Haco's Tomb, Largs

Haco's Tomb, Largs

Replica of Viking longboat

Replica of Viking longboat


The award-winning Vikingar! allows you to meet real Vikings (people pretending to be real Vikings) and hear about their exploits, adventures and battles in Scotland. Situated adjacent to the promenade in the beautiful coastal town of Largs and boasting views over the Firth of Clyde, Vikingar! is an action packed Viking experience. Witness the Viking adventure first hand as storytellers guide you through 500 years of Viking history, brought to life through sight, sound and smell. Then take your seat for an amazing twenty minute 5-screen film presentation following one Viking family through generations of turmoil, battle and adventure until the Battle of Largs in 1263. Finally enter the Viking Hall of Knowledge where multi-media technology and exhibitions continue the ‘Saga of the Vikings in Scotland’.


One etymology derives víking from the feminine vík, meaning "creek, inlet, small bay". Various theories have been offered that the word viking may be derived from the name of the historical Norwegian district of Viken (or Víkin in Old Norse), meaning "a person from Viken". According to this theory, the word simply described persons from this area, and it is only in the last few centuries that it has taken on the broader sense of early medieval Scandinavians in general. However, there are a few major problems with this theory. People from the Viken area were not called 'Viking' in Old Norse manuscripts, but are referred to as víkverir (Modern Norwegian: vikvær), 'Vík dwellers'. In addition, that explanation could only explain the masculine (Old Scandinavian víkingr) and ignore the feminine (Old Norse víking), which is a serious problem because the masculine is easily derived from the feminine but hardly vice versa. The form also occurs as a personal name on some Swedish rune stones. There is little indication of any negative connotation in the term before the end of the Viking Age.


Another etymology (supported by, among others, the recognized etymologist Anatoly Liberman ) derives viking from the same root as ON vika, f. ‘sea mile’, originally ‘the distance between two shifts of rowers’, from the root *weik or *wîk, as in the Proto-Germanic verb *wîkan, ‘to recede’. This is found in the Proto-Nordic verb *wikan, ‘to turn’, similar to Old Icelandic víkja (ýkva, víkva) ‘to move, to turn’, with well-attested nautical usages. Linguistically, this theory is better attested, and the term most likely predates the use of the sail by the Germanic peoples of North-Western Europe, because the Old Frisian spelling shows that the word was pronounced with a palatal k and thus in all probability existed in North-Western Germanic before that palatalization happened, that is, in the 5th century or before (in the western branch). In that case, the idea behind it seems to be that the tired rower moves aside for the rested rower on the thwart when he relieves him. The Old Norse feminine víking (as in the phrase fara í víking) may originally have been a sea journey characterized by the shifting of rowers, i.e. a long-distance sea journey, because in the pre-sail era, the shifting of rowers would distinguish long-distance sea journeys. A víkingr (the masculine) would then originally have been a participant on a sea journey characterized by the shifting of rowers. In that case, the word Viking was not originally connected to Scandinavian seafarers but assumed this meaning when the Scandinavians begun to dominate the seas.


The Viking society was divided into the three socio-economic classes of Thralls, Karls and Jarls. This is described vividly in the Eddic poem of Rigsthula, which also explains that it was the God Ríg - father of mankind also known as Heimdallr - who created the three classes. Archaeology has confirmed this social structure. Thralls were the lowest ranking class and were slaves. Slavery was of vital importance to Viking society, for everyday chores and large scale construction and also to trade and the economy. Thralls were used as servants and workers in the farms and larger households of the Karls and Jarls, and they were used for constructing fortresses, fortifications, ramps, canals, mounds, roads and similar hard work projects. According to the Rigsthula, Thralls were despised and looked down upon. New thralls were supplied by either the sons and daughters of thralls or they were captured abroad. The Vikings often deliberately captured many people on their raids in Europe, enslaved and made them into thralls. The new thralls were then brought back home to Scandinavia by boat, used on location or in newer settlements to build needed structures or sold, often to the Arabs in exchange for silver. Other names for thrall were 'træl' and 'ty'.


Karls were free peasants. They owned farms, land and cattle and engaged in daily chores like ploughing the fields, milking the cattle, building houses and wagons, but employed thralls to make ends meet. Other names for Karls were 'bonde' or simply free men. The Jarls were the aristocracy of the Viking society. They were wealthy and owned large estates with huge longhouses, horses and many thralls. The thralls or servants took care of most of the daily chores, while the Jarls engaged in administration, politics, hunting, sports, paid visits to other Jarls or were abroad on expeditions. When a Jarl died and was buried, his household thralls were sometimes sacrificially killed and buried next to him, as many excavations have revealed. In daily life, there were many intermediate positions in the overall social structure and it is believed that there must have been some social mobility. These details are unclear, but titles and positions like hauldr, thegn, landmand, show mobility between the Karls and the Jarls. Other social structures included the communities of félag in both the civil and the military spheres, to which its members (called félagi) were obliged. A félag could be centred around certain trades, a common ownership of a sea vessel or a military obligation under a specific leader. Members of the latter were referred to as drenge, one of the words for warrior. There were also official communities within towns and villages, the overall defence, religion, the legal system and the Things (governing assembly).


