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Viking Ocean Cruises' ship Viking Mars in Eidfjord (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Viking Mars docked in Norway's Eidfjord (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Is Viking the Best Way to See Scandinavia? Just Back from a Viking Mars Cruise

Viking Ocean Cruises' ship Viking Mars in Eidfjord (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Viking Mars docked in Norway's Eidfjord (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Jorge Oliver

Last updated
Jul 20, 2023

Read time
7 min read

(7:45 p.m. EDT) -- With nearly 100 river, ocean and expedition cruise ships, Viking has the fleet and itineraries to take cruisers all over the world. But in the end, there's no place like home. 

The cruise line, which was founded by Norwegian Torstein Hagen and has deep Nordic roots, offers a number of sailings through Scandinavia, including the aptly titled Viking Homelands itinerary, a 14-day Stockholm to Bergen sailing that includes ports of call in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Poland and Finland.

We saw first-hand how connected the line is to the region during an abbreviated Viking Homelands journey, an eight-night sailing on Viking Mars from Rostock (Warnemünde) to Bergen that took us to various ports in Denmark and Norway.

With a name like Viking, you’d expect a cruise line to deliver a higher level of expertise and familiarity when sailing through Scandinavia. And our Viking Mars voyage delivered in spades both onboard and ashore. We're just back from Viking Mars, and here’s what we learned sailing aboard the 930-passenger ship.

Going Viking in the Viking Homelands

Viking weapons in the Danish village of Fyrkat, near Aalborg (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Viking weapons are part of the showcase in the village of Fyrkat (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

During one of the many enrichment lectures hosted by resident historian Knut Nesse, we learned that the ancient Vikings would have never referred to themselves as “Vikings.” Instead, they would talk about “going Viking,” which meant using their advanced shipbuilding technique for seafaring, exploring and settling beyond Scandinavia, as far as the Black Sea and Newfoundland.

On our Viking Mars cruise, however, “going Viking” took on a whole new meaning: The itinerary was chock full of excursions designed to delve deep into the Viking past, their traditions and their impact on Western Civilization.

Two tours stood out for us in particular. The first took place in the Danish city of Aalborg, where the shore excursion, “A Day in the Life of a Viking,” was offered. This tour took us south to the Fyrkat, the site of a Viking-age fortress built around 980 by king Harald Bluetooth. Here, we stepped into a reconstructed Viking longhouse, witnessed the remains of the oval-shaped fortress’ ramparts and sampled a shot of mead -- the nectar of the gods in Norse mythology. The tour also took us to a Viking farm, where modern-day Vikings provided insight into how their ancestors lived 1,000 years ago.

The second part of the shore excursion consisted of a visit to Lindholm Høje, one of the largest burial sites of the Viking Age, and its accompanying museum. By the end of the tour, we not only learned the basics (Vikings never wore cartoonish horned helmets, for instance) but came away with a solid understanding of who these ancient people were and why their legacy is so vibrant.

Axe-throwing in the Viking village of Gudvangen (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Our visit to the Viking village of Gudvangen included activities like axe-throwing (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Our second Viking-intensive tour took place in Norway, during our call in Eidfjord, and consisted of a visit to the Viking Village of Gundvangen in Nærøyfjord. The dramatic landscape of Nærøyfjord -- the world's narrowest inhabited fjord -- stood in sharp contrast with the gentle rolling hills and pastoral surroundings of Fyrkat and Lindholm Høje. And the Viking village seamlessly complemented the historical lessons learned in Aalborg, as a group of devoted resident Vikings kept the traditions of their ancestors alive (at least the non-violent traditions), and provided an educational, hands-on experience that really puts the visitor in a time capsule. Plus, we got to try our hand at axe-throwing, archery, craftworking and enjoyed a feast worthy of Valhalla.

Elsewhere, our itinerary provided many more opportunities to learn about Viking history and traditions in ports like Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. These tours were, for the most part, fairly comprehensive, but their appeal is universal enough that they can capture the imagination of cruisers who may not have much previous knowledge of Viking culture.

The Viking Immersion Also Happens Onboard

The Viking Heritage Museum onboard Viking Mars (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Passengers can learn more about Viking history in the ship' Viking Heritage Museum (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

The shore excursions of the Viking Homelands itinerary provide fascinating insights into the Viking Age, but you also have an opportunity to learn about their history without leaving the comforts of Viking Mars.

The ship features numerous nods and homages to Viking history, starting with the small but comprehensive Viking Heritage Museum in The Atrium on Deck 2. This little shrine to Norse history features accurate replicas of artifacts, tools, jewelry, clothes and weapons from the Viking Age, as well as informational timelines that delineate relevant events of this historical period. 

