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32km (20 miles) W of Copenhagen

If you have only 1 day for North Zealand, we'd skip the highly touted and touristy "Hamlet's Castle" and make the trek to Roskilde instead. It's that special.

Next to Copenhagen, this is Zealand's second-largest town, with one of its longest histories, dating back to 998. It's true that much of this thriving town is devoted to industry, but there are many remnants of its illustrious past as a royal residence in the 10th century and the spiritual capital not only of Denmark but of Northern Europe in the 12th century. The Vikings used Roskilde Fjord to sail in from the open sea after their conquests.

Royal tombs, Viking boats, and one of northern Europe's biggest open-air rock festivals keep the visitors coming.

Roskilde, once a great ecclesiastical seat, was Denmark's leading city until the mid-15th century. Today the twin spires of Roskilde Cathedral stand out from the Danish landscape like elegantly tapered beacons. These towers are the first landmark you see when approaching the city that celebrated its 1,000th anniversary in 1998.

Roskilde may be centuries past its peak, but it is no sleepy museum town. It's filled with a dynamic student community, boutique-filled walking streets, several landmarks and major sights, and a population of more than 52,000 people who call themselves Roskildenser.

Toward the end of the first millennium (A.D.), the Vikings settled the area, drawn, no doubt, by its sinuous coastline, where they could launch their ships. In 1957, divers in the Roskilde Fjord came upon shards of wood and reported their findings. Their discovery turned out to be bigger than anyone imagined. Here, sunken and mud-preserved, were five Viking ships that presumably had been put there to block the passage of enemy ships.

Archaeologists began the painstaking job of building a water-tight dam and draining that section of the fjord, while keeping the chunks of splinters of wood wet enough so as not to cause them to disintegrate. Splinter by splinter they began the reconstruction and reassembly of the boats -- a process that continues today. You can see their efforts on display at the Viking Ship Museum, a modern museum that contains the five ancient ships.

Between A.D. 990 and A.D. 1000, Roskilde's prominence grew, becoming the home of the royal residence. By the 11th century, a Catholic church and a Bishop's Seat resided at Roskilde, which was to remain Denmark's capital until the Reformation in 1536.

At that time all the parish churches were abolished and the Catholic hierarchy disappeared. The government and the monarchy moved to Copenhagen. Nonetheless, at its peak, Roskilde's importance was expressed in its architecture. By 1150, it was surrounded by an embankment and a moat, inside of which stood 12 churches and a cathedral. In 1170, Bishop Absalon built a new church on the site where Harald Bluetooth had erected his church 2 centuries before. Though it took 300 years to construct, and was subsequently burned, destroyed, ravaged, and rebuilt, Absalon's cathedral laid the foundation for the existing Roskilde Cathedral or Domkirche, which today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.