Touring The Vasa Museum in Stockholm

Outside the Vasa Museum

It’s not the kind of fame anyone seeks out.  You become famous for failing.  The Vasa was widely heralded as the ultimate ship during its construction and much like Titanic, sank during its maiden voyage.  What was once lost, then rediscovered, and eventually salvaged, the Vasa has become the most visited museum in all of Scandanavia with more than one million visitors a year.

In 1625, Swedish King Gustav II Adolf commissions the building of the Vasa.  He was quickly building one of the most feared Naval fleets in the world and the Vasa was going to be the ultimate display of this emerging European naval power.  It was one of the most heavily armed ships in the world, capable of carrying up to 72 cannons on board along with being a masterpiece of ornamentation. 

Two gun decks would have made the Vasa for formidable ship.

However, there was a big problem.  The supervising captain of construction noticed the ship is highly unstable.  Having men run across from one side to another causes the ship to roll back and forth.  His concerns are ignored as the King demands the ship sail as soon as possible.  The mighty Vasa sets sail and barely 1,400 yards into its maiden voyage, a gust of wind tips the ship over. Within a few minutes the pride of the Swedish fleet sits at the bottom of Stockholm Harbor.      

For over 300 years it remained at the bottom.  It was rediscovered in 1956, and slowly pieces were raised from the depths.  During 1961, large pontoons slowly brought the remarkably intact Vasa back to the surface where it saw sunlight for the first time in centuries.

After returning it to the shipyard, the painstaking process to preserve her began.  It was cleaned and treated with polyethylene glycol.  Between 1961 and 1988 the public was able to see the preservation process in a temporary facility located in Stockholm Harbor near where it was constructed.  It moves into a new permanent home in 1990, where it sits for all spectators to take a look at what is now a successful failure.

For scale those are people in the bottom left hand corner.

Walking in you are struck at its sheer size and impressive decorations that adorn it.  The Vasa is an enormous vessel and photos do not adequately convey its size, especially because it is difficult to get the entire ship in one shot.  The ship is 172 feet tall and over 200 feet long.  You can view the ship on 6 different levels and are able to get up close and personal.  From certain levels you are able to see inside the various decks of the ship. 

The Vasa is the only 17th Century ship to be salvaged and it’s remarkable to realize what you are seeing is 95% original.  The carvings adorning the ship are of Roman Emperors, lions, and Swedish dignitaries and remain in great shape.

In addition to the ship itself, the Vasa Museum has many other exhibits that highlight the ship’s history as well as naval life in the 17th Century.   A film discusses the salvage operation and preservation efforts.  A scale model of the Vasa is on display along with various artifacts recovered from the ship.

17th Century Naval artifacts

The museum has a shop as well as a restaurant on site.  While most people will spend roughly an hour inside, you can easy stay for 3-4 hours.  This is impressive considering the museum is dedicated primarily to only one ship.

the Vasa Museum is highly recommend on any visit to Stockholm.  The ship is a spectacular sight and the museum itself is well rounded with plenty to do.  It provides a rare glimpse of a real ship built during a significant period in naval history.  

Getting there

The Vasa Museum is located on Djurgården Island in Stockholm.  It is conveniently near other tourist attractions such as the Nordic Museum and the open air Skansen Museum.  It is a 10 minutes walk from the Karlaplan Metro station or bus number 67 stops right outside.  The Vasa Museum is open daily.   

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