The Viking Age is undeniably a fascinating period in history, inspiring countless books, films, television shows and somewhat questionable Halloween costumes. Characters such as Ragnar Lothbrok and Leif Erikson have become household names, while Norse Gods are not only subjects of old legends but modern blockbusters. Viking Museums help shed some light on this period which is often misunderstood, debunking many famous myths while showing a multifaceted view of early medieval Scandinavian life.
Here are ten of the best Viking museums across Europe, ranging from open-air museums where history is re-enacted to Viking ships and buildings that survived the elements.
1. The Viking Ship Museum
The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde is the home of five world famous Viking vessels – the Skuldelev ships. They were deliberately sunk in Roskilde Fjord around 1070 in order to protect the Viking settlement from an enemy attack from the sea. Excavations in 1962 uncovered these ancient boats, allowing us to better understand the Viking way of life. The ship turned out to be five different types of vessels ranging from cargo boats to ships of war.
2. Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre is a historical visitor attraction in York displaying a reconstructed Viking city as it would have looked in approximately 975 AD. The Centre has paid attention to every detail, even recreating some of the smells that might have been encountered in the old Viking settlement. The following museum features a selection of 40,000 well-preserved Viking items found in and around York by archaeologists between 1979 and 1981, with exhibits manned by ‘real life’ Vikings.
3. Hedeby Viking Museum
The Hedeby Viking Museum is one of the most significant archaeological museums in Germany. Located on the outskirts of the Viking’s former trade centre, the exhibition presents original findings, models and media to place the site in its historical context of some 1,000 years ago.
One of the most striking displays is ‘Wreck 1’, which, until recently, was thought to be the longest war boat from the Viking period. It sank around 1,000 AD in Hadeby harbour, and though only a small section has survived, a full-size model demonstrates what its original dimensions should have been.
4. The Viking Museum at Ladby
The Viking Museum at Ladby in Denmark houses the Ladby Burial Ship, a Viking ship grave found there in 1935. Dating back to around 925 AD, it is believed that the ship is the burial site of a prince or other leader, such as a chieftain. The vessel was hauled to the top of the hill and filled with burial goods.
Displaying the Ladby Burial Ship amidst a series of other excavation finds, the Viking Museum at Ladby offers an insight into the history of the Vikings and their lives in the area.
5. Lofotr Viking Museum
Located on the Norwegian island of Vestvågøya, the Lofotr Viking Museum was created following the discovery of a major medieval longhouse. It is the largest Viking era building in the country, measuring 83 metres in length. Archeologists believe the house was constructed around 500 AD, and in continuous use for the next 400 years. The museum includes two permanent exhibition halls and a film theatre, displaying the unique findings and excavations from the village of Borg.
6. Foteviken Museum
This Swedish open-air museum houses a reconstruction of a Viking Age settlement, where visitors can take part in living history re-enactments. Founded in 1995, the extensive premises house a wooden watchtower, a gatehouse and many everyday buildings that were constructed using medieval materials and techniques. For any hungry visitors there are also modern restaurants and cafe’s.
7. The Viking Fortress Trelleborg
Trelleborg is one of the best-preserved of 4 circular Viking fortresses in Denmark, and is located near Slagelse in Northwest Zealand. Established by Harald I, a famous Viking king also known as Harald Bluetooth, the collection of circular fortresses is believed to date back to the 10th century and would have been heavily defended by an army of warriors led by Harald I, who was the son of Gorm the Old.
The open-air museum features a longhouse reconstructed in 1948 and visitors can take part in activities reminiscent of Viking life, such as baking flat breads, firing a longbow, or carving your name in Viking runes.
8. Moesgard Museum
Amongst its impressive collection, the Moesgard Museum houses the Grauballe Man – the incredibly well-preserved mummy of a prehistoric man believed to have lived around 2,000 years ago. The body was found in a nearby bog – the composition of which is the reason why the body is so intact. Investigations have found that the man had died a violent death, with his throat having been slit and his left tibia broken. It is thought this might have been a human sacrifice.
The Moesgard Museum also has an impressive collection of runes on display. These are stones bearing the runic alphabet, Scandinavia’s earliest form of written language. The runes at the Moesgard Museum date back to around 200 AD.
9. The Viking Village on Bukkøy
The charming reconstructed Viking settlement of Bukkøy is open to visitors during the summer months, allowing visitors to get a sense of what early medieval Scandinavian life must have felt like. The Norwegian village consists of a farmhouse, a longhouse, a boathouse and several other types of buildings, surrounded by a wooden fence-wall.
10. Viking World Museum
This Icelandic museum houses a permanent exhibition about the Íslendingur, a replica of the Gokstad viking ship which was sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 2000 to celebrate a millennium since Leif Ericsson’s voyage to the ‘New World’. The modern and sleek looking museum is also the home of other Viking related exhibitions, which will be a delight to any fan of this fascinating time period.