Photo: Ruben Soltvedt
Fjord Tours Articles / 21 Oct 2021

Vikings Past and Present

Norway has a strong Viking history, and for interested travellers, there are plenty of fantastic attractions all over the country that you can visit to learn more about this interesting part of our history. In this article, we’ll tell you all about Norway’s viking past – and how you can explore its legacy in the present.

Victor B Iyyvakvhi7i Unsplash (1)
Photo: Victor B Iyyvakvhi

Who were the Vikings?

The Vikings were warriors and tradespeople from the Nordic countries who would raid, plunder, trade and bring foreign goods back to their homeland. The Viking era lasted from around 800 to 1050. The beginning of the Viking period came in the year 793 with the attack on the Lindisfarne monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the northeast coast of England. The murder of King Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 marks the end of the Viking heyday.

The Vikings traveled extensively and founded quite a few cities and colonies during their time. In fact, the Irish capital of Dublin and the French region of Normandy was founded by them, and they also colonized Iceland and Greenland. The Vikings were also the first Europeans to travel to the Americas. The well-known Viking explorer Leif Erikson led the first European expedition to reach continental North America, arriving about 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

J3A4686 9150319 Foto Didrick Stenersen
Photo: VisitOSLO/Didrick Stenersen

Who is the most famous Viking?

There are several famous Vikings from Norway. The fact that these people lived so many years ago but are still well-known today is a testament to the Vikings’ lasting impact and legacy both within Norway and internationally.

  • Harald Hårfagre (Harald Fairhair) is one of the most famous Vikings. Living from around 850-932, he’s considered Norway’s first monarch. Legend says he let his hair grow from the time he decided to become king, and refused to cut it until he had achieved this goal.
  • Eirik Blodøks (Eirik Bloodaxe) was one of Harald Hårfagre’s eldest sons, and lived from around 850-932. He ruled Norway from 933 to 935, and there is some discussion over where his name is derived from. Some reports suggest that he was given the name Bloodaxe due to his participation in early Viking raids, while others claim it was because he had murdered several of his relatives.
  • Håkon “den gode” Adalsteinsfostre (Haakon the Good) was Harald Hårfagre’s youngest son, and Eirik Blodøks’ half-brother. He served as king of Norway from the 930s-960 after ousting Eirik and uniting different parts of Norway.
  • Olav Tryggvason was Norway’s king from 995 to 1000. This possible descendant of Harald Hårfagre returned as a hero after acquiring both fame and wealth on Viking raids in Britain and beyond. As king, he’s known for converting much of the kingdom from Old Norse religion to Roman Catholicism.

PS: Did you know that there were also several Legendary Female Viking Warriors?

Gioele Fazzeri Vprcvxp9auw Unsplash
Photo: Gioele Fazzeri

What does the word ‘Viking’ mean?

In Old Norse, the word ‘Viking’ meant ‘freebooting voyage’ or ‘pirate raid’. A person would ‘go on a viking’ (‘fara í viking’). However, the word ‘víkingr’ was also commonly used to refer to someone who went on expeditions, usually internationally and by sea, as part of a larger group.

Over time, the word ‘Viking’ often came to signify any tradesperson, farmer or seafarer from the Nordic countries during the Viking Age.

RUBS5767
Photo: Ruben Soltvedt

How long did it take to build a Viking longship?

The Vikings are well-known for the particular style of ships they used on their expeditions. Viking Longships were vessels made and used by the Vikings for purposes of trade, commerce, exploration, and raids, and these ships were impressively advanced for their time.

Most people know the typical shape of the Viking longships – they all had the same long, narrow body shape. These fast-moving ships were made from oak planks, overlapped and nailed together. The ships were watertight due to spaces between planks being stuffed with a mixture of wool, moss, or hair and tar. It was an ingenious design that was adopted by other groups, and which continued to influence ship construction around the world long after the Viking Age ended.

The success of the Vikings as raiders is partly due to the clever and advanced design of their ships – the longships were light and designed with speed and easy navigation in mind. Since the ships were double-ended, they were able to change direction without needing to turn the ship around

It’s very difficult to say how long it took the Vikings to construct these ships, but a general estimation is that it would take at least six months. Building a longship involved a tremendous amount of work, and depending on the size of the ship, it could take years

Gioele Fazzeri Mm1yh Rau2s Unsplash
Photo: Gioele Fazzeri

Drink like a Viking

The most famous drink the Vikings enjoyed is mead, which is called ‘mjød’ in Norwegian. This ancient alcoholic drink similar to beer and sweetened with honey is still drunk in Norway today, though its popularity has fallen since Viking times! Known as “the drink of the gods”, mead is believed to be the world's oldest alcoholic drink – so we recommend the adults in your group sample some of this fermented beverage.

Before having a sip, be sure to raise your glass and say cheers the traditional Norwegian way: ‘skål!’, which is pronounced similarly to ‘skull’. Some have claimed that the word ‘skål’ to mean cheers actually stems from Viking warriors who would drink out of the skulls of their enemies to celebrate victory. This is unlikely to be true, but the grisly story may ensure you never forget at least one Norwegian word!   

Now that you know what the Vikings preferred to drink, check out what they ate!

VIKINGBYEN GUDVANGEN 10
Photo: Njardarheim Vikinglandsby i Gudvangen

Where can you explore Norway’s Viking past today?

