Den Gamle By
Den Gamle By (the Old Town) or the National Open Air Museum of Urban History and Culture is one of the most unique sites in Denmark.
It’s the first open-air museum in the world, having gathered old houses from all over Denmark in one place, in Aarhus, Jutland. The Old Town has been recognized as the best museum at Danish Museum Award in 2009.
The museum was established in 1909 and its main aim is to illustrate the Danish rural lifestyle from 18 to 20 centuries. It is basically the recreation of a Danish market town existing across the country in 1700s. It incorporates more than 70 historic buildings and still expands now.
There are buildings of almost all socially important institutions preserved till today: a pharmacy, a school, a bookshop, a post-office, a bakery, a beer cellar, a boat building yard, and so on.
The library of Den Gamle By accommodates over 100.000 volumes. More interestingly, cakes you buy from the baker’s shop are baked according to Danish recipes from 1885, so this will give you the taste of the old times. Besides the buildings on display, the town has a staff of 120 employees.
In 10 years the Old Town has recorded three million visitors, which makes it a singularly big museum outside the capital city of Copenhagen.
The park consists of three blocks, each dedicated to one time period.
The first and the biggest block is the 1700-1864, the second one is the 1927, and the last part, located on the outskirts of the town displays Denmark in 1974. This part, however, is not completely finished yet.
The number of visitors goes sky high in summer, which usually causes the problem of parking.
If you’re getting to the Old Town by car, be aware that apart from the parking space in front of the entrance (100 spaces), you can also use the parking spaces in the Botanical garden (100 spaces), at “Prismet” (80 spaces), and at Scandinavian Congress Center (2300 spaces).
If you park anywhere other than in front of the entrance, you will have to walk approximately 10 minutes to get to the town. If you are not a walking-fan, try to get there early in the morning.
Tickets and Fees
The ticket prices differ depending on the season. It usually starts from 7 € in winter/spring and goes as high as 18 € in summer. The price for a Christmas ticket is 14 €. There is no admission fee for children up to 17 years old.
After you pay the entrance fee, all houses, museums and galleries inside the park are free of charge. The only exceptions are the restaurants and cafes, where you will have to pay for the food you order.
The town is open to visitors from10 am to 3 pm in winter and extends to 6 pm in summer. Be aware, although you can visit the town during Christmas season, it is closed on the actual Christmas days, including December 24-25 and December 31-January 1.
The town is a wonderful destination in winter, if you plan to explore the old Danish Christmas traditions. However, don’t expect anything more extraordinary than that. The town with longest working hours and access to the majority of houses, museums and eating places operates only in summer. Therefore, this is the ideal time to visit Den Gamle By if you want to witness the real beauty of 18th century Danish lifestyle.
The nice summer weather allows you to stroll in the town in your preferred pace, stop wherever you want and stay outside for hours to enjoy the exterior of the buildings. In addition to that, the town is populated by actors in summers. They are dressed exactly as the 18the century Danes were and lead almost the same lifestyle.
You will need a full working day to quietly explore the Old Town. If time is a luxury for you, be prepared to spend at least three hours to view the key houses.
After staying out in the sun or, worse, in the snow all day, a nice Danish meal is all you need. There are three eating places in Den Gamle By: Simsonsen’s Tea Garden, the Entrance Cafe, and the Lunch Box.
Simsonsen’s Tea Garden
This traditional Danish restaurant welcomes visitors all year round. It serves, of course, smørrebrøds (open faced sandwiches), traditional Danish dishes and lunch packs that you can take with you.
The Entrance Cafe
A cup of cold juice in summer or hot coffee in winter is a dream-come-true for a tired tourist. That dream easily comes true at the Entrance Cafe, which is open in summer and Christmas time.
The Lunch Box
If you don’t want to miss a minute of the magnificent nature, you can take your own lunch with you or get one of the lunch packs at Simsonsen’s Tea Garden. The Lunch box is a picnic area where you can sit and enjoy your own food. There is also a vending machine for hot drinks. Although traditional cuisine is also a must-try, the picnic in nature, especially in the Old Town, will definitely be a memorable experience.
The Mintmaster’s Mansion
The Mintmaster’s Mansion is one of the most beautiful buildings of the Old Town.
It is absolutely elegant not only from outside, but also inside, which is adorned with 1700s luxury and art.
Besides the furniture, and especially King-style bed, the painted ceiling, featuring blue sky and birds, is particularly worth a stare.
The three main rooms of the house are the Hearth Room, the Avian Ceiling Room, and the Tapestry Room. All of them are samples of a unique and at the same time traditional taste.
The Mayor’s House
The Mayor’s House was the first building of Den Gamle By and served as a key house for many years. Even now it stands on the main square, catching the first impressions of the visitors. The house has endured a history of more than two centuries. This is why the influence of all those years can easily be spotted in the interior.
The Toy Museum
Taking into consideration its uniqueness and colors, the Old Town is a fascinating playground for children. They can set their imagination free and enjoy the fairy-tale of the Old Town, where the locals are dressed in two-century-old costumes.
Above all, they can dive deep into the history of the toy history. In fact, this museum is the largest in Denmark.
The toy stock includes around 5000 different toys manufactured and used in 19 and 20 centuries.
Both boys and girls will find interest in the collection. The exhibit displays dolls, steam engines, cartoon heroes, and so on. There are both old and new, urban and rural toys.
