Den Gamle By’s open-air museum will make anyone feel as if they’re about to bump into Hans Christian Andersen


The sightseeing pleasures of a centuries-old town are irresistible. There’s something to these sorts of towns–cobbled streets, quaint cafes, and shops, handicrafts, the tasty fares on display.  Every old town has a unique charm worth exploring.  However, there is one place in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Aarhus, Denmark, that attracts even greater interest than the usual tourist-friendly attraction. It’s called Den Gamle By, and it’s an open-air museum, the first of its kind when it opened in 1914.

Den Gamle By enthusiastically re-creates history with its carefully chosen 75 original half-timbered houses brought from different corners of Denmark. The ensemble of these buildings reconstructs a provincial market town, harkening back to the time of Hans Christian Andersen.

The beautiful layout of the museum is made to capture the ambience of a typical 18th or 19th century Danish town with squares, streets, courtyards and water features (although part of it re-creates the 1970s.)

Den Gamle By, Aarhus. Author: Zairon CC BY-SA 3.0

Walking around the streets of this time machine, tourists can see and enter poorhouses, almshouses, and pauper’s dwellings as well as noble townhouses and the mayor’s and the mint master’s mansions, which are typically furnished according to the period they represent. Inside the houses one can encounter authentic demonstrations of skills and trades from bygone years, depending on the season. The museum staff take on the roles of various town characters and all are dressed in period costume.

Den Gamle. Author: charlotteshj CC BY2.0

Den Gamle By’s journey back in time is a family-friendly tourist attraction divided into three sections: its largest zone has buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries and it presents rural Denmark as it looked at the times of Hans Christian Andersen. Close to the main entrance are the Eilschou Almshouses and, interestingly, the home that Andersen referred to when he wrote about his first encounter with a hospitable house belonging to an educated class.

Aarhus, Denmark

This area is the home of a tradesmen’s street occupied by a charming bakery that sells delicious treats using original recipes. On this street, visitors can also try their hands in a typical carpentry workshop, or maybe their curiosity would take them to the candle and the hat makers. It is possible to try a traditional garment at the tailor’s.

Wooden trailer in Den Gamle By in Aarhus, Denmark

The second, smaller section presents a typical Danish town from the late 1920s.

Understandably, here the shop windows easily lure visitors inside. Don’t be surprised if some of the sales staff offers you goods more typical of the mid-1920s- it’s part of your Danish time travel! Strolling around this part of Den Gamle By, don’t miss visiting some of the museums.

Den Gamle By – The Old Town Museum

In the Jule Butik Museum, you will find Christmas decorations on display and for sale year-round. In case you’re accompanied by the youngest members of your family, or you’re lucky enough to have kept your childlike spirit, head over to the impressive Toy Museum that has around 5,000 toys on display, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Aarhus, Denmark Old Town

The third, newest part of Den Gamle By is a typical city block from 1974. Entitled the section of Welfare and Open-Mindedness, this area introduces its visitors to a typical living and work environment of Denmark as a social-democratic state during the 20th century. Former tenants and owners of the buildings often help with the furnishing of their past apartments, shops, and offices. Each of them presents a specific lifestyle and furnishing, so for example, visitors can see how a retired couple once lived or Turkish migrant workers or a hippie family.

Den Gamle By – The Old Town Museum

This section is said to be especially attractive to elderly people who well remember Denmark during the 1970s and try to explain and present their past to their grandchildren which accompany them to the visit. Don’t be surprised if you hear some odd discussion about the way a typewriter works!

Townsquare in ‘Den gamle by’ (The old town), Aarhus, Denmark

A place that definitely adds to the authenticity is the gynecologist consultation room, complete with overflowing ashtrays. Another popular spot is the Pouls Radio shop, a perfect demonstration of the Danes’ obsession with intricately designed, pricey sound systems.

View across parts of the Old Town. Author: Volkar CC BY-SA 3.0

The variety of museums continues with the Poster Museum, which offers a multitude of classic Danish posters, promoting tourism, political activism, and much more, as well as a changing display that presents posters from around the world. Additionally, a visit to the Gallery of Decorative Arts provides a deeper insight into the museum’s gems as it contains a rich collection of clocks, porcelain, and silverware.

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If you’ve already dropped the pin on this Scandinavian wonder, have in mind that Den Gamle By’s opening hours, activities, and admission fees depend on the season. Nevertheless, plan to spend at least a few hours in this exceptional open-air museum.