In July, fans pour into town for the four-day Roskilde Festival, which vies with Glastonbury for the title of Europe’s biggest rock festival. Anyone who’s anyone on the international scene has played here – past crowds have grunged out to Nirvana, head-banged before Metallica and busted some moves to the Arctic Monkeys.
If you’re not a festival fan, pity the poor fools for their warm beer and toilet queues, and relish the town instead. Roskilde is justly famous for its superb Viking Ship Museum and iconic cathedral, the burial site of Danish royalty.
The town itself came to prominence in the Viking Age, when it was the capital of Denmark. Harald Bluetooth built Zealand’s first wooden-stave Christian church here in AD 980. It was replaced by a stone building in 1026 on the instructions of a woman named Estrid, whose husband was assassinated in the stave church after a heated chess match (only in Scandinavia!). The foundations of the 11th-century stone church are beneath the floor of the present-day cathedral.
Medieval Roskilde was a thriving trade centre and the powerhouse of Danish Catholicism, big enough to support the country’s grandest cathedral. The town began its decline when the capital moved to Copenhagen in the early 15th century, and its population shrank radically after the Reformation in 1536.
These days, Roskilde is a popular day trip from Copenhagen, a mere 30km away.