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Birka and Hovgarden

Birka and Hovgarden
Birka and Hovgården are archeological sites that are a testimony to the wide-ranging trade network established by the Vikings. Birka was also important as the site of the first known Christian congregation in Sweden, founded in 831 by Saint Ansgar.

The town Birka was founded in the 8th century, and was an important harbour until the 10th century AD. It is located on Björkö island. The site includes remains of a fortress, ramparts of a town wall, traces of harbours and thousands of burial mounds.

Hovgården lies on the neighbouring island of Adelsö. It has both Viking and medieval remains, comprising of a church, a brick palace, several burial mounds and a harbour with a runic inscription. Hovgården is believed to have been the site from where kings and chieftains ruled the area.

Visit July 2012

I only visited Hovgarden, which is located on the calm island of Adelsö. This can only be reached by a car ferry. The ferry runs every half hour all day, and even on a Saturday afternoon I found it wasn't too busy. The ride is free, as well as the entrance to the archeological site.

The Hovgarden part of this WHS comprises of a few rune stones, burial mounds and the remains of a palace (only part of a wall is still visible). They lie in the center of Hovgarden town. It's a nice stroll through the fields, and information is posted along the way. From on top of the hill where the palace stood, there are good views on the surrounding lake and to Björkö (for Birka).

The walk ends at the medieval Adelsö Church, a lovely small romanesque construction. Inside there are runic stones too, but unfortunately I couldn't get in as a wedding service was going on. So after about an hour I ended my visit and took the ferry back.

Click here to see more of my photos of Birka and Hovgarden


Ian Cade (England):
As with many other reviewers here we visited only Hovgarden, which proved to be an enjoyable out of the way idyll, even if the actual remains weren't especially spectacular.

After a quick free trip on the car ferry we headed to the site. Just in front of us was a guide in Viking dress conducting a tour in Swedish, were too far away to hear anything, but it did highlight to us the route we should take around the grassy mounds. There were a few small boards dotted around to help interpret the green lumps and stones in front of us, but to be honest there wasn't really much to grab me. It was a nice stroll, especially when we got down to the waterfront and found there was a little boat going over to Birka, however the cost and amount of time required for the return boat quickly ruled it out.

We had a quick look inside the church, which was everything you would expect from a small Scandinavian church; pleasant, calm acres of white surfaces. Then that was about it, we headed back to the small café/ library and sat in the mid-summer sun, trying to acquaint ourselves with the distinctly Nordic "treat" of salt liquorice ice cream. Then we headed off for a quick drive around the island whilst we killed time before the ferry arrived.

It was a pleasant and idyllic way to spend a morning in the warm sunshine, however I don't feel that I really got much understanding of the value of the site. A trip over to Birka and its museum could hopefully provide a more thorough explanation however the large cost in terms of both cost and time rather put us off making a visit. So we didn't see the best of the site but we had a nice morning, and the route back to Stockholm goes straight past Drottningholm so we had an enjoyable stroll around the gardens there to round out the visit.

[Site 2: Experience 5]
Date posted: August 2014
Klaus Freisinger (Austria):
There is only a handful of WH sites associated with the Vikings, and the major reason for this seems to be that they just didn't leave that many traces. Their buildings were made of wood, so the major Viking remains are runestones and burial mounds. These are also what you can see in this site, spread over 2 islands in Lake Mälar, just outside Stockholm. Birka, on the island of Björkö, is only reachable by boat, and there is a daily excursion boat leaving from Stadshuset. The island includes a decent museum with many findings (although most are in Stockholm museums), and the guided tours take you to the major burial mounds and modern additions (a chapel and a large cross dedicated to St. Ansgar, who - unsuccessfully - tried to bring Christianity to Birka). Birka was a large trading post in its heyday, and one of only a handful of Viking-age cities. The king, however, resided in Hovgarden, on the island of Adelsö, just a short boat ride away. I wasn't really sure how to include this in my travel plans, but in the end, it was pretty easy. Just 30 minutes after the boat to Stockholm left, another boat made the trip to Adelsö, and I could explore the site on my own. There are burial mounds there as well, plus a few scattered runestones, which I didn't see in Birka. So I think both islands are worth a visit, even if the bus trip from Adelsö back to Stockholm took over an hour. This is one of the few insights into authentic Viking life that one can get anywhere - and there is a realistic imitation of a Viking settlement close to the museum in Birka.
Date posted: August 2011
John Booth (New Zealand):
I visited Hovgaden on Adelso Island by #312 bus from Brommaplan T-bana station. There is a daily ferry from Hovgaden to Birka, but as its departure is not co-ordinated with any bus arrival I didn't go there. From other's reports, I didn't miss much. I did see the island in the distance from the Hovgaden fortress site, and found some inscribed runic stones near the Adelso church.
Date posted: May 2010
Christer Sundberg (Sweden):
I first visited the Viking village of Birka and Hovgården on the small islands of Björkö and Adelsö in Lake Mälaren during a school excursion in 1969 when I was only 7 years old. And similar to later trips in my life I have always used the tourboats that departs from the Town Hall in central Stockholm to approach the islands, a journey that continues to be an immensely popular day-trip for both Swedes and foreigners, visiting Stockholm in the summer..

And summer it has to be, since it is only possible to visit Birka on the island of Björkö from June to August. During the winter you can still visit Hovgården through a quite complicated and time-consuming bus ride from Stockholm but don’t bother with this unless you are manically into Swedish Viking remains.

Birka dates back to the 8th century when a Swedish King (name unknown) founded the city of Birka on the island Björkö. Foreign merchants made their way here from near and far and in its heydays more than 700 people lived and worked here. By the end of the 10th century, Birka’s position as trade center was taken over by nearby Sigtuna and Björkö was abandoned.

The advice for the first time visitor is to keep your expectation low. Don’t expect to find a full-fledged Viking town on Björkö. The truth is rather that there are actually NO visible remains from the Viking age on either Birka or Hovgården apart from the thousands and thousands of burial mounds that are scattered all over the island. On Hovgården you can find some remains of a small fortress but this one dates back to the 11th century so it’s not really Viking-ish. So this is a true archeological site and if you want to see the most impressive remains found on the islands you should pay a visit to the Historic Museum in Stockholm.

My last visit to Birka was in August of 2004 and I noticed that there have been quite some improvements out there. A new small museum and visitors centre has been built and the restaurant seems to have gone through quite an upgrade. You can participate in a number of guided tours (in Swedish & English) which is something that I strongly recommend – it’s good to have someone explain to you what was once what.

Last but not least – the Vikings did NOT have any horns on their helmets. This is something that Hollywood invented inspired possibly by Wagner operas…

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Site info

Birka and Hovgården
Country: Sweden
Inscribed: 1993
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (3) (4)
Category: Archaeological site, Viking

Site history:
1993 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:
»Birka och Hovgrden

In the news:
Not available

Related links:
» Birka och Hovgrden.
» The Vikings.
» Trip Journal - Birka .
» The Birka Crucifix .
» Birka in the Viking Age.
» Birka Swedens first city.

Related Forum posts:
Not available

Getting there

This WHS has 2 location(s).


Dynastic Burial Places . Tombs .
Isostatic Rebound . Notable lakes .
Human Activity
Experimental Archaeology . Sea Ports . Viking settlements . Writing systems .
Religion and Belief
Introduction of Christianity .
Built in the 8th century .
Cultural sites taking up an entire island . Free entrance .
WHS Hotspots
Stockholm hotspot .

© WHS 1997-2016