But as Denmark is the home of “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah), the dictionary definition of which is: “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing”, Christmas in Denmark feels like being wrapped in a big, warm blanket of winter happiness, and Aarhus has all the elements for a great cosy weekend break. I stayed in the Scandic The Mayor hotel in the centre of the town, a great base to get around the sights of Aarhus, most of which you can stroll to easily.
I took a walk from the hotel through streets festooned with glittering white lights to the Latin Quarter, Aarhus’ oldest area, with its narrow, cobbled streets and quaint, half-timbered houses housing a huge selection of cool coffee shops and boutiques showcasing modern Danish design, alongside stylish department stores such as the popular Magazin.
The Salling department store has a huge decked roof garden offering a panoramic view of the city and a cosy café where you can enjoy a warming glass of glogg (mulled wine) and the Danish Christmas delicacy aebleskiver, warm pancake balls filled with marmalade and dusted with icing sugar.
Crafty Christmas types will love the Aarhus Christmas Market (aarhusjulemarked.dk), close to the splendid modern City Hall designed by famous Danish architect Arne Jacobsen, with its clock tower clad in verdigris copper. The market is held in an old equestrian centre and is packed to the rafters with unusual hand-made toys, gifts, clothes and Christmas decorations that are the antithesis of a mass-market Christmas.
An old-fashioned Danish Christmas is celebrated at Den Gamle By (dengamleby.dk), an absolutely mesmerising open air museum whose name means “the old town”, as it has houses brought from all over Denmark, showing how Danes lived in the 1860s, 1920s and 1970s, and peopled by staff in period dress to give a sense of extra authenticity.
I was completely entranced by all these properties dressed in their Christmas finery from the past, with 19th century ladies sewing in front parlours, and craftsmen making clothes and shoes, and found myself a cosy corner in a cottage from the 1920s which I’d be happy to live in forever.
The 1970s part of Den Gamle By will bring back memories of your own childhood, even if you didn’t spend it in Denmark. Poul’s hi-fi shop was full of Christmas goodies from the 70s; big tellies, wooden record players and Abba albums. You can buy 70s cakes – swiss rolls, jam slices – from the bakery; visit a student house, hairdressers and tiny supermarket, and even go to the doctor’s, where I saw a mum trying to explain how to use a rotary dial phone to her bemused 10-year-old daughter.
Sitting in the “town square” of Den Gamle By, watching children play on aVictorian roundabout and playing on stilts, with grown-ups taking part in folk dancing, and watching horses and carriages take delighted tourists around the town is a truly lovely experience.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many smiles in one place as visitors of all ages were able to experience the Denmark of long ago and also share their memories of the recent past, putting a real feel of “hygge” into the air.
As night descends, that cosy feeling continues with a visit to Tivoli Friheden (friheden.dk) amusement park in the Marselisborg Forest, a short bus ride from the city centre. Of course it has the requisite merry-go-rounds, roller coasters and Ferris wheels, but on a Christmas night, it becomes a twinkling wonderland.
There are tunnels of white lights, avenues hung with red hearts, a boating lake with light sculptures that make the surrounding water shimmer as the lights change, and trees festooned with lights.
At Christmas,Tivoli Friheden has an outdoor market with hand-made crafts and great street food. It was lovely to sit around a fire pit, burger in one hand and a spicy glass of glogg in the other, marvelling at how relaxed the whole thing is.
While there’s a lively crowd, it’s not a big one, which means the atmosphere isn’t overwhelming for little ones, who are more than provided for with special shows and rides.
Everyone I met was super-friendly and up for a chat (English is almost universally spoken), which made me feel even more goodwill at Christmas time than usual.
So it’s not surprising Aarhus has been named Denmark’s happiest city, and as Denmark has also been found to be one of the world’s happiest countries, that tells you a lot about how a trip to Aarhus can make you feel.
Ryanair fly from Stansted to Aarhus starting at £9.99 one-way to the end of 2019. ryanair.com. Rooms at the Scandic The Mayor hotel in Aarhus start from £116 a night. scandichotels.com Adult tickets for Old Town Museum Christmas market £15, Tivoli Friheden £16. AarhusCard gives free entrance to more than 25 attractions and free local public transport, from £38 per person. More info at visitdenmark.com