I had heard the Jorvik Viking Centre was good. This was from several people who had been there a number of years ago, so I thought I would like to see it. They all said it was great, lots of earthy and even gruesome displays and really awful smells, which were to show you how it really would have smelled in the villages of the day. We discovered that it was a disappointment, at least to us.
We made our way to the Yorvik Viking centre and paid almost 10 pounds each. There's a room with some displays and a glass floor over a model of the excavations in the area where the original Viking settlement was found. You get in a little cart on a track and are moved through a village with a narration. But it wasn't gruesome, there was no smell, and it was littered with animatronic villagers talking in some ancient language to you in reply to the narrator who then translated. It felt very sanitized and even Disneyfied, not really appealing to adults, not us anyway. There was a display room with lots of artifacts they've found in York while excavating, all Viking aged items including skeletons, coins, jewelry, glass etc. Overall, not really enough to be worth 10 pounds. It might appeal to families more, I guess, but we could have happily skipped it, had we known.
I visited the Jorvik Viking Centre because I love history and the advertisement and travel guides made it sound as if it was a fantastic place to get up close with the Vikings, an attraction not to be missed - but I must say that I was very disappointed. I'm not saying you should not go there, but be careful what to expect...
Jorvik is the Viking name of York. The Vikings invaded the area in 866, and they stayed nearly a hundred years. During this time, the city flourished and became an important trading post and harbour. In the 1980s, there were many excavations in Coppergate, where a lot of Viking things were found. These excavations helped to understand what Jorvik looked like and how the Vikings lived in the city. There were four buildings where countless everyday articles were found, as well as workshops, leftovers, animal pits, fences and fireplaces.
At exactly that spot, the Jorvik Viking Centre was build and organized by the Archaeological Trust. When you enter, you can first see a part of the excavation area - it is covered by glass and you can walk above it and discover how it looks like. There are a few presentations about the Vikings and how they arrived in the area, as well as some exhibits.
You then start a time warp experience, as you sit down in a kind of chairlift and are transported into Jorvik. You can not leave the chair, but are taken around a recreation of the Viking city - you can see many different Viking buildings as well as the Vikings themselves, life-size models (puppets, not real people). It is an audio experience as well, as the models tell you about their lives and also talk among each other about their daily business. You can see their buildings and workshops, their animals and food, their looks and clothing.
So what did I not like about it? I don't know, I just found it not too interesting, and somehow I expected something different. I would have liked a recreated village where I can walk around and linger around in places I like better - not being shoved around without any power to control where I stay and where not. I also understand that it should be agreeable for children, but I still would have liked more information and not just the basic things...
When you leave the time warp, there is an area that is more like a museum, with many interesting displays such as things excavated from the different workshops, weapons and jewelry. The exhibits were no doubt very interesting and I liked them, but nearly every display also had the depiction of a Viking (this time a dressed up man or woman, not a created model), telling you about their business when you come closer - and sorry, that was just too much. I would have liked to look at the exhibits in peace and quite for a few minutes without being bombarded by loud multimedia from all directions.
I do understand the concept, to bring information to people in a non-academic way and to make it interesting and funny also for those who would usually not be that interested, by created a sort of experience and show instead of a traditional museum. I really do see the idea behind it, and there were some things I found interesting, but altogether, it was not my cup of tea, and I also thought it to be too expensive.
Admission fee: Adults £9,25, Senior/Student £7,25, Child £6,25, family of four £26, family of five £29
Opening times: from 10.00am daily, until 04.00pm in winter and 05.00pm in summer
The Jorvic Centre was created on the very site where between the years 1976-81 archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-Age city of Jorvik as it stood 1,000 years ago. Street life & day to day living can be seen as you step aboard a car which takes you to sample the sights and even smells of Viking life. In addition to this Viking 'street view' there are many great exhibits on display for you to peruse at your leisure. I enjoyed my visit to the Viking Centre although some of the smell as we travelled around the streets will leave a lasting impression!
There is a great gift shop here, selling all sorts of Viking memorabilia.
As with some of the other Attractions in York, the entrance ticket is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.
If you are expecting Jorvik to be some sort of theme park ride, you'll be disappointed. It's not.......it's an attempt to present the findings of an incredibly important excavation to the general public, whilst raising funds for continuing research. The unique waterlogged conditions of the Jorvik site enabled all sorts of organic material to be retrieved (from socks to cess) and added hugely to our knowledge of Viking life in York.
