Ribe is the oldest town in Denmark that is still in existence. Due to its charming old-school vibe, it has become a favorite destination for many cultural travelers. Ribe is full of interesting attractions – it is home to a large cathedral and several museums.
In this article, we will dig into some general facts about the old Viking town and share some information about what to do and see in Ribe!
Facts about Ribe
Ribe was founded sometime between 704 and 710 when the first town market was established. That makes it the oldest Danish town which still exists.
At that time in the early 8th century, the location was considered ideal because of the easy access to the sea – as well as the fact that Ribe’s soil was rich in wheat and oat. In case you didn’t already check it on the map, Ribe is located in the southwest of Denmark.
When Denmark became a Christian country, a church was quickly built in Ribe. Later, the cathedral was also built, and other important constructions followed. The town grew fast during the Middle Ages. It was considered an important town thanks to the marketplace and the religious community. Later on, in the 17th century, it was no longer possible for merchant ships to sail through the Ribe river. At that point, the town lost importance, and when the nearby seaport in Esbjerg was founded in 1868, there was little industry left in Ribe.
Nowadays, it’s a small town with just around 5,000 inhabitants. Tourism is the main industry. Ribe has preserved its old heritage and visiting it feels like stepping into the past. So despite being a small town, there is a lot to do and see in Ribe – in fact, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Denmark.
Best attractions in Ribe
There are many interesting sights and attractions in Ribe. The town still has its old charm, and several museums have been established. Below you will find some suggestions on things to do and see in Ribe!
The most famous attraction in the city is definitely the cathedral.
Ribe Cathedral is dedicated to Virgin Mary and built in Roman style. Construction started sometime in the 1100s, probably on the site of an older church, and it was completed in 1250. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Denmark and the second-most famous after the one in Roskilde.
Several old kings are buried at Ribe Cathedral. There are some beautiful and unique decorations at several spots. Some things have been lost with time, for instance, many of the Catholic items in the cathedral were lost after the Reformation. But Ribe Cathedral remains very impressive, and you can easily visit – it is located in the center of the town, and it is open from 11 to 16 every day except for Sundays, where it opens for tourists later (12 o’clock) because of the local mass that has to take place first.
Saint Catherine Church & Monastery
Another famous religious site in Ribe is the Saint Catherine Church. It was built around 1450, so it is a historic place as well, although often overshadowed by the cathedral. Yet, this is also a place highly worth visiting.
Along with the church, there is also a monastery. It is one of the most impressive monasteries in Denmark. Activities stopped after the reformation, but the building is still there, and it obviously has a rich history.
This church and the monastery were built by the Dominican order. It was incredibly influential in Ribe during the Middle Ages, and lots of money was spent on building the Saint Catherine facilities.
You can visit it when you arrive in Ribe. It is a great complimentary attraction after you’ve seen the cathedral!
Ribe Art Museum
Ribe has several museums, but this is the one that the locals really love. Ribe Art Museum was founded in 1891, located in a great villa that was constructed a few decades earlier. It is one of Denmark’s oldest art museums.
The exhibitions are mostly focused on Danish art made between 1750 and 1950. Some of the best Danish paintings are located in this museum. The highlight is considered to be “En Barnedaab” by Michael Ancher.
The museum is closed on Mondays but open every other day. It costs 80 DKK (around 10.5 euros) for an adult ticket. Everyone under 18 gets in for free. The museum also has a café – a great place to spend an hour after you’re finished with the art!
Address: Sct Nicolaj Gade 10, 6760 Ribe
Museum of Ribe’s Vikings
Ribe has a Viking history and this museum is centered around that.
You will find several interesting exhibitions. The majority of the collection is materials that have been found in and near Ribe. It’s a modern museum (founded in 1992), but it has the traditional museum experience. We consider it a must if you are fascinated by the Viking Age!
Address: Odins Pl. 1, 6760 Ribe
The Viking Center
While the previous museum is focused on classic exhibitions, this one is a bit different. The Viking Center in Ribe is an open-air museum where you can experience Viking history in a different manner.
It’s an area that represents how the Vikings used to live. It has a marketplace, a farm, a wooden church, and several houses. Many local volunteers come here to act/live, and there are Viking reenactment groups that come here as well. When you go to the Viking Center, you get a unique experience, unlike any other museum. Open-air museums are generally quite popular in Denmark, and this is one of the best since it is specifically focused on the old Viking culture!
