Travel & Tips

Venture into the Apocalypse at This Bunker-Turned-Museum in Europe

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During a nuclear catastrophe, only one thing separates the queen of Denmark from the plebians: a private bathroom. In the underground bunker where the Danes would take cover in this nightmarish scenario, her royal tush would get a place of honor in the government-designated area, while everyone else would have to use the public bathroom. But that’s where the queen’s luck runs out. She’d have to share everything else, from dining tables next to an unconvincing woodland mural and taped birdsong on a retro boombox to the same creaky storage lockers you’d find in a drab high school hallway.

Of course, this is only in theory. REGAN Vest, the secret Cold War bunker built for the Danish government in 1968, was never actually used for end-of-the-world housing. It was ready and waiting, though—and as of February 13, now no longer a secret, it will be the newest museum in Denmark, 200 feet below the surface of the Rold Skov Forest in North Jutland. Now you can visit and imagine a not-so-implausible past—or would that be future? Here’s what to know about this venture into the apocalypse.

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Nordjyske Museer

Experience the real Blast from the Past

Sadly, a charmingly naïve Brendan Fraser isn’t going to rise up through the floor on your visit to REGAN Vest. But remember his adorable underground house? Put that above ground, give it a Scandinavian sensibility, stock it full of 1980s props, and you’ve got the secret entrance to the bunker.

The original entrance was concealed in a simple single-family home, where the bunker’s engineer and his family lived at the time. That home has been restored and outfitted with fashionable ‘80s decorations. Visitors can tour the home and basically pretend they live in it—you can sit on the couch and flip through old magazines or watch television. Then, virtually meet the family that lived there through digital screens. For a true throwback, there’s a stash of ‘80s clothing that you can dress up in for a photo. It’s hardly James Bond, but you’ll feel like a real secret government agent, just like Mr. Engineer and the fam.

REGAN Vest was built in secret and kept a secret while it was operational—until 1996 for Cold War bunker usage and then again until 2012 for general emergency use. The secrecy of this bunker was no joke. The tunnel to get into it is about 985-feet long. REGAN Vest itself is built in a circular pattern to help it withstand detection and nuclear destruction.

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Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest

As for the bunker museum, it’s been restored and revitalized to the bunker’s original status—meaning it’s outfitted exactly as it was when it was in use, from the retro handset phones down to the vintage desk lamps and outdated NATO stamps. Visitors will be able to tour the entire facility, including the communications room, the government’s living quarters, the queen’s private toilet sanctuary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ meeting room (peep the roll-in overhead projector in one of the meeting rooms), the medical ward, the dining hall, and more.

Along with the restoration of the bunker and the engineer’s house, there’s a new reception and museum building on the grounds, shaped like four black boxes. The exhibits have two main focuses. First, they take a close look at what it was like to be a Danish citizen living during the Cold War. Visitors will learn about all the precipitating events and technology that led to the war, how Denmark was forced to choose a side, how the country as a whole handled the nuclear risk, and how the situation was reflected in pop culture at the time. The second portion of the museum focuses on the 1945 Hiroshima bombing, with artifacts to show from the disaster.

Hiking trails will cover the grounds of the museum, running for 8.7 miles around REGAN Vest. They’ll connect to places like the Rebild Hills and Thingbæk Chalk Mines when they’re complete—so there’s plenty of places to run for (probably unsuccessful) cover if the air raid sirens go off.

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Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest

Visit the bottom bunk

Once the museum officially opens, you’ll be able to choose from two types of tours: a guided bunker tour with a tour of the above-ground museum for $35, or a guided bunker tour with a tour of the above-ground museum and a smørrebrød lunch in the bunker’s dining hall for $69.

It’s not possible to walk around the bunker on your own—you’ll always need a guided tour. And if a real duck-and-cover moment happens while you’re down there, sorry to say, but you probably won’t make it. REGAN Vest is now pretty useless in the event of a new nuclear disaster. None of the equipment would work because it’s so outdated, and it’s obviously not hidden or blast-proof anymore.

The full tour of the facility takes an hour and a half. Reservations are required, and you can already make them on the website. The museum will be open for tours from 10 am to 5 pm, and you should budget four hours for your visit.

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Enjoy Nordjylland

See fjords, architecture, and treehouses beyond the bunker

After you’ve had your fill of bunker history, head about 30 minutes away to Aalborg, the nearest city to REGAN Vest. Architecture fans will have a lot to see in town—particularly Alvar Aalto’s Kunsten (the modern art museum); Jørn Utzon’s Utzon Center, which is the last building he ever designed; and the angular House of Music designed by Austrian architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au.

For hikers, you’ll find a new 7-mile trail, 30 minutes in the opposite direction from REGAN Vest, at Mariager Fiord. The fjord flows into Kattegat (Vikings fans, this one’s for you), through a relatively flat landscape surrounded by fields and forests. The trail launched in September 2022 and hits the best scenery along the fjord.

And after your trip below ground at the bunker, stay the night high above ground at one of Løvtag’s three treehouse cabins. They’re designed with Scandinavian minimalism and get you as close to nature as possible—there’s a live tree running right through the middle of each. It’s a 45-minute drive from REGAN Vest.

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter.

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