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Olga, the Viking Queen of the Rus



This article originally appeared on a new site about the Christian renaissance in Russia, called Russian Faith. Their introductory video is at end of this article.

It seems that Vikings, and everything Viking-related, is internationally popular right now. Take the multi-season History Channel hit “The Vikings” or the BBC show “The Last Kingdom.” The Swedes got in on it with “The Last King.” Even Russia couldn’t help titling its recent blockbuster about the early years of St. Vladimir’s life “Viking” (A good movie, by the way, but avoid the 18+ rated version. See if you can find the 12+ version, it’s much better).

So it’s not so surprising that a screenplay about St. Olga of Kiev that I’m writing with Ryan Jaroncyk is getting some early interest from production companies from Santa Monica to Russia.

Olga was a fascinating figure, her life dramatic and even cinematic. Her character arc, from Igor’s wife to Igor’s avenging fury to a diplomat with international importance lends itself easily to the imagination. Since I’m expecting to be working on this screen play for a while, I thought now would be a good time to explore the contours of her life. The rest of this post is primarily translated from a Russian post, which you can find here.


After the death of the great warrior Oleg, the unstable polity of Rus began to fall apart. The Drevliane rose against their Varengian overlords, trying to separate from Kiev’s control. It didn’t help that a new horde of Pechenegs approached the borders of Rus at the same time. But Igor took care of both problems with a sure hand. He reconquered the Drevliane and lay a heavy tribute on them (Igor became their new and most hated enemy after that). As for the Pechenegs, he managed to use diplomacy, backed with a faithful and powerful army.

Igor’s rule saw the continuing unification of the East Slavic tribes. Now all of Rus paid tribute to Kiev directly.

By this time, Igor was married to the Varengian Olga, who was a member of a prominent family (some versions even have her as Oleg’s daughter, which is the version I am exploring in the screenplay). Some stories say that Igor saw her when he was hunting in the forests near Pskov as a young man, and he was captivated by her beauty and her sharp mind. Again, this is exactly the line I’m following in the screenplay.

An interesting historical point about their married life: they were monogamous. This wasn’t all that common in early Rus, when princes were allowed many wives. But it was a testament to the strength of their bond and their humaneness in general.

Her Varengian name was Helga, and the Slavic version (Olga) is the feminized version of “Oleg,” which means “holy.” Though the pagan understanding of holiness is completely different from the Christian one, it still does assume a special spiritual disposition, chastity and sobriety, intelligence and even prescience. Not surprisingly, the people came to call Oleg a “Farseer,” while they came to call Olga “the Wise.”



Igor was killed by treachery in the middle of the day while he was gathering tribute from the Drevliane, one of the tribes of the Rus. It seemed that his death would lead to the complete dissolution of Rus, especially since Olga was left as regent in Kiev for her small son, the future Prince Sviatoslav. Immediately, the Drevliane separated from Kiev and refused to pay any more tribute. However, the rest of the Russian elite united around Olga and not only acknowledged her right to rule as regent, but followed her lead without demur.


By that time, Olga was in the prime of her physical and spiritual powers. Legends were told of her beauty and her wit, even in surrounding countries, as far as Byzantium itself.

From the first moment of her rule, Olga showed herself to be confident, authoritative, visionary, and even cruel. First of all, she had her revenge against the Drevliane.

The chronicles relate a fascinating and dramatic story. The Drevliane, perhaps realizing how tenuous their position was, decided to entice Olga with an offer of marriage to their own ruler, named Mal. This embassy had another meaning as well, clearly understood to any politician of the time. It was an olive branch—Olga was being offered a new husband, and in return she would not avenge the murdered one.

Olga pretended to accept the ambassadors with honors. She invited them to the court on the next day. They were to be carried in boats by her own warriors as a special honor. But instead, she had a ditch dug near her own palace, and when the ambassadors, filled with their own significance, were carried in on longboats, she ordered them thrown into the ditch and buried alive.