Though the Viking era ended in the 11th century, the legacy of the Vikings lives on in Norway and beyond. If you’d like to bring this interesting history to life for yourself or your kids, there are museums, tours, villages, and a range of other Viking-related experiences just waiting to be discovered! We would love for you to Go Viking with our tours that are perfect for connecting to your inner Viking. Why not try an action-filled fjord tour with a dinner fit for true Vikings at the popular Ægir Brewpub in the village of Flåm? 

1090825 4496584 Foto Didrick Stenersen
Photo: Visit Oslo/ Didrick Stenersen

Viking Experiences

If you’d rather explore on your own, here are some suggestions for great Viking attractions in different parts of Norway.

The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo is a very informative museum where you can look at the world’s most well-preserved Viking vessels, including the famous Oseberg, Gokstad, and Tune ships.
Lofotr Viking Museum on the beautiful Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway is a fantastic spot for those interested in Viking history. Here, you can go inside the world's largest longhouse from the Viking age to see, smell, taste and feel how the Vikings lived all those years ago.

Several Viking-era settlements can still be visited today, including the popular Viking Farm at Avaldsnes on the island of Karmøy in Western Norway. This popular spot has plenty to teach us about the farming traditions of the Vikings with guided tours, a dedicated history center, and interesting activities.

You’ll find the well-known living museum Njardarheimr Viking Village in the charming village of Gudvangen on the Nærøyfjord. Presented as a lively Viking town among stunning Norwegian scenery, it’s a fantastic place to learn about Vikings, with many fun activities for kids. You can visit Gudvangen on our Norway in a nutshell® tour – a legendary trip that’ll show you all the best of what Norway has to offer!

Gudvangen Innerst I Naeroeyfjorden Gjertrud Coutinho
Photo: Gjertrud Coutinho

Want to learn more about the Vikings?

The Fascinating and Violent History of the Vikings

Let’s be honest, most people have quite an unsavoury impression when it comes to the Vikings and most educational resources tend to portray the Scandinavians as fearsome, ruthless, and dangerous.

How Vikings Created Modern Democracy

When most people think about democracy, they tend to go straight to ancient Greece. However, what many people are not aware of is the fact that fans of modern democracy can actually thank Vikings for its creation.

What is the Viking Honor System?

When most people think about the Vikings that once wandered the Norwegian fjords, they tend to picture chaotic and violent warriors that lived by no one's rules. However, the reality is that they had a complex honor system that they lived by.

Exploring the Social Class System of Vikings

The history of the Vikings is something that draws millions of visitors to Norway every year in order to see things like the Viking Ship Museum. Although it is possible to see fictionalized accounts of Vikings in numerous TV shows and movies, a great opportunities to actually learn about the Vikings is to book a fjord tour in Norway and visit some of the historic sites they once ruled.

The Most Legendary Female Viking Warriors That Ever Lived

When you think of Vikings, what comes to mind—their legendary ferocity, dedication to honor, their massive ships, and desire to invade and claim new lands? One thing that’s almost certainly left out is the fact that several of the most legendary vikings were in fact female.

The 10 Most Powerful Norse Gods and Goddesses

Just like any other form of ancient civilization, the Vikings of Scandinavian countries had their own god-based belief system. These mighty Viking warriors followed figures that were even more powerful than they were. After all, they needed some way to explain the natural wonderment of the fjords in Norway, so they turned to a collection of gods and goddesses as the answer.

A Brief History of Norway

From ice age to modern age, Norway has gone through tumultuous times to become the country it is today. The Viking era, unions, wars and independence has shaped Norwegian society and people through thousands of years. Getting to know the complete history of Norway is an arduous task, so check out this Brief History of Norway.

What Did the Average Viking Eat?

When your every-day activities include pillaging villages and exploring the impressive fjords in Norway, you are going to need a lot of energy to sustain yourself. This means eating some pretty astonishing meals in order to maintain proper health with such an active lifestyle.

Viking Travels

Many tourists who travel to Norway are eager to learn more about the history of the Vikings. And, we can’t blame them. The Vikings were fascinating, complex people. Although they are primarily known as fierce warriors, they also engaged in trade and transport across much of Europe and built incredibly advanced ships that fascinate historians to this day. Here is some of what we know about how and where the Vikings traveled during the late 8th to the 11th century.

What Did The Viking Household Look Like?

The Vikings lived a primarily nomadic lifestyle. In fact, in Norway today the term “Go Viking” means to go explore something new or to push your limits. However, when the Vikings did settle in towns and farms for either short or long periods of time, they built homes often referred to as longhouses.

The Fascinating History of Viking Ships

No history of Norway is complete without mention of the Vikings. The Vikings were Scandinavian seafarers who raided and traded goods across a wide swath of Europe from the 8th to the 11th century. Much of the Vikings’ ability to expand can be credited to their ships. Viking ships were used for transport, trade, and warfare.

Viking Christmas

Every December the Vikings would celebrate the Midwinter Solstice, the longest night of the year and the daylight is the shortest of the year. The celebration included drinking, feasting, songs, games, banquets, and sacrifices for the gods and the ancestor spirits for 12 days straight.

Medieval Viking Feasts

A feast is a huge celebratory dinner with everything served in abundance. The Vikings were famed for their glutinous indulgence of food and habit of eagerly drinking beer or mead wine with every meal.

Vikings Past and Present

Norway has a strong Viking history, and for interested travellers, there are plenty of fantastic attractions all over the country that you can visit to learn more about this interesting part of our history. In this article, we’ll tell you all about Norway’s viking past – and how you can explore its legacy in the present.