Grab your horned hat – hoards of Vikings are descending on York! Luckily, this time they’re not invading but here to celebrate the last of the Viking kings in York, Eric Bloodaxe, at the 32nd Jorvik Viking Festival. Across half term (20th to 26th February), the centre of York is home to a living history encampment, combat demonstrations and a 10th Century traders market where you can pick up wares from Viking craftsmen around the world. Various lectures and activities by academics from both the University of York and further afield promise to aid anyone wishing to explore Norse culture: Professor Dawn Hadley will retrace the steps of the first 9th Century Scandinavian settlers, award-winning writer Justin Hill will lead a masterclass on writing historical fiction, and experts in Norse one-needle knitting and tablet-weaving will be passing on their skills through workshops. The festival has a strong emphasis on sparking children’s interests in history and catering to families. Popular events such as have-a-go archery and sword fighting are back, along with an animal steading, storytelling and archaeological exploration of what poo can tell us about people in the past.

If previous years’ events are anything to go by, the culmination of the week is sure to be spectacular. King Eric Bloodaxe and his retinue host an authentic banquet on Friday 24th, and on Saturday 25th re-enactors will compete for the coveted title of Strongest Viking. The Best Beard competition is returning for its 9th year and is open to all members of the public – creating your own, home-made beard seems to be actively encouraged. Following in the evening is the always impressive finale battle, this year “Bloodaxe’s Last Stand”, where fearsome warriors clash, and sound effects and pyrotechnics will bring the ruler’s reign to a dramatic and exciting end.

2016’s winners with their trophies for ‘Best Beard’

The city of Jorvik played a pivotal role in the history of the Vikings in England, as a thriving hub of international trade, and as the seat of the co-kings of Dublin and Jorvik between 866 and 954. Many archaeological digs have been able to develop our understanding of Norse culture, thanks to the excellent preservation of artefacts in the soil, and the city’s continuous occupation for millennia in a concentrated area. First held in the mid-1980s after the opening of Jorvik Viking Centre, the festival is loosely based on the Viking celebration of ‘Jolablot’ which marked the coming return of spring and end of winter hardships. This year is going to be particularly special as it will build up to the re-opening of the Jorvik Centre in April, after the disastrous floods of 2015 engulfed the centre and left damage that required a multi-million pound renovation.

In the past, the festival has done an excellent job of satisfying both families/casual tourists and more academically-interested visitors. For a full events programme, visit www.jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk. Most events are free, but some talks and workshops have a small charge or need pre-booking. The city certainly loves a festival, and many other retailers and attractions will be running their own special discounts or fringe events. Trains from London to York run regularly and take about two hours, and this is one of the best weeks of the year to explore one of Britain’s best preserved Medieval cities.