At the furthest edge of North Jutland in Denmark is this university city that brings you Viking history, 21st-century architecture and a quaint medieval city centre.
Aalborg’s location on the shore of Limfjord has brought trade to its doorstep for centuries.
In Viking times this narrow channel was a veritable highway for longboats, while the harbour helped turn the city into an industrial powerhouse in the 19th century.
The chimney stacks and waterfront industry have now been replaced by trend-setting regeneration projects and cultural centres.
Here are the best things to do in Aalborg:
1. Lindholm Hoje
Minutes from Aalborg is an extensive Viking burial site marked by stone circles covering an entire hillside.
The majority of these tombs belong to the Viking, but some are earlier, from the year 500 during the Nordic Iron Age.
What has preserved the site so well is the same thing that caused the Vikings to abandon it: Deforestation brought about sand drifts, burying the hillside for centuries. Lindholm Hoje has a superb museum that will shed light on the history of the Vikings in this area with 3D animations and models showing how they kept livestock and cultivated the fields.
Strolling these gardens and in the shade of oaks and beech trees is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a summer afternoon.
There are ornamental ponds and sculptures around the park, and the summer also means public events: Kildeparken is a venue for all sorts of goings-on during the city carnival in late-May. Also spend a few minutes in the Park of Music.
Every time a famous artist comes to the park he or she plants a tree.
Some of these saplings are even wired to speakers so you can push a button to hear their music.
The tradition goes back to 1987, when English crooner Cliff Richard planted the first tree.
3. Budolfi Domkirke
Aalborg’s cathedral was built towards the end of the 1300, but if you step down to the crypt you’ll see stonework that belonged to an even earlier church from the 1100s.
Much of the decoration in the church interior is from the renaissance period, installed when Aalborg was enjoying great wealth through trade.
The altar candelabras for instance were a gift from a local businessman and his wife in 1685.
A few years later the pharmacist at Jens Bang’s house (a grand mansion in the city, which we’ll come to later) presented the church with its pulpit.
Take a moment to admire the organ, which has an opulent baroque facade from the 1750s
Imaginatively housed in a converted former power station, Nordkraft is Aalborg’s main cultural centre.
It opened its doors in 2009, and is a multidisciplinary venue with an independent cinema, theatre, design studios and exhibition space.
If you’re into live music check the listings at Skråen, which has something interesting going on most weeks.
If you’re not here for an event or exhibition you could still spend a while appreciating the architecture of this innovative complex or come to Nordkraft for a meal at one of the three restaurants in the complex.
5. Aalborg Forsvars Og Garnisonsmuseum
This military museum tries to be as interactive as possible, encouraging visitors to get up close to or enter a huge catalogue of vehicles and aircraft.
It’s set in a Second Wold War hangar and holds a collection that touches pretty much every sort of armed force, from army and air force to the police.
These items date back as far as 200 years and alongside medals and documents and tools, include blades and guns (which you aren’t encouraged to touch!).
Aviation enthusiasts will want to make straight for the Danish air force exhibit, charting its history from 1951 onwards with a display of vintage aircraft.
6. Jørgen Olufsen’s House
Three storeys high and blending half-timbering with sandstone walls, this beautiful merchant’s house is held as Denmark’s finest renaissance merchant’s mansion.
It was built for local mover-and-shaker Jørgen Olufsen in 1616, and he went on to become mayor of the city in 1618.
So many original flourishes have survived, like the hoist that was used to pull sacks up to the grain loft.
You can even see an iron bar and hook inside the main gateway, with which customers could weigh their goods. Also here, etched into the stone, are Olufsen’s initials.
7. Jens Bang’s House
A marvellous gabled mansion, this five storey-tall landmark is in the Dutch renaissance style.
It was constructed in 1624 for merchant Jens Bang, who was the half-brother of Jørgen Olufsen, owner of the other renaissance mansion close by.
For more than three centuries this building has been occupied by a pharmacy, which as you might guess is the oldest in the city.
On the gables are sculptures of important figures from Aalborg in the 17th century, including Jens Bang himself.
