When thinking of the historic Vikings, the mind instantly conjures up the image of Beowulf, horned helmets, and more to the extreme, the Vikings' raping and pillaging. This does not define them, however, even though they were guilty of the latter in some cases. It is important to note that the Viking history was written down by their enemies, since the Vikings themselves did not record their own history in books.
Even if the Viking name is well known today, few people know the real history of the warriors. To set the record straight, there are some excellent museums in Scandinavia where you can find out everything there is to know about this lost period:
1- Oslo's Viking Ship Museum forms part of the University Museum of Culture under the University of Oslo. It features various activities and events. The museum itself is situated at the Bygdøy peninsula approximately 10 minutes outside Oslo city center.
The main attractions at the museum are the Gokstad Ship, the Tune Ship and the completely whole Oseberg ship. These are the best preserved ships known. Also on display are fully intact Viking ships, and artifacts found from the chief grave at Borre. Among the artifacts found were also tools and household goods, which allows for a better insight into daily Viking life.
The museum is open on Mondays to Sundays from 9.00 am to 18.00pm. Admission is NOK 50 for adults, Nok 25 for children over the age of 7, and free for children under the age of 7. To get there, you can take bus number 30 to Bygdøy, departing every 15 minutes from the Oslo train station.
2- The Lofotr Viking Museum in Borg, Denmark, is the place to be if you want a more in-depth experience of how the Vikings lived. One of the 15 chiefdoms settled here in 500 AD. Excavations brought up the remains of the largest Viking building ever to be found elsewhere in Europe. The building has been masterfully reconstructed.
At Lofotr, you can join in the various activities and view the original artifacts found. You can even see the smithy in action and row a Viking ship. During the main season from the 15th of June to the 15th of August, broth and mead will be served in the banquet hall every day. For a full dinner experience served by professionals in Viking costumes, you need to book in advance. You can expect lamb and wild boar on the menu, along with the traditional drink of mead. Guided tours must also be booked in advance, but no booking is required for a trip to this museum in Denmark.
Opening hours during the main season is usually between 10.00 am and 15.00 pm on Wednesdays and Sundays, but it is advisable to look at the website to confirm the times in season. Entrance ranges between 100.00 and 120.00 per adult, depending on season. You can reach the museum by bus from Svolvær and Henningsvær in the east or Leknes in the west.
3- The Birka Museum in Stockholm, on the other hand, is more and archaeological site than a museum. Located on the Bjorko Island in Sweden's capital Stockholm, you can learn more about the people who lived here. Most importantly, Birka emphasizes archeology as a science, establishing what it can – and cannot – tell us about history.
Birka was founded in the late 8th century as a trading port and thrived until it was abandoned in the end of the 9th century. There are many speculations as to why. Birka has been excavated over the last few years. Graves, iron armor, weapons and ruins of a bronze foundry of the Vikings have been discovered here.
The Viking era is very much part of the Scandinavian history. Scandinavia includes the three northern European kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which descended from several Germanic tribes. Germanics evolved into Old Norse, and the people became known as Norsemen. The Vikings are closely associated with the culture. The age began in 793 A.D., when a band of warriors sacked the Lindisfarne monastery, and ended with the death of Harold Hardrada in 1066. It was an age of great battles and rich mythological stories.