The Kattegat: What Is It?

Illustrated map of the Bay of Kattegat

Theresa Chiechi/ThoughtCo

Viewers of the History Channel's hit series "Vikings" know Kattegat as the village in southern Norway on a spectacular fjord where the Viking Sagas legend Ragnar Lothbrok and his warrior-maiden wife, Lagertha, live with their children on a farm during the ninth century.

The Vikings of the TV series take their iconic longships out to sea to raid and explore through this fjord that comes right up to the village. As Ragnar goes on raids to Britain and brings back valuable plunder, wins a fight with the Earl of Kattegat, and his power grows, he becomes the Earl of Kattegat. Throughout the series, this village is at the heart of the lives and the story of these raiding Vikings, and it grows as time passes in the series. It serves as the domestic, Norse center of the tale.

However, there is no actual village or city called Kattegat in Norway, and as far as anyone knows, there never was. This quintessential Nordic name was co-opted for the series, and the village itself was filmed on location in Wicklow County, Ireland.

A Narrow Bay

Although the village of Kattegat isn't known to exist, the name is associated with a narrow bay in southern Scandinavia between Denmark's Jutland peninsula on the west, islands in the Danish Straits on the south, and Sweden to the east. The Kattegat takes the waters of the Baltic Sea to the Skagerrak, which connects to the North Sea and is sometimes called Kattegat Bay by the locals.

The name comes from old Dutch for "cat" and "hole" or "throat," an allusion to it being a very narrow outlet of the sea. It's full of shallow, rocky reefs and currents, and its water has been known to be difficult to navigate.

The Kattegat has widened considerably over time, and today the Kattegat is 40 miles across at its narrowest point. Until 1784, when the Elder Canal was completed, the Kattegat was the only way to get in and out of the Baltic region by sea and thus held major importance for the entire Baltic and Scandinavian area.

Shipping and Ecology

Because of its prime location, access to and control of the Kattegat has long been prized, and the Danish royal family long benefited from its proximity. It sees heavy seagoing traffic in modern times, and several cities are on its shores. Gothenburg, Aarhus, Aalborg, Halmstad, and Frederikshavn are all major port cities located in the Kattegat, many of which still rely on this sea passage to deliver goods across the Baltic Sea.

Kattegat also has its share of ecological issues. In the 1970s, the Kattegat was declared a marine dead zone, and Denmark and the European Union are still working on ways to contain and repair the environmental damage. The Kattegat is part of the Sulfur Emission Control Area of the Baltic Sea, and its shallow reefs—which are spawning grounds for fish, marine mammals, and many threatened birds—are being protected as part of environmental efforts that strive to maintain the Kattegat's biodiversity.

The "Vikings" Version

If you're interested in seeing the "real" Kattegat from the History Channel show, there's no need to book a ticket to Denmark or Sweden since "Vikings" was filmed on location in the mountains near the Wicklow County fjord, which is relatively close to the city of Dublin, Ireland.

Known as Ireland's only fjord, Killary Harbor in Wicklow County made a much cheaper filming location than shooting the series in Scandinavia. However, due to the dense fogs that roll into the bay, the towering mountains surrounding it, and the lush green landscape of Wicklow County, the setting still looks close enough to be convincingly Norse.

You can stay in the quiet village of Leenane and hike Mweelrea Mountain for some of the best views of the fjord, and there are tons of shops, hotels, and restaurants in other nearby villages if you'd rather spend your time enjoying the local culture. Alternatively, you could spend the day fishing in the Erriff or Delphi rivers or just hiking through the lush countryside.

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Your Citation
Mapes, Terri. "The Kattegat: What Is It?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Mapes, Terri. (2021, December 6). The Kattegat: What Is It? Retrieved from Mapes, Terri. "The Kattegat: What Is It?" ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).