It is located a bit outside of Ribe, so we advise you to arrange your trip to this attraction in advance.
Address: Lustrupholm, Lustrupvej 4, 6760 Ribe
The Night Watchman
This is a tour you can get in Ribe – most tourists are not aware of it, but it is one of the absolute best experiences in the town.
The Night Watchman Tour works like this: You join a tour at night where the guide will walk around the town and tell stories. It takes around an hour and it’s usually free. The stories are unusual, they typically revolve around previous events in Ribe, and you get to know the town better than you would in any other way.
On most nights, the guides only speak in Danish, but occasionally it is possible to get an English tour. You will be told to be quiet while you take the tour since the guide will be speaking for the majority of the time.
It’s the best way to experience the town at night – read more about it at TripAdvisor.
Vadehavscentret is an impressive cultural center southwest of Ribe. It is dedicated to the Wadden Sea, the part of the Northern Sea on the southern coast of Denmark, which also stretches to the German and Dutch coasts. It has high biological diversity, and it’s a beautiful area. In fact, the Wadden Sea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Seeing the Wadden Sea is one thing you can do in Ribe – you can also visit Vadehavscentret, which focuses on its history. It has exhibitions that teach you about the local nature and the traditional culture in the area of the Wadden Sea. It’s the type of museum you visit to get an education. The guides from the center also arrange trips around the area so you can actually get a deeper understanding of the Wadden Sea.
The center is highly popular – it recently reopened in a new facility, designed by some of the best architects and entrepreneurs in Denmark. Aside from the exhibitions, tours and classes, it also has a café, and if you plan to explore the Wadden Sea which is close to Ribe, be sure to visit Vadehavscentret as well!
Address: Okholmvej 5, Vester Vedsted, 6760 Ribe
The old streets
Ribe is the oldest town in Denmark, so it makes sense to enjoy the old streets.
Every tourist should take some hours to stroll around. It’s a small town, so you don’t need oceans of time, but it is an essential part of enjoying the town. Walk around, take some pictures, enjoy the old charm. Maybe talk to some locals – they usually have a lot to tell about their hometown. When you stroll around, you also get to see some of the hidden gems that aren’t described in tourist guides!
Getting in and out
Ribe is located in the southwest of Denmark. It does not have an international airport – the nearest is Billund Airport, a little less than an hour away by car.
But the town does have a train station with regular connections to Esbjerg and Tønder. Esbjerg is the nearest commercial and industrial center. The journey between Ribe and Esbjerg takes approximately 30 minutes by train or by car.
Most people who visit Ribe come in by car, either their own or by renting. There are several routes in and out of the town. In general, it is easy to navigate the Danish roads and highways.
Day trips from Ribe
If you’re staying in Ribe, you might also want to check out some of the nearby places of interest.
Esbjerg is a cool coastal city, just around 25 kilometers north. It is much bigger than Ribe, it has a major seaport, and Esbjerg has many modern bars and shops which Ribe might lack.
To the east, you have two other mid-sized towns near. Kolding, which is an educational and industrial center, and Haderslev, a more historical town that also has a cathedral and an old marketplace, just like Ribe.
Billund is also near Ribe. Many people fly to Billund when they visit Ribe since it is the nearest major airport (check our Billund Airport guide for more information). Billund also has the famous Legoland, since it is the birthplace of LEGO.
Since Denmark is a small country, it is actually possible to drive to any Danish destination within a few hours.
If you want to see Germany as well, you only have to drive south. It takes less than an hour to cross the border. There are many charming border towns between Denmark and Germany. The city of Flensburg is highly recommended from a cultural viewpoint!
Ribe has several nice accommodation options. Most travelers choose to stay in a hotel, but there are also some holiday apartments in and around the town.
Get an overview of all the best hotels and B&B in Ribe at Booking.com. We recommend staying at Den Gamle Købmandsgaard (The Old Merchant Yard) which is a very charming place. It’s a bed and breakfast where you stay in luxurious and historic settings.
You can also stay with Hotel Dagmar, the oldest extant hotel in Denmark, located right near the cathedral!
Ribe is a very historic town. If you are interested in Viking culture, or if you want to see one of Denmark’s most impressive cathedrals, Ribe is an amazing place to visit.
We hope that this article has inspired you. Be sure to keep a checklist of the main attractions in Ribe if you are visiting. You can print this article and keep it with you for your trip if that helps!