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The large handcarved bow fit comfortably in my hands. I pulled back the arrow, then let it fly, hitting just wide of the bull’s-eye.
“You’ve done this before,” said Sune Bergman, our Viking House guide.
We had been playing a version of the Viking Olympics at Viking House Stornaset, a replica of a Viking longhouse on the shore of Ljugaren lake in Sweden’s Dalarna province. My not-so-Olympian attempts to get the bone ring on the horn were lousy, as was my 11th-century version of planking. But my archery game was strong.
Surely, I could qualify as a shield-maiden — a female Viking warrior.
After all, I was already dressed in traditional garb as part of our journey into the past.
You don’t have to be a descendent of Erik the Red to play Viking in Sweden. While Norway may be more famous for its Viking ancestry, Sweden was the starting point for many of the first Viking expeditions out of Scandinavia — some of which stretched as far east as Constantinople.
Today, there are several immersive ways for families to take a deeper dive into the Viking lifestyle. They can dress the part and shoot arrows, stroll through history in some of the fascinating open-air towns, and visit interpretive museums throughout the country.
Birka, Lake MalarenA UNESCO World Heritage Site, Birka is considered one of the best Viking sites in Sweden. It’s located on the island of Bjorko, west of Stockholm in Lake Malaren.
Established in the eighth century, this city of Vikings was an important trading post in Northern Europe during the Viking Age. Excavations have revealed Arabic silver, beads from Eastern Europe, glass goblets, ceramics and fabrics. These would have been traded for iron, skins, horns and fur.
A daytrip to Birka includes guided tours through a re-created Viking village populated with craftspeople at a forge or a loom, a great hall, detailed models and artifact displays. There are restaurants on-site, as well as a beach, making Birka a perfect summer outing for the family.
Viking House, RattvikFor a hands-on experience in Viking life, travel to Dalarna for an evening at Rattvik’s unique Viking House Stornaset. This central Swedish province is often referred to as “Sweden in miniature,” so it’s fitting that local couple Sune and Ingrid Bergman built an authentic longhouse to host fun and educational celebrations of Viking culture for guests.
We enjoyed transforming into warriors thanks to woven clothes, shields and swords; challenging ourselves with feats of strength that hone raiding skills; and washing it all down with a hearty meal cooked over a massive longhouse fire. We left Viking House with a taste for how Vikings lived, survived and thrived a thousand years ago.
The Viking Museum, StockholmSweden’s capital of Stockholm celebrates the nation’s Nordic heritage at The Viking Museum, located in the leafy Djurgarden district. Through guided tours, movies, informative displays and artifacts, the museum provides an interactive multimedia experience. There is even an adventure ride that will appeal to Viking fans ages 7 and older.
The Ragnfrid’s saga takes visitors on a journey through Viking Age Europe, following the adventures of Ragnfrid; her husband, Harald; and his crew on their pursuit for silver treasure. Viking enthusiasts may also enjoy trying on armor, playing with swords and participating in various Viking games.
Gamla Uppsala, UppsalaGo back in time to the Gamla Uppsala site and adjoining museum located in the vibrant university town of Uppsala. Visitors can wander around three Royal Mounds (burial sites) of mythical Svea kings or Norse gods, depending on the legend.
The Gamla Uppsala Museum displays an excellent collection of archaeological finds, and it recently launched a virtual reality (VR) experience that lets visitors roam through a seventh-century Viking village. Through VR, participants can stand on royal mounds, enter the mythical great hall to the sound of a crackling fire, pick up Iron Age tools and even light a large funeral pyre.
Trelleborgen Fortress, TrelleborgThe Trelleborgen Fortress is an open-air Viking museum in southern Sweden, about a half-hour drive from Malmo. It contains the only reconstruction of a Viking Age ring castle in the country, the remnants of which were discovered between 1988 and 1995 during excavation work.
This circular style of castle design was surrounded by a high palisade rampart with supporting slanted timbers and an external moat. The original was likely built in 980.
The site is also home to a reconstructed 14th-century farm and a small museum with artifacts and jewelry from archaeological digs. Trelleborgen hosts an annual summer Viking Festival, where hundreds of enthusiasts set up a tent village and market and re-create a traditional raid and battle.
The DetailsVisit Sweden www.visitsweden.com