Visit Norway’s top Viking sites
From ships to churches to living history, immerse yourself in Norse history and culture
The Vikings left their mark on northern Europe, and important sites continue to be discovered to this day. Most recently, a major discovery of a burial mound in plain sight was made near Halden in southeast Norway.
It will be some time before that discovery is ever turned into something the public can enjoy, but nevertheless there are many remains of Viking culture elsewhere in Norway that can be enjoyed today.
There’s one downside. The biggest sites of interest are spread all over the country, so seeing them all in one trip isn’t feasible for most people. The flipside is that wherever you are in Norway, you won’t be far from a site!
Viking burial ships
Three Viking burial ships dating back to the 9th century play the starring role at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum on Bygdøy peninsula. The ships were uncovered along the Oslofjord and the best of the bunch, the Oseberg ship, was found completely intact. As impressive as the vessels are, arguably more interesting are the other exhibits that take you on an eye-opening journey through everyday Viking life: sleds, beds, wood carvings, tools, and more.
While you’re in the area, don’t miss the neighboring Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. It focuses on the last 600 years so doesn’t cover the Viking era, but it’s the ideal complement to a tour of the ships.
The Oseberg Ship was uncovered near Tønsberg, one of Norway’s oldest cities. Tønsberg is the starting point of the Vestfold Viking Trail, a series of ancient settlements and burial mounds from the Viking Age dotted along the Oslofjord.
While the original Oseberg ship is on display in Oslo, Tønsberg is home to a full-scale replica moored in the harbor. It was built to the original specifications using only tools and techniques from the Viking era. Sadly, you can’t take a ride in it, as the boat is only taken out of its mooring for special events, but you can enjoy seeing an authentic Viking ship in the water!
The best time to visit is September for the Tønsberg Viking Festival, full of shows, theater, music, food, and an armada of ships setting sail.
Churches and cathedrals
Churches aren’t the first buildings that spring to mind in relation to Vikings, but they do play an important role in the history. Norway became a Christian country in the early Middle Ages, and it was the last Viking kings who made that happen.
Cathedrals and churches were quickly built all around the country. The architecture of Norway’s distinctive wooden stave churches used many of the same techniques that the Vikings used in their shipbuilding. Although more than 1,000 stave churches once stood across Norway, there are now just 28.
Many of the elaborate carvings feature Norse symbols, showing that those building the churches weren’t quite ready to abandon their pagan heritage!
Another religious site of note is Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral. It began its life as a simple wooden chapel built to stand over the tomb of Saint Olav, the Viking king who played a big role in the introduction of Christianity and would go on to become the patron saint of Norway. Today, it’s one of the country’s most famous buildings and a major tourist attraction.
Looking at churches and museums is all well and good, but nothing beats a more hands-on experience to truly get a flavor of the Viking lifestyle. With experiential travel an increasing trend worldwide, Norway has a lot to offer in this area!
Anyone who’s traveled recently on the Hurtigruten will have been offered the opportunity to visit Lofotr Viking Museum on the Lofoten archipelago. Here, archaeologists found the largest longhouse ever discovered. A reconstructed longhouse based on the find is now home to demonstrations of handcrafts, woodcarvings, textiles, and an entertaining evening banquet hosted by the chieftain and his wife.
Another experience close to one of Norway’s top tourist sites is Gudvangen’s Viking Valley. Gudvangen is the end point of the popular cruise along the world-famous Nærøyfjord from Flåm. On the shores of the fjord you’ll find Njardarheimr, a Viking village populated by an international community of Viking enthusiasts. In the middle of July, a festival injects extra life into Njardarheimr with Viking battles and wrestling, concerts, storytelling, archery, ball games and a huge market taking place.
There’s plenty of lesser-known experiences in the country too, although many are only open during high season. Avaldsnes Viking Farm near Haugesund is well situated for anyone visiting Bergen or Stavanger. The farmyard is on a small, forested island where Olav Tryggvason was said to have drowned a group of wizards 1,000 years ago.
While the Vikings are known for their trading and raids, Hyllestad gives a different picture of Viking life, focusing instead on their stonemason skills. Over the centuries, tens of thousands of millstones were produced at Hyllestad, and the stone quarries that were left behind are among the biggest cultural heritage sites in the country.
Other places and events of note include Kaupang Viking town in Larvik, and the colorful family-friendly Egge Viking Festival, which takes place every other year on the second weekend of July.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of Viking sites and experiences in Norway, but it should give you an idea or two to incorporate into your next Norway itinerary.
David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.
This article was originally published on Norway Today.
This article originally appeared in the February 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.