Ruthless warriors, artisans, merchants, sailors, colonists - they were all Vikings. If we think a little better, it is no wonder that these ancient people have occupied people’s imaginations for generations.
During the Middle Ages, the Vikings roamed Europe, leaving behind traces of their fascinating way of life. Although, as a nation, the Norsemen ceased to exist at the beginning of the 11th century, in the last few years, we can notice that the interest in Viking culture and history has grown significantly.
The largest number of archaeology sites is located in the Viking homeland, Scandinavia. However, in search of a better life, the Vikings traveled as far as Russia to the east, and even Canada to the west, establishing colonies along the way.
Accordingly, the ruins of early Viking settlements are located all over the world, and in this article, we will take you through fascinating places that can help you create a clearer picture of how Viking life looked like.
Since medieval Scandinavia was home to the Vikings, we will start our little journey from a Scandinavian country where a large number of Viking sites have been found. We start from Denmark.
Jelling is nothing but a sleepy little village in the central part of the Jutland peninsula for ordinary visitors. However, for true Viking fans, a visit to this site would mean much more. Jelling is one of the most important archeological sites where archaeological evidence dating back more than ten centuries has been found.
For that reason, if you decide to travel, following in the footsteps of the Vikings, let Jelling be a place you will definitely visit. This village features numerous Viking monuments that were erected more than ten centuries ago. Also, in Jelling, there is the largest stone installation of ships found so far, as well as a medieval church from the Viking era.
Then, the three-sided runic stone found in Jelling speaks of the unification of the Kingdom of Denmark during the reign of Harald Bluetooth. This record is considered to be the first mention of the Danes as a nation.
King Harald, together with his father, King Gorm, the Elder, built mounds in Jelling, which are considered to be the largest tombs in Denmark. The discovered mounds give us a fantastic insight into the customs of burial in Viking times. In one of those mounds, Gorm the Old was also buried.
Although interest in Viking monuments has lasted for hundreds of years, it seems that archaeologists have not yet discovered much.
In 2007, a massive palisade (area of about 30 hectares) was found in Jelling, which enclosed the property on which the mounds were located. In the same area, archaeologists have discovered three massive wooden buildings, which are believed to have been part of the royal estate in Jelling.
So, in this small in the Denmark, sleepy village, there was a vast Viking estate in the distant past. By visiting this village, you can enjoy seeing the many exhibits that tell about the customs of the Nordic people in Jelling.
You can get another fantastic insight into the Danish history of the Nordic people by visiting the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. This museum houses the well-preserved and reconstructed remains of five ships from the Viking Age that the Nordics destroyed around 1070 to block enemy ships.
The Roskilde Museum has been one of the most popular tourist attractions for years, where you can see ships of various sizes. Thus, among the reconstructed ships, there are large warships (about 30 m long) but also small fishing boats (about 11 m long).
Within the museum, you can also see an exhibition through which the story of the Norwegian attack is told. You can even go on a boat trip and feel for a moment what it was like to be a Viking!
We'll still stay in Denmark to take you to the town of Ribe, which is also located on the Jutland peninsula. According to historical data, Ribe is considered the oldest Scandinavian city, founded at the very beginning of the 8th century. The inhabitants of this city celebrated 1300 years of its existence in 2010, emphasizing their pride in their Viking roots.
The archaeological excavations in Ribe aim to create a picturesque historical place that will be open to tourists offering them the opportunity to learn more about the customs of the Nordic people in this area.
Also, some scientists believe that the first Scandinavian money was minted in Ribe. Although Viking coins have not yet been discovered in the Ribe area, a large number of coins have been found that archaeologists believe could have been minted in Hedeby.
To end the trip through Denmark, we suggest a visit to the Lindholm Hoje site, the largest Danish cemetery of the Viking Era. In one place, you can see more than seven hundred graves of different sizes.
If you like the Viking lifestyle, then an insight into the fascinating burial customs from that period will be more than interesting.
You can also visit the museum at this site, which exhibits numerous artifacts from the Viking and Iron Ages.
Viking Ship Museum
Our next stop is Norway, another country where the Vikings come from. Just like in Denmark, we can also find numerous remnants of Viking heritage in Norway.
One of the places where we can see an invaluable collection of artifacts from the Viking period is the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, which, as part of the Museum of Cultural History, is under the supervision of the University of Oslo.
In this museum, two Viking ships dating from the 9th century are exhibited. One of them is the ship Oseberg, whose length is over 21 m and is considered the best-preserved ship from the Viking Age in the world.
In addition to ships, you can see many other remains of Viking history, such as utensils, treasures, and various tombstones.
Lofotr Viking Museum
Another important site is located in the Norwegian city of Lofoten. The largest building dating back to Viking times (83 m long) was discovered on the excavation site in the city. Archaeologists believe that the founding hall was the ruler's residence.
The building was reconstructed in 1955, and today the Lofotr Viking Museum is located in its place. By visiting this site, you will have the feeling that you have traveled back through time and returned to the 1000 years distant past. The museum reveals some of the most fascinating information about the Norse men.