Immediately after that, Olga required that the Drevliane send another embassy. It was the custom in Rus to offer ambassadors the use of a steam room to wash before official proceedings began. After a long road, the wash was a pleasant thing, and it also carried a hint of ritual ablution before an important event. No sooner had these new ambassadors entered the steam room than the doors were locked and the house was set on fire. They were burned alive.


Finally, Olga herself traveled to the land of the Drevliane to celebrate a pagan ritual feast over the grave of her killed husband and to mourn him. When the nobles of the Drevliane had drunk a large amount of alcoholic beverages, Olga ordered all of her warriors, who were sober, to kill them all where they sat, at the foot of the mound where her husband was interred.

Olga, the pagan, had her revenge like a pagan. There was something of the ritual in it. This triple revenge followed the usual pattern for Slavic burial customs. Bodies were typically laid in boats after death—an old Russian tradition. Cremation was also typical for all Russian lands. Sometimes, human sacrifices during the ritual feast over the grave of the dead were practiced as well.

But now, once the ritual vengeance was concluded, Olga began her personal vendetta.

She had her armies attack the main city of the Drevliane, Iskorosten’. In open battle, the Drevliane were routed. The chronicle vividly describes how Sviatoslav, still a boy, began the battle by hurling his small spear in the direction of the enemy. The remainder of their army and the rest of the civilians hid behind the walls of the city. The siege lasted several months. Finally, only guile managed to bring the city down.

Olga seemed to soften in her demands by asking a small tribute—three sparrows and three pigeons from each household. She promised to leave soon afterward. As soon as the tribute was collected, Olga had her warriors tie burning tinder to the feet of the birds. Then they were released. Since all the birds were homing, they returned to their households. Soon the entire city was ablaze, and the Kievan army began their assault.



But Olga unified the tribes not only with cruelty and guile. As a wise and far-seeing ruler, she realized that the pagan ways of vendetta didn’t make for any lasting unity. So she instituted reforms, including a new system of tribute. From now on, the tribute amount couldn’t randomly be changed by the ruling authority, and the cities themselves had to bring it to special collecting agencies once a year. From there, the tribute made its way to Kiev.

Then Olga and her armies traveled all through the rest of the cities, instituting this standardized from of tribute and the collection agencies throughout Rus. This was the first organized system of taxation in Rus. According to the chronicles, this led to a flourishing period for the newly unified Rus.

These collection agencies also served as local courts and as official representatives of the princely power in Kiev. Perhaps not surprisingly, the places these agencies were organized were most often in the centers of cities, the places where markets gathered. So these spots, associated with Kiev’s power, became the nexuses for ethnic and cultural unity for the Russian tribes.

Later, when Olga became Christian, she built Rus’s first churches right next to these government outposts. During Vladimir’s time, they even became conflated in the newly formed unit called the parish. Olga also put a lot of money and effort at improving infrastructure throughout Rus. Of course, any regularly enforced system of taxation takes a little time to become accepted throughout, so Olga made sure to live on one of Kiev’s hills, surrounded by a wall and her best warrior band near her at all times.



Having put the foundation for unity at home, Olga turned to international affairs. She had to show that the time of difficulty following Igor’s death did not weaken Rus’s international authority. Historians note that during her reign, the first border between Poland and Rus was formed. Massive frontier outposts in the south guraded that part of Rus from invasion by nomadic Asiatic tribes. More and more foreigners came to Rus to trade.

This new influx of money allowed Kiev to start building in stone. As I mention in a different article, eventually Kiev was a kind of wonder of the ancient world known throughout the East and West.

But Olga realized that all this was only window dressing. While the different tribes followed different religious traditions, there was always the threat of disunity. Rus was becoming a major international player, and she thought that a single religion would go a long way to encourage Rus’s continued growth, especially with the Roman Empire and the Saxon kingdom to contend with.

Olga saw that, culturally speaking, both the Romans and the Saxons were far more advanced than the Rus, and she understood that the bedrock of that culture was the Christian religion. She began to be convinced more and more that Rus’s future path of greatness lay not only in military exploits, but through spiritual achievements.