The resident and guest historians also contributed to the onboard celebration of Viking history. Lectures were offered almost every day, ranging from fascinating topics like Viking technology to myths and misconceptions about the Vikings and an in-depth look at the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry, which is also displayed panel by panel throughout the ship's main stairwell.

Other non-Viking Age lectures included themes like the Medieval Hanseatic League and the history of World War II in Scandinavia. And if you missed any of these, you could always replay them at the comfort of your cabin's TV set. 

Life Beyond the Vikings: Exploring Scandinavian Culture Aboard Viking Mars

Vigeland sculptures in Oslo's Frogner Park. (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Gustav Vigeland's sculptures are the main attraction at Oslo's Frogner Park (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Naturally, the history of this Northern European region doesn’t end with the Vikings, and our Viking Homelands itinerary provided plenty of opportunities to discover and indulge in the best of Scandinavia.

While many excursions highlighted the natural beauty of Scandinavia -- especially in ports of call like Bergen, Stavanger, Oslo and Eidfjord -- with scenic boat rides, hikes or bike tours, others focused more on the cultural riches of this region.

Highlights included a Behind Closed Doors at the Munch Museum tour in Oslo. The impressive waterfront museum is home to the largest collection of artworks by the man considered Norway's most important painter, Edvard Munch. The guided visit goes a long way in putting Munch's lifework in perspective and features a special private look at how the museum works to restore and preserve Munch's masterpieces.

A similar cultural experience was had in the included tour “Oslo Highlights and Vigeland Park.” The highpoint of this tour was visiting the 110,000-acre Frogner Park in the Norwegian capital, where 212 granite and bronze sculptures designed by Gustav Vigeland provide a gripping study of humanity. 

Viking Mars executive chef Petr Nozicka purchases in Stavanger during the Kitchen Table tour (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Viking Mars' Kitchen Table culinary tour in Stavanger, Norway (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Several culinary shore excursions were also offered to explore Scandinavian gastronomy. Options included a Scandinavian Cuisine Cooking Class in Mariehamn, capital of the Finland's Swedish speaking Åland Islands; a sampling of local culinary delights in the Danish island of Bornholm; a food lover's tour in Copenhagen; and a seafood lunch aboard a yacht in Bergen.

The main course, however, was the Kitchen Table excursion in Stavanger. On this tour, we joined Viking Mars' executive chef and a local guide to visit markets in the city. Throughout the shore excursion, the chef handpicked ingredients and products while we learned more about the culinary traditions of the region. This tour is the perfect pairing between onboard and onshore experiences, because the second part consisted of an intimate and exclusive dinner at the ship's Kitchen Table restaurant, where our chef personally prepared a feast using the ingredients picked earlier in the day.

Scandinavian specialties appeared on The Restaurant's dinner menu every day or served in the buffet-style World Café. Dishes like loderrogn (cod roe), Bergen fiske suppe (Bergen-style fish soup), smørbrød (traditional open-faced sandwiches) reger og tunfisk (baby shrimp and tuna) and reindeer medallions in blackberry sauce were served alongside global cuisine standards, so passengers had the choice to be adventurous or conservative with their meal selections.

String duo plays in Viking Mars' Atrium while images of Edvard Munch's art are shown on the screen(Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Munch Moments aboard Viking Mars (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Cuisine was not the only way that Scandinavian culture was celebrated. Every evening in The Atrium, for instance, we were treated to Munch Moments: an interactive event where Edvard Munch's famous works are displayed on a large screen while a classical duo or a pianist played renditions of music that ranged from Norwegian composer Edvard Grier to Swedish pop group ABBA. Viking enjoys an exclusive relationship with Oslo's Munch Museum and has been granted the digital rights to the museum's entire collection.

Is Viking the Right Cruise Line to Sail Scandinavia?

View of Viking Mars' from Stavanger (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Viking Mars docked in Stavanger, Norway. (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

Stepping aboard Viking Mars felt in many ways like being in Scandinavia already, even if we embarked in Germany. The variety of shore excursions and onboard activities and details designed to complement the destination is truly impressive.

Perhaps the most obvious sign that cruising through Scandinavia with Viking is a special affair was the fact that our sailing was completely full. Many, if not most, shore excursions were fully booked, as were the ship's alternative restaurants on most nights. And the Star Theater always attracted big crowds, whether it was for a show, a lecture or a port talk.

Furthermore, Viking Mars' Scandi-cool design and architecture is always enjoyable no matter where you sail. But it takes on a special and relevant meaning when cruising the Viking Homelands.

Publish date July 20, 2023
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