Where better to take kids enthralled with Vikings than to their homeland in the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden? Here are three places where they can see actual relics of the world of these medieval raiders and learn about how they lived.
On the island of Birka, west of Stockholm, stand ramparts that are the only major remains of Viking settlement to survive the thousand years since their culture flourished. More than 1,600 grave mounds yielded a wealth of artifacts that reveal much of what’s known about how the Vikings lived. Tours of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are led by archaeologists who paint a vivid picture of how the island once looked. These archaeologists continue to learn more about the culture and life of these people as they interpret the finds in the graves and village, and they’ll share interesting facts with kids — for example, that Real Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets.
A museum illustrates Viking life with models of houses and boats, along with a display of artifacts found in the site and in grave mounds. Birka was a trading center, where rich merchants from Holland and France would have arrived by ship to trade goods from Europe for furs and the fine metalwork the Vikings were known for. A fleet of replica Viking ships anchors here, and blacksmiths, sail weavers and other craftsmen work in the shipyard to outfit and repair the ships.
Look in the little gift shop for books on the Vikings and reproduction jewelry.
In Roskilde, a few miles from Copenhagen, Denmark, the Viking Ship Museum focuses not on the home life of the Vikings, but on their seafaring exploits and the ships they built and sailed. At the heart of the museum are five original Viking ships from the 11th century. These were recovered from the harbor where they had been deliberately sunk to create a barrier preventing attacks from the sea. There’s a lot more here than the hall with these ships and the hands-on exhibits and activities that describe them. The museum includes a full working boatyard where authentic reproduction Viking and other prehistoric ships and boats are built.
Kids can board a loaded merchant vessel, open the barrels to look inside, dress in Viking clothing, see what living on board a ship was like, and imagine themselves as Vikings of 1,000 years ago. In other parts of the museum they can try their hand at Viking crafts and watch ship-wrights, rope-makers and metal-smiths at work. Families can join harbor cruises on some of the historic replicas.
Norway’s capital of Oslo has an entire island filled with sea-related museums and an outstanding living history village your kids will enjoy. But the Viking lovers should first stop at the Viking Ships Museum to see three 9th-century vessels, one of which is the largest surviving pre-Christian artifact in Scandinavia. The restored ships preserve 90 percent of their original timbers. The beautiful decorative work on the 69-foot-long Oseberg Ship is still evident, and because it was used as a burial site for a chieftain’s wife and two others, the gravesite was filled with clothing, textiles, furniture and personal items that give a good picture of Viking life. Also displayed here are the seagoing Gokstad Ship, which could be used under sail or with oars, and the remains of the Tune Ship. Be sure to see the film Vikings Alive for its fascinating look at the artifacts and an animation that shows the process the Vikings used to build one of these ships. Other exhibits and films show how the Vikings lived on their long voyages.
Each of these sites is easy to reach from their country’s capital city, but if you are traveling throughout Scandinavia you’ll find other outstanding Viking sites. An on-site reconstruction of the largest Viking building ever found in Europe is the central attraction of the Lofotr Viking Museum on Norway’s Lofoten Islands, a hands-on living museum where kids can try their hand at the oars of a Viking ship and taste authentic Viking foods. Kids can also experience authentic Viking environments at the Ribe VikingeCenter in Denmark, where there is a Viking farm, marketplace and workshops where they can learn Viking crafts and defensive walls where they can try using swords, shields and longbows.