The Viking Age was one of the most dramatic periods of European history, yet the fact that the Norse tended to build in wood rather than stone means there are relatively few lasting testaments to their achievements. 

Naturally, this makes it all the more important that those precious few artifacts and monuments that have survived the trials and tribulations of the last 1,000 years or so are preserved for posterity. 

This is the aim of UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites, which recognizes areas or structures of outstanding international importance that deserve special protection. 

Receiving this kind of recognition not only helps to ensure that these unique sites will be preserved for the future, but it can also attract new visitors. 

Two major Viking-related sites are currently under consideration for this recognition: the ancient Viking remains found in the city of York, England, including Jorvik, and the Viking ship burials in Norway, including Gokstad, Oseberg, and Gjellestad. 

But what other Viking sites have already been awarded World Heritage Site status? 

Denmark's Jelling site in central Jutland was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Photo: Kenneth Bagge Jorgensen / Shutterstock

Jelling mounds, runic stones, and church: A slice of history 

Found in central Jutland in Denmark, the Jelling site contains two huge burial mounds thought to date from the reigns of Harald Bluetooth and his father, Gorm the Old

Adjacent to the mounds, there was once a church erected by Harald Bluetooth to celebrate his unification of Denmark and Norway. The site also contains a runestone erected by Gorm in memory of his wife, Thyra, and a large runestone raised by Bluetooth to commemorate his achievements.

The area became a World Heritage Site in 1994. It is particularly notable as a physical symbol of Denmark's journey from paganism to Christianity, with the two burial mounds representing the older Norse traditions and the church pointing towards a Christian future. 

Underneath the mounds lies a stone ship, the largest ever found in Scandinavia. 

Today, visitors will find the stone church built on the site of the original wooden one, the runestones protected by glass casings, and the burial mounds. 

The visitor center, Kongernes Jelling, offers an interactive sensory presentation of the history of the Vikings and Jelling. Both the monuments and the visitor center can be viewed free of charge. 

Thingvellir National Park was recognized by UNESCO in 2004 for its exceptional natural beauty and historical significance as the site of Iceland's Althing. Photo: Nido Huebl / Shutterstock

Thingvellir National Park: Nature and fate collide 

Surely one of the most beautiful World Heritage Sites in existence, Thingvellir National Park forms part of the Atlantic Ocean ridge that runs through Iceland and provides stunning landscapes, picture-perfect waterfalls, and countless scenes of untamed nature. 

It is the only place in the world where you can stand between two continental tectonic plates – the Eurasian and North American. 

As the original meeting place of the Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, Thingvellir (or Þingvellir) holds major historical significance.

The Althing was established by the Viking settlers in 930, and the Icelanders continued to meet at the same location to set laws and settle disputes until 1798. 

Although the Althing did not maintain supreme power for all of this time, and today, the Icelandic parliament is based in the capital of Reykjavik, the Althing can still claim to be one of the oldest surviving parliaments in the world. 

Because the Althing was primarily a meeting place and not a settlement, very few artifacts have been found at Thingvellir National Park. Indeed, many visitors to the park are in search of natural beauty rather than historical monuments. 

However, there is a visitor center that presents the history of Iceland, while standing in the place of the birth of Icelandic democracy is unquestionably a priceless experience. Thingvellir National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004

Denmark's five wooden ring fortresses were designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2023. Photo: Thue C. Leibrandt (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ring fortresses: A formidable reminder 

Denmark's five wooden ring fortresses were the most recent Viking-related monuments to be awarded World Heritage status in 2023

The fortresses were built by King Harald Bluetooth between approximately 970 and 980, likely to protect his lands from incursions from the south and the Holy Roman Empire or other threats in Scandinavia. 

Although they were only in operation for approximately a decade, the forts at Aggersborg, Fyrkat, Nonnebakken, Trelleborg, and Borgring are a testament to the power of the Jelling Dynasty and the architectural feats of the Viking peoples. 

Naturally, the wooden ramparts of the forts have long since degraded, but visitors can see a replica of one of the forts at Trelleborg in Sweden, approximately 85 kilometers (53 miles) away. 

There are also plans for new visitor centers at Aggersborg and Borgring

L'Anse aux Meadows, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, stands as the only confirmed Norse site in North America. Photo: Russ Heinl / Shutterstock

L'Anse aux Meadows: A New World Viking settlement 

As the only confirmed site of Norse occupation in North America, L'Anse aux Meadows was a prime candidate for World Heritage Site status, which was confirmed in 1978

Located at the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland in eastern Canada, L'Anse aux Meadows is believed to have served as the gateway settlement for Leif Erikson and his companions to explore the coast of the American continent after arriving from Greenland

Today, the site contains turf-house reconstructions of the original buildings found here, as well as a visitor center that details the history of the Norse in Newfoundland and contains several artifacts from the original archeological digs. 

Nearby, the recreated Viking village of Norstead provides another chance for visitors to immerse themselves in the lives of the Norse who came here in the 11th century. 

UNESCO recognized Hedeby and Danevirke in 2018 for their significance in Viking trade and fortification history in Germany. Photo: LGieger / Shutterstock

Hedeby and Danevirke: Commerce and defense in Viking times 

The Norse town of Hedeby, located in present-day Haithabu, Germany, was a Danish Viking Age emporium that traded goods from Scandinavia, continental Europe, and even as far as the Middle East. 

The archeological site, initially rediscovered in the late 19th century, has revealed a wealth of artifacts, including grave goods, jewelry, weapons, and treasure. 

In 2018, the site was awarded World Heritage Site status, along with the adjacent Danevirke complex, a system of fortifications constructed to protect the surrounding lands from attack. 

UNESCO notes that Hedeby's rich and well-preserved archeological material has made it "a key site for the interpretation of economic, social, and historical developments in Europe during the Viking Age." 

Visitors to the site usually first make their way to the Viking Museum Haithabu, which contains a superb archeological collection of countless artifacts from the era. 

Outside, they can also enjoy the seven reconstructed houses and landing bridge that provide a taste of what life might have been like in the trading post during its heyday. 

Birka and Hovgården, collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, represent the earliest urban settlement and royal center of Sweden during the Viking Age. Photo: Inspired By Maps / Shutterstock

Birka and Hovgården: Sweden's first town and its royal site 

Named a World Heritage Site in 1993, the Birka archeological site is located on Björkö Island in Lake Mälar, Sweden. Much like Hedeby, Birka was a major trading post during the Viking Age and is reported to have been Sweden's first town. 

Birka was rediscovered in the late 19th century by Hjalmar Stolpe. The site contains thousands of graves and many artifacts that have revealed much about life in Sweden during the Viking Age. 

Together with the adjacent site of Hovgården, Birka was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1993. 

UNESCO recognized the site's vital contribution to our understanding of trade in the Viking Age and also as the site of the first Christian congregation in Sweden, founded by St. Ansgar in 831. 

Birka Viking Museum presents the history of the area, while the adjacent recreated buildings provide a flavor of life in that era.

Only accessible by boat, Birka also hosts a series of events throughout the year, including a Viking tattoo festival, a strongman competition, and a celebration of Álvablót, the Viking Halloween.

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