The 10 best Viking sites to explore around the world
From large settlements in Norway to beautifully preserved long ships in Iceland, here’re some of our favourite Viking places and ruins to visit around the world.
As one of the countries where Vikings originated, there’s tons of Viking heritage in Norway.
Take the Lofoten Islands. Aside from the mind-blowing scenery, the area’s star attraction is the Lofotr Viking Museum, on the island of Vestvågøya. It showcases the archaeological finds of an 83-metre-long longhouse – the largest of its kind to have ever been discovered.
The best time to visit is during the annual Viking Festival which usually takes place in early August. Expect re-enactments, mock combat, axe throwing and archery. It’s fun for all the family!
If that’s whet your appetite, The Viking Planet is another must-see. This incredible Viking museum in Oslo takes you back to the Norse age, digital style. With the help of state-of-the-art VR technology and holograms, you can experience the thrill of an expedition, or the adrenaline rush of being on a long ship during a storm.
Prefer to see a Viking ship in the flesh? A 20-minute drive from Oslo’s city centre (or 10-minute boat ride during summer) to the Bygdøy peninsula will take you to the Viking Ship Museum, where you can get up close and personal to three of the world’s best-preserved Viking vessels.
Tip: While in Norway, be sure to visit a stave church. Dating back to the middle ages, these unique wooden structures were built by the Vikings to celebrate the birth of Christianity in Norway.
Want to know what the Vikings got up to during their voyages at sea? Find out at Roskilde’s Viking Ship Museum. It comprises two sections: the Viking Ship Hall, where you can check out five beautifully reconstructed longboats, and the Boatyard, where archaeological work takes place.
You can also enjoy a boat trip on a Viking vessel. Don’t miss out!
If you want more, Lindholm Høje should be your next stop. A sprawling Viking burial site in Norresundby, it consists of hundreds of stone circles scattered over a lush green field, marking the graves of fallen Vikings.
After paying your respects, check out the adjoining settlement, which contains the remains of houses, fences and a road.
After that, head to Jelling, one of the most important Viking historical sites in Denmark. Look out for the incredible Viking rune stones, one of which is known as ‘Denmark’s birth certificate’. This giant stone shows Scandinavia’s earliest image of Christ and its inscription boasts of King Harald Bluetooth’s conquest of Denmark and Norway, and his bringing of Christianity to the Danes.
If you’re on a Viking pilgrimage in Sweden, make a beeline for Birka, on the island of Björkö. More of an archaeological site than a museum, the UNESCO-listed area has been excavated over the last few years, revealing Viking graves, weapons, and the ruins of a bronze foundry. It’s a Viking enthusiast’s dream!
Once you’re done with Birka, head to Vikingaliv (the Viking Life Museum) in Stockholm. This place covers everything about the Vikings, from what they ate and how they lived to the role women and children played in society. It’s also home to a life-sized Viking that was created using DNA from preserved bones.
After all that you’ll be hungry. Head to Aifur restaurant for an authentic Viking feast and oodles of mead!
Iceland was home to one of history’s most prolific Vikings, Leif Erikson, who is said to have been the first European visitor to North America, hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus.
The Viking World Museum in Njarðvík proudly displays the Icelander ship, a replica of the famous Gokstad ship excavated in Norway in 1882. The Icelander sailed to New York in the year 2000 to commemorate Leif Erikson’s journey to the New World a thousand years earlier.
Another must for your Icelandic Viking voyage is Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng. Situated in a picturesque valley in Árnessýsla county, it showcases the wholesome lifestyle of a Viking farmer, complete with a quaint, reconstructed farmstead. They weren’t all bloodthirsty warriors!
Fancy something a bit different? Unleash your inner Viking at the Mink Viking Portrait studio. The owner, Gudmann, is a member of the Viking fighting club, Rimmugygur, and a self-proclaimed Viking geek. He knows all there is to know about the Vikings and has a wide range of Viking costumes, accessories, and weapons for you to don for your family portrait. This is one afternoon you won’t forget in a hurry.
