The oldest town of Denmark is not necessarily the most popular, but for those in the know, it’s an easy favorite destination. Ribe can be found in ancient texts in as far back as the year 710, making it the oldest known town in the whole of Scandinavia, too. Despite being over 1,300 years old, this medieval town has preserved its unique history very well.
From cobblestone streets, half-timbered buildings, and the famous cathedral from the Viking Era, Ribe brings Danish history to life in its beautiful setting.
There are around 8,000 residents living in Ribe, so you already have a feel of how small the town is. However, Ribe is filled with unique attractions, all embedded in a charming and romantic setting. With its location by the Wadden Sea National Park, Denmark’s biggest national park, Ribe has a lot to offer from history and art to nature and adventure.
If you’re planning to spend time in Denmark, make sure to make a stop (or two) at Ribe and experience its unique vibe for yourself.
The Ribe Cathedral, also called The Church of Our Lady, was built in 1200 from Rhenish tuff stone and Gothic edits in brick. It’s a towering landmark that can be seen from several miles away as you approach the town.
Today, it’s the only five-aisled Cathedral in Denmark and houses sepulchral monuments of Denmark’s most powerful. Scandinavia’s oldest monument can also be found here, erected by King Valdemar the Conqueror for a son who died in 1231.
Attached to the Cathedral is the Borgertårnet or the Commoner’s Watch Tower, dating back from the 14th Century. Standing at 52 meters high, it gives visitors amazing views of the marshes of the nearby national park. Inside the church and as a modern upgrade, the chancel features paintings and mosaics by Carl Henning Pedersen, one of Denmark’s most notable artists.
Anything and everything you want to know about Ribe’s unique history can be found in the Ribe Viking Museum. There are exhibits on archeological finds from the year 700 and the flourishing Viking Marketplace during the Viking Age to stories of daily life in the Medieval Age and Renaissance.
Ribe’s evolution from Viking Village to a bustling center during the Renaissance is an interesting story. With beautiful dioramas and products from old Viking workshops, there’s something for every kind of traveler to marvel at. For those arriving with kids in tow, there are two play areas within the museum. A few meters away from the museum is another Viking Playground to complete the family’s Viking adventure.
It should be clear by now that Ribe’s Viking history is a crucial part of the town’s thousand-year-old story. At the Ribe Viking Center, that part of history is literally brought to life, and you are part of the story.
Ripa, the town’s old name when Vikings ruled, is recreated with authentic reconstructions of the earliest buildings, establishments, and activities. This interactive heritage center showcases real people playing true-to-life roles during the Viking Age like the King’s minter, the völva, the lady of the house, the falconer, the carpenter, the farmer and all the animals on his estate.
There are several areas to explore like the Marketplace 710 AD, the Ripa Harbour 750 AD, Ripa Town 825 AD, the Angsar Church 860 AD and the Manor Farm 980 AD. Check out the official site to see the schedule of their daily skits and dramatic plays, some of which you can join yourself.
The Wadden Sea Center opened in 2017, boasting over 1,000 square meters of exhibits to educate visitors on the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. It was designed by architect Dorte Mandrup and built with natural materials – reeds for the façade, roof and underlay, as well as robinia wood integrated into the structure to help blend the facility with its surroundings. The structure itself is a beautiful exhibition, seemingly growing out of the ground among the surrounding flat marshes.
There are several exhibitions, guided tours, and kid activities at the center. The center can also host meetings, conferences, and events.
There are several amazing museums in Ribe, but one of the most unique is dedicated to an ancient practice – witch-hunting. It’s important to note that this museum is not suitable for children as Hex! shows the story of how the fear of witches spread throughout Denmark and the rest of Europe. Ribe is the hometown of Denmark’s most popular witch – Maren Splidds – who was burned after a witch trial in 1641. In fact, her trial took place in the streets surrounding the museum.
You can take part in guided tours or take an audio tour, which reveals stories and theories on how the prosecution of witches started. There are also two films that tell the story of Maren Splidds and Lamme Sidsel, two women who were convicted and killed as witches.
Givskud Zoo is a great activity for families and animal lovers. You can take a safari in your own car or take one of the zoo’s safari buses to experience close encounters in the African Savannah exhibit.
Rhinos, giraffes, and zebras roam freely in a beautifully made habitat. A separate lion territory, the zoo’s main attraction, is also set up for the safari where lions surround the vehicle or simply relax under the shade.
Other than the safari experience, there are many other zoo animals that visitors can learn about in between tours. A new bongo habitat also features rare antelopes. The total stroll around the zoo is at 6 kilometers.
Givskud Zoo also houses Denmark’s largest dinosaur exhibit. There are 50 full-sized dinosaur models, including a 40-meter T-Rex. There are also several play areas around the zoo to keep the kids occupied while parents sit back and enjoy the exhibits.
The Night Watchman started his rounds in the 14th Century, with the least “real” watchman ceasing to work in 1902. He roamed the streets of Ribe and made sure to maintain peace and quiet in the town.
He also raised the alarm in case of flooding or fire. At the start of every hour, he sang on the streets, reassuring residents that he’s keeping watch. The job was hard – he roamed the streets for nine hours even during winter and wasn’t known to be well-paid.
In 1935, except during World War II, the Ribe Tourism Board decided to bring back the Watchman as a way to keep the tradition alive and remind the town of its history. He continues to carry the Night Watchman’s traditional weapon – the Morning Star – from May to October beginning at 8:00 PM. Today, it serves as a 45-minute walking tour for visitors starting in the marketplace.
Once you’re already in Denmark, the best way to get to Ribe is by car. It’s an easy drive for a day tour, especially if your itinerary is about town-hopping around Denmark. Ribe is a two-hour drive from Aarhus and a 1.5-hour drive from Odense.
Unless you’re up for the Givskud safari, exploring Ribe is best done on foot. The town is small enough to explore without a vehicle, plus you get to enjoy leisurely walks on cobblestone streets. Once you get to Ribe, head to one of the two parking slots just outside of the Old Town, across the canal (P-Syd and P-Nord).
If you don’t have a car, you can take a train to Ribe from Esbjerg.
While Ribe may be a quaint town, there is a lot to explore and learn. If a day tour is not enough, or if you simply want to immerse yourself in the town’s charm a little longer, might as well stay a night or two and take your time exploring Ribe.
There are many accommodation options in Ribe for every budget. If you decide to stay in Ribe, consider the following:
This hostel is well-located by Ribe’s most popular attractions. It’s a 5-minute walk to the town center and top attractions and the train station. It has a view of either Ribe’s old town or the Wadden Sea and is Denmark’s only environmentally-certified accommodation in Ribe.
The Ribe Byferie Resort is a holiday-apartment type of accommodation. It’s a town in and of itself, characterized by red gabled houses against a setting of trees, a stream, and surrounding meadows. The apartments range from 54 m2 to 68 m2, the largest being able to accommodate seven people.
All apartments are fitted with a full kitchen, private balconies and personal courtyards, and free access to Ribe swimming baths and the Sport & Event Park with a tropical water park.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia
The Den Gamle Arrest is set within a former prison, built with a unique 16th-century redbrick. It’s right across the Ribe Cathedral, giving it one of the most well-appointed locations in terms of accommodations.
The suites and rooms were once jail cells, now updated with sleek and modern furniture and bright décor. You can choose between rooms with private or shared baths, but most of them have views of the city or the cathedral.
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