He’s seen sticking his tongue out towards the Town Hall, supposedly to get revenge for being passed up for public office.
8. Aalborg Waterfront
This part of the city has just been revitalised by the prestigious C.F. Møller studio. Up to the 1980s it was Aalborg’s industrial hub, dominated by shipyards and big factories.
Since those days the shore of the Limfjord has slowly been remodelled as a cultural area, and the New Waterfront was one of the finishing touches.
Bold modern buildings like the Utzon Center, and art and design studio and gallery, are integrated into a quayside where you can come for dinner, take a bike ride next to the water or just read a book on long benches.
9. Aalborg Zoo
If it’s sunny and you’ve got little ones with you a zoo is always a good bet for a successful day out.
Aalborg Zoo also has great conservation credentials, emphasising fair trade, research and breeding programs, which will give some peace of mind to people who have their doubts about animals in captivity.
If you time it right you can see penguins, elephants, big cats, sea lions and other species at feeding time during the summer months.
There are several ethical restaurants at the attraction, as well as spaces for you to bring your own food to cook on barbecues in the zoo’s parkland.
10. Aalborg Historiske Museum
Aalborg has 1,200 years of history, and you’ll be able to get the facts at this stuccoed neoclassical building next to the Budolfi Church.
You’ll find out about life under Nazi occupation, see what it was like to work on a factory floor in the early-20th century and, best of all, get to see the interior of an original renaissance room.
This interior is the bit you’ll remember most; the walls are delicately-carved wood panels embellished with columns and pillasters.
It was made for the Aalborg merchant Niels Christensen in 1602 and donated to the museum in 1897.
11. Aalborg Karneval
The atmosphere at Scandinavia’s largest carnival is one of a kind.
In the last week of May the whole city seems to let its hair down at once and dresses up in all manner of wacky costumes.
It’s a wild time but the carnival is very family-oriented too, putting on a children’s parade and hosting the Kildeparken, full of entertainment, activities and games.
The two main events for grown-ups ate the Battle of the Carnival Bands, and the Grand Parade, which invites carnival groups from around the world, who lead thousands of revellers through the streets, dancing and making merry.
Whatever you think of its design, the Aalborg Tower has been a permanent part of Aalbog’s cityscape since 1933 when it was built for an exposition.
It’s a silver disk at the top of a large metallic frame next to the city’s Modern Art Museum.
The viewing deck is 105 metres above sea level and there’s a bistro up here, so you could order a smørrebrød (Danish open-faced sandwich) to go with vistas that encompass the whole city and all of North Jutland too.
13. The Royal Duty Chamber
Few architects have made such a contribution to Danish cities as Hack Kampmann.
Mostly dating from the first decades of the 20th century, his works include a royal palace, the monumental Copenhagen Police Headquarters and a host of schools, theatres and churches around the country.
In Aalborg he designed the grand Royal Duty Chamber in 1902 in a romantic neo-renaissance style.
On the square in front of the building is a musical fountain built in 2007.
In summer it plays three minutes of Handel’s Water Music, at 12:00, 15:00, 18:00 and 21:00.
14. Lille Vildmose
A day trip for people who want to get back to the wild, Lille Vildmose is an untamed moor southeast of Aalborg.
Pull on your boots to discover the largest raised bog in Northwestern Europe, which teems with wildlife and has been made easy to navigate thanks to boardwalks and viewing towers.
Otters, wild boars, red deer, wild horses and more birdlife than you could hope to list make a habitat at the moor.
In the last decade the park has also reintroduced aurochs, a wild cattle breed that died out in the 1600s and has been resurrected by ‘back breeding’.
Summer in the nearby coastal town of Nibe means cold beers by the water as you watch the sailboats come in and out.
If you’re really daring you could come for a bracing swim in the fjord.
The marina has Blue Flag accreditation, so is the best place in the area if you’d like to charter a yacht for a day or two.
Many come just to soak up the sights of the town, where cosy painted houses open out onto cobblestone streets lit by period gas lights.
Further reading: Denmark’s best places to visit