On our final day in Denmark, we left the city of Copenhagen to see a small town and its well-known Viking museum. That we could scratch “see a Scandinavian fjord” and “eat a smorrebrod lunch” from our list on the same day was simply a bonus.
Roskilde is a small coastal town about 30 minutes west of the capital by train. For us, the cheapest and easiest ticket option was the 24-hour all-transport ticket, as we were continuing on to the airport on the same day. Look into this ticket if you are using more than one form of transport—like most European combo transport tickets, it’s surprisingly cheap compared to single journeys.
From the Roskilde station, we had a lengthy walk down, down, down to the seaside (fjordside?) and the museum. It was a nice contrast to the busy streets of Copenhagen, shops and markets catered to locals and the not-insignificant tourist trade. The folks in town were out enjoying the late October sunshine before the weather turned totally inhospitable.
In the 1960s, five eleventh-century sunken Viking longships were discovered in the fjord. They had been intentionally scuttled to block the passage of enemy raiding ships into what was then a very important port at Roskilde. The ships were excavated, reconstructed as completely as was possible, and this museum was built to display and study them. Since that first discovery, many other Viking-age artifacts—including more ships—have been and continue to be discovered in Roskilde.
At the museum, experimental archaeologists have studied the materials and tools used a thousand years ago and have completed historically-accurate and seaworthy reconstructions of the five discoveries. My personal favorite? The so-called Sea Stallion from Glendalough. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Glendalough is in the Wicklow Mountains just south of Dublin. On analysis of the original sunken ships, it was determined that one of them was built from trees grown in the Viking settlement in Dublin. To demonstrate the impressive shipbuilding of these ancient people, the archaeologists and a crew of fifty-five sailed the new ship from Roskilde to Dublin and back in 2007.
Work continues at the museum today; tools and materials continue to be studied and improved, and more seaworthy replicas are being built and repaired in the workshop adjacent to the museum and the harbor. Visitors can see craftspeople at work cutting and forming wood using axes and planes—Vikings didn’t use saws to cut and shape their planks—making sails, and using handmade stain and paint to treat and finish ship hulls.
As we visited in the offseason, the museum was a bit more quiet than usual. Most of the replica ships (including the Sea Stallion) were covered and packed away for the winter, only a few boats bobbed in the harbor; there wasn’t much activity in the workshop, and the schedule of daily events was quite light. On the other hand, our offseason admission tickets were significantly cheaper than summer prices. Getting very frugal and practical for a moment, it looked like most of the closed exhibits and activities were for a family audience, so we as an adult couple didn’t miss out on much save the collection of replica ships on display.
Following the museum, we walked up to the higher elevation of the village for a smorrebrod lunch at a recommended cafe. This traditional Danish meal is served in courses: fish, meat, and cheese, all washed down with beer and akavit—a very strong schnapps drink available in different fruity and herbal flavors. We chose dill.
Thanks to the high price of food and drink in restaurants, it was our first and only real meal out, so we didn’t mind splurging for the full lineup. Pickled herring in curry sauce, cold chicken salad, steak and caramelized onions, and a selection of cheeses went very will with the Carlsberg Elephant beer and dill-flavored schnapps. One of the aged cheeses was served with a jiggly cube of salty beef aspic and a sprinkling of rum—a flavor and aroma combination more novel and complex than that of the akavit. After the big lunch, with a Danish local craft IPA for dessert, we were glad to be near the top of the big hill and ready to catch the train for a sleepy ride back to the city.
Nuts and Bolts
- The Roskilde Viking Ship Museum (Vikingeskibsmuseet) is open year-round with shorter hours in winter. Admission prices vary with the season. Check the website before planning your trip to confirm the latest details.
- The offseason ticket was a good value for the few hours we spent exploring the artifacts and the mostly quiet workshop; I can’t rule on the summer price, having only seen the reduced winter offerings. Maybe they are mindblowing?
- My preferred walking route through the village of Roskilde from the train station follows the pedestrian-only Algade to Domkirke (Roskilde Cathedral) and straight north (downhill) on the footpath through Byparken Park. If you get lost, just keep heading downhill toward the water…you can’t miss it.
- To get from the harbor to the train station, you guessed it, just walk uphill to the cathedral, then uphill some more to the station.