The Jorvik Viking Centre was the only museum in York that I remember seeing on my first trip there (frankly, I’m not sure what we did the rest of the time, other than eat fudge), and given that I had it listed as one of my Favourite Places for quite a while, I was keen to return. But also a bit apprehensive, as they had apparently undergone a major redevelopment since my first visit, and typically that means a change for the worse. Apologies for the poor photos throughout this post, as the whole bloody museum was too dark.
Admission is £12.50 for adults, and they recommend booking a Fast Pass in advance, which is an extra £1. We did this, but if you’re visiting at an off time, it really isn’t necessary. We were there on a Sunday morning, which was pretty dead, but weekdays look to be very busy, so it might be worth getting the Fast Pass if that’s the only time you can visit. All this talk of Fast Passes probably makes it sound a bit like an amusement park, and well, it does have a ride, which is the reason I loved it so much on my first visit. Upon entering, you go into a gallery that has the ruins of a Viking house under the floor, with a guy dressed as a Viking giving a short talk about it. The Vikings invaded York in 866 CE and renamed the city Jorvik, and then proceeded to settle and live there for over a century, though the people who settled there were not the warriors most people picture when they hear the word Viking, but were ordinary farmers and craftspeople (of which more shortly). This first gallery also had a fairly fun interactive game where you could virtually dig up an artefact and then choose the best way to clean and preserve it.
After playing the game, we headed straight for the thing I was most looking forward to: the ride! Now, this is a very sedate ride, so if like me, you suffer from motion sickness, there’s no need to worry! I would say it’s most akin to one of the more boring rides in EPCOT where you sit in a vehicle of the future learning about the year 2000 from the perspective of people in 1970. You climb into a little car thing (they have two rows of seats, and you’ll be seated next to whomever you come with, so you don’t have to worry about sitting next to a random person (I assume if you come alone, you get a bench to yourself)). There might be strangers in the other row of seats, but because they are tiered, you won’t have to really see or interact with them throughout the ride. Then you select your language (there are different English audio guides for adults and children, and having listened to them both, I would say the children’s one is much more interesting and informative), and the tour will play from speakers next to your head (I was told to mind my head on the speakers on the way in, so of course I immediately whacked my head against them. Maybe padded headrests would be a better idea?).
The car is then propelled through the Viking town of Jorvik, where you’ll meet some of its inhabitants. The children’s tour actually tells you their names and gives more of a back story, as it is told from the perspective of a child living in the town. The adult one is just a commentary describing the village, and is rather boring. The guy drones on and on and won’t shut up. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Jorvik, who are animatronic figures, are moving around doing whatever their assigned task is (trying to pull a slave off a boat, making cups (the street the museum is on is named Coppergate because of all the cup makers. I assume cop meant cup), pooping – there’s a wide range!) and speaking Norse, which you can really only hear on the children’s tour, because the dry boring adult tour guide just blathers on without pause.
Obviously, I am all about these animatronic figures, especially the animals (there’s a dog, cats, pigs, and even rats), particularly my favourite, the pooping man (you don’t actually see him poop, you just see his upper half as he sits in an outhouse). Now, here is an example of where the tour has changed for the worse. I’m pretty sure that the first time we visited, the audio tour actually translated whatever the townspeople were saying, and when it got to the pooping man, it said something like, “Leave me alone! Can’t you see I am pooping?” Clearly this was the best thing ever, and I was dying to get to the pooper to hear it. But now, you either get boring man just talking right through it and basically ignoring pooping man, or the little kid going, “oh, he seems busy, so let’s leave him alone.” Lame! Why would you get rid of a poop joke?
Other than that disappointment, the figures seemed more or less the same, and I still enjoyed myself, so much so that after we got off the ride, we got right back on and did it again! I’m not sure if this is officially allowed, but if you follow the signs through the museum to the toilets, it takes you back to the start of the ride, and the people ahead of us also rode twice and the guy working there recognised them and seemed totally OK with it, so if they’re not busy, I don’t think they really care. This is how I was able to listen to both tours, and learned I preferred the children’s version. I would also recommend sitting in a different tier of seats if you ride twice, because we were able to see things from the front row of seats that we couldn’t from the back, and vice versa.
Having got the ride out of my system, we then proceeded through the museum, which seemed a bit more high tech than our first visit, and with a different layout, but otherwise more or less the same as I remembered. Since you’re probably not sick of hearing about poop yet, you should know that there is an actual Viking turd in the museum, and that is fortunately still proudly on show! There are also various other Viking artefacts and some skeletons, along with a brief explanation of Viking culture, but it all seems rather bland compared to the ride. I think this is their attempt to make it a serious historical attraction, but it feels half-assed at best (also all staff members have to wear Viking clothing, which makes me feel a bit bad for them. It would be fun to do it once in a while, but not every day!).
So I’m sorry to report that the ride is no longer quite the hilarious experience I fondly remembered, but it is still entertaining…as long as you opt for the children’s audio guide! I think they should give up on selling a museum that is essentially a ride with a gallery tacked on as serious history, and go back to a more whimsical audio tour, as more befits the animatronics. On my first visit, I would definitely have given it 4/5 (had I had a blog with a ratings system at the time) but now I think it’s at best 3/5. Just embrace the cheese, Jorvik!