Leaving Kiev to Sviatoslav, who had grown up already, Olga traveled in 954 with a large fleet bound for Constantinople. This was a peaceful fleet (unlike her father Oleg’s famous attack on the Emperor’s City), which was both diplomatic and religious in nature. However, political expediency demanded a show of military force in the Black Sea, so that the proud Romans would remember Oleg and not simply brush off his daughter as insignificant.

It had the desired result. Olga was admitted into the Emperor’s presence, with Constantine VII Porphyrogenites even organizing a feast in her honor. During their conversations, Olga and the Emperor confirmed the previous treaty struck between Constantinople and Rus in Igor’s time.



At the same time, Olga was dumbfounded by the luxury and grandeur of Constantinople, as well as by its cosmopolitan nature. Many nations spoke many languages in its streets. But more than anything she was astounded by the spiritual richness of Christianity, its churches and the holy objects held in them. She was present at liturgies in all the major churches, including Hagia Sophia. This was what she wanted for her land; this grandeur and this holiness.

One of the major questions discussed with the Emperor ended up being Olga’s baptism into the Christian faith.

Most nations of Western Europe had accepted Christianity by this point, either from Rome or Constantinople. These nations, having accepted baptism 300-600 years before the Rus, had outgained the Rus culturally by a significant margin. However, paganism held fast in Eastern Europe and wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Olga understood that Christianity was necessary if she wanted the cultural riches of the Romans and the West. Still, she recognized the power of paganism and the strength it held over her people’s imaginations. Therefore, she chose a moderate path. She decided to become a Christian alone, hoping by her example to inspire her fellow countrymen.

Finally, it’s important to note that for Olga, accepting Christianity was not merely a political decision. It was an answer for many of her internal questions and worries. She had suffered a good amount in her life—the death of a beloved husband, a violent series of acts to avenge his death, burning an entire city of civilians—all this couldn’t help but leave its mark on her soul. After all, Olga was always one to strive for rightness. She tried always to be fair and humane to all.

Some of the Chronicles even go so far as to suggest that the Emperor was besotted by her beauty and intelligence, even asking for her hand in marriage. That is highly unlikely—the Romans, for all their diplomacy, considered the barbarian Rus as little more than talking animals. But it does make for a  good story. Ultimatley, Olga refused his hand, the story goes, instead asking him to be her godfather.

That part at least seems to have been historically possible. She was given the name Helen after the mother of Constantine the Great. Constantine VII’s wife was also name Helen. This moment, with Olga bowing her head before the God who had captured her heart, is immortalized in a miniature painting accompanying the Chronicle of Ioannis Skilitis, with the note,

The ruler of the Rus, a woman named Helga, who came to the Emperor Constantine and was baptized.”

In this chronicle, she is drawn in a special headdress “as a newly baptized Christian and honored deaconess of the Russian Church.” Next to her was baptized a young woman named Malusha, who later became the mother of St. Vladimir.

It should be noted Constantine VII was no fan of the Rus. It must have been difficult to induce him to become the godfather of Olga. The Russian Chronicles wax poetic about Olga’s conversations with the Emperor, in which his counselors are amazed at her probing mind and spiritual maturity. In any case, she did manage to convince the proud Romans that the Rus would be capable of taking on and absorbing the genius of Christian spirituality and culture. In this way, Olga was able to “conquer” Constantinople more completely than any of her military forefathers.

Constantine VII, a prolific writer, actually left an account of Olga’s reception at court. He describes the majestic throne of the emperor with its mechanical singing bronze birds and roaring lions that accosted the incoming embassy of the Rus, which numbered 108 people. Then he wrote about the more intimate meetings in the chamber of the Empress, as well as the official feast in the hall of Justinian.



Sviatoslav, Olga’s pagan son

Diplomatically speaking, however, Olga’s trip was not quite successful. She was unable to secure a dynastic marriage of Sviatoslav with one of Constantine’s daughters. Nor was she able to get the Romans to agree to an establishment of a Metropolitan’s see in Kiev.

Her disappointments continued when she returned home. She tried to convince Sviatoslav to convert, but he was a confirmed pagan. He worshiped Perun, the Slavic counterpart to Thor, and refused to abandon his military faith. Their relationship began to cool after her conversion.

