2017's European Capitals of Culture are complete hidden gems

Tell someone you are going to spend a week in Aarhus and you'll likely be met with raised eyebrows and questioning silence.

The name might be unfamiliar to many Americans, but the second-largest city in Denmark has all of the features of other European destinations more commonly trekked by Americans. There is a charming, cafe-lined canal meandering through the city center, a soaring cathedral dating back to 12th century and timbered cottages on cobbled-stoned streets harmoniously juxtaposing with a museum made of rainbow glass.

If that is too much to explain to friends, just say it is one of 2017's European Capitals of Culture.

Each year since 1985, the European Union has named cities that celebrate 'the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe' and 'the cultural features Europeans share.' Since the initiative was developed, more than 50 cities have been awarded the title.

25 PHOTOS
Check out Aarhus, Denmark -- one of 2017's European Capitals of Culture
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Check out Aarhus, Denmark -- one of 2017's European Capitals of Culture
many people sitting at Aarhus Canal in the Midtbyen district
The Old Town in Aarhus, Denmark, is an open-air town museum located in the Aarhus Botanical Gardens. In 1914 the museum opened as the world's first open-air museum of its kind, concentrating on town culture rather than village culture, and to this day it remains one of just a few top rated Danish museums outside Copenhagen, serving more than 400,000 visitors pr. year. Today the museum consists of 75 historical buildings collected from 20 townships in all parts of the country.
buildings at the canal in the city
Glimpse of the open-air museum Den Gamle By (the old town) in Aarhus, Denmark.
Aarhus church HDR
The Old Town in Aarhus, Denmark, is an open-air town museum located in the Aarhus Botanical Gardens. In 1914 the museum opened as the world's first open-air museum of its kind, concentrating on town culture rather than village culture, and to this day it remains one of just a few top rated Danish museums outside Copenhagen, serving more than 400,000 visitors pr. year. Today the museum consists of 75 historical buildings collected from 20 townships in all parts of the country.
La città vecchia di Aarhus The old town of Aarhus, Denmark
Aarhus Domkirke Sct. Clemens Kirke cathedral dates from 1190. The tower is 96 meters high.
Ancient house, open-air museum Den Gamle By (the old town) in Aarhus, Denmark. Detail.
Modernized older buildings along 'Kystvejen' street at the Aarhus harbor.
Rosenholm Castle (1559), Aarhus, Denmark.
Restaurant in Aarhus
restaurants in old houses at dusk at canal Aboulevarden
old and new buildings at street Busgaden Passage at dusk
The 'Old Town' (Den Gamle By) in Aarhus.
Denmark, Jutland, Aarhus, Mollestien street, traditional houses
Old city houses in the city of Aarhus, Jutland, Denmark, Scandinavian
Arhus, Midtjylland, Denmark, Scandinavia, Europe
The church at Thorsager near Aarhus, Denmark
Denmark, Aarhus, three people riding bicycles in forest, rear view
Denmark, Aarhus, view to roofs of city center, view from above
rainbow-panorama walk at museum Aros in the city
A view on a historic building and skyline of Aarhus, in Aarhus, Denmark. The skyline including many buildings and a small part of the harbour of Aarhus. Historic building with clock, transformed into office building.
Aros, Aarhus, Denmark, 2011, landscape
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Aarhus will share the honor in 2017 with another city in EU; Pafos, Cyprus.

In many ways, the two cities are contradictions. Pafos (Paphos) is home to just 33,000 citizens, while 315,000 people live in Aarhus, including a large university student population. Aarhus may be at a lower latitude than, say, Stockholm and Oslo, but it still has chilly Nordic winters. Pafos has exceptionally mild winter months for Europe thanks to its balmy Mediterranean climate.

However, both are known for their harbors and glimpses back at the past. Aarhus was established by vikings around the year 770 AD and at the Jelling Monuments, a UNESCO World Heritage, visitors can turn back the clock and see how vikings once lived.

Pafos is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list thanks to its vast archaeological sites. Once you see the 2nd century mosaics that richly adorn the floors of ruined villas, the remains of palaces and theaters and the Tombs of the Kings necropolis, you'll understand why this city has been invaded by different empires since the Neolithic period. On top of that, Old Pafos is said to be the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite.

So, if anyone asks you why your trip to Europe is off-the-beaten path, tell them you retracing the footsteps of viking kings and Greek goddesses.

20 PHOTOS
Pafos, Cyprus -- one of 2017's European Capitals of Culture
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Pafos, Cyprus -- one of 2017's European Capitals of Culture
Paphos Castle at night with fishing boats, Paphos harbour, Paphos, South Cyprus, Cyprus
Medieval Castle besides harbour, Paphos, Cyprus.
Odeon, 2th century AD, Paphos (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1980), Cyprus. Hellenistic and Roman civilisations.
View of boats in harbor in Paphos
Petra tou Romiou, Aphrodite's legendary birthplace in Paphos, Cyprus.
View over ruined Roman town to the lighthouse, The Agora, Archaeological Park, Paphos, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cyprus, Europe
Petra Tou Romiou, Aphrodite's Rocks
Cyprus celebrates Carnival with fancy dress, parties and a procession through the towns of Paphos and Limassol. It takes place the weekend before the start of Lent.
aphrodite's rock, Petra tou Romiou, cyprus
The archaeological site of Paphos, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cyprus, Europe
The Tombs of the Kings is a large necropolis lying about two kilometres north-west of Paphos harbour in Cyprus. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Sugested tags:Tomb tombs King UNESCO World Heritage site archeological necropolis Cyprus touristical destination colomn pigeon empty sun shade travel Europe greek Doric underground cut into native rock mediterranean
Roman mosaic, Archaeological Park, Paphos, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cyprus, Europe
Cyprus, Pathos, part of the Tombs of the Kings complex - a large ancient necropolis and World Heritage site.
This beautiful memorial was found at the side of the road in Cyprus where anyone can place a symbol of remembrance inside and pray
Secluded beach in spring, near Paphos, Cyprus, Mediterranean, Europe
Small fishing boats in the harbour in Coral Bay, Paphos, Cyprus
This photograph was taken on the island of Cypru
Baths of Aphrodite, place where Godess of Love met her loved Adonis for the first time.
Sea stack and the bay of Petra tou Romiou (Rock of the Roman, or Aphrodite's Roc), Aphrodite's birthplace according to legend, Province of Paphos, Cyprus.
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