A Perfect Detour in Ribe, Denmark

Founded in the first decade of the eighth century and first attested in a document dated 854; Ribe is the earliest extant town in Denmark (and in Scandinavia). The town marked its 1300th anniversary in 2010.

With a population of less than 10,000, you might be unsure why I am writing on Ribe, but read ahead and you will be left shocked. 

Ribe is a ‘picture perfect’ account of Denmark frozen in time with its cobbled streets, half-timbered medieval era homes, and a maze of alleyways expanding from its ancient town square.

It’s usually called ‘Denmark’s prettiest town’ – and after traveling the length and breadth of Denmark this month, it gets my vote too.

It’s a glorious place to spend an afternoon, roaming through its charming streets and traveling its maze of alleys lined with wonderfully restored houses. Here are a few things to know here:

  1. Viking Heritage: As Denmark’s oldest town, it shouldn’t come as a shock that you can find Viking heritage in Ribe. The result of which, however, is astounding! Ribe has been quite a Viking fortress and today, you can find a Viking museum and a Viking adventure center in town!

    At Ribes Vikinger, you can read more about the Vikings, but also the town of Ribe itself, and how it evolved throughout history. There you’ll also learn, for example, all about the big fire in 1580 that consumed over 200 houses! Ribe Viking Center is a reconstructed Viking village that only starts during the summertime, where you’ll get to be a Viking for a day. 
  2. Ribe Domkirke: Dominating Ribe’s skyline is the striking Ribe Cathedral, which records back to at least 948 (the earliest account of the presence of a bishop in Ribe) – making it the oldest in Denmark. The cathedral was largely restored in 1150 when Ribe was at the center of royal and government money, which in turn floored the way for some excellent architectural structures.

    The new cathedral was built originally from tufa, a soft porous rock quarried near Cologne and exported north along the Rhine. It took a century for the work to conclude. Later additions incorporated various Gothic features, but the core of the cathedral is certainly Romanesque, a fine example of ancient Rhineland spells in architecture.
  3. Kunstmuseum: An indisputable advantage of being the oldest town in the land is the possibility to amass an extraordinary art collection. Ribe’s wonderfully restored art museum has been able to get some of Denmark’s best works, including those by 19th-century ‘Golden Age’ artists.

    The gallery’s riverside nursery offers a remarkable backdrop to collection pieces by big-name Danish artists. It’s worth traversing the artistic grassy area behind the art gallery (open to all), where paths pass over the river and lead both to Sankt Catharinæ Kirke and Nederdammen.

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