Unperturbed, Olga began a project of building churches in Rus. She founded the great Church of the Wisdom of God in Kiev soon after her return from Constantinople. It was consecrated on May 11, 960. This day is still commemorated as a feast day of the Russian Church. The most important holy relic in the church was a cross she received at her baptism. On it was engraved the phrase:

The land of Rus is renewed by the Holy Cross, accepted by Olga, the noble princess.”

However, her Christian zeal angered some among the elites, who were still pagan. They looked with hope at Sviatoslav, who resented his mother’s attempts to convert him. By this time, he was around twenty years old. His pagan entourage managed to remove Olga from any influence in the government of the Rus. Sviatoslav took all power to himself. He even killed some Christians and destroyed some of the churches Olga built.

It must have been difficult for Olga, who was so active and intelligent, to be relegated to the women’s quarters. However, she was still respected. Whenever Sviatoslav went on a military campaign (which he did often), she took over as regent. However, there was now no possibility of even considering a large-scale conversion to Christianity, which upset Olga greatly.

As she grew old and sickly, Olga, who had been baptized by one of the greatest dignitaries of the Christian church, was forced to keep a priest by her side in secret, lest she inspire a new wave of persecutions against Christians. She was buried in the Christian rite, having forbidden that any pagan feasts be performed in her honor.

She didn’t manage to see it during her life, but her efforts were instrumental in her grandson’s decision to unify the Rus under Christianity, a decision that did indeed lead to a flowering of a nation. Eventually, Rus took the reins of Christendom in the East from the Romans. This “Third Rome” lasted until the twentieth century.

A video introducing Russian Faith

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6 Amusing Historic Stereotypes of Major Russian Cities



About the authorFor lovers of Russian culture, folklore, and history, Kotar’s work is a treasure. The grandson of White Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is an author of epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. You can see his four books here on Amazon.

He is also a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, a professional translator, and choir director at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, where he lives. Here is his bio from his blog, where he writes about many aspects of Russia. We highly recommend following it and subscribing to his email list to get exclusive material.

He has an excellent Pinterest page, and you can follow him on Facebook. Here is an archive of his work published on Russia Insider.

He is currently running a remarkably successful crowdfunding on Kickstarter to be able to publish his upcoming novels. Please support him if you can!

Stereotypes are a funny thing. On the one hand, they’re often no more than caricatures. On the other hand, there’s a surprising amount of bitter truth to some of them. Like the Russians say with their morbid humor, “In every joke, there’s a bit of a joke.”

This is especially interesting when we consider old Rus. We don’t have much to go on, historically speaking, other than chronicles, treaties, and a few bits of birch bark.

However, Russians have preserved some interesting stereotypes about the inhabitants of old Russian cities. Whether there’s any truth to them or not is almost beside the point. They’re fascinating, revealing a window to a world long gone, yet still persisting in the habits and personalities of today’s Russians. (Here’s the original Russian article that I translated)


Novgorod’s rebelliousness is legendary. The image of a brawling Novgorodian is almost a calling card of the city. The reason this stereotype came about has to do with the old chronicles. They were filled with illustrations of the constant arguments at the Novgorodian Veche, a kind of popular assembly that met in the central square. (See my translation of “Martha the Mayoress” for a vivid fictionalized example).

Of course, there were arguments and even fights during the Veche. However, they did not constantly devolve into fist-fights, as the legends suggest. Naturally, the chroniclers would choose the most vivid and bloody examples from history to illustrate their point. After all, Novgorod was often an opponent of Kiev and, later, Moscow. But in actual fact, the inhabitants of Great Novgorod were fiercely loyal to their government and loved their city. Compromise was the order of the day, not broken heads. Plus, they were more than usually literate.


Even in modern times, Pskovians have had to endure countless jokes about their crudeness, stupidity, and their lack of good manners. This may or may not be true. As for their lack of manners, that is entirely a matter of hats. The inhabitants of Pskov, no matter what their social standing, hardly ever doffed their cap before anyone (which is extremely bad form in old Rus). However, this wasn’t crudity or bad breeding.

