CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
Not too many museums have only one item to display. Most have thousands or more. But the Vasa museum in Stockholm, Sweden has only one – the Vasa ship and her contents. There are other displays, but they are all here to explain the Vasa ship. Before you say “How boring!” let me stop and say, it was the highlight of our time in Stockholm!
What would make one ship so important, and so interesting, that it can demand such attention? It was built to be an amazing ship – the prize of the king’s fleet. It had a tragic maiden voyage (it didn’t even make it as far as the Titanic). It was lost for centuries, then found and floated to the surface. And after years of restoration (still ongoing to make sure the ship doesn’t rot away) it’s on display in it’s own museum.
Let’s go back to the 1600s in Sweden. King Gustav II Adolf orders that a new ship be built for his Naval Fleet. This would be his flagship and should be the best in all ways. After inspecting the ship, he orders a second row of cannons above the first row. The ship builders know this is a bad idea – the second row will make the ship top heavy and adding more ballast will put the first row of cannons under the water line. The king has ordered the second row, and even though it’s a bad idea the second row is added.
The ship is launched on its maiden voyage on 10 August, 1628. People line the route from the shipyard to Stockholm’s shoreline out to sea. Family members of the sailors are allowed to sail the first leg of the voyage before seeing their sailors off when they make it to the open seas. The ship doesn’t make it that far.
About 20 minutes after launching the first winds stronger than a breeze hit the sails. The ship starts to tilt until water is coming in from the cannon holes. The holes had doors that could have been shut, not allowing water in, but they doors that day were open so that all could see the military power on display. Once the water has breached these holes, there was nothing that could be done. The ship sank and about 30 people on board sank and drowned with her.
The area where the ship sank is known for its brackish waters. Due to its high saline count there are very few of the microbes present that usually eat away at any wood that is underwater for years. The bottom of this harbor is muddy and over the years the mud covered the ship, protecting it even further.
333 years pass. There are some efforts made to salvage the cannons of the ship since they were made with valuable bronze. The rest of the ship rests under the mud at the bottom of the harbor.
1950’s and 60’s
The Vasa is located again and plans are made to bring her to the surface. Tunnels are dug under the ship and giant cables are strung under her. She is raised to the surface in 18 gradual stages. In 1961 the Vasa breaks the surface once again.
In the Wasa shipyard the ship is cleaned and starts a 17 year-long spraying with Polyethylene glycol. This compound impregnates the wood and helps conserve and preserve it. If this step wasn’t taken the wood would turn to dust within a short amount of time. During this time there were also many dives to bring up the little pieces ship that had broken off.
1980’s until Today
The ship had one more voyage to make. In 1988 the Vasa sailed it’s last time from the Wasa shipyard to the current museum. The ship is continuously monitored and protected from further decay. Their goal is to have the Vasa on display for 1,000 more years!
What will you see during your visit?
As soon as you walk in the ship demands your attention! The museum is built around the ship in layers so that you can view the ship from many different vantage points. On each level there are also displays to help visitors understand the ship’s place in history, what was Sweden like when it was built, the importance of the ship, how it was resurrected and preserved. The suggested starting point is the theater, which will show you a brief history of the ship. You can see a shorter version on the Vasa website.
The ship is huge and dominates from every angle in the museum. She’s 69 meters or 226 feet long. The masts of the ship didn’t survive the wreck intact so the museum cleverly incorporates rebuilt masts into the roof of the museum. Over four kilometers of rope was specially made so that the ship could be rigged as before.
The ship is all dark wood now, but when it sailed for those first glorious 19 minutes it was full of color. A scale model was painted after the original color scheme. Also near the stern of the ship some of the ship’s sculptures are recreated in full color. Remember this ship was made to be seen as the king’s flagship and not just as a military vehicle.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see all of he displays and took the time we had to look as much as we could at the ship itself. The displays we did se were really well done. You could easily spend three or more hours there if you wanted to see it all.
Tips For Your Trip:
Adults 130 SEK
Wednesdays (1 Sep-31 May) at 17.00-20.00 100 SEK
Students 100 SEK (with valid student ID showing expiry date)
Children and adolescents 0-18 years free of charge
Payment can be made in cash and with credit cards. We accept American Express, VISA, Master Card, Diners Club International and Maestro
Galärvarvsvägen 14, Djurgården,
For directions using public transportation see this page of the museum’s webpage.
1 June – 31 August:
Every day 0830-1800
1 September – 31 May:
Every day 1000-1700
New Year´s Eve 31 December 10.00-15.00 Closed: 1 January and 23-25 December
To view the film in English, here are the daily times:
Daily at 09.40, 11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.20, 17.20
Daily at 10.20, 10.40, 11.20, 11.40, 12.00, 12.20, 12.40, 13.20, 13.40, 14.20, 14.40, 15.20, 15.40, 16.00, 16.40,
There is guided tour around the ship lasting about 25 minutes and its included in the museum entrance fee. They are offered in English throughout the day. See the museum’s website for the current timetable.
There is a restaurant in the museum that is open
1 September – 31 May: 1000- 1600
1 June – 31 August: 0930 – 1730
The kitchen closes an hour before the restaurant.
MP3 guided tours:
You can easily download the MP3 guides for free to your portable music player or cellphone here from the Vasa Museum website – or in the Museum.
The guides consist of 15 soundtracks and are located around the museum at different stations numbered 1-15.
For More on Stockholm: