When thinking of historic Vikings, the mind instantly conjures up images of Beowulf, horned helmets, large ships, and, more to the extreme, Vikings' raping and pillaging. These aspects do not define them, though they were guilty of the latter in some cases. It's important to note that Viking history was written down by the Vikings' enemies, since they themselves did not record their history in books.
Though the Viking name is well known today, few people know the real history of the warriors. To set the record straight, there are some excellent museums in Scandinavia where you can find out everything there is to know about this lost period.
Viking Ship Museum in Oslo
Oslo's Viking Ship Museum forms part of the University Museum of Culture under the University of Oslo. It features various activities and events. The museum itself is situated at the Bygdøy peninsula approximately 10 minutes outside Oslo's city center.
The main attractions at the museum are the Gokstad Ship, the Tune Ship, and the completely whole Oseberg ship. These are the best-preserved ships known. Also on display are fully intact Viking ships and artifacts found from the chief grave at Borre. Among the artifacts found were tools and household goods, which allow for better insight into daily Viking life.
The museum is open Monday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is Nok 50 for adults, Nok 25 for children over the age of 7, and free for children under the age of 7. To get there, you can take bus number 30 to Bygdøy, departing every 15 minutes from the Oslo train station.
Lofotr Viking Museum in Borg
The Lofotr Viking Museum in Borg, Norway, is the place to be if you want a more in-depth experience of how Vikings lived. One of the 15 chiefdoms settled in Lofotr in 500 AD. Excavations brought up the remains of the largest Viking building ever to be found in Europe. The building has been masterfully reconstructed.
At Lofotr, you can join in various activities as well as view original artifacts. You can even see a smithy in action and row a Viking ship. During the main season from June 15 to August 15, broth and mead are served daily in the banquet hall. Book in advance for a full dinner experience served by professionals in Viking costumes. Expect lamb and wild boar on the menu, along with the traditional drink of mead. Guided tours must also be booked in advance.
Hours of operation during the main season are usually 10:00 am to 7:00 pm on Wednesdays and Sundays, but look at the museum's website to confirm the times in season. Entrance fees range between Nok 100.00 and Nok 120.00 per adult. Reach the museum by bus from Svolvær and Henningsvær in the east or from Leknes in the west.
Birka Museum in Stockholm
The Birka Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, on the other hand, is more an archaeological site than a museum. Located on the Bjorko Island in Sweden's capital Stockholm, you can learn all about the people who lived on the island hundreds of years ago. Most importantly, Birka emphasizes archeology as a science, establishing what it can and cannot tell us about history.
Birka was founded in the late 8th century as a trading port and thrived until it was abandoned in the end of the 9th century. There are many speculations as to why. Birka has been excavated over the last few years, revealing graves, iron armor, weapons, and the ruins of a bronze foundry.
The Viking age began in 793 AD when a band of warriors sacked the Lindisfarne monastery, and it ended with the death of Harold Hardrada in 1066. This era is very much part of Scandinavian history, encompassing three northern European kingdoms descended from several Germanic tribes: Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Germanics evolved into Old Norse, and the people became known as Norsemen. It was an age of great battles and rich mythological stories. So if museums aren't your speed, try a guided Viking tour through the area or attend the many annual Viking events. No matter what you choose, you'll be sure to leave with spectacular memories.