York's Jorvik Viking Centre reopens

Over a year after devastating floods, Jorvik Viking Centre has finally reopened and its re-creation of Viking-era York is as smelly as ever.


It has taken 16 months and a £4 million refurbishment but the Vikings have returned to York once more. 

Closed since the River Foss burst its banks in December 2015, covering the underground galleries of the Jorvik Viking Centre by up to a metre of water, the attraction has now reopened its doors again.

Miraculously, staff managed to hold back the flood just long enough for them to remove all the artefacts. And they’re back on display in the re-imagined centre, which stays true to its central values of using real archaeology to tell the story of the Vikings living here in AD950. 

Entering through the Discover Coppergate gallery, the first section focuses on those who worked on the original archaelogical site, uncovered during the building of the Coppergate Shopping Centre more than 30 years ago.

Recounting their recollections, both personal and practical, the memories include the discovery of the York Helmet, one of only six Anglo-Saxon helmets ever discovered.  

Then it’s on to the main attraction itself – Experience Coppergate, the 16-minute ride around the re-creation of Viking-age York in six-person time capsules. 

For those who remember visiting as a child, the refurbished ride is reassuringly familiar but with several new characters, an increased focus on the role of women in the Viking era and a greater emphasis on language and music. 

Entering the city from the River Foss, you weave through the streets to Coppergate, passing a host of life-like Viking characters including a blacksmith, a woman at a loom, and a family playing board games. 

The darker side of 10th century York is hinted at with the addition of a slave trader, while the ethnically-diverse nature of the era is represented by a Christian priest administering the last rites to a Viking woman. 

In total, 31 animatronic characters are now part of the re-creation, 22 of which are new. There are also more animatronic animals, including squealing pigs, hungry rats and some freshly-caught eels, flapping around on a barrel. 

But ask anyone who’s been about their lasting memory of the Jorvik centre and they’re most likely to remember the smell – of fish, fire and even cesspits. 

The attraction pioneered the use of smell as part of the visitor experience and it stinks as much as ever, with new scents evoking Yorkshire forests and the damp river wharf. 

Leaving the time capsule, you are welcomed to the Explore Coppergate gallery by a member of staff dressed as a Viking. Their enthusiasm is infectious, the antithesis of the a stuffy gallery guide, always ready to tell you all about their favourite items.

Each is assigned a Viking name and character. Legarta, for example, is a hunter’s wife from Norway, who can speak a little Old Norse and Old English. 

She tells me all about the skeleton of Viking woman, which was one of only two full sets of bones found during excavations. The woman, who would have walked with a crutch thanks to hip dysplasia and arthritis, is one of the 22 new characters. 

Meanwhile fellow guide Ermingard’s favourite item is a somewhat holey woollen Viking sock, worn and patched up, made using a technique called nålebinding. “I like how someone a thousand years ago lost a sock,” she says. 

Other items on show from the Coppergate Dig include games, coins and the famous Lloyds Bank Coprolite, a fossilised Viking poo. Ironically, it’s one of the least smelly things on display.

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