August 12, 2010

Day Trip - Birka (Viking Town)

Rounding out my weekend as tour guide for my friend visiting from Wales... we took a trip to Birka for the day. Birka is considered to be Sweden's first town and was active (750-960 A.D.) in the Viking Age with a population of about 700 people at its height (around 3,000 graves have been found). Birka was an important trading center as seen by grave items found originating in the Middle-East and mainland Europe. Archaeologists don't know exactly why the town was abandoned, but, at about the same time, nearby Sigtuna rose in importance. Birka is located on the island of Björkö in lake Mälaren, about an hour and 45 minute boat ride inland from Stockholm. During the Viking Age the water level was much higher and Birka was directly connected to the Baltic Sea.

Today the island and archaeological site are on UNESCO's World Heritage list. If you go to Birka expecting to see the fabulous ruins of an ancient city like Machu Pichu, you will be disappointed. Birka was built mainly of wood and all that is left are the grave mounds and black earth and it takes a little imagination to envision what the town once looked like. Fortunately visitors are helped first by visiting the on-site museum where they have miniature replicas of what the town may have looked like as well as eager and knowledgable tour guides who take you through the grave fields and the site of where the town once stood. A recent addition to the site is a life size replica of part of the town, complete with working Vikings. It is made up of 4 or 5 dwellings, gardens and boats. The Vikings go about their business doing their daily chores including smithy work. One week in July they set up a Viking market as well. In my opinion it is the tour guides who make the trip extra special. They are all archaeology students and you can feel their passion for their work. There are hour long tours in both Swedish and English as well as a later tour designed for children. Speaking of which, this is a great trip to take children on! I sent a family of four from Germany there last week and it was a big hit. Otherwise I recommend this day trip for nature and history lovers alike...

Strömma is the company that runs the tours. They leave daily (mid May to mid September) from City Hall at 9:30am and you are back in town at 5pm (this gives you almost 4 hours on the island- enough time to take the tour, visit the museum and have lunch). There is a cafe on board the boat as well as a restaurant on the island. The cost of the tour is 295 SEK, half off for children between 6 and 11. Included in the price is the boat trips (with on board guide), museum entrance and guided tour of the island.

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