In addition to the beautiful landscape that characterizes this place, you will enjoy demonstrations of old Viking crafts, fake fights, and archery. You will also be able to see the many fascinating exhibits found at this location.
Viking Digital Museum
Although it is not an archeological site, a visit to the Viking Digital Museum in Oslo will not leave indifferent any true fan of the Viking way of life. This museum uses cutting-edge digital virtual reality technology, with which you can go back to the early Viking period.
In this digital museum, you have the opportunity to go back a thousand years, board the famous Viking ships and experience some of the most exciting moments. Be an open sea sailor, Viking warrior, or merchant, whatever you desire...
As the third country from which the Vikings originate, Sweden can also boast of numerous archeological sites where traces of Norsemen have been found. Birka is one such site. At the time of the Nordic people, next to Hedeby, Birka was one of the Scandinavians' most important shopping centers in Europe. Also, Birka is where Saint Ansgar (a Frankish missionary) first introduced the Swedish people to Christianity (ninth century).
During archeological excavations in this area, many Viking tombs, various weapons, as well as the ruins of a bronze foundry were found. In 1933, the archeological site in Birka was declared as a World Heritage Site and is under the protection of UNESCO.
Viking raids on England were very frequent, and Ridgeway is one of the places where the most dramatic archaeological evidence of the fierce conflicts of these two nations was found.
A stunning discovery in this area happened quite by accident in 2009, during the highway construction. A grave containing 54 decapitated human bodies was found, as well as a large pile of 51 skulls that were thrown into the quarry.
It has been established that the excavation dates from the beginning of the tenth century and that the people killed were men younger than 30. Also, the archaeological evidence says that the bodies found did not belong to the inhabitants of England and that it was probably the crew of a Viking ship (a ship with 25 pairs of oars) that was executed during the raid.
Viking Center Jorvik
The Yorvik Viking Center is located in present-day York (England) and represents one of the most significant findings in modern archeology. Fascinating discoveries in Jorvik took place between 1976-1981. Excavations in the York area have revealed houses, workshops, as well as Viking age estates dating back to the 11th century.
Based on these ruins, Yorvik Viking Center was reconstructed, and visitors have the opportunity to fully experience what it was like to live like a Viking in England in the 10th century.
Þjoðveldisbærinn (Commonwealth Farm) Saga-age Farm
Iceland is considered the home of one of the most famous Vikings, Leif Erikson. Therefore, if you want to complete your Viking experience, visit a reconstructed farm near Stöng. The ruins of ancient Viking houses were found exactly here.
The Viking settlement is located near the Hekla volcano, which, for the first time, erupted after Iceland was inhabited (11th century), destroying 22 Viking farms.
By visiting a reconstructed farm, you will have the feeling that you have come to see a real Viking farmer. Inside the farm, there is the main hall in the middle of which is an unavoidable stone fireplace.
Can you imagine members of a Viking family sitting around a fire after an exhausting day, drinking Ale and telling stories? Fascinating picture, isn't it? Then dress up in Viking clothes, wield swords and enjoy being a Viking, at least for a short time.
As we have mentioned, the Vikings were the dominant power throughout Europe, so even Estonia failed to avoid the clutches of the Viking warriors. Proof of that is the discovery in Salme from 2008 and 2012 when two Viking ships were found. These were the first ships to cross the Baltic and the first discovered cases of mass burial on boats.
Together with these two ships, the bodies of 41 people, numerous weapons, and animal bones were buried. Scientists believe that it is a hasty burial of a violently killed ship's crew.
The design of weapons and exotic artifacts was similar to those found in Scandinavia and was largely unknown in Estonia at the time. The analysis of the tooth enamel of the deceased indicates that these are Vikings who originate from the area of Stockholm (Sweden).
L'Anse aux Meadows
Certain Viking sagas speak of how the Nordics sailed all the way to America during their naval expeditions. However, it was not until 1968 that these stories were corroborated by archaeological evidence.
Doubts about the truth of the saga were interrupted by the archaeological discovery of the Viking Camp in Jellyfish Cove Bay, Newfoundland. These and other findings that followed proved that the sagas were true and that Viking Leif Erickson and his crew really lived in North America.
L'Anse aux Meadows has become a national historic site and is the only authentic Viking settlement in North America. A visit to this place will allow you to return to the period in which the Vikings lived. Also, in the camp, you will have the opportunity to be a blacksmith from the Viking era, to weave, and to listen to the heroic stories about Thor, Odin, and many famous Vikings by the fire in the evening.
You might be interested in our Thor's hammer range.
Let's Wrap Up
The discoveries of each new Viking site arouse the desire of any archaeologist and historian to continue to explore and learn as much as possible about the exciting culture of the people in medieval Scandinavia.
Over the last few years, incredible discoveries have been made that expand our understanding of Viking culture and traditions.
Some of these findings confirm the violent and cruel side of the Nordic people. On the other hand, the discovery of crafting sites and farms say that the Vikings were much more than ruthless bloodthirsty savages.
Either way, a visit to the places we listed in this article will give you an unforgettable experience and a chance to feel what it’s like to be a true Viking!
Until our next meeting,