Jorvik – York’s iconic underground recreation of the Viking city – officially turns 40 tomorrow.

And to mark the occasion, the first 150 visitors through the door will each receive a ‘sweet treat’ in honour of the anniversary.

It’s just the beginning of a year of celebrations which will also see a new Viking trail created around York – and the release of a video in which those behind the creation of the very first Jorvik Viking Centre tell the story in their own words.

York Fashion Week in May will also be marked with a Viking fashion show and fashion-themed walking tour of the Viking set.

It was on April 14, 1984, that Jorvik – built underground on the very site where archaeologists had excavated the remains of Viking houses – opened its doors for the first time.

It caused a sensation.

York Press: Queues in Coppergate for the opening of Jorvik 40 years agoQueues in Coppergate for the opening of Jorvik 40 years ago (Image: York Archaeology)

The new museum, with its soon-to-be-famous ‘time cars’ and recreations of Vikings figures – and smells! - was different to anything seen before.

So it was small wonder that when it opened there were huge queues – at one point a line up to 100 yards long snaked around the ‘new’ Coppergate shopping centre.

The reaction of those who’d been inside was ecstatic. “Truly marvellous”, said one visitor, emerging blinking into the daylight. “Even better than expected,” said another.

The media reception a few days before had been equally enthusiastic.

“Uncannily life-like figures bargain, argue, sing and gossip in the market place and sit in the homes and workshops exhaustively copied from the remains of the originals,” wrote one, Ian Cundall of the Evening Press’s sister newspaper The Northern Echo.

York Press: 'Uncanny, lifelike figures' were a feature of Jorvik when it first opened 40 years ago'Uncanny, lifelike figures' were a feature of Jorvik when it first opened 40 years ago (Image: York Archaeology)

Forty years on, the attraction has reached what York Archaeology chief executive David Jennings calls a ‘fantastic milestone’.

It is, he says, an attraction that ‘broke all the rules of museum design’ when it first opened.

“It truly is a museum like no other – built on the exact location where we discovered incredibly well-preserved remains of Viking-age York in the 1970s, and continuing to showcase what life would have been like in the 10th century Viking city,” he said.

“We are well on our way to having welcomed 21 million visitors through the doors over that time, and are still receiving fantastic reviews – so here’s to the next 40 years!”


York was nearly a ‘city of vicars’ instead of a 'city of Vikings'

- ‘It even smells realistic’ - why York's Jorvik caused a sensation

The version of Jorvik visitors see today is actually the fourth.

The original featured time cars that moved around a smooth, flat track. Travelling backwards through a ‘time tunnel’ before emerging in the 10th century, visitors passed through a frozen moment of time where they could experience the sights, sounds and – for the first time in a museum, smells – of the era.

York Press: One of the original 'time cars' at JorvikOne of the original 'time cars' at Jorvik (Image: York Archaeology)

Since then, however, the attraction has been updated three times.

Version 2 arrived in 2001. The ‘time cars’ were replaced with ‘time capsules’ which enabled visitors to ‘fly’ through the streets, backyards and houses of Viking York - including the bank up from the quayside on the Ouse to the main shopping street of Coppergate.

In 2010 it was updated again, with the addition of a glass floor under which visitors could see a recreation of the archaeological dig.

Most recently the museum was revamped for a third time following the boxing day floods of 2015, which caused severe damage.

Thanks to some fast thinking by Mark Shepherd, then head of the attraction’s technical team, a fire door was as a makeshift flood barrier, which meant staff were able to remove all the artefacts to a safe, dry location.

However, much of the recreation of Viking-age York, and the artefact galleries, were left under water when the Foss Barrier failed.

York Press: Jorvik partially under water following the 2015 Boxing Day floodsJorvik partially under water following the 2015 Boxing Day floods (Image: Newsquest)

The museum reopened on April 14, 2017 – 33 years to the day after it had first opened to the public.

Throughout the last 40 years, our understanding of Viking-age York has deepened.

“So we know so much more than we did when JORVIK first opened,” said Mr Jennings. “This has been reflected in each new version of JORVIK. This is the best possible interpretation of what the city would have looked like.”

Jorvik Viking Centre is open daily from 10.00am to 5.00pm. Admission is £16.50 for adults, £11.00 for children and £13.25 for concessions (students and over 65s).