Interview with a Viking: why the JORVIK Viking Centre makes a great day out

The ride experience at the JORVIK Viking Centre is an incredibly detailed reconstruction of 10th century Jorvik

Experience the recreated Coppergate on the JORVIK ride experience - Credit: JORVIK Viking Centre

York is renowned for its colourful Viking history and who better to shed light on the city’s fascinating past than someone who was there himself!

Ingvar, a resident Viking at JORVIK Viking Centre, reveals more about the Vikings’ history in York and explains how the centre brings the sights, sounds and smells of the era to life.

Ingvar, a resident Viking at JORVIK Viking Centre in Yorkshire

Visitors to the JORVIK Viking Centre can meet Ingvar, one of their resident Vikings - Credit: JORVIK Viking Centre

Q: Ingvar, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a Viking trader, making silver from the goods you can buy and sell around the world, especially along the great river highways. I was born in what you know as Sweden, but I came to Jorvik (the Viking name for York) as a teenager to make my fortune, and it’s gone pretty well!

It’s a bustling town and there are many other traders here. It’s also positioned right next to the River Ouse, which gives me access to trade networks all over the world and enables me to get a good price for what I sell. I’m actually just back from the Middle East – I have some silks and exotic spices, if you’re buying? 

Q: Why is York famous for Vikings?

Viking with family at JORVIK Viking Centre in York

The Vikings love to talk to visitors about the city's historic culture and lifestyle - Credit: JORVIK Viking Centre

For a long it time, it wasn’t. Until the 1970s, not many people knew about York’s Viking history, despite evidence in medieval documents and the odd archaeological artefact.

That all changed in 1974 when York Archaeological Trust began its now-famous dig on Coppergate. They found as astonishing amount of well-preserved Viking-era material which educated the experts and public alike about this fascinating period in the city’s history.

JORVIK Viking Centre was created on the site of that dig, and every year we celebrate the city’s Norse past with the JORVIK Viking Festival.

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Q: What was life really like for Vikings in York? 

It was a violent beginning, when my ancestors first came to England. After 70 years of raids, York was captured by a great army of Vikings in AD 866, which must have been very frightening for its residents.

However, archaeological evidence seems to show that the city prospered under Viking rule and the Viking raiders integrated quickly with the local population, forming a thriving urban centre. Artefacts show it was a busy, diverse trading centre, so in Jorvik many different languages were spoken: Old Norse, Old English, Old Irish, Old Welsh, and even Arabic!

People were skilled at many trades, such as wood-turning, antler-working, weaving, metal-working and of course cup-making – the name Coppergate, which survives to the 21st century means 'street of the cup-makers!' 

Much is known about what we ate from the butchery remains found in the garden plots; plants seeds preserved for 1,000 years; analysis of pottery shards; and even fossilised human excrement! We Vikings had a varied diet of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and herbs – you wouldn’t find it too strange.

You’d also appreciate our excellent good hygiene and care for our appearance – maybe even better than yours: do you carry an ear wax scoop and hair tweezers on your belt? Those of us with a bit of spare cash had beautiful, richly coloured clothing and accessories to show off our wealth. 

Q: What was York itself like in Viking times?

Busy, loud and exciting! From the bustling scenes at the banks of the two rivers as goods come in from around the world, to the diverse people thronging the streets of the settlement going about their daily lives, a visitor to Jorvik would be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of the Viking age. That’s exactly what you’ll experience when you visit the centre. In fact, the JORVIK Viking Centre is the best way to experience the Viking Age for yourself! 

Q: How does the centre immerse visitors in the Viking experience?

You see, hear and even smell the Viking Age when you visit on a day out. Our famous ride experience is an incredibly detailed reconstruction of 10th century Jorvik, from the birds in the sky to the moss growing on the walls.

You’ll see all the people, hear them talking in the various languages and dialects that would have been present in this multicultural settlement, and smell every aspect of their lives. I’m afraid that does include some less pleasant scents, but you can blame my mate Bogar for that. He’s been sitting on that toilet for quite a while now...

Q: Will visitors meet you?

Viking at JORVIK Viking Centre with children

Each Viking has their own special interests that visitors can learn about, including metal work, weaving, Viking cookery, weaponry and sagas - Credit: JORVIK Viking Centre

Visitors will meet me or another of my Jorvik friends during their day out. We’ve got all sorts of Vikings here, and everyone has their own special interests – metal work, weaving, Viking cookery, weaponry, sagas, and so much more. We love to talk to visitors to tell them all about our vibrant culture and lifestyle. We can also tell them more about all the amazing artefacts they will see on display, and when it’s safe to do so, let them handle real finds from the archaeological dig.

The centre will be captivating for anyone who is curious about York’s past. From the fully immersive ride experience, to interacting with our unique digital displays, everyone learns something fascinating. If you’re really intrigued, there’s always more to find out from me and my fellow Vikings – we really are a mine of Viking information and we love to share it.

Tickets can be pre-booked at jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk or by calling 01904 615505.