Copenhagen is a natural starting point for those travelling to Denmark. And it’s not just because the capital is a beautiful and interesting place. It’s because the city is a useful base for exploring other destinations in this part of Scandinavia, like the city of Roskilde. This small city is home to a wealth of important cultural attractions but is also a super easy day trip from Copenhagen. Honestly, there’s really no reason not to do a Roskilde day trip if you have the time.
The best day trips are usually ones that show you things you couldn’t find in your starting city. That’s certainly the case when visiting Roskilde. It may lack the grandeur and name recognition of the Danish capital, instead offering some great historical landmarks and a more intimate setting. Read on for my Roskilde travel tips gleaned from my day exploring this quiet Danish destination.
How to Get To Roskilde
Making the day trip to Roskilde couldn’t be easier from Copenhagen. The city is only a 25 minute journey if you take the train from Copenhagen Central Station. Even better, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 15 minutes for the next train.
Similar to when visiting Helsingor, the Copenhagen Card can be a great way to make this a cheap day trip. Not only does it include free entry to many Roskilde attractions, but also your train trip. In fact, just using for the train fare and two attractions should have you saving money. If you don’t have the Copenhagen Card and would rather be shown around, then a guided tour is the way to go.
City of Roskilde
Before getting to how you should spend your one day in Roskilde, let me provide a basic introduction to the city. The city of Roskilde shares the island of Zealand with cities like Copenhagen and Helsingor and is found somewhat near the island’s centre. Although a reasonably popular tourist destination, it is a small city, the 10th largest in Denmark to be precise. Despite its size, Roskilde is actually one of the oldest cities in the country.
Much of the city’s past is tied to the Viking Age and the rise of Christianity in Scandinavia. Some accounts say that the city was founded by the famous Harald Bluetooth, while the city also has close ties with other major Danish figures like King Canute the Great and Archbishop Absalon. And yet, the modern city is probably most associated with the incredibly popular Roskilde Music Festival. Each summer, the city hosts one of Europe’s largest music festivals.
Below you’ll find just a few of the things you can do on an easy day of sightseeing. There’s actually quite a bit more to do in Roskilde, from the Roskilde City Museum and Royal Mansion, to the Ragnarock Museum of Rock. I didn’t have time for these during my Roskilde day trip, so you’ll need to look elsewhere for info on those. For this itinerary, a great place to start your visit is in front of the former Town Hall on Stændertorvet seen above.
The big attraction that draws most visitors to Roskilde is the city’s large Cathedral. That makes sense when you learn that it’s a UNESCO world heritage site and Denmark’s most important religious landmark. Built in the 1200s, Roskilde Cathedral was one of the first brick cathedrals in this part of the world. Over the centuries that followed it went through many architectural styles, making it an architectural showcase of sorts.
But really, the most important thing about Roskile Cathedral is its royal connection. Since the 15th century, most of the ruling monarchs in Denmark have been buried in chapels here. With more and more kings and queens interred in the cathedral, additions new chapels have been required over the years. This is a major reason why the cathedral boasts so many different architectural styles, as each new chapel brings with it the styles of the time.
While the main hall isn’t ugly, it’s the different royal chapels that make Roskilde Cathedral so special. Each is so elaborate and majestic, as are the sarcophagi within them. Some chapels you can only peak inside, while others like the Christian IV’s Chapel you can actually enter.
Viking Ship Museum
You’d think that a UNESCO world heritage site would be the main reason for visiting Roskilde and yet it was another attraction that lured me to the city. Like its Scandinavian neighbours, Denmark was once home to the Vikings and you can explore that history at the fantastic Roskilde Viking Ship Museum. I’ve long been fascinated by the violent seafarers – I even took a history subject on them at university – so this was perfect for me.
Located down by the city’s waterfront, the Viking Ship Museum is built around five original Viking ships excavated from the Roskilde fjord. These ships are known as the Skuldelev Ships due to where they were found and date from the 11th century. They were actually deliberately sunk in the fjord to create a defensive barrier of sorts, so their preserved state is quite impressive. Visiting the museum, you get to learn about the ships and their different designs, but also about the considerable local Viking history.
The museum actually extends outside as well and over into the nearby harbour, all of which is free to explore. That’s because the museum has driven quite a lot of work into reconstructing Viking ships using traditional methods. Before even entering the museum you’ll pass numerous ships that have been built as the Vikings would have. This was to test what the boats would have been like on the water, in terms of speed and endurance.
Besides seeing the finished product, you can wander around and actually see people working away in open workshops. It kind of gives you a peek behind the curtain of how these reconstructions are made. An even more hands on experience is possible though from May to September. During these warmer months it’s possible to take a boat trip in one of these traditional Nordic boats.
Houses of Sankt Jørgensbjerg
After the Viking Ship Museum, you’re bound to find yourself wandering about the city’s marina area. If you do, there’s a neighbourhood overlooking the harbour called Sankt Jørgensbjerg. This isn’t exactly an established tourist attraction, but more a delightful residential area to explore.
Once its own fishing village, the neighbourhood is full of pretty, traditional homes. Many are humble one storey dwellings that you find in other cities like Aarhus. It’s the bigger homes though that caught me eye, as they often had traditional thatched roofs or half-timber frames. To see the pretty houses, take one of the pedestrian paths that lead up the hill towards the St Jørgensbjerg Church. This church is at the heart of the neighbourhood, from which you can wander to your hearts content.
Have you had the chance to make a Roskilde day trip before? What advice would you add to this Roskilde travel blog post? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Now, if you’re looking for a guide to this part of Denmark, then you should really look at this Lonely Planet guide. I’ve often travelled with Lonely Planet guides and they can really make life easier.
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