Helmets with horns on them, pillaging villages, brute force – these are the things that many people think of when they hear the word “Viking.” However, those images are far from the truth. Horns on the helmets started because of a costume for an opera. And, yes, they fought in battles and had warriors, but, for the most part, they traveled the world to trade, not to invade. The areas surrounding Stockholm and Uppsala in Sweden provide genuine, up-close, interactive ways to see how the Vikings lived, worked, and were laid to rest.
Uppsala, an academic city centering around Uppsala University, is steeped in history, and like most of Sweden, that includes the Vikings. Uppsala has a quaint, yet vibrant feel to it that a lot of university towns have: it’s lively, with a fantastic area for shopping and eating right along the river, yet as you walk around the town, you may suddenly find yourself looking at a runestone, or looking at a Viking helmet. Old Uppsala, where the center was located until the building of the Uppsala Cathedral, is a short train ride away and has an immersive experience for learning about the Vikings.
Gustavianum at University of Uppsala
Currently closed for renovations, Gustavianum houses the university’s archeological artifacts for public viewing. The university has a range of Viking objects, from helmets to jewels and weapons. A large Viking exhibition is slated to open in June 2024.
Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala)
Originally the center of the city, Gamla Uppsala housed a pagan temple and served as a burial ground for royal Vikings. Today, there is an interactive museum on the site that features a VR experience that allows you to step back in time to old Uppsala and see the area as it looked over a thousand years ago. You can also dress up in Viking clothes, complete with a helmet! Old Uppsala is also home to the royal mounds, which date back to the 5th and 6th centuries and are graves of royal Vikings. Stroll the grounds and view the large burial mounds, and, if you’re up for it, walk the Eriksleden trail, which lends stunning views of Uppsala, and winds its way along the Fyris River.
Located less than 30 miles south of Uppsala, Gunnes Gård, a living history open-air museum is on the site of an old Viking farm from the 11th century. The buildings were built where archaeologists found foundations of the original buildings, so you can really get a feel of the actual layout of what an iron-age farm was like. Kids and grownups will love visiting with the hens, pigs, cows, and sheep that live on the farm. While there is no cafe on site, guests are encouraged to bring a picnic, and there is typically a fire burning that guests are welcome to use to cook sausages or other meats to eat while onsite. You’ll also find Bronze Age cairns, burial grounds from the Iron Age, and several rune stones throughout the grounds. Saturdays at 11 a.m., April through October, there are 20-minute shows put on, each with a different theme including house and reconstruction, farm animals, runes, and more.
Stockholm, a city made up of 14 islands, features a bustling Old Town (Gamla Stan), the original city center, filled with shops and restaurants. One of the city’s islands, Djurgården, houses most of the city’s museums, including Vasa, which displays a ship that sank during its first sailing in the 17th century, a children’s literature museum, and of course, a Viking museum. Stockholm became a hub post-Viking era but still houses many Viking-related attractions.
For a fully immersive experience, you must visit the Viking Museum located on Djurgården. Wander the exhibits to learn more about the Vikings and view artifacts from the Viking age. One of the highlights of the museum is the ride Ragnfrid’s Saga, which takes visitors on a Viking journey through Europe and back in the 10th century. The museum includes a gift shop that promotes local, artisanal, and fair trade products, as well as a restaurant. Guided tours are available in English, while audio tours are available in nine different languages. Though not Viking related, the Viking Museum is located along the water, along with the Spirit Museum (alcohol, not ghosts), Vasa Museum (featuring a fully intact 17th century ship), and Junibacken- a museum dedicated to Swedish children’s literature (Pippi Longstocking fans must not miss it!)
Aifur – Viking Tavern
The moment you step through the enticing entrance to Aifur, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time. The dark hall aligned with candles leads you to your host, who will ask your name and where you are from. He will then blow a horn and announce your arrival to the crowd that is dining, which typically is followed with cheers and applause. Wooden benches and candles scattered throughout the restaurant add to the vibe. Enjoy traditional Viking food like King Björns Gillesgös at Birkavis (goose, one of the most common meals during the Viking age), Tore Hjort’s hunting prey with raw lingonberries (venison), as well as vegetarian options, and of course, dessert! You can keep it traditional by ordering a glass of mead to enjoy with your food as well.
Birka and Hovgården
Once the hub of the trading world of the Vikings, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Birka and Hovgarden are peaceful remnants of the Viking age. To get to Birka, book a day trip with Stromma with departures from Stockholm. The two-hour boat ride drops you off for a five-hour visit on Birka, where you can take a guided tour of the 17-acre island, explore the museum, and get a bite to eat at the restaurant. There are over 3,000 burial sites on Birka, including the 1878 excavation of a Viking warrior believed to be a male until 2017 when DNA proved otherwise. The museum has an exhibit dedicated to her, as well as other Vikings buried on the island. Unlike Birka, Hovgarden is accessible via car, however, there are ferries available to and from Birka. Hovgarden was home to the Viking palace, and you are able to see the ruins, as well as burial mounds.
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