Ribe - Denmark’s Oldest Town

Beautifully picturesque and steeped in medieval history, Denmark’s oldest and best preserved town Ribe's Viking history can be traced back more than 1300 years.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beautifully picturesque and steeped in medieval history, Denmark’s oldest and best preserved town Ribe's Viking history can be traced back more than 1300 years.

The town was a thriving market place on the Ribe River in 710AD, growing throughout the Viking Age to become a busy metropolis with international trade connections. Attracting craftsmen and traders from near and far, excavations have recovered numerous fascinating archaeological remnants from this period. On this very location, the Ribe Viking Museum houses these artefacts and other Middle Ages finds, along with a full size model of parts of a Viking market and ship, with a detailed history through to the 1700s.

For a more interactive experience, visitors can’t go past the Ribe VikingeCenter. Reconstructed as a ‘living’ Viking village and peopled by over 700 Viking volunteers from all over Europe, the centre depicts Ribe in 825AD with a lively market, farmyard and bustling craftsmen’s workshops where visitors get to smell, hear, taste and breath the Viking era. Actively encouraged to join in, children learn to make bread from scratch - grinding the flour and baking it on the fire; turn wood on the woodcarver’s table; crush granite and knead clay for potting; undergo warrior training and can try their hand at archery.

Explore the historic town

With a wonderfully preserved medieval town centre of old half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and the oldest Cathedral in Denmark - Vor Frue Kirke (The Church of Our Lady), Ribe’s colourful history of plagues, fires, floods and wars can be easily explored through its architecture. Stepping back 1000 years, stroll through the centuries past the 13th century remains St Catherine Church and abbey, the oldest timber walls in Denmark dating to 1486 at Nederdammen 31, to the corner of the Puggaardsgade with its fine 17th century houses and tablet to Maren Splid - a tailor’s wife who was burnt on the stake for witchcraft, the Stormflodssojlen which marks the town’s worst encounters with floods and back to the Ribe Cathedral where the recently redecorated apse with its very modern stain glass windows, frescoes and paintings by Carl Henning Pedersen bring you very firmly back to the 20th century. Pick up the Tourist Office’s ‘Town Walk’ guide or, for a more atmospheric experience, join the Night Watchman as he sings his verse and regales with tales of old. Alternatively, join one of the haunting ghost walks that take place on Wednesday nights.

Venture into the seaside 

On the outskirts of Ribe and complementing the Vikings maritime history, the Wadden Sea Center takes a more nature based look at the surrounding Wadden Sea National Park and coast with exhibitions about the extraordinary lives of migratory birds which flock here in their millions and a cultural journey through the middle ages to modern day. A fascinating multimedia show documents the area’s devastating storm surges. Offering over 80 guided tours, including ‘tractor bus’ excursion to explore the local flora and fauna of the nearby island of Mando at low tide and a guided walk to feast on the Oyster beds, a highlight not to be missed is the ‘Black Sun’ - a phenomenon whereby huge numbers of migratory starlings swarm at dusk to feed on flies and garden chafer grubs creating extraordinary dark circling flocks over the marshes of Ribe at sunset.

Go to Denmark's birth certificate

Adding to the area’s rich Viking history, take a day trip to Jelling to discover Denmark’s “birth certificate” - a runic stone erected more than 1,000 years ago by King Gorm the Old containing the first written mention of the nation called “Denmark”.  Significantly it lies next to a second erected by Harald Bluetooth to mark the coming of Christianity to Denmark and the end of the Viking era.  On the return, detour to one of Denmark’s best bronze-age findings – the ‘Egtved Girl’.   Buried in a wooden coffin dating back to 1370BC, this remarkable discovery contained the body of a young girl in one of the world’s most well preserved dresses.

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Getting there

The best way to experience Ribe and the surrounding area is to arrive by ferry with DFDS Seaways. They offer a regular service of departures every other day between Harwich and Esbjerg during June, July and August, and crossings three times a week between September and May. DFDS Seaways has fares from Harwich to Esbjerg from £232 for two people + car + caravan oneway (caravans go free on Sunday & selected Mondays for bookings made 30 days in advance).

An easy 30km from Esbjerg, Ribe has a good selection of places to stay from hotels, inns, B&Bs to hostels and camping grounds.  It also has one of Denmark’s most popular holiday centres, the Ribe Byferie, ideal for staying close to the centre.  With an emphasis on locally produced food including marshland lamb, free range pork, freshly grown seasonal vegetables, locally produced honey and cheese, Ribe has a good selection of restaurants where you can get an excellent flavour for the region.

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