If you are genuinely interested in finding out how people lived in the past, then Jorvik is for you.....but be prepared to queue!
Updated November 2011: yes, people are still regularly queuing for Jorvik. Allow plenty of time for your visit.
Before going to York we had heard so much about this place and it seemed to be one of the main draws to the city. Unfortunately it didn't live up to the hype (which we had been warned by a couple of friends!). It is certainly different to your average museum as you get the ride through the mock Viking village with some quite life like models and very realistic buildings and artifacts along with the smells of the day. Unfortunately this was over much quicker than expected. The displays before the ride we could not get to see because of the 2 school groups which were using that room at the time. The displays after the ride looked good but the level of information was not as good as that provided in some of the other museums in York and again we had trouble seeing anything because here there was a school group running wild! The attraction is greatly overpriced for what it is and many of the items in the gift shop we had seen in the Yorkshire Museum at much lower prices. It was still interesting to go but was ruined by the presence of so many children with little supervision. I wondered if they were trying to aim at a more childrens/theme park type of audience rather than adults who are genuinely interested in history? Overall, disappointing, but if you are taking kids they will probably love it.
I remember visiting the Jorvik Centre in York more years ago that I care to remember and, if memory serves, it was a walk-through experience of a recreation of what a portion of York would have been like when it was controlled by the Vikings and called Jorvik, hence the name. Well, on a recent revisit, it appears time and technology have finally caught up with our Norse forebears and they have taken the legwork out of it for you. More of that shortly.
On entering the Centre, the first room you enter is fascinating and sets the scene for the subsequent activities. It is effectively an archaeological "dig", in situ, and covered by thick glass so you are literally walking over the remains of a Viking settlement exactly where it was built so long ago. I have seen a similar thing in Brno in the Czech Republic and it really does put all the slightly drier glass-encased artefacts in context. And there are plenty of artefacts to see, all the usual household, decorative and warlike items you would expect.
On then to the "main event", and an explanation of the title of this tip. An excellent reconstruction of the place as it was 1,000 years ago, peopled by animatronic Vikings going about their daily tasks. But here's the good bit, you no longer have to walk, being instead transported by what the Centre likes to call "time capsules" for which read slow-moving roof-mounted funfair type cars. They are comfortable, even for a tall man like me, and you get a commentary (available in various languages) through the speakers in your headrest. It is a truly multi sensory journey. Watch out for some of the interesting smells!
Having debussed from the "time capsule", you are into another couple of rooms similar to a museum although with some interactive features such as hologram actors recounting stories of daily life. I was particularly intersted here in a subject relatively recently explored on British TV where researchers have identified a Viking marker in human DNA and have mapped where in the UK the greatest concentrations of Vikings are. I'll not spoil it for you, but it is fascinating.
The Centre is fully wheelchair accessible, with the following caveat from the website.
"Due to health and safety regulations, only one wheelchair user can be in JORVIK at any one time. Wheelchair users must be booked in advance."
Also, a more temporary inconvenience is that due to refurbishment in the early part of 2010 there will be no wheelchair access for about three months. This will also restrict the activities available for able bodied visitors.
Hearing impaired visitors are catered for thus:
"We have a ride capsule available that is installed with a hearing loop. (This covers all six seats in the capsule). A written version of the commentary is also available to ensure you get the most out of your visit. "
There are also facilities for visually impaired visitors:
"A large print commentary of the ride is available, as is a braille guide for the Artefacts Alive gallery. Guide dogs are welcome in the centre, although the ride may make some dogs nervous."
I rather like the efforts the Centre have made to accomodate disabled people.
The Jorvik Centre will appeal to children due to it's interactive nature, although there is plenty to keep adults amused as well. Allow about two hours to see the whole thing properly.
Maybe this one was the largest disappointment in York, maybe I would have better enjoyed it if I were nine. The queue is usually deterrent, especially during the busy summer season. At least the actors – they do not only appear inside of the museum, but also entertain the kids in the queue – are good. Anyway, for that queing time and for that money, I expected somewhat more.
