The Avaldsnes Viking Festival is one of the oldest celebrations dedicated to the Viking Age in Scandinavia and surely one of the most atmospheric. 

The festival takes place each June on the tiny island of Bukkøy and welcomes visitors from all around Europe and beyond to experience this historic era in authentic and immersive surroundings. 

The festival director, Vegard Lindtner, speaks to The Viking Herald about what visitors can expect when they cross the "1,000-year-old bridge." 

A historic setting 

The village of Avaldsnes is located on Karmøy island in the Norwegian county of Rogaland. 

Despite its unassuming size, Avaldsnes was an important settlement during the Viking Age and is believed to have been the residence of Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway. 

King Haakon the Good also achieved a significant victory against the sons of King Eric Bloodaxe on a nearby battlefield, and the village church is believed to have been originally founded by King Olaf I

The Avaldsnes Viking Festival is actually located a short walk from Avaldsnes itself, on the tiny adjacent island of Bukkøy. 

The festival is held on the site of a recreated Viking farm and village, which features an underground visitor center – to preserve the natural surroundings – and receives visitors throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. 

The festival's origins, however, predate the Viking farm. "It began a long time ago, when I was very little," Vegard tells us. 

"I believe the first event was in 1993. At that time, it was actually part of another festival – we didn't have the longhouse or the farm or anything." 

"But the longhouse was built in 1997 with a grant from the Norwegian government, and from that point, it became a festival in its own right." 

The setting for the Avaldsnes Viking Festival features a beautifully recreated Viking farm and village, complete with an underground visitor center to maintain the natural landscape. Photo: Svein Jakob Stensland / Avaldsnes Viking Festival

Decades of revelry and entertainment 

There was immediate enthusiasm for the event, which had an air of authenticity from the start. 

"There were a bunch of Vikings who enjoyed dressing up, of course," Vegard continues, "but they were also interested in the material culture; how the Norse would have lived, and how the houses would have been constructed." 

"There was a lot of communication between York and Avaldsnes when they built the Viking farm." 

"One English guy, Andy, helped get the festival off the ground, and he's still working here now! Its reputation has developed over the years, and you can tell that the Viking community is close-knit."

"We have the Northumbrian Vikings who still come to visit us, and also a bunch of Vikings from Eastern Europe. This year, we even have three people coming all the way from Australia." 

"They found out about it from one of our visitors, the former director of the Tonsberg Viking Festival, who came last year and happens to have an Australian wife." 

"I believe Avaldsnes has become the biggest Viking festival on the west coast and is the oldest in Norway. It is also one of the few festivals in Scandinavia held on historic ground." 

Bukkøy Island provides a serene and isolated setting for the Avaldsnes Viking Festival, allowing guests to immerse themselves fully in the Viking era amidst quiet, undisturbed nature. Photo: Avaldsnes Viking Festival

A magical ambiance 

Naturally, the peaceful surroundings away from modern civilization strongly attract visitors and participants alike. 

"It's a wonderful place," Vegard tells us. "To get to the festival, you set off from the church on a 20-minute walk to the farm along a path enclosed by evergreens." 

"You feel like you are leaving the new world and entering the old. In fact, the bridge from Karmøy to Bukkøy is even known as the thousand-year bridge because when you cross it, you are traveling back in time."

"You arrive in a truly isolated setting, far away from the modern world," Vegard continues. "Perhaps you can hear music playing, or maybe there are the sounds of a battle in progress." 

"You will also find people collecting mushrooms and herbs to make stews and all kinds of other things the Vikings would have had." 

"We try to model the main event on a marketplace, so there are a bunch of traders from all over – England, Poland, Germany, Belgium... People just meeting and having a big Viking party." 

The Avaldsnes Viking Festival emphasizes authenticity, using no modern appliances and creating an environment that genuinely feels like stepping back into the Viking Age. Photo: LGieger / Shutterstock

Vikings off grid 

This year's event will take place from June 6 to 9, and more than 200 Vikings from all over Europe will provide visitors with a taste of an authentic Norse atmosphere.

The event features battle reenactments, live music, storytelling, and plenty of hands-on activities, including archery and horseback riding. 

"We try to focus on children and families," Vegard says. "This year, we have a theater group coming from Oslo that tells the sagas in a new way." 

"We usually have a traditional saga telling in the longhouse, but we have long thought about also having something more accessible." 

"The group has created a magical tale based on Avaldsnes, so instead of a saga, it will be a play set in the Viking Age with a mix of historical facts and magic." 

The ethos at the Avaldsnes Viking Festival remains firmly on providing an authentic experience for visitors. "We have no modern appliances," Vegard explains, "It's as authentic as we can get, so when you enter, you feel like you are in the Viking Age." 

"The atmosphere and the sounds should be just like they were back then. Visitors can wear whatever they want, of course, but the tents have to be made of linen and wool, and the Vikings' clothes should be authentic." 

"People do their best to try to keep everything out of sight," Vegard admits. "The only modern thing some visitors see is the payment terminal." 

"You buy an authentic belt or pair of shoes from a Viking, but they have to pull out the terminal to complete the payment. Since most people no longer carry much cash, we can't get around that one!" 

With over 200 Viking reenactors from across Europe, this year's festival will include a variety of activities such as battle reenactments, live music, storytelling sessions, archery, and horseback riding. Photo: Ørjan Iversen / Avaldsnes Viking Festival

Building for the next generation 

Vegard has been in his position for two years and thoroughly enjoys using his passion for history on a daily basis. 

"I did a master's degree in medieval history in Edinburgh, then returned to Norway and worked as a teacher. Then I applied for the job here and luckily got the position." 

"I love the Viking Age and all medieval history, and I also love being in a place with as much historical weight as Avaldsnes." 

When asked about his plans for the future, Vegard admits that he has a couple of ideas brewing. 

"I would like to get more food and drink options and perhaps some lectures and presentations about the Viking Age." 

"I would really like people who are interested to be able to learn more about the historical side of things. It all depends on the budget, of course!" 

Vegard's only other concern is ensuring the festival can maintain a constant supply of Vikings to fill the marketplace. 

"After the COVID pandemic, a lot of Vikings put down their gear and opened webshops instead. We still have plenty at the moment, but I think I will be spending more and more time encouraging younger Vikings to attend – we need the new generation." 

For more information about the Avaldsnes Viking Festival, please visit their website.

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