Updated on 3 February 2023
Reading time: 3 minutes
We all have our own idea of what the Vikings were like – flaming red hair, beards, weapons, warships and warriors may come to mind. Legends, literature and films all paint the Vikings, the forebears of modern-day Normans, as barbaric invaders, but what were they really like? We went to find out for ourselves at Parc Ornavik near Caen…
Travel back in time
We’re barely through the gate and it’s like we’ve gone back to when the Vikings first arrived in Normandy from Scandinavia! Society in this time was made up of landowners, peasants, fishermen and traders. The sea played a huge role in Viking life – at numerous points in their history, the Vikings sailed to other lands, Normandy included, to trade (and loot). But onland, we dicover that the Vikings lived in communities, unlike the Carolingians, who we briefly encountered at the start of our walk through this immersive park.
See Masonry in action
Throughout our walk, we come across passionate actors reenacting everyday Viking scenes, as well as people busy building things. A particular highlight is the different workshops and activities. We watch a stonemason at work, as well as ‘masons’ (I’m not sure whether this term was used at the time, hence the quotation marks) who are busy preparing a type of cement made with lime to build a 10th-century chapel in the middle of the Carolingian village. We learn, as a family, how the artisans worked and how families lived.
Viking clothes were simple with shimmering colours. Their dwellings were certainly basic, but the different spaces within them are clear: work area, sleeping area, etc. chatoyantes. It’s amazing to be able to immerse ourselves in this world which was so long ago but which is not so different to ours, thanks to this live history experience. It feels like we’ve truly travelled back in time 1000 years to the time where Normandy was founded by these ‘Norsemen’ through the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte! Kids (and adults too) are allowed to touch and crush herbs in their hands, which are then used to dye Viking clothing. We are also allowed to handle all of the weapons these people would have used, including a knife called a ‘scramasaxe’, worn on their belt, which was used for hand-to-hand combat, as well as the long spears and shields they used for fighting.
Learn to light a fire
Our immersive experience continues with a lesson in how to light a fire without a lighter or matches. Did you know that the Vikings used a hot iron to do this? They also used tinder, a spongey material that they would urinate on and then let dry. As urine contains ammonia, when stone and the hot iron come into contact with it, it emits sparks and ignites the tinder. Now the campfire is lit, we’ll be able to enjoy some hote food and keep wild animals away tonight!
Thanks to our guide, our time at Parc Ornavik has been an atmospheric adventure back in time where we’ve learnt all about Viking history, had fun with tools, and played games such as ‘merelle’, a puzzle game where we have to line up three of our pieces to win the game. We’ve discovered all sorts of anecdotes and historical facts that explain the everyday life of the Vikings, which together have helped us all understand the bigger picture of how they lived. All in all, it’s been a magical immersive experience which we’d recommend to anyone!
Situated just north of Caen, Parc Ornavik is a park dedicated to Viking history and, in particular, the role the Vikings played in establishing what went on to become Normandy. Around a hundred volunteers help run this visitor attraction.
Domaine de Beauregard
Why not enjoy a savoury or sweet Viking crêpe during your day out at Parc Ornavik!
Immersive visitor experiences available every weekend from 8 April to 16 September and during French school holidays (closed on Monday at Easter holidays), open every day from 11 July and August.
Scheduled guided tours and escape games also available
Book online: caenlamer-tourisme.fr
Children (6 to 17 years old): €8,50 – Free under 6
€34 (family ticket – covers, two adults and two children under 18).
Reduced price: €9,50
All information subject to change