The first part of the museum consists of multimedia shows as well as a fun fair – style ride through York in the viking era. It is also the part where the focus lies on and as I said, especially aimed at kids. The exhibition with archeological finds was OK, but it was somewhat spoiled by all the masses of visitors pushing you through the exit. If you are here for some light entertainment, are in York with kids or have seen everything else, I would recommend the visit. Otherwise, there are way better attractions in York which are even less expensive and suitable for kids as well (Castle Museum, Railway Museum,…). To avoid the queue, come very early or very late, at least during summertime. There is even a pre-booking service on their website for a small fee which can be used to jump the queue.
This had all the ear markings of a really bad tourist trap. Yes in some ways it actually was. I give you that. A lady on the bus had said they had done it earlier that day and was actually impressed. I gave it a try and had the same response. They had an impressive collection of artifacts from the Jorvik days of York. I was not impressed with the corny ride they put us on, but the displays were actually really well done and informative. I was glad I took the lady's recommendation.
Since its opening, Jorvik has been one of York's major attractions with queues as long as the road to London. Visitors have come to travel in electric cars around a Viking village based on archaeological diggings around the Coppergate centre in York. The experience they got was total and you could even smell the village and hear Scandinavian sounding voices. It has recently undergone a complete refurbishment and loads of changes have taken place so we recently went back to see what it was like and to let our Swedish-York daughter check out her heritage. These days you start off in a "time travel" zone where you watch a film taking you back in time. I thought that bit was pretty naff and it didn't do much for me - then we got to take a seat in the new "cars" which take more people than before and have nice built in audioguides by your headrest. There is a setting for children with easier storytelling, whilst the adult version come in several major languages apart from English so you just pick the one you prefer, and the car sets off into the depths of the museum. My only complaint here is that my hair sometimes got stuck in the earphone bit so you might want to consider a cap or at least a ponytail if you've got long hair.
York has a history of Viking life since Vikings came from Scandinavia and settled here and in the rest of the region. Just like the Romans, the Vikings probably liked the strategic setting along a major river. Jorvik was the name the Vikings gave their city and still today you find traces of their history in the way that streets are called "gates" and many other such linguistic peculiarities, making me as a Swede feel at home. Jorvik Viking Centre is in a modern shopping area called Coppergate and the reason for this is that lots of Viking remains were found on this spot when York was being modernised in the 1970s and they had to do archaeological excavations first. The centre has therefore been built on top of some of those archaeological digs and my husband was even lucky enough to see it all unfolding as he passed here on his way to school as a child. Some of the finds from these digs can be seen in the Yorkshire Museum (see tip).
As the car takes you around the centre, you still get to see the built up Jorvik of before but it has changed into something brighter and it is no longer as dark as I remember from my first visit. The cars swirl around now and again as you turn a corner and get to look into a yard or onto a market scene and there are sounds of roosters and people just like before, but the worst smells are gone, leaving only a bit of tar and other things to put you in the mood. Not as exciting as I remember it to have been before but still fun. As you come to the last part of your journey, you are shown a real part of the archaeological digs which have been saved so that you get an impression that this still is very much a real site. Then you leave the car and walk around the rest which is set up like a museum, and this is the bit I like the most these days. Here you find computer stations where you can see what people ate, what illnesses hit them due to for instance malnutricion, what women did in society, how they traded and with whom. There is also a general exhibition of various items as you walk around, and a station where you can listen to Scandinavian languages and compare words which I of course found fun.
You can strike your own Jorvik coin which the children will like, and speak to the staff which are all dressed up in Viking clothes and sometimes do different things in their smithy and such. My only disappointment here was that many of the staff were students from the south of England and whilst they studied Scandinavian languages so that I could even speak to them in my native Swedish, they had little knowledge of York today and how the words they had learned in their Scandinavian studies are still used naturally today as a legacy of all this. Therefore, I felt happy enough seeing it all as a tourist but less happy as someone with a York family and that's a bit sad. Still, this was a smaller detail and a visit to the centre is still something I recommend anyone even if it is a bit expensive. The queues are still long some days (not least during the Viking Festival which the centre is involved in) so my tip is to come just before opening time if you want to avoid those. Then you are also one of the first to later brows the nice souvenir shop.
This was the worst activity in York, it cost £8 per adult and lasted approximately 20 minutes, there were some Viking tools, belts, pottery at the end but the lighting was so poor that you couldn't see them.
There are far better things to spend your money on in York and I recommend you go elsewhere.
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