Exploring Viking Roots at Viking Museums Around Scandinavia
WHERE TO LEARN ABOUT VIKINGS IN DENMARK AND NORWAY
(Originally posted in 2015, updated June 2018)
Or where to go to learn about your fierce ancestors in Scandinavia. Not your ancestors you say? Could be! Read my last post for a wee bit of ancestral insight. So when in Rome – you know – you learn about Romans. And Italians and the Renaissance and such. (Can’t wait to show my kids!) When in Scandi-land, you learn about Vikings. And at every turn, there seems to be a Viking Museum. Ok, slight exaggeration. But we’ve been to three in the past 7 months. Not because we’re obsessed with the axe-wielding, long-haired, long-boat rowing, ancient warrior nation. I mean – I adore THOR. Especially Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of Thor in the modern Marvel adaptation of the Avengers. We almost named our first born son Thor. Almost. Not really. But it is a good story. Ask me sometime. And there’s Oden (Thor’s dad) who gets his own day here – every week – on Onsdag. Or Wednesday in Danish. He inspires me to wander.
INSPIRED BY VIKING CULTURE
But the Vikings are inspiring. Why? Don’t think so? Only know their legacy as being a fierce warring society who negotiated through battle? Not your thing? Thor’s Hammer is pretty infamous. But as it turned out, even with their nomadic warring ways, there was enough social structure to allow for stratification of their society. As an Art Historian… oh yeah – did I tell you I studied Art History? And taught kids about master artists and cultures? I didn’t? Oh. Consider yourself learned. Anyway – as an Art Historian, I can place a higher value on a civilization able to create beautiful artwork in the midst of a seemingly nomadic and chaotic culture such as the Vikings. Not only the amazingly beautiful and seaworthy vessels in which they crossed great expanses of water (FRIGID at times) that exhibited greatly skilled woodworking. But numerous examples of metalsmithing and goldwork and weaving and tapestries worthy of lauding and study. Scintillating to me! Yawns from my kids. Yawns from you too? Look at the pictures, maybe I’ll sway you.
Ok – so you aren’t an Art Historian. And you have kids. Maybe your kids are like my kids and don’t LOVE museums. And you are just a tourist, short on time and just want to know WHICH Viking Museet to visit. Ok. I hear you. The following offers a wee review of the following three:
Now there are Viking exhibits at the National History Museum in Copenhagen and it will give you great insight into the Viking culture as well, if you are looking for something more along your Baltic cruise tour route or hadn’t planned on excursioning out of Copenhagen. But I haven’t been there yet, so won’t include its review.
If I could take the best of all three and put it into one museum – I would advise you to go there. Alas – here are the pro’s and cons of each of the aforementioned museums.
Vikingeskibs Museet i Roskilde | Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark
Vindeboder 12, DK-4000 Roskilde
Open Daily | 10:00 – 16:00
Summer and holiday hours | 10:00 – 17:00
Closed 24, 25, 31 December
Admission | Varies between 80 DKK and 130 DKK depending on time of year. Children under 17 are free.
This was our first Viking Museum experience. It was a cold, but sunny day trip to Roskilde in late December. The Ship Museum sits on the water with great views of the Roskilde Fjord (this is no Norwegian Fjord with majestic cliffs, but on the water nonetheless.) Housed in the main room with large windows overlooking the Fjord are the partially restored remains of vessels reclaimed from the depths of the water outside. Impressive in their size, if not representation. I have found it harder for children to fill in the “missing” parts in their head and recreate the entire vessel themselves. There are several dioramas explaining the events that necessitated the sinking of the displayed vessels and it was our first foray into who’s Vikings were “better” or “worse.” Roskilde Museum and the ships therein are from an attack on Danish Vikings by those pesky Norwegian Vikings who would later be under Danish rule until the Swedes took over. Did you know modern Norway was not independent until 1905? I didn’t. But that’s another history. A full representation of the main ship sits outside on the lawn, but proximity to the main museum made it difficult to connect the parts inside for the children. In the warmer months, there is an outdoor shipbuilding section where visitors can watch restoration. And my son was able to row in one of the available vessels with classmates on his secondary school trip this spring. You can too if the weather is right. Check in advance. My tween daughter’s favorite part of this museum was the try on Viking clothes opportunity and spell your name in runes activity. I appreciated the hands-on possibilities here in Roskilde.
