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Danish countryside / Denmark’s Viking history

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Did You Know…?

  • Danish Vikings were kings of England before William the Conqueror ever saw the place.
  • Ribe is Scandinavia’s oldest town, dating from 710.
  • Havarti cheese is named for the farm where it was created in the 19th century.
  • Originally, the word Viking referred to pirates or adventurous seafarers, not to all Scandinavians.
  • Legos, made in Billund, got their name from “leg godt,” Danish for “play well.”

Remembering the Vikings

Perhaps the thing North Americans know best about the Danes is that they — like their Scandinavian cousins — are descendants of Vikings, an almost legendary group of northern Europeans remembered for pillaging their way across Europe, grabbing loot and a few slaves in the bargain. It is an era that has been much romanticized, not so much for the violence as for the Vikings’ adventurous spirit.

Some observers, first noting that most Scandinavians stayed home, contend that those who went to sea weren’t any more violent or rapacious than their contemporaries. Rather, they were distinguished by their willingness to go anywhere and the fact their longboats enabled them to do just that, and at almost any time.

Depending on the historian, that era started around 800 and ended by the mid to late 11th century, after the Scandinavian countries had been significantly Christianized.

The Viking era was short, but it left its mark — as well as enough physical evidence to allow locals and visitors alike to recapture some sense of life in that long-gone era. For those who want to know more, there are informative museum displays, burial mounds and reconstructed castles to visit, sailing trips on reconstructed Viking ships and, finally, entertainment in the form of reenactment events and theatrical productions.

Such things are scattered around the country (Copenhagen wasn’t founded until 1167), so the Viking enthusiast will, of necessity, see much of Denmark to pursue this interest. Or, taking up the Viking trail may be the ideal theme (or excuse) behind trip planning for those who simply prefer rural travel.

The countryside offers variety although the land is quite flat. Denmark remains a seafaring nation, with ports and fjords along its coasts, but two-thirds or more of the land is devoted to livestock and dairy farming. In addition, coastal areas include long sandy beaches and salt marshlands. The terrain, including many small lakes, was the work of receding glaciers.

For visitors, a trip to the countryside can mean any combination of Viking sites and related activities, small-town pleasures, camping (even on some farms), beach time and other outdoor recreation.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Design your own multiday driving trip built around Viking history. Start with the National Museum in Copenhagen, but head to Roskilde, the Viking capital and site of several restored ships, and look for burial sites at Jelling and Norresundby, the reconstructed Trelleborg castle at Slagelse and the reconstructed market at Ribe, among other sites.
  • Sunbathe and swim in the nude. Nudism is an option on most, but not all, Danish beaches. Also, some beaches are set aside for nudists exclusively.
  • At Roskilde, take a one-day course to learn how to sail a Viking ship, which means you will sail with one of the museum’s reconstructed Viking vessels.
  • Compete in the Danish Longbow Championships, held annually at Ribe. The longbow is associated with medieval rather than Viking times, but Ribe is a town with rich medieval connections as well as a Viking history. Men, women and children — Danes and non-Danes — can compete in these longbow contests. Ditto for amateurs.
  • For really cost-effective housing, Denmark offers 750 primitive campsites located on farms, in forests, on school grounds, etc. These are for those traveling by foot, bicycle, horseback or water conveyance, not cars.
  • Come to Roskilde in June in time for the Roskilde Festival, which headlines current or up-and-coming contemporary entertainers. A ticket gives access to camping grounds, too.

Things to do for Centrics

  • In Denmark, where amber is a natural resource, keep your eyes peeled for this “Nordic gold” which turns up on the beaches. If your vigilance fails, shop for amber in the stores.
  • Attend a craft workshop in Ribe’s reconstructed Viking market, where you may be involved with making pottery, carving wood or making bread (and that means grinding the flour, too). Or, you may work on your archery skills.
  • Go horseback riding on the beach or in the countryside.
  • Be a passenger on a reconstructed Viking ship in Roskilde. The Viking Ship Museum offers daily sailings on these vessels, powered by square sails and oars, on Roskilde Fjord from May through September.
  • To see a lot of Danish countryside, take a leisurely driving tour over some — or all — of the 2,232-mile Marguerite Route, a designated scenic tourist route that traverses some of the country’s most picturesque places and delivers you to more than 200 of Denmark’s most popular attractions.
  • Take one of the weekly ghost tours in Ribe. The stories will include tales of regicide and witch burnings.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit the Viking museum that fits your itinerary best. Location choices include Bork, Hobro, Norresundby, Roskilde, Slagelse and, not least, Ladby, for Denmark’s only Viking ship grave.
  • Have lunch on the market square in Soro, the charming town that is home to Soro Academy. The school occupies the site of a medieval monastery; a few kings and Bishop Absalon, founder of Copenhagen, are buried in its church.
  • In Frederikssund, see the open-air museum that is based on a Viking settlement. Come in late June or early July to see the annual Viking play, presented by locals and reenacting some of the tales from the age of the Vikings. Several other Danish towns present Viking plays each year, too.
  • Play golf. Denmark bills itself as a year-round destination for the game.
  • Shop and even haggle when buying Viking-style souvenirs at Viking markets. The Ribe market, in May, Is large. Bork, Jelling and Trelleborg castle at Slagelse host markets in summer. There are other markets, too.
  • Attend a summer concert at the Roskilde Cathedral, the burial place of Danish monarchs since the Middle Ages. Or, attend a concert on the grounds of Kronborg Castle in Elsinore, or opt for a Shakespeare production on this site, which is popularly associated with Shakespeare’s fiction, “Hamlet.”

Additional Resources

For more information, consult VisitDenmark at