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For hundreds of years, the Vikings dominated the seas of the North Atlantic, particularly Scandinavia. Roskilde, the former capital of Denmark, was a major hub of Viking seafaring activity, thanks to its protected location along a fjord. In 1962, five Viking ships were recovered from the Roskilde Fjord. Today, their remnants can be seen at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum.
The Viking Ship Museum (official website) is one of the most popular places to visit on day trips to Roskilde from Copenhagen. It is open for both self-guided and guided tours. The guided tours (available during the peak season) are detailed & informative, so I recommend timing your visit to catch one so you can get the best value from the ticket price. Entry to the Viking Ship Museum is included in the Copenhagen Card (as is transportation to Roskilde).
The tours take place inside the main building, which is located right on the water, so you can imagine the ships sailing the fjord.
However, the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde is much more than just this main building with the recovered ships. There is a whole waterfront dock complex where research & reconstruction take place, along with other activities. Between these buildings and the main museum, it’s easy to spend a couple of hours learning about these Viking ships. If you’re like me, Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” will run through your head the whole time.
At the harbor, there are full-sized replica Viking boats, some of which are open for seasonal rides. Even if no rides are available, visitors can still walk on the ships.
The outside portions of the museum include workshops where more replica ships are being reconstructed using the same methods Vikings used.
Another shop demonstrates ropemaking.
There are also cafes & restaurants serving new Nordic Viking food, as well as a toy boat workshop for children.
The highlight of the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum is of course the Viking ships. These occupy the main hall of the museum building.
While it’s possible to walk through the room & learn some about the five ships recovered from the fjord, the guided tours really bring the Viking world to life.
Our tour guide not only educates visitors about Viking history & the ships, but he also works on the ongoing reconstructions in the boatyard. Much of the research done on the site is conducted through actually trying to build ships. It can take over 13,000 hours to build even a small boat.
The reason why five Viking ships were found in such good condition at the same location is that around the year 1070, they were deliberately scuttled at Skuldelev to protect Roskilde from invasion by sea.
The ships sat in the water & mud for centuries prior to being excavated in 1962. In 1969, the Viking Ship Museum opened to showcase the five boats. More ships have been discovered in the area, with some being housed at the National Museum of Denmark.
In addition to the history of the ships, our tour guide gave us an overview of Viking history. The Vikings didn’t write their history. The history was mostly oral, so much was lost to time.
Inside the main hall, the ships are well presented. Metal frames show what the full boats would have looked like. Considering they are around 1,000 years old, the ships are remarkably well preserved, with varying amounts of completion between the five.
Models of the ships also help to show what they would have looked like in the Age of the Vikings.
Each historic ship was built in a different location using different materials, demonstrating the reach of the Vikings. Some were constructed from pine, while others were made from oak. One was actually built near Dublin. A reconstruction sailed to Dublin & back to commemorate this journey.
Officially, the guided tours last for 50 minutes. However, after some 80 minutes, our tour was still going strong, as our tour guide was more than happy to stay & keep talking while answering everyone’s questions.
After the tour of the ships, there’s still more to see in the Viking Ship Museum. There is a basement gallery that has exhibits about maritime archaeology & experimental archaeology, with information about how the ships were recovered.
A temporary exhibition covered the Thirty Years’ War, which is the time period of the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.
Near the entryway, there is a video room telling the story of the Viking ships in Roskilde & their recovery. At the end of the tour, there is also a playroom with boats & costumes so kids and kids-at-heart can dress up and be Vikings. A hallway with more Viking history follows. Dedicating the basement & side rooms to these additional exhibits allows the main hall to focus on the Viking ships.
The Viking Ship Museum is much more than a museum. The whole complex is a nice experience with plenty to see & do & learn about, making it one of the best things to do in Roskilde.
Here are some great Roskilde tours & activities.