inflation and energy crisis, although the government has limited landlords from hiking up rent in line with current inflation, capping rent increases at 4 percent.

Data shows that Copenhagen is significantly more expensive to rent housing than anywhere else in Denmark, albeit with one possible exception: Aarhus.

For those looking to rent subsidised housing (almene boliger), it can take years to get to the top of waiting lists in either Copenhagen or Aarhus. In smaller cities you might get an offer in weeks or even days.

This means many newcomers to Denmark must turn to the private rental market if they are living in either of the two main cities.

A study conducted by housing research centre Bolius in November 2020 found the cost of a 56 square-metre apartment in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district to be 8,536 kroner per month.

Aarhus was not included in the study, so direct comparison isn’t possible. In third-largest city Odense though, there is a significant saving on Copenhagen with 8,488 kroner, a similar rent to that in Nørrebro, getting you an apartment over 50 percent bigger at 82 square metres.

Anecdotally based on personal experience: it is easier to find an apartment in Aarhus than it is Copenhagen, and a little cheaper. But that makes it neither easy nor cheap, and the difference seems to be narrowing.

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For members


Six useful products I discovered in Denmark

Denmark is well known for its tradition for high quality design, but which products make a difference to everyday life?

Six useful products I discovered in Denmark

Inbuilt bike locks 

There’s no need to carry around a heavy and impractical chain to lock up your bicycle in Denmark, as these all come fitted (or you can cheaply add) an inbuilt lock on the frame of the bike.

The lock is the form of a circular bar which is released by a key and goes between the spokes of the back wheel, meaning it can’t be turned when the lock is in the fixed position.

This way, bikes can be locked while still standing freely – which is just as well, since there are not enough railings and bike stands in the country to accommodate the many, many bicycles.

Of course, a locked bike can, in theory, be picked up and carried away even if the wheel doesn’t turn and unfortunately, this does happen sometimes. But not enough to undermine the public trust in bicycle wheel locks.

Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Rain trousers

Rain trousers/pants (regnbukser) can be bought on their own or with a matching jacket as part of a regnsæt (“rain set”).

These waterproof pants are a novelty to those of us who don’t come from bicycle cultures, but after your first rainy day cycling commute leaves you at the office with drenched trousers, you’ll understand the appeal.

They are designed to fit over your regular trousers and can be stretched over the top of your shoes and held underneath them with a piece of elastic attached to the bottom hem.

While primarily designed for cycling, they also come in handy for walking around during Denmark’s regular spells of cold, damp weather.

Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

READ ALSO: Essential rain gear for a wet Danish winter (and spring, summer, autumn)

The flatbed toaster

There’s something indefinably satisfying about putting two slices of bread in a toaster and waiting for the ‘ping’ as they pop up, warm and ready for spreading.

However, there’s no getting around the fact that toasters are a bit impractical when it comes to thick slices and rolls.

Of course, you can also warm bread in the oven, but it’s more hassle and not for quite the same result.

Enter the flatbed toaster. This device is much more popular in Denmark than the pop-up version and enables easy, simultaneous warming of several slices of bread of various shapes and sizes – including of course, the national favourite, rye bread.

Pro tip: turn the dial less for toasting the second side of the bread, because the element will already be warm. This way you avoid burning the second side.

Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The cheese slicer

Cheese products popular in Denmark include havarti and the Cheasy range from dairy Arla.

These are both soft cheeses and should be cut with an ostehøvl (cheese slicer), a quintessential Danish kitchen utensil.

There are two types of ostehøvl: a wire-based type and a version that looks a bit like a trowel, with a raised edge and a gap in the middle for the sliced cheese to pass through.

Cutting Danish soft cheese with a knife will turn the block into a crumbling mess, so in this setting you can’t really avoid using the specialised slicers. And while their usefulness is diminished for something like cheddar, there are plenty of softer cheeses in other countries that would surely benefit from being set about with an ostehøvl.

One thing to be aware of: injudicious use of the slicer can cause a “ski slope” cheese block, creating uneven slices and leaving one side of the block thicker than the other. Slice evenly.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark produce so much cheese?

Foam washing cloths for babies

If you’re a parent and have found yourself struggling with a pile of dirty wet wipes or cotton pads after changing your baby, you may have found yourself wondering if there’s another way.

In Denmark, there is: the engangsvaskeklude (disposable washing cloth) comes in tightly-stuffed packets of 50-100 small, square foam cloths, around 20 square centimetres in size.

The cloths are made from thin slices of polyether foam, a type often used in sofa cushions. Manufacturers say it is better for the environment than other types, and the advantage against wet wipes is they are perfume-free.

They just need to be made damp with a splash of lukewarm water, then you’re ready to wipe – they tend to have a good success rate for picking up baby poo.

A sticker saying ‘no thanks’ to junk mail

We’re talking about physical junk mail here, not the type that goes into your email spam box although if there was a sticker for this, I’d be at the front of the queue.

The reklamer, nej tak (“advertisements, no thank you”) sticker can be ordered from FK Distribution, the company which operates Denmark’s tilbudsaviser (“special offer newspaper”) deliveries. These result in piles of paper leaflets, detailing offers at supermarkets, being pushed through letter boxes every day.

These leaflets are useful for bargain hunters, but many people take them out of their overfilled letter box and dump them straight into recycling containers. If you have a nej tak sticker on your letter box, you won’t receive any of the brochures in the first place.

You can also choose a sticker which says “no thanks” to adverts but excludes the offer leaflets, so you can cut down on the junk mail while still keeping abreast of good deals.

Have I missed any good ones? Let me know.