Rowing at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum, Denmark

Roskilde is a pretty little town with a population of about 48,000 in West Zealand, Denmark. About 35km west of Copenhagen, it offers over 1,000 years of history, and is one of Denmark’s oldest medieval towns.

One of the main attractions to see here is the Viking Ship Museum (Vikingeskibsmuseet). The museum was built to house and preserve the remains of five 11th-Century Viking ships excavated nearby. And preserve them, they have. 

Roskilde Nordic boats

One of the preserved Viking boats

The Viking Ship Hall is the oldest part of the museum. It’s also where you will find the remains of the five excavated ships. Each ship had its own purpose, and cover three major aspects of Viking life: trading, fishing, and war.

Viking Ship Museum

For example, this one, labelled as “Skuldelev 3” or Roar Ege was a coastal trading ship, built around 1040 AD. It was built using Danish oak and is the best preserved of the five ships on display. 75% of the hull was found intact:

The reconstructions of the five boats, including Roar Ege, can be found in the harbour. They were all built using copies of Viking Age tools and following the ancient techniques, to the best of today’s knowledge. But reconstructing these boats wasn’t all fun and games. Roar Ege alone took over 20,000 man hours to build, with 5000 spent on the ropes and hand-woven wool sail!

The museum’s experts conduct what’s known as “experimental archaeology”. They try to determine things like how the ships were built, what materials were used for the sails and ropes, etc. Basically, they get to play with stuff until they think they’ve got the ancient techniques figured out.

Here’s a reconstructed loom, for example:
The museum also houses an impressive collection of archaeological finds and temporary exhibits.

But the museum is more than just the one building. In fact it’s made up of several outbuildings demonstrating everything from blacksmithing and woodworking, to ropemaking. When we were there, the blacksmith, who was also the falconry expert, had a few gorgeous birds of prey on hand for photos and demonstrations.

Admission in high season (May-October) is 130 DKK or about $25 CDN for adults (2017 price list). That includes a free guided tour of the museum itself if you want it, but extras are, well, extra. For example, the 45-minute boat trip is 100 DKK, or about $19 CDN. BUT. The boat trip should seriously be mandatory. Why? Because you get to sail in a full-scale reconstruction of a traditional Nordic boat, which everyone has to help row and set the sail on. How cool is that? I’ll tell you: it is very, very cool.

Reconstructions of traditional Nordic boats

Let me tell you, this wasn’t easy work. The wooden oars are heavy and you have to be mindful not to get clocked in the head by the sail. (I needed considerable help with my oar from the kind gentleman in front of me.) But it’s an amazing feeling to be out on the water, watching other amateur sailors hoisting the sails and attempting to row in unison.

The museum also has a handicraft area where you can learn coin minting, paint your own shield or make jewelry. I put together a pretty glass-bead bracelet for myself as a souvenir. Well, ok maybe those crafts were really geared for kids, but I didn’t care. My bracelet is awesome and was a great, inexpensive take-away gift to remember the day.

All that rowing and fresh air made us hungry, so we decided to have lunch at the museum. The food at the Viking Ship Museum’s Cafe Knarr is worth the price of admission alone. It offers an edgy menu of dishes incorporating Viking-esque ingredients with modern twists. Note that the menu below is from our visit in 2014, which also changes seasonally. The current menu can be found here: Cafe Knarr menu

We decided to go medieval (har har) and ordered the Ship’s Plank+Mead. It cost 155 DKK (about $30 CDN) and was basically a charcuterie board. But where else will you get to nosh on things like salmon rilette with apple and capers, juniper-cured beef with pickled sea buckthorn, and Nordic cheese served with rustic rye bread and a glass of sweet, migraine-inducing mead? I topped off my meal with a plate of skyr (Icelandic yogurt cake) with sea buckthorn sauce. To die for man. Seriously.

Roskilde Cafe Knarr

The Ships Plank and a lovely glass of mead

A town as old as Roskilde of course offers other numerous museums, including the Roskilde Museum, Galleri Labr (modern art), Roskilde Convent, Roskilde Cathedral (a UNESCO site), the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Glasgalleriet (glassblower and gallery). And we didn’t see any of them because the Viking Ship Museum took up most of the day. But it was worth it.

Festivals and Events: For music, the Roskilde Festival is probably its best claim to fame. Started in 1971 by two students, the four-day festival has been going strong ever since, becoming one of the largest music festivals in Europe. It’s usually held at the very end of June-beginning of July.

Getting There: The easiest way to get to Roskilde is by train. The trip takes about 25 minutes, leaving from Copenhagen’s Central Station (København H). The town is small, and therefore very walkable from the train station, but local buses also stop at the train station if needed.

*Original post from 2014 updated in 2017 to include additional photos and updated admission prices.

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