SOMEWHERE under the rainbow lies Aarhus. This year, Denmark’s second-largest city has found a pot of gold through the influx of visitors to experience its year as a European Capital of Culture. There’s a packed events programme throughout 2017, but the title was based on the solid existing cultural offering.

The flight from Copenhagen is 40 minutes, or choose the three-hour scenic train journey that takes in the island of Fyn, arriving in Aarhus at the Central Station, right in the heart of the city centre.

It won’t be long before you encounter the city’s most distinctive landmark, the circular rainbow that adds colour to the skies, no matter the weather. This is Your Rainbow Panorama by Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Elias, which has topped the more conventional building that houses the ARoS Art Museum since 2011.

It can be admired from afar and acts as an orientation guide when exploring the city but look closer and tiny figures can be seen animating the artwork. Walking through the rainbow is the climax of any visit to ARoS. The floors below house Warhol’s Marilyn screenprints, Ron Mueck’s hyper-realistic five-metre high Boy sculpture, as well as the Triennial exhibition created for this year, which explores the concept of The Garden across two galleries and spreads into urban spaces, and continuing along the coastal stretch south of the city.

From the rainbow, the silvery grey façade of the Aarhus Town Hall and Clocktower is bathed in every colour, something that might have tickled its architects Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller, who had to combat not only the occupation of the Nazis when it was built between 1938 and 1942, but the views of some Aarhus townsfolk, who were aghast at the building’s modernism.

Those Aarhus residents more fond of a traditional building would have approved of the ongoing construction project that had begun on the outskirts of the centre – and still continues today.

It’s more a case of reconstruction than construction at Den Gamle By (The Old Town), which has been rescuing Danish buildings for posterity for more than a century. Buildings threatened by the bulldozer were moved here to preserve the country’s built heritage in a new village setting. Walking through Den Gamle By is to stroll through the country’s history. The first section of the village is made up of rescued buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, with houses, workshops and shops as well as an apothecary garden. There is an element of living history with some storytellers in period costume. Moving through history, we visit 1927 Denmark, again with some shops and eating places, before arriving at the section where most of the older visitors look a little misty-eyed, a recreation of Denmark in 1974.

Again the buildings have been reconstructed from those under threat of disappearing into landfill and, there is footage of the original occupants telling what it was like to live there. They have also provided everything required to furnish their former homes authentically and in meticulous detail.

Away from the attractions, Aarhus has a compact, easily walkable city centre, with most of the streets and shopping running off the main thoroughfare, Strøget. This sits above the River Aarhus, which allows good stretches of riverbank with cafes, restaurants and bars along its length, called Åboulevarden.

It’s true that some people used to Scottish prices may wince when they hear tales of what a pint or glass of wine costs in Scandinavia. But it is possible to find reasonably priced food and drink – as long as it’s not fine dining that’s required.

Foodies will be delighted to come across Aarhus Street Food, a global mix of stalls selling casual food under the roof of a former bus garage. It isn’t meant to be pretty but it has oodles of character among the stalls offering noodles, Danish specialties, cheesecake, a pitta extravaganza and lots more. Arrive before the hunger sets in, it will take a while to choose.

A pint of the local Tuborg or Carlsberg costs around £4 here – not exactly cheap but not worthy of the horror stories that visitors come back with.

Similarly, over at the Central Aarhus Food Market there are places to sit and eat. Alternatively, you will find here the best possible ingredients for a picnic to take to the park behind the City Hall or down to the beach.

The docklands are still partly under construction but take a trip down to the area known as Aarhus Ø to see how the Danes are reimagining the way that people live in the city. Most harbourside developments are created for those at the top of the income scale but this is a mixed housing development in extraordinary architecture. It also offers residents the equivalent of allotments to grow their own, as well as a beach bar.

Also new to the harbourside is Dokk1, part public administration building, part public library unlike any other – it’s said that Barack Obama has been inspired by its ethos of being a library that uses the whole space of the building as opposed to rooms lined with shelves of books.

The area around Dokk1 has been filled with imaginative play equipment for all ages. It’s typical of Aarhus, which seems to be effortlessly imaginative. It might be the city at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, but this one manages to still feel like home.

Five Aarhus experiences not to miss

Shop: if only because shopping here does offer something rather special. There’s a large mall at Bruuns Galleri, a massive department store, Magasin, and Strøget, an attractive wide pedestrianised shopping street directly opposite the central railway station. However, it’s the cobbled streets and winding alleys of the Latin Quarter and streets such as Jægergårdsgade that have helped to win Aarhus the title of best shopping city in northern Europe.

Pedal: Believe me, if you can’t ride a bicycle, you’re missing out on an integral part of Aarhus culture. There are bikes for hire all over the city and like many European cities, the space given for cycle lanes is much wider than that for those using Shanks’s pony. Public transport is available but it’s by far the most scenic way to head out to the Moesgaard Museum in the suburb of Højbjerg or The Infinite Bridge.

Circle: This is where The Infinite Bridge comes in. Originally created for the Sculpture By The Sea exhibition by the Danish architectural firm of Gjøde & Povlsgaard in 2015, this circular bridge with a diameter of 60 metres is half on the beach and half over the shallows.

Remember: Aarhus was occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War and the small but thoughtfully created Occupation Museum is situated in the building that served as the Gestapo headquarters. Apart from artefacts, there is a detailed and fascinating account of the courageous Danish Resistance Movement and shows what local members did to sabotage the Nazis.

Save: Buy an Aarhus Card for free admission to more than 20 experiences, including all the major attractions. It also gives free bus travel in Aarhus and the Central Denmark Region and discounts on shopping.