Vikingskipshuset på Bygdøy | Viking Ship Museum, Oslo, Norway
Museum of Cultural History, Frederiks gate 2, 0164 Oslo Norway
Open Daily |
1 May – 30 September 09:00 – 18:00
1 October – 30 April 10:00 – 16:00
Admission | Adults: NOK 100; Students/Seniors: NOK 80; Children under 18: Free
When in Oslo – buy the Oslo Pass. (I’ll break it out for you why in a future post. Just trust me now.) With it you have access to the Viking Ship Museum on Bygdøy. If you don’t buy the Oslo Pass – I would advise passing on this Ship Museum with kids. (Or if its the only Viking Museum you’ve planned on your Scandinavian tour – then hit it.) I will admit that it is the best representation of a fully restored Viking vessel. The main ship and the restored woodwork is beautiful. There are many accompanying artifacts exhibiting the amazing skill and artisanry that was accomplished at this time. But that is the Art Historian in me talking. My kids were bored. Yes – the ship is BIG. And the woodwork is amazing. But there is little to integrate or interest or engage children here beyond the gift shop. Of the three ship museums we visited on the Bygdøy museum loop (not including the Maritime museum) this was lowest on their list.
Vikingemuseet Ladby | Viking Ship Burial, Ladby, Denmark
Vikingevej 123, 5300 Kerteminde Denmark
Opening Hours |
September – May: Tues – Sun 10:00 – 16:00
June – August: Every day 10:00 – 17:00
Admission | Adults: 70DKK, Students or Groups 60DKK, Children under 18 free.
This was our most recent escapade during a weekend outing on Fyn – the beautiful island between Sjælland (where Copenhagen sits) and Jutland (the part of Denmark attached to continental Europe.) Ladby is but a spot on a map outside the darling town of Kerteminde where we stayed. At this museum, the child is king. Integrated activities lead the interested child around the entire property which is known for the 900 AD burial mound of an ancient Viking ruler. Interesting exhibits show the full-scale scene when the King would have been buried. See this first before visiting the underground lair where the original vessel has never been moved. (NOTE: to small children the life-size horses shown bloodily slain and piled in the vessel with the dead king and his dead servant (all to help him with the journey to Valhalla you know) may be disconcerting. If you know this of your child, maybe skip the downstairs section of this museum.) The rest can be enjoyed without it. Super fun for all my kids – even the snarky teenagery one – were the little Viking ship wagon carts to tow them the 400 meters out to the burial mound. Kids who are interested can answer questions marked around the site and using Thor’s “Mjølner” hammer to nail through the correct rune and return to the front desk for a prize at the end. On certain days in the summer – look on the website – but Thursday (THOR’S DAY) was one of them for sure – there are even more orchestrated activities for children. We were sad to miss the archery tent on the lawn below the mound. Take a picnic and let the kids roll down the hill, play on the little rocking horses or climb on the dragon. PS – its FREE for kids under 18. And only 70 DKK for adults. A bargain by Danish standards.
All in all – learning about Vikings should be fun, engaging and educational. Right? When Ladby’s reconstruction of the buried ship is completed in the shipyard – it will be a perfectly well-rounded Viking experience. Maybe only some bearded guys with shields and axes could be better. Have you been to these? Did you family enjoy? Been to a better one that I might be able to convince my kids to check out? Please share below. If you have any other questions, I’m happy to try to help. Below are more glimpses of kids enjoying Ladby. Cheers from Denmark! – Erin