What countries spring to mind when thinking of the Viking Age? Chances are it’s the likes of Norway, Denmark, Iceland, or Sweden that you most closely associate with the seafaring Norsemen of the 8th to 11th centuries.
However, Finland, a Nordic nation a little farther to the east, has its own stories from the time that are intertwined with the Viking Age.
During the period, the area now known as Finland was inhabited by diverse communities. While most of the population were not Vikings in the conventional sense, their lands, economies, culture, and people were certainly influenced by their near neighbors.
As Finland was on the boundary of maritime trade routes to Russia, the inhabitants of the land actively engaged in trading, in particular as suppliers of furs.
A visit to Finland is a great choice for history enthusiasts keen to explore the lesser-trodden Viking paths. From the national museum to artifacts discovered on Finnish islands, here are some of the highlights of Viking Finland.
Context and treasure in Helsinki
There’s no better place to begin your journey than in the cosmopolitan capital city, Helsinki. Here you’ll find the National Museum of Finland, which provides a high-level overview of Finland’s early history and its interaction with many diverse cultures over the centuries.
Until recently, Finland’s museums didn’t dive into detail on the Viking Age, thanks in part to the lack of written stories from the time. But recent archaeological discoveries have renewed interest in the period.
In particular, the discovery of several hoards and what that might mean for parts of Finland has sparked curiosity. Some coins from the hoards form part of the national museum’s collection.
Viking market on the Åland Islands
Nestled midway between Sweden and Finland, the sandy beaches, scenic cycle routes and tiny villages of the Åland Islands welcome Scandinavians looking for a summer getaway. In the Viking Age, these islands in the heart of the Baltic Sea were of strategic importance.
One of the most notable sites is the remains of a major settlement in Kvarnbo, proving the islands’ role as a site of importance. The artifacts found here, from everyday household items to intricate jewelry, suggest tales of trade, diplomacy, and conflict.
The area hosts an annual Viking market, one of the highlights of which is a reconstructed Viking ship from 2014 that is put on display every year.
Turku and the Viking village
Turku, one of Finland’s oldest cities, is home to the 13th-century Turku Castle. Although the castle does postdate the Viking Age, its museum offers insight into Finland’s early medieval period, which was shaped by the events of the Viking Age.
The city also hosts an annual medieval market, which will surely be of interest to Viking Age enthusiasts despite the differing time periods.
Travel south of Turku to discover another sprawling archipelago that would have hosted Viking communities and trading posts during the time. This history is remembered at the Rosala Viking Center, a privately-owned museum of reconstructed houses and Viking Age experiences.
Other fascinating finds across Finland
Recent archaeological discoveries across Finland continue to change our understanding of the period. For example, high up in the Gulf of Bothnia, the island of Hailuoto has revealed its Viking Age secrets through silver and bronze artifacts.
In the southwest of the country, a handful of runic inscriptions have fascinated scholars. Although no authentic runestones have been found in Finland, runes have been found on other materials.
One of the most extraordinary finds in Finland was discovered by amateur explorers with metal detectors. The Janakkala grave in the Häme region dates back to the 12th century and contains a well-preserved skeleton of a warrior wielding two swords, reminiscent of Viking graves from elsewhere in the Nordic region.
Researchers called to the site said the findings indicate there was a large settlement and a lot of activity here around 1,000 years ago.
Finland isn’t the first choice for modern Viking explorers, but well worth considering as an add-on to a visit through nearby Viking Age Sweden. As you trace the paths of these historic seafarers, you’ll uncover a side of the Viking Age that’s less-known but just as fascinating.