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A relaxing boat ride from Stockholm takes you to the best preserved Viking town in Scandinavia, located on the little island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren. Part of what makes Birka so fascinating are the ruins and vast cemetery, not to mention the countless activities for children, from archery to sailing in a Viking boat.
“Birka is one of the most complete and best preserved examples of an early medieval Viking trading centre”, states the UNESCO organisation of the UN about why Birka is listed as a World Heritage Site. The remains of the oldest city in Sweden can be seen on the small island of Björkö (a 2-hour boat ride from Stockholm). Established in 790, it was a flourishing trading centre for 2 centuries and abandoned around the year 980. It was then excavated from 1931 onwards, and is currently a justifiably popular tourist attraction.
In books and films, the Vikings are often portrayed as boorish and murderous barbarians, but the excavations at Björkö show a different side of Viking life. Birka was one of the most thriving trading centres in Europe, where artisans produced glassware, clothing and jewellery, while silver from Arabia, pearls from Russia and sealskin from Lapland were transhipped from the port. On the neighbouring island of Adelsö, Viking King Björn from the Hovgården settlement ruled over his 1,000 subjects. The settlement was abandoned towards the end of the 10th century. Birka then fell into oblivion and was not ‘discovered’ again until a millennium later.
Children will not quickly get bored here. Costumed guides provide information and explanations about the ruins, including the foundation of a fort and the remains of a city wall. In the museum, you’ll find archaeological findings and scale models that give an impression of the life and times of Vicky the Viking’s contemporaries. On part of the island, wooden boats and houses have been reconstructed, where smiths, weavers and instrument makers give demonstrations and battles and other events are re-enacted.
“Viking King Björn ruled over his 1,000 subjects from the Hovgården settlement”
There are a number of ways to reach Björkö. The easiest is to go on a boat excursion (from May to September), which gives you around 3 hours on the island. No need to worry about being bored, as the green Björkö is also perfect for a stroll in the woods or a refreshing dip in the lake. There is also a restaurant with food, drinks and an outdoor seating area.