Swedish Heritage Sunday: Hovgården

2015-04-12T12:10:00+00:0019 January 2014|Road trips, Sweden, UNESCO World Heritage|

In the west, the word Viking usually brings to mind Norsemen heading west and leaving their marks on Ireland and England, such as the city of York, once known as Jorvik, a very Norwegian name indeed. They colonised Iceland and Greenland, and were even the first Europeans to discover North America.


The Swedish Vikings are not as well known. Perhaps because they travelled east, which when you look at the map, seems reasonable. They went to the Baltics, to Russia and to Constantinople. Were the more obscure Swedish Vikings markedly different? I doubt it. They focused more on trade and less on pillaging – not because they were less aggressive than the Norsemen, but because the countries to the east were rich and much better defended.

I was curious to see Birka and Hovgården, described by UNESCO as being

an important archaeological complex illustrative of the elaborate trading networks of Viking Age Europe and Scandinavia and their influence on subsequent history. It is also important as the site of the first evangelization of this part of Sweden.

Birka is located on an island in Lake Mälaren and the oldest town in Sweden. For two centuries, it was among the most important centres of the Viking Era. As it was, however, I arrived at Adelsö late in the day; too late to catch the boat to the island.


Hovgården Hovgården, the other part of the site, is more accessible, through a free and fairly frequent shuttle ferry (un-manned).

After Birka was abandoned, a royal estate (Hovgården) was established on Adelsö. Alsnö Hus, the last castle, was destroyed in the late 13th century, so ruins, meadows and grave mounds are mostly what you can see today, in addition to Håkansstenen, (meaning Håkan’s Stone) the intricately carved rune stone in the first photo.

Adelsö Hovgården

That, and apparently there’s a chance of seeing – or even hitting – the occasional wild boar. I didn’t see one, but as I stumbled through undergrowth, I was a bit wary.

I suspect Birka might the more interesting part of this complex. But there’s more in the works here at Hovgården, too. A group of idealistic locals, calling themselves Alsnö Vikingar, plans to recreate a Viking Era environment near the ruins of the old castle; a farm, boats, handicrafts, trade. Construction is under way.


This is one heritage site I might have a closer look at later.

This is part 3 of Swedish Heritage Sunday, a weekly series here on Sophie’s World this winter.


unesco logo

Birka and Hovgården together form a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites we’ve visited around the world.

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  1. Maria Falvey 19 January 2014 at 1854 - Reply

    Sophie, beautiful setting and that carved stone is incredible.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 19 January 2014 at 1934 - Reply

      There is that 🙂

  2. Ha Nguyen 20 January 2014 at 0331 - Reply

    What a wild and beautiful scenery. Thanks for sharing a part of the world that I’ve never had a chance to see.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 at 1857 - Reply

      It is a bit out of the way.

  3. Leigh 20 January 2014 at 0353 - Reply

    Don’t really think of Sweden and Vikings at all s a good history lesson and quite the rock.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 at 1858 - Reply

      You’re not the only one 🙂

  4. Renuka 20 January 2014 at 0832 - Reply

    Well, the place looks like a blend of both history and nature.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 at 1859 - Reply

      Two for one 🙂

  5. Gil 20 January 2014 at 2034 - Reply

    Interesting and the pictures are beautiful. Thanks~

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 at 1859 - Reply

      Thank you.

  6. Muza-chan 21 January 2014 at 0946 - Reply


    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 at 1900 - Reply

      Interesting place to stumble upon indeed.

  7. Corinne 21 January 2014 at 1756 - Reply

    An unmanned ferry? Love the stone…still more to see…always with my ever-lengthening list!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 at 1901 - Reply

      Oh, I know. My list is forever lengthening, too.

  8. Mette 21 January 2014 at 2002 - Reply

    Too bad I don’t like tattoos or I would have that stone copied on my shoulder. And interesting to hear they are planning a working viking village. In Denmark such initiatives are hugely popular.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 at 1903 - Reply

      That would be a cool tattoo. And yes, both Sweden and Denmark are quite good with these things. In Norway, not so much. We have these fabulous finds – like the amazingly well-preserved Viking Ships – but not a great sense of marketing, I’m afraid.

  9. Jeff 18 May 2016 at 0222 - Reply

    Wow! I didn’t know about the Swedish Vikings or how they differed from the Norsemen in their very existence. Thank you for this informative post and opening my eyes to new discoveries in Swedish history!

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