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 Roskilde 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.
Here’s a close-up of the ancient Viking’s craftsmanship. It looks pretty water-tight to me!
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.
For example, this one, the “Skuldelev 3,” or Roar Ege, was a coastal trading ship, built around 1040 AD. The Vikings built it using Danish oak. It’s also the best preserved of the five ships on display. Incredibly, 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 “experimental archaeology”. They try to determine things like how the Vikings built the ships, what materials they used for the sails and ropes, etc. Basically, they get to play with stuff until they think they have the ancient techniques figured out. Doesn’t that sound like a fun job?
Here’s a reconstructed loom, for example:
In addition, 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, the museum has several outbuildings where you can watch demonstrations on everything from blacksmithing and woodworking, to rope making. When we were there, the falconry expert (who was also the blacksmith), showed off a few gorgeous birds of prey for photos and demonstrations.
Row, Row, Row a Boat
The Viking Ship Museum also offers optional short boat tours. BUT. The boat trip should seriously be mandatory. Why? Because you get to sail in a full-scale reconstruction of a traditional Nordic boat. And everyone has to pitch in to help row and set the sail on it. How cool is that? I’ll tell you: it is very, very cool.
Let me tell you, this wasn’t easy work. The wooden oars are heavy, and you have to be mindful to keep an eye on the sail if you don’t want to get clocked in the head with it. (I needed considerable help with my oar from the kind gentleman in front of me.) But being out on the water is an amazing feeling, watching other amateur sailors hoisting the sails and attempting to row in unison.
The boat trip costs 120,00 DKK, or about $24 CDN for a 45-minute tour.
The museum also has a handicraft area where you can learn coin minting, paint your own shield or make jewelry. I strung together a pretty glass-bead bracelet for myself as a souvenir. Well, okay, maybe they intended those craft tables to be geared for kids, but I didn’t care. My bracelet is awesome and it was a great, inexpensive take-away gift to remember the day.
Take a Break at Cafe Knarr
All that rowing and fresh air made us hungry, so we had lunch at the museum cafe. 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 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 was essentially a charcuterie board, and cost 155 DKK (about $30 CDN). But how often do you get the chance 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. Everything we tried was incredibly delicious.
To sum up, you can’t miss the opportunity to visit the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark.
The easiest way to get to Roskilde from Copenhagen is by train. The trip takes about 25 minutes, leaving from Copenhagen’s Central Station (København H).
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