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Birka, Stockholm Archipelago
Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

Destination

Birka - step back into the Viking Age

For a true Viking experience – and a very enjoyable day trip from Stockholm by boat, head for the Swedish town of Birka, on the island of Björkö, in Sweden’s lake Mälaren.
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Don't miss

  • Monument of Ansgar
  • The Viking Village
  • Birka Museum
  • Archaeological excavations

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For years, Birka has been a vast archaeological site where remnants from the Viking days are constantly being uncovered. Today, in addition to offering guided tours of the archaeological site, there is a museum and reconstructed Viking village on the island. This historic town, which dates back to the 750s, is today one of 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sweden.

Prominent point of commerce for almost 200 years

Birka dates back to the 8th century and was formed in part to control the trade routes in northern Scandinavia. At that time, the Swedish king was living just a few kilometres away at Hovgården – also part of the World Heritage Site – and it was his duty to maintain order in the city of Vikings.

As a centre of commerce on the Baltic Sea trading route, merchants came to the city from all over Europe, as well as from other parts of the world. Extensive archaeological excavations in Birka have revealed traces of this through the discovery of Arabic silver, beads and ceramics from Eastern Europe and exclusive fabrics from Asia. In return, the traders received Swedish goods such as iron, horns, skins and furs.

The city existed for 200 years, but came to an end when the 700–1,000 residents either died or abandoned the island. Some 3,000 burial mounds dotting a huge burial ground on the island are a moving reminder of what was once a thriving community.

Experience the life of a Viking village

Today, visitors can experience what it was like to live in this earliest of Swedish settlements in the recreated Viking village. The authentic reconstruction is based in part on knowledge obtained during archaeological excavations made on the island.

The island museum has exhibitions and models showing life in Birka in the Viking Age. It also includes many fascinating objects that have been uncovered here, and that are still being uncovered. The Birka museum shop, has an interesting collection of items for sale that are hard to find elsewhere. Here you can find books about Vikings, jewellery, pottery, toys and other objects.

Visit Ansgar’s legacy 

Before you leave the island be sure to head over to the Monument of Ansgar, a cross that rises above the island like a beacon. It was built to honour the Benedictine monk Ansgar, a missionary who was sent to Sweden in the 800s by Louis the Pious, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to bring Christianity to the country.

While his mission may not have been entirely successful, a monument bearing his name was raised a thousand years later, in 1834, and it still stands today. The Ansgar Chapel, erected around 1930, also bears the Christian missionary’s name. Today, the church is open for visitors as well as summer weddings and christenings.

The Ansgar Monument (Ansgar Cross)The Ansgar Monument, also called the Ansgar Cross at Björkö in Stockholm. Photo: Claes Helander

Eat and take a bath like a Viking

If you haven’t packed a picnic, or eaten on the ferry to Birka, do not worry. Birka has a restaurant as well as a café. Restaurant Särimner offers indoor and outdoor seating and serves locally produced food. Even the beer comes from local breweries. Here you will find hearty meals, such as moose with lingonberries, wild boar sausage, or traditional Swedish meatballs and pancakes, as well as a vegan alternative.

If you’re looking for a lighter snack, Café Eldrimner, offers cold and hot drinks, ice-cream, pastries or sandwiches like the warm “Viking” (meat in bread or spinach and feta cheese on bread).

Once you’ve toured the sites and are ready to relax, why not cap off the day with a dip in the same refreshing water the Vikings bathed in. Birka has a small beach that is easily accessible.

Birka is only accessible to visitors in the warmer months of the year, with regular ferry service up and running from Stockholm in May to September.