Jelling, Denmark is a town of about 3,500 people – located on the western part of Denmark called Jutland – that became the first Danish location to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1994. Today there are seven others, including Castle Kronenborg, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet is based.
What’s so special about it, you ask?
The birth certificate of Denmark
Jelling is the location of a parallelogram-shaped plot of land that was once a Viking settlement where King Harald Bluetooth (Danish: Harald Blåtand Gormsen, ruled 958-986) laid a large rune stone for the founding of Denmark as a Christian nation.
This so-called “Jelling Stone,” informally referred to as “the birth certificate of Denmark,” stands next to the one laid by Harald’s father, King Gorm, on which Denmark is formally mentioned for the first time (“Gorm’s stone”).
Jelling differs from the traditionally circular Viking fortress settlements and includes a diamond shape with two large burial mounds that stand, today, next to a church (the origins of which date to the same period) and its graveyard.
Although most people come to Jelling to see the Viking history, it is a lovely town to spend half a day. Directly across from the landmark, there is a branch of the National Museum (Kongernes Jelling – Home of the Viking Kings) that has a fantastic interactive exhibit about Viking history, the history of Jelling specifically, and pagan Vikings’ transition into Christian modernity.
I would recommend visiting the museum first and then walking around the Jelling Monuments so that you can fully understand the history.
I visit a lot of museums, and I can’t endorse this one enough! It had just the right amount of information so as not to overwhelm visitors alongside a very unique delivery. Like all museums, there is lots to read, but a lot of the information is presented visually. That’s why it is awesome for kids, including whiny crying ones like myself.
The museum is free to enter and will take 1.5-2 hours to go through. There is a cafeteria and café with food. The museum supports wearing masks in areas where food is consumed.
Here’s a quick walkthrough of the Jelling Museum…
In the first part about Viking history, you can press various buttons and watch sketched illustrations appear on the wall. The set up must have taken so much time!
In the second part, you’ll see copies of Viking artifacts with their history and reconstruction projected in 3D and you can “experience” a Viking death by walking the path towards Valhalla (the Viking version of warrior heaven), during which each step triggers a projection of yourself in the mirror – falling in battle, being burned, crossing the rainbow bridge (Bifrost), being outfitted in armor, and entering Valhalla among your ancestors.
Then actually cross the rainbow bridge to get upstairs! Which reminds me, I definitely need to repaint my apartment…
In the third part, you can learn about Viking traditions and myths in an enchanted forest-type room.
In the fourth part, you can look at a 3D version of the foundational rune stone and learn about the Vikings’ transition to Christianity (which took over one hundred years and was marked by the printing of new coins that depicted crosses).
In the last part, you can view images and diagrams of the archaeological excavation of the Jelling Monuments.
What’s the origin of Bluetooth?
As I’ve mentioned, one of the most famous Viking kings was named Harald Bluetooth. He was the inspiration for the wireless technology we use today, launched in 1998!
The engineer Jim Kardach, who was a great admirer of Harald Bluetooth, was working on a wireless system to connect mobile phones and laptops. He thought that the Christ figure on the Jelling Stone depicted Harald Bluetooth, and therefore on a drawing gave Christ a mobile phone in one hand and a laptop in the other. Subsequently, it was discovered that the figure was Christ and not Harald Bluetooth. The logo that was chosen was the runes [sic] H and B on top of one another. H for Harald and B for Bluetooth.National Museum Denmark
It BLEW. MY. MIND. when I realized that the Bluetooth logo is actually made of layered Viking runes! Like are you serious. History is literally all around us…and in our ears.
Viewing the Jelling Monuments
You’ll get your first glimpse of the Monument when approaching the museum. You can see the North and South Mounds as well as the white church from the ground.
There are also great views of the scene from the museum windows. That’s where this panorama was taken:
It’s a great idea to bring a picnic lunch and sit outside on a sunny day to eat after an hour or so in the museum.
You can also get a great shot from the Museum’s roof terrace.
After you’ve learned your fill, take a walk around the entire complex with the former palisades outlined with white poles. This should take you about 15 minutes. You can then enter the churchyard by the gates and take a walk among gravestones dating from the 1800s to today.
One interesting thing we noticed was that many graves had very modern sculpture, including birds, hearts, AND EVEN BIKES, carved into them.
You can climb both the North and South mounds. You’ll get a more scenic one from the North Mound, right next to the church and in the direct middle of the complex (the Vikings were good at math too).
From the North Mound, look out into greater Jelling and the surrounding farms and fields.
Hungry? You should be. Go next door for some pancakes (okay, all Americans will notice they’re really crepes!) with your choice of ice cream, sweet, or salty fillings and toppings at the Pandekagehuset Jelling. It will set you back about 50-100 dkk per person, depending on how elaborate your crepe order is or whether you’d like (some excellent!) coffee or not.
I absolutely love the cozy decor of this place. There is an eclectic mix of photos, needlework, and Danish ceramics on all of the walls and a selection of local products like jams to take home.
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See all of my photos from Jelling, Denmark here: