Ribe: A lesson on Vikings and Hygge

Since we were gluttons for punishment, we set off for another long road trip, barely a week after we had our first international excursion with our 7-month old son. This time, we were off to the north to Ribe, the oldest existing town in Denmark, founded in the early 8th century.

To be honest, I wouldn’t know the difference between 8th century history from 18th century history, but I do know a charming old town when I see one. The drive through the fields was utterly soothing, although my husband didn’t really appreciate the very low speed limit (As for me — yay, somewhere I could drive!).

After an 8-hour drive with a stopover in Hamburg, cobblestones on the main road announced that we were now approaching Ribe. Past the old train station and the water tower, we made our way to our Airbnb, which delightfully schooled us on Hygge:

In addition to the well-stocked kitchen, the owners also left us welcome beers and drinks, which made it hard not to fall head over heels in love with this guesthouse. If it rained cats and dogs outside and we were to be stuck here, hundreds of miles away from our own home, perhaps I would let out a sigh, as I sip my hot coco as I snuggle in the cosy sofa by the window, but that would be it. (So Lisbet and Jan, could you adopt us please? :D)

It was quite late when we managed to tear ourselves away from the couch eventually. Since the museums were already closed, we opted to drive a bit further to Esjberg for this majestic monument:

I have a feeling it would take forever for me to finally make it to Easter Island, so for now, thank you Ejsberg, for this sight. Each giant looking out to the sea is 9 meters tall, and is supposed to symbolize the pure, unspoiled meeting between man and nature. Their contemplating faces also make me think about why I tear myself away from home so often to go far and wide. Perhaps exactly for new experiences and new insights like this, I suppose.

By the Cathedral in the center of town — the cobblestones weren’t too stroller-friendly, so Tobi was happy that we carried him around most of the time while exploring.

We then made our way back to Ribe to take an evening walk around the old town. Ribe is quite small, and it didn’t take much time to comb the streets and spot an inviting restaurant for dinner. Of course, when around fishing towns, one must have seafood, of course! I went for their version of surf and surf, a steamed fish fillet intertwined with a fried fish fillet, garnished with shrimps and sauce. I swear, the actual dish is prettier than the picture I managed to take:

You know what else was in Ribe? Pretty doors!

The next day, we set off to explore Ribe once again, but this time we took the scenic route from the guesthouse along the river and through the forest, as suggested by our hosts. On the way, we meandered through a serene trail, and passed by a goat and sheep farm, where Daniel and I debated which animals said “Meh” and “Baa”. If you wish to know, the debate is still not settled.

Easy stroll through the forest going to the Old Town
Nothing to see here, just some ferociously cute souvenirs.

Our first stop was the Ribe Viking Museum. I was expecting a somewhat testosterone-laden showdown of looting and carnage, but the exhibitions actually leaned more on the uncovered archaeological artifacts from Ribe and what they revealed about the daily lives of Ribe’s earliest inhabitants (who were, duh, Vikings) — what they ate, how they built houses, the crafts they made, and so on. The upper floors on the other hand, dedicated a small room to Norse Mythology, and a bigger room to the Danish flag.

It didn’t take us a lot of time to go through everything. Aside from the main artifact exhibit, we probably spent the most time in the children’s theater area, where kids can put on costumes and joust and simply have a merry time, just like in the good old Medieval Age.

According to the chart, that’s how you spell “Ish” in the Rune Alphabet.
Loco about Loki

The tour around the museum is a rather quick one. If you’re eager to have a more immersive Viking experience, an often-recommended stop is the Ribe Viking Center. The Viking Center is an open museum, where you can roam around a reconstruction of the 8th century village of Ribe and interact with your “museum guides”: the blacksmith, the warrior, the lady of the house and more — all decked out in Viking attire. I imagine the “warrior training” session they offer for kids must be a big hit. It was a shame that it was closed for the weekend that we were there, but it definitely sealed the deal that we HAD to come back to Ribe, perhaps when Tobi can already walk around by himself, and when he eventually grows up to be nuts about history like his father.

Tobi all set to watch the jousting in the Children’s Theater.
This church at the old monastery is actually the town’s oldest church, older than the Cathedral.

The rest of the day was spent sauntering through Ribe. As with any old town, you would be treated with the usual suspects: a grand Cathedral in the town’s center, old monastery grounds, local artisanal shops, pretty strolling paths. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed browsing each one of those. However, the one stop that made my husband giddy was one that we randomly stumbled on: the Ribe Brewery, just a few minutes away from the Cathedral.

It was perhaps the smallest brewery we’ve even been to — right beside the beer shop counter, you can see the bottling machine chugging along, putting bottle caps on beer that’s as fresh as they come. They have quite a variety of beers, everything from blond to dark, with ingredients ranging from dried lemon, to coriander, and even star anise. We randomly selected our brews, and enjoyed them as we sat on the wooden benches they had right outside. It seems like this spot was a favorite among the locals too — the table across from us never seemed to be empty, with people coming and going to have a beer and chitchat with the owner.

If you’re looking for drinks other than beers, maybe you could also pop by Ribe’s local pub, strategically located at a prominent corner in the town awning. I could imagine bunking down to watch the World Cup from here.

When we first planned our trip to Denmark, we actually intended to go to Copenhagen, but I’m glad we swung by Ribe instead. There was much to experience, and we didn’t have to share the sights with big crowds at all. Perhaps there would be more hustle and bustle when one of their many summer festivals are afoot: the Medieval Market, the International Viking Market, an annual wine festival and even a jazz festival. I thought we might end up overwhelmed, attempting another excursion right after our first international trip with our infant, but this visit to Ribe turned out to be the relaxing getaway that we needed. I have my fingers crossed that our Airbnb would again be free, once we come back to Ribe for a summer visit next time. For now, farewell Ribe and thanks for all the Hygge.

Another favorite of mine is the stroll around the town’s edge, where you can see Ribe from atop a small hill. You can still see small ruins from the castle that once stood on the hill, but now people come more for the vantage point, and perhaps the occasionally dreamy picnic spot.
Oh Ribe, you charmer, you.

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