Roskilde, Royals & Vikings – Fjordlandet, Denmark
There is perhaps no more regal town than Roskilde, although most of its famous residents are dead.
This is where Vikings still rule, where Queens and Kings lie in decorated rest, where you can discover ancient Danish civilizations dating back thousands of years.
It’s a place I know well from years long ago when I got a summer research job just a few miles away at Risø National Laboratories, one of the few times I’ve ever spent significant time in Denmark outside of our summer home in Kalvehave. I fell in love with the town back then, and not just because I was in the company of my ancestors.
Roskilde is truly magnificent.
It’s an old town with arguably the most impressive Cathedral in the country, situated in a gorgeous spot overlooking a long fjord, a pristine Natural Park around 40km long dotted with ~30 small islands and islets. Central to Denmark & strategically located, it was once the country’s Capital and one of the most important cities of ancient times, an active trade center from Viking Times through the Middle Ages.
Today it’s a vibrant and youthful place, with a large University, a bustling downtown and some fabulous (and I mean really fabulous!) museums. Oh, and of course it’s the site of Roskilde festival, one of the biggest and baddest music festivals in Europe (think Woodstock on steroids…)
Roskilde is not the only thing here either.
There’s lots more to see in this little corner of Zealand from castles to glass blowers, Viking halls to meaderies. As usual we didn’t manage it all even at our slo-mo pace, but we did get a good dose of ancient history and I also got to meet up with a childhood friend too, an awesome and unexpected bonus.
Kings, Queens, Vikings, and nature. This is Fjordlandet, and it’s a very cool place to explore.
This Is Fjordlandet
The entire area leading to Roskilde is part of what is collectively known as Fjordlandet (land of the Fjords), a spot known for its natural beauty and historic value.
The region consists of two main inlets; wider Isefjord in the west and narrower Roskilde Fjord in the east, the latter of which is also part of a massive Natural Park (Nationalpark Skjoldungernes Land) that extends from the water through a good portion of land around Roskilde and southeast thereof.
This park protects the fjord and limits what you can do there (no crazy water skiers or speed boats here) which also means the waters and its many smaller islands are pristine, allowing both marine and animal life to thrive. For outdoor lovers there is tons of nature here!
As far as fjords go its not really that dramatic (we’re not talking the cliff-backed giants of S. Norway, for example), but it’s a pretty spot with serene landscapes and lots to see and do.
There’s 275 km of bike/hike trails (Fjordstien) that go around the entire area, several key Viking sites (particularly at Lejre, Roskilde and Frederikksund), tons of sailing/kayaking/watersports and even, for those so inclined, a family-friendly nudist area at Solbakken (and yes, you can camp here too). In our case we focused on just two key areas, sticking to regular camping and enjoying land-based activities along the way.
We Stop For A Few Nights To Visit A Castle
After chillaxing in Byaasgaard for several days we decide to move on, partly for a change of scenery but also to find firmer ground before heavy rain which (once again) loomed in the forecast.
Some perusing on Google Maps drew me to a spot in the central “finger” of Fjordlandet with a fine Castle and a quiet-looking harbor just a few km away.
We roll in to Kignæs Marina on a cloudy afternoon and slot-in next to a single caravan (who turns out to be a local guy). It’s a teeny place with just 2 motorhome parking spots, but its got firm ground, electric hookups and grassy areas to walk the dog all for a mere 140 DKK per night (cash pay only here). Plus it’s cute and social. The locals all gather for chats and everyone is eager to say hello.
That afternoon I bike over to see Jægerspris Slot, a manor house and hunting grounds dating back to the 13th century that’s been owned by a slew of Danish Monarchs. The last of these was King Frederick VII and his wife Countess Danner, a woman well ahead-of-her-time. In 1867 she established an orphanage on the castle grounds and bequeathed them to the foundation upon her death. It still exists today.
The building itself is a wonderfully royal structure with perfectly bulbous turrets, but perhaps the loveliest area is the massive gardens and deep forests that surround it. There are thousand year-old oak trees here (the oldest in N. Europe!) and many km of serene forest bike/hikes. I bike around for a while and plan to come back the following day and visit the museum, but alas the weather forecasts deliver…and then some.
The entire next day we’re forced inside by unrelenting sheets of rain and wind, interrupted by mere moments of sun where we rapidly walk Polly before hiding away again indoors. The wind is so wild it whips the riggings of the boats in the harbor against their masts, creating a constant clanging that sounds like a bunch of pots or metal cups being banged together. It’s mostly OK during the day, but turns into a nightmare at night. By the next morning we can’t wait to get going again…..
Visit Tips: Jaegerspris Castle has a museum & extensive outdoor grounds. The museum is open 11-16 Tues-Sun from Easter until the end of October, and costs 65 DKK to visit. You can also enter with the Copenhagen Card (cost saver if you’re planning visits to multiple attractions over several days). The outdoor grounds are open everyday, FREE to visit & entirely dog-friendly.
We Visit The AWESOME Roskilde Viking Ship Museum
We pack up early to drive into Roskilde and park at the free motorhome parking area right next to the awesome, fabulous, stupendously good Roskilde Viking Ship museum.
Seriously, if you ever only see one Viking museum in your lifetime, this is the place!
The outdoor area of the museum is located right on the marina, and is both kid and dog-friendly. There’s workshops where they build Viking ships the same way they did over a thousand years ago (right down to using the same tools and types of wood!), Viking fighting areas for kiddos, interactive exhibits, sailing outings (on Viking re-creations) and….the piece de resistance….an indoor museum with 5 real excavated Viking ships and tons of history info.