The difference between the old and innocent dolls and today’s new sexy Barbies seems enormous here. The museum should be interesting to parents as well. The most creative ones can get new ideas of how to keep their children busy.
Old Elsinore Theater
Another must-see attraction is the Old Elsinore Theater, which was built in 1817. The building was moved to Den Gamle By in 1961.
Today the theater is ready to host temporary plays, shows, and concerts. Check the list of events, and if you can plan your trip at the time of one of them, you will definitely increase the impression that awaits you.
But even if there are no events taking place, it is still recommended to have a pick on the interior. The theater is equipped with modern AV technology.
The Gallery of Decorative Arts
The Gallery of Decorative Arts opened its doors in 2011, welcoming the public to view the finest collection of Danish beauty. It’s a real proof of human artistic spirit sealed in the smallest things around us. The Gallery has three main exhibitions: clocks and watches, silverware, and delftware.
- The first exhibition features approximately 400 watches and clocks. Some of them are quite new, made in the 20th century, others, however, date back to the 14th century. The Gallery claims to possess the finest pocket watch ever made. The creator of that beauty is Girard-Perregaux, a Swiss watchmaker. This golden watch has come to us all the way from the 19th century.
- The next exhibit exposes the silver wealth of Denmark, collected from 44 cities. The silver collection is comprised of 800 items created somewhere between the 16th and the 20th centuries. There are many silver watches displayed in this block featuring nude scenes of women. This style was apparently a popular design on watches back then in 1800s.
- And finally the last block exposes items mainly made of porcelain. The most significant display is the portrait medallion presenting the image of Sofie Frederikke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
The Gallery is the best certification of Denmark’s cultural and artistic heritage. Every single object stands for beauty in proportion and design, as if the Danes of Late Middle Ages and Modern History have turned their household into a show of human imagination.
Danish Poster Museum
The Danish Poster museum looks old and traditional from the outside, featuring the 1974-style design, but new and modern from the inside. The walls of the museum bear the diversity of Danish posters of 18-20 centuries.
The posters have been made in and outside Denmark, all of them communicate different messages ranging from commercial to political.
You should take into consideration that you’ll need at least two hours for a thorough exploration of the gallery. This is in case you don’t become too curious about some of them.
The collection of posters is so big that only 400-500 of them can be displayed at every exhibition. This is why the poster museum is worth the time on your every visit, you will always find something new.
Poul’s Radio and TV shop
Going truly retro, tourists must definitely visit Poul’s Radio and TV Shop, which is located in the 1974 block. You can see how it all started, get amazed at the pace of electronic progress that started with puffy screens and ended in super-thin monitors.
There are also a number of TV sets, radios, and the ancestors of today’s CDs and USB sticks, the classic LP records, Cassette tapes, and everything related to television technology back then. It is also very interesting to see the first samples of TV sets and compare them with today’s gigantic screens, only then the volume of development is fully perceived.
Also, while there, don’t be surprised at the prices, you’re in a shop where some buyers have seen the magic box for the first time in their lives.
- Visit the houses before the sun sets down, otherwise the darkness won’t allow you to see a thing, as the houses don’t have electricity.
- If you are looking for old Christmas only, with the best preserved peculiarities, visit the Town in December.
- Wear the most comfortable pair of shoes, as you’ll be walking a lot that day.
- In winter dress warmly, as outside of warn restaurants and houses, streets are very cold.
- If you want to see the old Danish lifestyle, visit it in summer, when actors with costumes actually live in those houses.
- You can bring your pet along, but it won’t be allowed inside the houses.
- Accessibility features are not provided in the town, but you can acquire a handicap scooter at the ticket office and enjoy the whole town to the fullest.
- Don’t forget your umbrella in summer. The crowd can be quite slow especially at the entrance.
- And finally, make sure to take along your camera and a couple of spare batteries. When else will you have a chance to take a photo in the 17th century Denmark?
Some buildings in Den Gamle By are directly connected to Hans Christian Andersen. One of the historic houses of the Old Town used to belong to Andersen’s neighbors.
He naturally spent a lot of time in that house, and later on, became known for using real people as characters, including his family, friends and neighbors.
It means that while you are quietly walking the streets of the town, remember that some parts have served as an inspiration for one of the greatest story-tellers of all times. Maybe it inspires you as well.
Den Gamle By is a history, developing and extending even today. It lives a life of an ordinary town and keeps the Danish history distinct at the same time.
A stroll through the narrow streets of Den Gamle By is an extraordinary chance to explore the footprints of time and culture. The atmosphere is so real and imposing, that after an hour or two you might feel yourself a stranger in this century.
- Official name – National Open Air Museum of Urban History and Culture
- Year of establishment – 1909
- First item in collection – Mayor’s House
- Time blocks – 1700-1864, 1927, 1974
- Parking spaces – 2600
- Ticket price – 7 € in winter/spring, 18 € in summer, 14 € for Christmas
- Working hours – 10 am – 3 pm in winter, 10 am – 6 pm in summer
- Pets – Allowed in the streets
- Museum closed – December 24-25, December 31-January 1
- Eating places – Simsonsen’s Tea Garden, the Entrance Cafe, the Lunch Box
- Main attractions – Mintmaster’s Mansion, Mayor’s House, Old Elsinore Theatre, Poul’s Radio and TV shop, the Toy Museum, the Gallery of Decorative Arts, Danish Poster Museum
- Awards – Best Museum at Danish Museum Award in 2009