In a quaint little town near Copenhagen called Roskilde, which is known globally for its famous Roskilde Festival I heard a story that traces the modern day Bluetooth technology to a Viking emperor. It was raining as I pottered around, exploring things to do in Roskilde.
The beautiful windswept town became the capital of Denmark under Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson. Did Harald really have a blue tooth – I do not know but it is said that the nickname is a reference to a dead tooth that looked blue. However one of the stories say that he was instrumental in bringing the warring tribes together during the medieval era. Perhaps that is why he became the muse for the “Bluetooth” technology. Harald however went on to build a wooden church which no longer exists today but he is one among the Danish monarchs to be buried in the famous Roskilde Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stands on the site of the wooden church.
Nevertheless, the town is more popular for its annual rocking music Roskilde festival that sets, not just Scandinavia, but entire Europe on fire. Roskilde Festival 2017 with its 175 acts includes different genres from rock, pop, hip hop and more and one day, I hope to be there during the festival . But there is more to the town than just the Roskilde Festival. I was there for just a day and here is my list of eleven things to do in Roskilde.
Walk through the old town of Roskilde
The moment I had set eyes on Roskilde , I wanted to live in this charming old town as I found myself fascinated by the quaint houses. Roskilde apparently refers to Ro’s spring , a reference to the 6th century Viking ruler Roar who lived here. Kilde in Norse is a reference to fountain or spring and looking out I can see small water bodies in this town. Located in the island of Zealand, Roskilde is a treasure house of stories and was the old capital of Denmark in the medieval era.
One of the first things to do in Roskilde is to explore the old town. Time literally stands still as you walk around, taking in the architecture around the main square Stændertorvet. Walking along cobbled streets, I was told that most of the original streets remained the same although some buildings were restored in the fire. There were restaurants, cafes, shops beckoning us as we wandered along aimlessly.
Travel back in time with Hans Christian Andersen with a pair of galoshes
One of the things to do in Roskilde is to travel back in time into a land of fairy tales and stories. A stone bench with a pair of metal galoshes tempted me as I attempted to fit into the shoes of the legendary Hans Christian Andersen and get a bit imaginative.
The inspiration behind the sculpture is the fairy tale, Galoshes of Fortune penned by the author. The story is a reference to a group of people who want to travel to the medieval era and soak in the revelry. If only I could wear a pair of galoshes right now that can magically transport me to Roskilde right now..
See the tombs of 39 Danish kings buried in the Roskilde Cathedral
Standing tall in brick with its twin spires towering over the town, the 13th century Roskilde Cathedral is the first Gothic brick cathedral to be built in Europe . However it is built on the site of Harald Bluetooth’s wooden church that was constructed in the medieval era.
Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the top things to do in Roskilde. The cathedral literally dominates the entire landscape.
Inside are the tombs of 39 Danish kings, including Bluetooth as well who was buried apparently in the wooden church that he built.
See medieval Viking ships in a Viking ship museum in Roskilde
Everything about Roskilde hinges on its Viking connection and the sea. And if you are running out of time, then the Viking ships museum has to be on your itinerary. Here five ships, dating back to the 11th century were found in the Roskilde fjord during an excavation.
These ships stacked one above the other blocked the fjord and thwarted enemies from attacking the Vikings. It is believed to have a brainchild by the Vikings to protect their capital town. Thousand years later, these ships ranging from a warship to ferries have been showcased in their original form in the museum.
The boats are referred to as Skuldelev and each one tells a story. The ship reminds me of all the sea faring battles fought by the Vikings to assert their supremacy over their neighbouring European and British countries. A boatyard attached to the museum takes you to the era of the Vikings where similar boats were made using the tools, ropes and axes that they would have probably used.
You can watch a few demonstrations, assemble your own little ship or dress like a Viking and pretend to lord over the seas. It is one of the things to do in Roskilde that must not be missed at all.
Sail like the Vikings
It is not just enough if you wear a Viking costume and pretend that you are the ruler of the seas. The real thing experience is to set sail like the Vikings. ” I can handle thunder storms but this is something else, “says Dylan, our instruction as we set sail on a rather windy stormy day which probably got me to overcome, if not briefly my phobia of the water.
Dylan regaled us with stories but with the weather literally taking the wind out of our sails, we rowed and sailed a bit, braving the oceans. These boats, that look straight out of the Viking era are built here and some of these brave men even go on expeditions, like sailing for over two months from Denmark to Ireland.
Get charmed by the Roskilde Palace
It was raining heavily but that did not take away the beauty of the 18th century Roskilde Palace located near the Roskilde Cathedral. Painted in hues of yellow with red roofs, it is now a Museum of Contemporary Art. Built in the Baroque style, the palace used by the royal family was built on the site where the residences of the Bishop .
The colours were a bit washed out because of the weather but as I travelled around Denmark and saw several old towns , I realized that the yellow and red hues were almost synonymous with these fairy tale towns.
Listen to the stories of the nunnery
Roskilde’s medieval convent is a landmark by itself but it tells some quirky stories as well. It is built on the site of the 13th century St Catherine Priory which was managed by the Dominican friars. Walking around what looked like a small park, I chanced upon a mural. The irreverence was laced with a touch of humour.
Our guide explained that in the olden days the convent , which was a small manor house was meant for women who came from aristocratic families, but these women eventually ended up getting naughty as well. Nevertheless there is a lot of history around the convent and it gives a perspective of Denmark’s spiritual journey.
Get a dose of history at Roskilde Museum
What I loved about Roskilde are the little quirks. For instance, where else would you find a museum in a charming house called the Sugar House ? The Roskilde Museum takes you through the history of this medieval town from the era of the Vikings to the present era. But am more interested in the two buildings – Sugar House and the Liebe House. The former which was once a sugar refinery and a merchant’s house eventually housed the fire station before becoming a museum. Now, that according to me is a story by itself.
Enjoy a cup of coffee in one of the cool cafes
Roskilde might have been created by the Vikings but the town is nothing like a fiery war zone. Instead it looks straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Some of the hotels and inns here are charming as well, a few of them even dating to the medieval era.
There are cafes galore where you can sit and enjoy live music. Roskilde after all is the land of rock music and is famous for its annual Roskilde Festival. We had lunch in Moehr or Skomagergade where we got fresh seasonal produce straight from the woods of Roskilde. And there was plenty of vegetarian fare for me. If you do not have time for lunch, then stop for a coffee in any of the cafes and watch time pass you by.
Admire the jars
There is something about street art in every town that fascinates me. It just gives you a perspective of the town, its history and culture and is often laced with humour. Besides colourful murals and sculptures, the first thing that you notice the moment that you get out of the railway station in Roskilde are three large colourful jars that stand in the middle of the street. The Roskilde jars as they are called commemorated the city’s 1000th anniversary and they represent birth, life and death. Created by Danish sculptor Peter Brandes, the 16 feet jars are probably the first and last things that you see in the town before you leave.
Take a train journey in the oldest railway station in Denmark
Roskilde is about 30 mins by train from Copenhagen but this former capital of Denmark also houses the oldest railway station in the country. Built with stone, the first train from Copenhagen was in 1847. So feel a little historic as you chug along, irrespective of whether you are getting back to Copenhagen or exploring other towns in the vicinity.
Have you been to Roskilde or attended the Roskilde Festival ? What would be your recommendations for things to do in Roskilde?
There are several day trips from Copenhagen and besides Roskilde, I also went to Dragor and Helsingor or Elsinore to see the famous Kronborg Castle, also referred to as Hamlet’s Castle .
This post was written in collaboration with Visit Copenhagen and Scandinavia Tourism Board who had hosted me in Copenhagen