I’m fascinated with Vikings, not only because they’re my ancestors but because of everything they managed to achieve in a period that, in the grand scheme of things, was really quite short. The “Viking Age” only lasted from ~739-1066 AD and in that time the Norsemen revolutionized ship-building & sailing (they literally invented the keel), conquered land from England to France, and sailed incredible distances from Asia to Newfoundland. The Vikings made it into Paris y’all…and to the Caspian Sea!
Of course the history has its fair share of nasty bits too.
Vikings were feared for their brutality and bloodthirsty raids, and believed in Gods that required regular sacrifices. But many Norsemen were also simpler folk, farmers or hunters who sought to establish colonies and trading routes. And they were not “one” united people either, even though we often talk of them as so. There were at least 4 main Viking groups (Danes, Gauts, Norwegians & Swedes) which partitioned in many smaller Kings and Lords, who often feuded amongst themselves too. It was not until Harold Bluetooth (who united Denmark & Norway in ~960) that some cohesion came to be.
Either way one cannot deny that the Vikings are a fascinating slice of history, and this museum tells their entire story in a living and interactive way. It’s a truly awesome visit!
Visit Tips: The Viking Ship Museum consists of extensive outdoor grounds and one indoor space (with the 5 excavated ships). Opening times 10-16 in winter (115 DKK entry fee), 10-17 in summer (150 DKK entry fee). You can also enter with the Copenhagen Card (cost saver if you’re planning visits to multiple attractions over several days). Outdoor areas are dog-friendly, so feel free to bring the paws to explore. During summer, boat trips can also be booked on one of the re-created Viking boats (just get ready to row, like the Vikings did!).
We Settle In At Roskilde Camping
After our morning Viking escapades we drive LMB to Roskilde Camping, a huge and green spot on the fjord ~5km from downtown.
It turns out to be a way nicer campground than I had originally expected with wonderful views of Roskilde, huge green fields, a super fancy restaurant (Restaurant Vigen, fully booked while we were there unfortunately), and the most pristine & modern kitchen & bathrooms I’ve ever seen. Plus it’s got tons of areas to walk, several bathing bridges and no end of playgrounds for the kiddos.
We settle into our site (which even has a decent water view) and explore the extensive grounds with Polly. Totally cool spot….
I Convene With Kings & Queens At Roskilde Domkirke
The next day I bike into town for another AWESOME visit.
Roskilde Domkirke (Roskilde Cathedral) is perhaps the most prestigious and fascinating of all Danish churches, and just like the Viking Ship Museum down the way it’s a totally unique experience and an absolute “must see” in the area.
Constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries it’s an impressive multi-story brick mega-structure with both Gothic and Romanesque features, a gorgeous organ (the oldest part of which dates to 1425) and a very unusual pulpit of brick and sandstone embellished with wood carvings from the early 1600’s.
The architecture has earned it UNESCO Heritage status, but that’s just the beginning of the good stuff. What makes this place especially interesting is that it’s been the main burial ground for Danish Kings and Queens since the 15th Century. Quite literally it’s filled with sarcophagi, each one a reflection of the personality and time from which the Royal came. And it’s truly awe-inspiring to see.
I managed to get in right before opening, and was the very first visitor to enter as the Cathedral bells chimed 10AM.
I spent the next hour wandering the many chapels with very few others around, gawking at all the different sarcophagi from the simple box of “Chaste” Christian 6 to the over-the-top marble and gold masterpieces of the “Renaissance King” Frederik 2nd. In the center of the Church is the marble casket of Magrete I, the Danish Queen who united Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and on the 2nd floor is an extensive museum. Each corner is interesting and unique.
The Cathedral is a fabulous trip through Danish history and a wonderful way to see its Royal history. If you come here, do not miss this!
Visit Tips: Roskilde Domkirke is open Mon-Sat 10-16 (winter), 10-18 (summer) and Sun 13-16. Entry costs DKK 60 for adults. You can also enter with the Copenhagen Card (cost saver if you’re planning visits to multiple attractions over several days).
I Visit With An Old Friend
Our last days in Roskilde we don’t do much except hang in camp and try to evade the ever-more frequent rain clouds that seem to keep driving through.
The sunlight comes when a childhood friend of mine drives up to visit, a girl I used to know from my summers in Kalvehave. We end up chatting for 4 hours straight with nary a pause or even a picture (we totally forgot!), a sure sign that the reunion was good.
Isn’t it crazy how you can meet-up with someone you knew 40 years ago and feel like zero time has passed?
Our last night in Roskilde we get clear skies (finally) and the chance to have happy hour outside. Our time in Denmark is winding down, with just a few more visits planned before we cross the border back to Germany and drive on home. I’ve got another friend to see, and a great-great grandmother whose grave I hope to find again, but then it’ll be time to go.
These next few days will be our final in Denmark and the last in my homeland. Next week I’ll tell you how that goes….
- Map for Fjordland: Link to interactive map of all activities HERE
- Visit Fjordland: Official tourist information HERE
- Jaegerspris Slot: Official site for Jaegerspris Castle HERE
- Roskilde Viking Ship Museum: Official link for the Viking Museum HERE
- UNESCO Site Roskilde Domkirke: Roskilde Cathedral website HERE
- Copenhagen Card: Cost-saving card if you’re planning multiple visits to attractions around the CPH area. See the website HERE.