Women had a relatively free status in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, illustrated in the Icelandic Grágás and the Norwegian Frostating laws and Gulating laws. The paternal aunt, paternal niece and paternal granddaughter, referred to as odalkvinna, all had the right to inherit property from a deceased man. In the absence of male relatives, an unmarried woman with no son could inherit not only property but also the position as head of the family from a deceased father or brother. Such a woman was referred to as Baugrygr, and she exercised all the rights afforded to the head of a family clan, such as the right to demand and receive fines for the slaughter of a family member, until she married, by which her rights were transferred to her husband. After the age of 20, an unmarried woman, referred to as maer and mey, reached legal majority and had the right to decide of her place of residence and was regarded as her own person before the law. An exception to her independence was the right to choose a marriage partner, as marriages were normally arranged by the clan. Widows enjoyed the same independent status as unmarried women. A married woman could divorce her husband and remarry. It was also socially acceptable for a free woman to cohabit with a man and have children with him without marrying him, even if that man was married; a woman in such a position was called frilla. There was no distinction made between children born inside or outside of marriage: both had the right to inherit property after their parents, and there was no "legitimate" or "illegitimate" children. Women had religious authority and were active as priestesses (gydja) and oracles (sejdkvinna). They were active within art as poets (skalder) and rune masters, and as merchants and medicine women. These liberties gradually disappeared after the introduction of Christianity, and from the late 13th-century, they are no longer mentioned.


The sagas tell about the diet and cuisine of the Vikings, but first hand evidence, like cesspits, kitchen middens and garbage dumps have proved to be of great value and importance. Undigested remains of plants from cesspits at Coppergate in York have provided a lot of information in this respect. When the information from various sources are put together, a picture of a diverse cuisine emerges, with lots of different ingredients. Meat products of all kinds, such as cured, smoked and whey-preserved meat, sausages, and boiled or fried fresh meat cuts, were prepared and consumed. There were plenty of seafood, bread, porridges, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, berries and nuts. Alcoholic drinks like beer, mead, bjórr (a strong fruit wine) and, for the rich, imported wine, were served. Certain livestock were typical and unique to the Vikings, including the Icelandic horse, Icelandic cattle, a plethora of sheep breeds, the Danish hen and the Danish goose. The Vikings in York mostly ate beef, mutton, and pork with small amounts of horse meat. Most of the beef and horse leg bones were found split lengthways, to get out the marrow. The mutton and swine were cut into leg and shoulder joints and chops. The frequent remains of pig skull and foot bones found on house floors indicate that brawn and trotters were also popular. Hens were kept for both their meat and eggs, and the bones of game birds such as the black grouse, golden plover, wild ducks, and geese have also been found.


Seafood was an important part of the diet, in some places even more so than meat. Whales and walrus were hunted for food in Norway and the north-western parts of the North Atlantic region, and seals were hunted nearly everywhere. Oysters, mussels and shrimps were eaten in large quantities and cod and salmon were popular fish. In the southern regions, herring was also important. Milk and buttermilk were popular, both as cooking ingredients and drinks, but were not always available, even at farms. The milk came from cows, goats and sheep, with priorities varying from location to location, and fermented milk products like skyr or surmjölk were produced as well as butter and cheese. Food was often salted and enhanced with spices, some of which were imported like black pepper, while others were cultivated in herb gardens or harvested in the wild. Home grown spices that were used included caraway, mustard and horseradish as evidenced from the Oseberg ship burial or dill, coriander, and wild celery, as found during the archaeological examinations of cesspits at Coppergate in York. Thyme, juniper berry, sweet gale, yarrow, rue and peppercress were also used and cultivated in herb gardens. Vikings collected and ate fruits, berries and nuts. Apple (wild crab apples), plums and cherries were part of the diet, as were rose hips and raspberry, wild strawberry, blackberry, elderberry, rowan, hawthorn and various wild berries, specific to the locations. Hazelnuts were an important part of the diet in general and large amounts of walnut shells have been found in cities like Hedeby. The shells were used for dyeing and it is assumed the nuts were enjoyed as well.


Sports were widely practised and encouraged by the Vikings. Sports that involved weapons training and developing combat skills were popular. This included spear and stone throwing, building and testing physical strength through wrestling, fist fighting, and stone lifting. In areas with mountains, mountain climbing was practised as a sport. Agility and balance were built and tested by running and jumping for sport, and there is mention of a sport that involved jumping from oar to oar on the outside of a ship's railing as it was being rowed. Swimming was a popular sport and Snorri Sturluson describes three types: diving, long-distance swimming and a contest in which two swimmers try to duck one another. Children often participated in some of the sport disciplines and women have also been mentioned as swimmers, although it is unclear if they took part in competition. King Olaf Tryggvason was hailed as a master of both mountain climbing and oar-jumping, and was said to have excelled in the art of knife juggling as well. Skiing and ice skating were the primary winter sports of the Vikings, although skiing was also used as everyday means of transport in winter time and in the colder regions of the north. Horse fighting was practised for sport, although the rules are unclear. It appears to have involved two stallions pitted against each other, within smell and sight of fenced-off mares. Whatever the rules were, the fights often resulted in the death of one of the stallions. Icelandic sources refer to the sport of knattleik. A ball game akin to hockey, knattleik involved a bat and a small hard ball and was usually played on a smooth field of ice. The rules are unclear, but it was popular with both adults and children, even though it often led to injuries. Knattleik appears to have been played only in Iceland, where it attracted many spectators, as did horse fighting. Hunting, as a sport, was limited to Denmark, where it was not regarded as an important occupation. Birds, deer, hares and foxes were hunted with bow and spear, and later with crossbows. The techniques were stalking, snare and traps and par force hunting with dog packs.


