Did the Vikings actually have horns on their helmets? Were people really sacrificed, as in the Vikings TV series? Why was the golden temple built? You don’t need to be studying archaeology at university to cultivate an interest in the Vikings. If you want to discover ancient monuments from the Viking era, Uppsala and Uppland count among the richest regions of the country. From a time in our shared history, which all generations, adults and children alike, find fascinating. This is the complete guide to the Viking city of Uppsala for the whole family!
Old Uppsala – what lies buried underneath its mounds?
So, where should you start your journey to the Viking age? The obvious starting point for your trip into the history of the Vikings is Old Uppsala. The area where it all began is located to the immediate north of what we now regard as the city of Uppsala. Old Uppsala, with its characteristic mounds, is considered to be one the most important historical sites in Sweden. It already had a well-developed society around its mounds in the Iron Age. The largest town in Uppland during the Middle Ages was an important religious, economic and political centre as early as the fourth century A.D. It’s hard not to fantasise about the events that occurred on the square as you wander along the winding paths.
So what did the Vikings do, then? They produced goods and built farms on the square, cultivated the land, traded, held magnificent feasts, and relaxed between their lengthy voyages. The Royal mounds from the sixth century, the burial area and the countless archaeological finds make Old Uppsala a special place, shrouded in myth.
The area is perfect for enjoying a nice picnic with the family, and the nearby Odinsborg Café & Restaurang has something to suit all tastes!
Digital walks around the Old Uppsala Museum – step into the time machine!
Now that you’ve checked out the ancient archaeological sites, it’s time to check into the time machine. The Old Uppsala Museum preserves the memory of a one-thousand-year-old person who never stops adding new value to the history books. The original find in the main exhibition, which was disinterred from the royal mounds, gives visitors a real sense of the making of history, especially the remains of a preserved helmet. We’ll leave the question whether or not it had horns to the visit. You can also view models of Viking ships here, as well as the royal residence, where the Svea tribe gathered to worship their gods.
What did Viking settlements in Uppsala actually look like? The nearest thing you can get to a journey back in time is to follow one of the Old Uppsala Museum’s virtual displays. Thanks to digital technology, you can walk around among the farms and get a unique insight into the everyday life of the Vikings. Who doesn’t want to be a Viking for a couple of hours?
During your virtual-reality walk around the museum, you are equipped with VR glasses and a hand-held remote control, which will give you an idea of what Old Uppsala looked like in 650 C.E. The tour’s many interactive features makes it a firm favourite with the kids! There is also the option of a virtual display on a large screen, without the glasses.
Augmented reality makes it possible to fuse the real world and a digital world. Download the Augmented History apps: Old Uppsala and Visir Uplandia to your iPhone, or borrow a tablet and venture out into the area of ancient sites. The apps function as a window to the glory days of the Iron Age, approximately 650 C.E., and adapt to your perspective according to where you are currently standing. Children will have as much fun as they did playing Pokémon GO, and can explore the town themselves.
If you prefer more traditional methods of viewing the museum and the ancient monuments, you can of course book a tour in the company of a knowledgeable guide.
Have you had enough of Viking history? On St Eriks Torg, between Uppsala Cathedral and the River Fyrisån, is the Uppland County Museum. One of the museum’s permanent exhibitions focuses on 5,000 years of Uppland’s ancient history (!) – and includes jewellery, silver coins and mighty swords from the Viking era. What might your family have looked like during Viking times? You can find out about that and much more, as the main theme of the exhibition is the household in ancient times.
Do the kids find museums boring? Definitely not at the Upplandsmuseet! A lot of effort has been put into ensuring that even our youngest citizens think history is cool and educational. There is the Lilla Kvarn (“Little Mill”) children’s exhibition, for example, which makes Pelle Svanslös spring to mind, where all exhibits can be held and played with. Once their playtime is over and their blood sugar has dropped, the whole family can relax in the Matsäcksrummet (canteen).
Picnic with the sheep on King Björn’s Mound in Hågadalen-Nåsten
From one mound to another. King Björn’s Mound, or Hågahögen as it is also called, is a seven-metre long burial mound dating back to the Bronze Age and situated in the picturesque Hågadalen-Nåsten nature reserve. Picnicking families, history buffs and itinerant tourists gather on top of and around the mound to explore the area’s extensive network of trails. When the whole meadow is in bloom and the cows and sheep are grazing, it’s hard to find a prettier place in the Uppsala area! The distance from Uppsala centre is ideal for a cycle tour to the most gilded Bronze Age grave in Scandinavia.
Want to impress your hiking companions? Tell them that the name of the mound comes from the legend that Uppland’s former king Björn had a farm here in the ninth century. But in fact it is not King Björn who is resting in the mound, but a nobleman who lived during the Bronze Age (1,000 A.D.). One thing is for certain, however. When King Björn was alive, the sea reached the foot of the mound, and Viking ships could be glimpsed out in the bay.
Runic stones around every corner in Uppsala County
Runic stones provide a unique portal to the Viking age. Our region is packed with runic stones, to say the least. In fact, half of Sweden’s 2,800 known runic stones and inscriptions are located in Uppland. A cultural treasure of mandatory stops for those who want to see the whole picture of Viking history in the County of Uppsala. But you don’t need to travel far outside Uppsala – a few of them stand in the city centre as reminders of a bygone era.
If you’re finding it hard to choose which ones to see, we have listed below some of the runic stones that are worth a visit:
The runic stone in the University Park
The Vårdsätra Bondkyrka Church Parish runic stone – Lövängsvägen 8
The runic stone at Läby vad – Läbyvadsvägen
Suggestion for a family competition: who can make out what is written on the runic stone?