5. United Kingdom
The Vikings invaded Britain in 793, landing on the shores of Holy Island in North East England. Lindisfarne Priory marks the location of their first raid.
Today, it’s home to the ruins of an Anglo-Saxon monastery. Whilst there, be sure to check out the intricately carved Viking Domesday stone.
Another key Viking settlement was the city of York. Led by Ivar the Boneless, the Vikings took the city in 866 AD, renaming it Jorvik.
The JORVIK Viking Centre is a great place to catch a glimpse of life during this time, with an exciting ride through various life-sized animatronic dioramas, complete with authentic smells and sounds from the Viking age.
Scotland didn’t escape the Vikings’ clutches. They based themselves in the gorgeous Western Isles, and many place names still bear their influence today.
For example, Stornoway, a Western Isle town founded by the Vikings, takes its name from the Old Norse word ‘Sjornavagr’, or ‘steering bay’. The island of Eriskay translates as ‘Eric’s Island’, and the island of Scalpay comes from the Old Norse ‘Skalprøy’, meaning ‘Ship Island’.
There are countless other examples of Viking heritage throughout Scotland, not only place names, but surnames and everyday words. Even the word that’s probably most associated with Scotland, ‘kilt’, translates into Old Norse as a verb: to fold or tuck up.
For a look at one of the most important and inspirational archaeological sites in Scotland, head to Jarlshof in Shetland. Here you’ll find a settlement which dates back 4,000 years and hosts the remains of not only a well-preserved complex of Norse longhouses and outbuildings, but also the remnants of many other communities from across the ages.
The Vikings were also active in Ireland. As well as regular monastery raids, they had a hand in shaping many of the country’s cities, including Dublin and Cork.
Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city, still boasts a few remnants of its past in the city’s ‘Viking Triangle’ area. The highlight is Reginald’s Tower, which houses a museum, displaying some of Ireland’s most coveted Viking artefacts.
There’s plenty of Viking heritage in France, thanks to Rollo, a Viking chieftain who became the first ruler of Normandy. You might recognise the name from the TV series, Vikings.
During the 8th century, Rollo and his brother Ragnar sailed to France to raid towns. By 911 AD, Rollo was powerful enough to force the French king to sign a treaty, yielding part of the province to him. He named it Normandy (the country of the Northmen).
Get a feel for what Normandy was like under Viking control with a visit to Ornavik Historical Park. Every building in this living museum was constructed using the same process as in the 10th century.
Volunteers in full garb play the role of inhabitants, workers, farmers and merchants. Interact with them as they make jewellery, weapons and traditional food.
Fun fact: Following the siege of Paris in 845, the Parisians built a fortress to protect the city from further Viking invaders. Today, it’s known as the Louvre!
The Vikings attempted to take Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) but could never breach its walls. Only by becoming the personal bodyguards of the Byzantine emperor did they grab a piece of its wealth.
One place we know they visited was Hagia Sophia (a former cathedral in Constantinople). In 1964, a runic inscription containing the Norse name ‘Halfdan’ was discovered on a parapet. It’s believed to have been carved by one of the Viking bodyguards and the full inscription is said to probably read ‘Halfdan carved these runes’.
The cathedral is now a fascinating museum, but you can still see the inscription today.
10. North America
America isn’t somewhere you probably associate with Vikings, but historians agree that they reached the New World, they just didn’t leave much behind.
The Vinland sagas (ancient Icelandic texts) credit the discovery to Norse explorer Leif Erikson, who made the journey from Iceland to North America. Leif’s feat is commemorated by a bronze statue in Boston, Massachusetts. It features the triumphant-looking explorer gazing off to faraway lands, atop a red sandstone pedestal.
The lands he’s dreaming about may well be L’Anse aux Meadows on the Great Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland – the only confirmed Viking site in North America.