On our last day in Copenhagen last summer, our two options to visit were Hamlet’s castle or a Viking Ship Museum. Needless to say, I was outvoted on this one, and we made a day trip to Roskilde to learn more about the Vikings and also ended up finding Denmark’s royal burial site at Roskilde Cathedral. It was a pleasant, 10-minute walk down a tree-lined path along a large park to reach the museum.
Located 35 minutes from Copenhagen and easily accessible by train, car or bus, the Viking Ship Museum or Vikingeskibsmuseet featured a unique learning experience, activities and exhibits. In general, Vikings were Scandinavian explorers, warriors and merchants who conquered and colonized many parts of Europe during the Viking Age(late eighth to the early eleventh century). The museum is located along the Roskilde fjord in a mostly residential area.
The Viking Ship Museum was originally built to accomodate and reconstruct the remains of five Viking ships that were excavated from the fjord in 1962. It was believed that the ships were deliberately sunk during the 1100s to protect the harbor against sea attacks and making the approach to land difficult. These five ships came to be known as the Skuldelev ships since they were found in a channel near Skuldelev, 12 miles (20 km) north of Roskilde.
The main attraction and permanent exhibit is the Viking ship hall which displays the five reconstructed ships. Since the ships were recovered in thousands of timber fragments, they were held together with long metal wires showing the various missing pieces.
They did such a marvelous job reconstructing them it wasn’t hard to see the remarkable craftmanship involved in building these ships. It gave one a whole new appreciation for shipbuilding in that era considering the tools available to them at that time.
Each ship had a very informative sign in English and an image of what it may have looked like in its heyday. It showed the history of the ships, its construction and specific uses.
It was an amazing feeling to walk among the remnants of these thousand year old ships. It was astounding to realize how they sailed the seas and to see the workmanship and mastery involved to endure the distance and elements.
The ships on display were much like the two specialized types built by the Vikings for transportation in the 10th century - warships and trader ships. They were further categorized into small and long ships. Many of the ships were built with oak or pine and ranged from the smallest fishing vessel to the great longship used for wars accomodating up to 70 men. Who knew Viking ships could be so interesting?
The impressive ships revealed stories about their wars, trades, travels and life at sea. The highlight for my daughter here was the East Room filled with many costumes to dress up like a Viking. My son didn’t care too much for it and was more interested in the helmets and weapons.
Yes, adults can dress up too and no, my husband and I decided not to dress up. We actually saw more tourist adults dressing up and posing by the ships than kids. My daughter was more than happy to try on the clothes and pose. So, we present to you… a not-so-typical Viking child.
This room also housed replicas of a warship and cargo trading ship for visitors to climb onboard filled with barrels, goods and weapons. It was definitely a dream playground for many of the kids.
One of great things about this museum is the interactive experience and activities for the whole family on its outside complex. The five reconstructed Skuldelev ships are on display at the museum harbor to further convey their historical and maritime importance during the Viking age. It also gave us a better sense of how these ships looked during their glory days.
There were various workshops to hone in Viking skills, manned by friendly craftsmen, like wood carving, wood cutting, sail making, basket weaving and rope making. Most were free but some were for a minimal fee that started from 10 DKK ($1.78 US).
My kids loved participating in these exercises and learning about shipbuilding and Viking life. They could have spent hours here and not have gotten bored. Even something as simple as sailing a small boat around a round tub was a delight for many of the children.
We saw many people boarding Viking boats for a 50-minute sailing along the fjord. It was an exercise and lesson in Viking sailing which meant rowing and other tasks to sail the ship. It was a little chilly and sprinkling so we decided not to do this exercise although it was very tempting. Additional fees of 80 DKK ($14 US) apply.
This is also an active boatyard so it was interesting to see the boat-builders in action.
The Viking Ship Museum was a wonderful learning experience for the whole family. It was filled with history, cultural activities and exhibitions that intrigued even some of us of who weren’t into Vikings or ships. This was not a very big museum but the city of Roskilde and its other attractions were definitely worth the day trip from Copenhagen. I can’t articulate the museum experience any better than what their website says, which is – ‘Visitors are not led back in time – the cultural history is brought in to the present.”
Visiting Viking Ship Museum Tips and Basics
- Tickets: Adults 16.50 euro ($22US) May-Sept; 11.50 Euro($15.25US) Oct.-April; Kids under 18 years old are FREE
- Hours: 10AM – 5PM (late June to August); 10AM – 4PM (Sept. to late June)
- Most trains from Copenhagen stop at Roskilde station which is a 20-25 minute walk to the museum. Bus 607 travels from the station to the museum.
- Don’t miss the 15-minute movie inside that showed the excavation and reconstruction of the Viking ships.
- Free guided tours in English are available for 45-minutes from May to Sept. No advance booking.
- Kids will enjoy the model exhibition of the fictition naval attack on Roskilde.
- Cafe and restaurant on premises.
- Small gift shop inside the museum for the special Viking souvenirs.
- Visit the Viking Ship Museum website for more information on special exhibits and activities and updated information.
*Have you visited Denmark’s Viking Ship Museum or any other Viking museum?