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I am planning a short trip to northern Europe (time is scarce), and have 2 days for Stockholm. I probably have time for just one museum, and the Vasa Museum is by far the #1 most recommended museum in the city, by every travel guide, blog, etc.

However, from what I saw and read, it's all about a life on a ship that sailed for less than one day. It has exhibits on shipbuilding but the main exhibit (the ship) is an example of how not to build a ship. It's also not possible to see the inside of the ship.

Is any of the above incorrect? I am genuinely trying to understand the appeal of this museum in order to know if it's worth spending valuable time visiting it (including standing in line to enter).

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    All the government owned muséums in Stockholm are free (Vasa is private) - rent an electric kickscooter by the minute and visit them all. – Mikael Dúi Bolinder Aug 4 at 15:58
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    If you are going to Scandinavia, spend a day visit the countryside instead of going to a museum. If I were you I would rent a car and drive to Trosa and Mariefred (stop by Tullgarn castle on the way to Trosa). – d-b Aug 4 at 20:58
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    not going to do an answer as it's just opinion, but I loved it when I went, as did my brother a few years later. It's a great ship! – Mark Mayo Aug 5 at 3:20
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    I lived in Stockholm for 1 year and obviously visited Vasa Museum, to be honest what is just impressive is to see a real ship from this time, in such a good state of conservation knowing the story about it. But I would not recommend it as a top priority to see in Stockhom unless you are really into it. What I found the most interesting to visit was the archipelagos (maybe because I like great landscapes and natures...). Skansen was also good but you can find this kind of museum in many countries. – stbr Aug 5 at 7:13
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    @SJuan76 It wasn't the sinking that made it famous; it was the fact that it was found mostly intact 300 years later. – chepner Aug 6 at 15:05
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As mentioned before, it is a great museum because this is probably the only original ship left from this time. The other "old" sailships/warships you can view in other museums are either much younger, or rebuilds/replicas based on incomplete wrecks or plans. I also liked the fact that the VASA-museum is dedicated to this one ship and it's history only and goes into great detail of building, the accident, outcome of the sinking etc. to give you the full story of a single event in history.

If you are unsure or there is a long queue when you arrive, just turn around and walk 300m to the Skansen open air museum, or any of the other nearby exhibition halls.

If old warships from that time period with lots of cannons are your thing, you can play naval battles with them in Empire: Total War

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    Pro tip: go there early in the morning to beat the crowds. We visited right after it opened and (almost) had the museum to ourselves -- but two hours later, it was packed with tour groups. – jpatokal Aug 5 at 3:31
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    The Mary Rose is of course not complete but it is shown as is without being a rebuild or replica and it's even older. – chx Aug 5 at 3:55
  • @chx i went to the original Mary Rose exhibition back in about 1995 maybe when it was just a hull being sprayed with water and you just stood on a platform; it was pretty dull. I'd like to go back and see the new exhibition. – spikey_richie Aug 7 at 13:55
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We can't help you in whether it's worth your time. That is a decision up to you. What we can do is answering the "Why is the Vasa Museum in Stockholm so Popular?" question.

It's not a "how or how not to build ship", there are grand maritime museums for that around the world. The Vasa is a largely intact five hundred year old warship and not only a plain warship but a display of the might and glory of Sweden from that time with hundreds of curved sculptures. The ship itself and clothing are a rare example of that period as most organic materials are long gone. Maybe The Vasa Museum: All Hail The Ship That Never Made It A Nautical Mile is a good, short description of why it's interesting.

  • Good answer, but the Vasa is ~400 (not 500) years old – Kevin Troy Aug 7 at 14:48
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Like all great museums, the Vasa Museum is an experience more than just a couple of rooms with a lot of old stuff. It is true that the number of exhibits and topics are very limited, but that's a strength, not a weakness - it's an excellently curated collection with a narrow theme, a very strong primary exhibit (the ship itself, which is extremely impressive if you are into this kind of thing), and comprehensive information surrounding the single theme, all presented in a very nice and fitting atmosphere. Add to that the the smallish size of the museum allows you to actually take it all in without burning yourself out.

I have the impression that a lot of the most popular museums in Scandinavia follow this mold. Fotografiska, another one of Stockholm's prime attractions, also focuses on a limited number of collections and themes. The exhibitions in Fotografiska rotate, but they are all very well-curated and never exceedingly large.

