Every year, thousands of people visit York in North-Eastern England to delight in its quaint shops, and immerse themselves in a historic town that has been standing since the Romans decided to kick out the local tribes in 71AD. Every year thousands of coaches arrive and disgorge thousands of school-children who have only one era of York's history in mind - The Vikings! - and therefore only one feasible destination*;
The Jorvik Viking Center!
Jorvik stands on the site of the Coppergate Excavations which took place in the late 1970's. York Archaeological Trust began the excavation in 1976, and during the five year dig unearthed a unique area of Viking occupation, including shops, houses and workshops along with a plethora of rich finds. The site was considered so important that it was covered over and reconstructed, preserving the layout of the buildings, in order to create an interactive Viking experience. The centre hoped to provide an authentic view of the Viking period, down to the sights, sounds and smells that would have existed over one thousand years ago.
The original Jorvik Centre opened in 1984 and was a huge success, so successful that it's proceeds went to support the other, less popular museums within York. It was famed for the repugnant smells that were blown into your face, and the softly voiced tour narrated by Magnus Magnusson. It was revamped in 2001 to try and rejuvenate the centre which was beginning to suffer from a drop in interest. This has scrapped a lot of the older, more laughable 1980's models, and replaced them with more realistic animatronic figures, including a pair of rather suggestive feet under a blanket right at the end. The infamous smells have also been toned down a little, the whole centre now smelling dank and muddy.
The Jorvik Centre is a brilliant place for younger children, as it presents a really complete visual aid to the past. You sit in a 'Time Chair' right over the streets where Vikings walked at the beginning of the millenium. All around you people chatter in Norse, and you feel in the centre of a bustling market town. Older children and adults will no doubt enjoy the centre, though they may feel that their trip is a little short, and find the new narrated tour rather patronising. It is an interesting day out, and is probably worth doing alongside either a visit to the York Dungeon, or to the Archaeological Resource Centre (see below).
The Jorvick Viking Centre is open daily between 10am and 4.30pm and costs roughly £7 for adults, £6 for concessions and £4 for children. There are facilities for disabled users, a shop and a cafe, and the centre is placed in the middle of town, giving easy access to parking and other York attractions. I would recommend it to families, but if you are a historian or an archaeologist, it's probably worth giving it a miss.
For more information about the centre, see the flagrantly tourist orientated website:
* Not entirely true. The Jorvick Centre is twinned with the ARC (Archaeological Resource Centre) which is far better at providing children with an understanding of Viking Archaeology. This is situated in St Mary's Church, on St Saviorgate near Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate and can be visited in term time if booked in advance, or between 9am-5pm in the school holidays.