If you're a fan of TV series Vikings, you would not want to miss this unique time travel opportunity just outside of Stockholm! Here is why…
What is Birka all about?
Birka, which is located on the island of Björkö (about 30 kilometers west of Stockholm), used to be one of four major towns in the Viking era (aside from Hedeby and Ribe in modern Denmark as well as Kaupang in modern Norway). Founded in the 8th century AD, traders would settle here to handle goods from Scandinavia, Central or Eastern Europe and the Orient.
With a about 800 inhabitants, Birka was considered a "city" in Viking times. Today, Birka is known as Sweden's oldest town as well as a very important archeological site.
How do I get there?
The only way to get to Birka is via boat. From Stockholm Town Hall, the Birka ferry takes about 2 hours each way, but you'll get some very scenic views and hear a few interesting Viking anecdotes from an archeologist / tour guide.
How much does it cost?
Normally, a ticket to Birka (including the ferry return ride, a guided tour on the island, the Viking museum and the Viking village) will set you back 360 Swedish Kronars (ca. 38 Euros), so it's not exactly the cheapest sightseeing trip. If you get yourself a Stockholm Pass though, the visit to Birka included, which I think is really good value for money.
Just remember though that the Viking trip is pretty much an all-day activity. The boat leaves at 10:00 am and only gets back to Stockholm at 5:30 pm, so you won't have much time left for other sightseeing activities.
What's there to see?
1. The Viking Museum
The first thing you'll see after arriving on the island (well, after the restaurant and little beach playground) is the Viking museum and shop. It's small, but houses an interesting exhibition which sheds some light on the times in which Birka was at its most powerful.
2. The Viking Village
Next stop is the recreated Viking village. Here you can observe a handful of Viking actors who are going about their daily business – getting the Viking ships ready, preparing a fire or carving knives.
If you dare, you can even speak to them and ask them questions about the Viking lifestyle (they don't bite!)…
… or dress up as a Viking yourself! 🙂
A real Viking in his hood…
3. The Viking Tour
Tours are offered in Swedish and English and provide a lot of additional information about the actual Viking settlement, which is located a little bit further afield from the location of the replica Viking village.
As you'll go to the places you wouldn't normally find on your own, the tour is definitely not to be missed!
Our knowledgable archeologist tour guide brought the times of the Vikings so vividly to life I could almost see the Viking men, women and children running around!
Here, the tour guide stands on one of the Viking graves, which are now small hills scattered all over the area…
4. The Scenic Viewpoint
Another reason why you shouldn't miss the tour is that it leads you to the most scenic viewpoint of the whole island: The hill with the Christian cross.
Was this put up here because Ansgar – a German monk who came here in the 9th century AD - had succeeded in converting all Vikings into Christians? Well, find out on the tour…
I certainly enjoyed the view into the bay and the lucky strike of gorgeous weather!
Is this where Rollo and Ragnar from Vikings lived?
Nope! As our guide told us, the Viking town in the TV series Vikings, which goes by the name of "Kattegat" (nowadays only known as a 30,000 km2 sea area between Denmark and Sweden) may have been a Viking settlement, but surely wasn't one of the "big four" at the time.
In fact, when it comes to the characters portrayed in Vikings, our guide told us that Rollo and Ragnar could have not been brothers in real life because there were roughly one hundred years between them! Rollo, who became the first Viking king of Northern France, consequently known as Normandy, was born about 846 and died ca. 932 AD while Ragnar Lothbrok lived at some point between 740 and 840 AD.
The real Vikings also didn't wear such dark clothes as the actors in the TV series do. Quite the opposite was true! The real Viking motto was the more colorful and bright, the better! Another myth are the female warriors, the so-called shield maidens! Although it's not a 100% for sure, our guide reckoned that there were probably no shield maidens in Viking times…
However, it wasn't just the men who ruled. Viking women could own land and as such gain some political power. So there is hope for our female super power Lagertha! 😉
Where else can I trace the Vikings?
Viking Sightseeing Tip 1: You're craving more Viking facts? Check out the amazing displays of Viking heritage at these museums in Gothenburg and Oslo!
Viking Sightseeing Tip 2: When in Stockholm, it's worth to visit the Swedish History Museum (entrance is FREE!), which currently hosts an exhibition about the Vikings and a model of Birka. On a guided tour in English (40 SEK per person), you can learn even more about the exciting times of the Vikings!
Got another great tip of where to trace the heritage of the Vikings? Let me know in the comments below!
Disclosure: As part of my participation at the TBEX Europe Travel Blogger Conference in Stockholm, I received a free Stockholm Pass from Visit Stockholm. The views expressed in this blog post, however, are entirely my own and therefore personal and unbiased.