Ultimately, if you are interested in the theme, you are likely not going to be disappointed with the Vasa Museum. If you aren't, then you already know that you are not going to get too much out of it.

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    YMMV, but I'm not a huge nautical buff, and I still found the Vasa museum fascinating -- and so did our kids. – jpatokal Aug 6 at 0:26
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Adding to the previous answers, the Vasa museum is to me a metaphor on how not to run a project in general. We certainly learned in 333 years how to avoid building a boat that will capsize, but we keep failing at applying the learning to other projects.

While visiting the Vasa museum, friends of mine from Berlin couldn't help drawing parallels with the Berlin Airport.

I was getting flashbacks from many software projects I worked on. My ideas are hardly original; there is even an article on that! Why the Vasa Sank: 10 Problems and Some Antidotes for Software Projects.

So, besides an awesome ship that captures the time it was built, the Vasa museum is also a monument dedicated to project management failures and lessons to be learned. Who knows, it might teach you how to save a few Vasa-s in your career from capsizing. :D

Update: Just found out that there is a word for it: Vasa syndrome.

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I have to completely agree w/user1202136. The story itself is utterly fascinating. Ever have a manager or boss that was so cocksure of themselves that they created requirements and more requirements that eventually "sank" the project? This is that story writ large on the global stage. The icing on the cake is that the evidence for this story is nearly 100% preserved (92% of the original ship is intact, IIRC). Anyone with a modicum of sense can clearly see why this ship didn't get very far. It is so tall compared to its width, and there are not one, but two rows of cannons and their associated ports. There are also all the additional statues and carvings which add to the top heaviness of the ship. The King of Sweden at the time made all these specifications. The builders were actually cleared of all wrongdoing in spite of the King coming after them w/a vengence.

I haven't seen most of the other maritime exhibits in the EU - just a few in the UK. But this was one of the most amazing exhibits I have ever seen in any museum context.

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Native swede from Stockholm here.

Supposedly it is because very few ships from the 17th century are so well-preserved. For many decades the museum was just the ship itself, nothing else. You'd probably have to be quite a bit of a nautical nerd to find that alone interesting for more than 10 minutes.

But in the late 80s/early 90s they built a proper museum around the ship to give it more historical context. So what the museum is really about is the 17th century Sweden. Sweden was a powerful military nation at the time, and in war with half of Europe during The Thirty Years War for which the ship was built. Apparently Sweden was something of a historical extreme during this time period, spending pretty much the whole national budget on the military only.

If you aren't too interested in history but perhaps human nature, the ship's story is also one of megalomania. The King wanted to build the biggest and most powerful ship in the world, a major undertaking. The shipbuilding expert who was tasked with leading the job soon realized that it wouldn't be feasible to make the ship as big, with as many canons as the King wanted. However, nobody really dared to speak against the King, so they built it anyway. And so it sank during the first "live test". Really just because the King had insisted on making it so big, but of course nobody dared to blame the King for the fiasco.

It is a great museum if you are interested in history in general, but it is also very tourist-friendly. There are exhibitions re-creating the interior of the ship and the life on board, and you will be able to view the ship from every angle but obviously not enter the ship itself since it is too fragile and valuable.

Stockholm is one of the cities with most museums in the world, and a lot of them are scattered around the area where you find the Vasa museum, located on the island Djurgården, most of it is a big park area. Nearby within walking distance you'll also find various other museums, such as the Nordic museum (also historical, only recommended if you are indeed interested in history) and Skansen, which was originally the city zoo, but is nowadays a mix of a zoo with focus on nordic animals and an exhibition of old buildings/history (good place to visit with kids). Nearby you also have the amusement park Gröna Lund.

As a tourist I'd strongly recommend going to Djurgården by boat from Old Town (the station is called Slussen, you can get there by subway). The boat is using the same tickets as used for bus or subway. Alternatively you can walk there but it's some 2-3km from the city center, or go there by tram.

One thing you should know however, is that they sell the Stockholm visit by having all tourists visit Old Town and Djurgården, which isn't wrong in itself, but consequently it gets crowded in those areas all year round, with expensive prices.

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