Both archaeological finds and written sources testify to the fact that the Vikings set aside time for social and festive gatherings. Board games and dice games were played as a popular pastime at all levels of society. Preserved gaming pieces and boards show game boards made of easily available materials like wood, with game pieces manufactured from stone, wood or bone, while other finds include elaborately carved boards and game pieces of glass, amber, antler or walrus tusk, together with materials of foreign origin, such as ivory. The Vikings played several types of tafl games; hnefatafl, nitavl (Nine Men's Morris) and the less common kvatrutafl. Chess also appeared at the end of the Viking Age. Hnefatafl is a war game, in which the object is to capture the king piece—a large hostile army threatens and the king's men have to protect the king. It was played on a board with squares using black and white pieces, with moves made according to dice rolls. The Ockelbo Runestone shows two men engaged in Hnefatafl, and the sagas suggest that money or valuables could have been involved in some dice games. On festive occasions storytelling, skaldic poetry, music and alcoholic drinks, like beer and mead, contributed to the atmosphere. Music was considered an art form and music proficiency as fitting for a cultivated man. The Vikings are known to have played instruments including harps, fiddles, lyres and lutes.


On the first of October 1263, a legendary battle took place in Largs that became a significant part of history in Scotland. By the year 1263, the Scottish had fought back valiantly against Viking invasions and had left King Haakon with only Shetland and Orkney, which infuriated the king. In response to losing so much territory, King Haakon gathered his army and quietly approached the shores of Largs on that fateful evening. Unfortunately for Haakon’s troops, the Scottish forces had anticipated the attack and thrown thistles along the beach. As the Vikings removed their shoes for a stealthy approach, the thistles tore into the soles of their feet, warning the Scottish of their arrival with their painful screams. The Vikings were overrun, and after King Haakon was awarded a truce to bury his dead, the Vikings left the shores of Scotland for the last time.


Just outside Glasgow awaits a thrilling and unique experience at Vikingar. On entering this magnificent attraction, visitors will find themselves in Norway in 825 AD. The smell of the land will fill their nostrils and they will hear the Vikings making their preparations to depart on another ocean adventure. Two massive longboats wait restlessly for their masters in the waters of the fjord, as Vikings stand around by the homestead engaging in small talk. One of the Vikings will introduce himself and take visitors on an exciting day filled with exploration, legends, battles and the daily lives of the Vikings. The god of the sky, Odin, features throughout Vikingar and the wall carvings of the Viking gods intimidate passersby. A breathtaking Odin hologram will share his fascinating tales, and in the hall of the auditorium, visitors will be met with the dramatic scenes of the Battle of Largs. There is also a movie, which lasts for approximately eighteen minutes, that takes guests on a four hundred year journey through the life of a Viking family, their invasion of Scotland and their fall from power. Replicas and interactive exhibits, such as the touch-screen computers, are both educational and fun for the entire family. Another popular attraction at Vikingar is the swimming pool, which gives children hours of supervised fun, and there is also a fitness centre for those who want to work off the excitement of the day. Theatre productions and entertainment programs ensure that the thrills don’t stop and the Mini Vikings Soft Play Area gives small children the opportunity to use up any left-over energy.


A Hearing Loop is available. Partially suitable for visitors with limited mobility. Wheelchairs are available for loan at the facility. There is a ramp to the main entrance. Accessible parking and drop-off point. Large print guides are available. There is a lift to the upper floors. There are Accessible toilets. There is a tactile route for visitors with visual impairments. There is level access to the site. Assistance dogs are welcome. Opening Times : April - June, 10:30 - 14:30 daily;  July - August, 10:30 - 15:30 Monday to Friday, 11:30 - 15:30 Saturday and Sunday;  September - October, 10:30 - 14:30 daily;  December and January Closed;  February and November 11:30 - 14:30 (Saturday and Sunday);  March 11:30 - 13:30 daily.


Location : Vikingar! Viking Experience, Greenock Road, Largs, Ayrshire KA30 8QL

Transport: Largs (ScotRail) then 15 minutes or bus (576, 578, 901). Bus Routes : 576, 578, 586, Clydeflyer 901 and 906 stop close by.

Opening Times : see above

Tickets : Adults From £2.50;  Children From £2.30

Tel. : 01475 689777