Celebrating European Viking heritage

Celebrating European Viking heritage

by Leigh Anne Lord
Stripes Europe

When you think of Scandinavia, more than likely your thoughts drift to the capitals of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo, in their own rights, are magnificent venues to see and should not be missed during your time in Europe. However, to gain an inside look at the ancient culture of these countries, one should experience its Viking heritage. What better way to do so than to plan to visit one of the many Viking festivals that Europe has to offer.

During the Viking Age (700 AD - 1000 AD), Scandinavia’s population exploded. Not having enough viable farmland, the Vikings looked for other places to live. Renowned for their shipbuilding skills, their “longships” went faster and could travel farther. As a result, throughout the Viking Age, they traveled eastward into Russia and westward into Western Europe and England. To help you experience and celebrate Europe’s Viking heritage, plan to visit one of the many Viking festivals scattered throughout Europe. Here are just a few to consider, sorted by upcoming dates:

Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland
Date: Jan. 31, 2017
The Shetland Islands were led by the Norse for 500 years until they became part of Scotland in 1468. Celebrating the influence of the Scandinavian Vikings and marking the end of the yule season, the festival takes place the last Tuesday in January. Each year, over 1,000 local volunteers disguised in Viking costumes, march through the streets of Lerwick. The day’s activities culminate in a torch-lit procession followed by the burning of a replica Viking ship. The festival has been called Europe’s biggest fire festival.

York, England
Date: February 20-26, 2017
The largest Viking festival in Europe typically brings nearly 40,000 visitors to the city of York and to the Jorvik Viking Center. More than 1,000 years ago, York was under Viking rule. In February of each year, there was a local celebration to welcome the coming of spring. Today’s celebrations include Viking events such as log carrying, wrestling, tug of war, demonstrations by archers and falconers and a Viking parade of more than 400 re-enactors. Even without the festival, the Jorvik Viking Center is an interesting destination. It was constructed on the very site where the York Archaeological Trust found evidence of houses, workshops and streets from the ancient Viking city of Jorvik. Today, they have been reconstructed as they looked almost 1,000 years ago.

Ribe, Denmark
Date: April 24-30, 2017
Ribe is Denmark’s oldest town, and more than 1,300 years ago, the Ribe market was a bustling, vibrant and exciting destination. Vikings came from all over to trade and exchange their creations, and it became quite famous because it attracted the most skilled craftsmen. Each year, you can experience an authentic market atmosphere in the middle of Viking Age Ribe. See the craftsmen, watch the archers, visit a fortune teller ... it's all part of the experience.

If you cannot make it to the annual International Viking Market, do not despair! The Viking Center is open May through mid-October and offers an in-depth look at the various stages of the Viking Age. Visit the market from 710 A.D., or the town  from 825 A.D. There is even a manor farm from 980 A.D. to explore. Events throughout the spring and summer include the Solstice celebration (June), Viking Warriors (late July/early August), harvest events (August) and autumn activities (October).

Extend your Denmark Viking experience by visiting the Viking Shipbuilding Museum in Roskilde. This spectacular museum houses the remnants of five longboats found at the bottom of the fjord. You can pretend to be a Viking by taking a longboat cruises.

Karmoy, Norway
Date: June 8-11, 2017
Karmoy, known as the homeland of the Viking Kings, hosts an annual Viking market with local, regional and international participants. The goal is to show Viking life through living history with musical shows, cuisine, Viking dress, reconstructed houses and, of course, family-friendly Viking battles. This is western Norway’s largest Viking festival.

Frederikssund, Denmark
Date: June 2017
Continuing in Denmark, the annual Viking theater in Frederikssund is the most well-known and longest running cultural theater in Denmark. Each year, for two weeks around summer solstice (June 20-23), the theater offers a different Viking play, based on Viking folklore and performed by nearly 100 local members, and two Viking markets. Stop by the Northern market to visit its commercial stalls, purchase souvenirs or sample foods and beverages. For a more authentic experience, visit the historically correct, Southern market, which is located next to the Viking Camp.

Höllviken, Sweden
Date: June 2017
During the Viking Age, Foteviken was the site of Scandinavia’s largest market. Each year in late June, the festival commemorates the Battle of Foteviken in 1134 A.D. and provides visitors a glimpse at life in the ancient camps. Watch the ancient trades of blacksmithing or weaving, or view one of the Icelandic horse riding shows. Considered an open-air museum, the Foteviken Museum boasts an impressive reconstructed Viking town.

Stallarholmen Locality, Södermanland County, Sweden
Date: July 2017
Located on the island of Selaon, Sweden’s largest freshwater island, the annual Viking Festival at Stallarholmen provides an enchanting children’s village complete with shield painting, archeological excavation and storytelling. In addition, both adults and children will enjoy the competitions and games, the traditional Viking Village and the historically correct Viking ships moored on the lake.

Whether you are of Viking heritage or not, these festivals and markets provide not only entertainment but also a unique historical peek at this ancient culture. Add one to your future travel plans and be prepared to have fun! 

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