It used to be that a hat symbolized one’s personal dignity. In Pskov in particular, to actually take off your hat meant to be shamed. It may be a bastardization of the more generally accepted rule that if someone else took your hat off your headthat was a terrible insult.


The painful topic of Russian alcoholism became especially relevant in Nizhni Novgorod at the end of the 17th century. A kind of epidemic of alcoholism rose up, and it was normal to see women as well as men lying in the streets in a drunken stupor. Foreign travelers recounted after their visits to Nizhni Novgorod that “Russians don’t do anything but feast.”

Of course, they did more than feast. But on holidays, Russians have always allowed themselves some excesses. It’s not entirely fair to single out Nizhni Novgorod, when alcoholism still is the gravest problem facing Russia today, as in olden times.


This stereotype appeared very early. It’s easy to understand. Vladimir itself had five prisons, including the famous “Vladimir Central Prison.” From the beginning, Vladimirians have been considered con artists who like a dangerous life. It didn’t help that the path to Siberia for exiled convicts went through Vladimir. It was even called the “Vladimirka.”

Exiled convicts stopped in Vladimir to have half their heads shaved (a scene vividly recounted in the excellent Russian film The Siberian Barber). Then they’d be branded as exiles or thieves, clapped in irons, and set upon the road to Siberia. In old times, the path could take as long as two years, and those two years were not counted as part of their allotted time.

Vladimir itself, for all that, was a typical enough provincial town.


When a Russian hears the word “finift’” (enameling), he immediately thinks of Rostov. Nothing could change the old stereotype that every inhabitant of ancient Rostov worked in the enameling guild. That’s complete nonsense, of course. First of all, the best enamellists in old Rus were as a rule in Kiev, the capital city. There were also some famous artisans in Pskov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and Great Novgorod.

The only difference is that Rostov alone has preserved the traditional techniques of enameling since ancient times. Even today, there is a factory producing enameled work. Perhaps for this reason alone, tourists still visit Rostov exclusively to see enameled boxes.


The industrious muzhik from Yaroslavl is an image that we even find in Gogol. From the times of Rus, Yaroslavians were known as people who were never apathetic, lazy, or prone to tiredness. Instead, they’re known to be active to a manic degree. This may have something to do with the odd tradition that Yaroslav is a city of buried treasure.

Apparently, wherever you turn, you see someone uncovering a jewelry box or trying to break into an ancient chest of drawers. Perhaps a little more seriously, Yaroslavians have long been known as “chicks of the cuckoo.” In other words, they’re more than usually capable of leaving their homeland without much regret. This quality has a clear historical origin.

Yaroslav was built on the crossroads of ancient roads—a path used by merchants from Scandinavia all the way to the Arab lands. From the middle of the 16th century, Yarsolavl became the most important center for trade in all of Rus. This constant movement often inspired young Yaroslavians to try out their luck in foreign lands.

True or not, such stereotypes make for fascinating stories. For myself, the “myth” of the boisterous Novgorodian comes to life in my third novel, The Heart of the World, in a semi-fictionalized setting of the Veche that goes fabulously wrong for all concerned.

Source: Nicholas Kotar

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Health officials warn of strain on hospitals but Covid-19 admissions remain low



Health officials have warned of mounting strain on hospitals as coronavirus infections increase, although the absolute number of admissions remains below previous surges of the disease.

Prof Philip Nolan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) epidemiological modelling group, reported rising intensive care admissions but said the rise in hospital and ICU admissions was “far less” than “if we didn’t have so much of the population protected through vaccination”.

Dr Nolan said the expected pattern of infection in coming weeks was “really quite uncertain”. The background of exponential virus growth earlier in July “may or may not be stabilising” but the increase in hospital and intensive care admissions tracked the rising rate of infection.

While there was one intensive care admission every two days toward the end of June, Dr Nolan said the ICU admission rate in the past week was approaching three per day.

There were 152 people in hospital yesterday. The figure contrasts 1,949 during the January peak. There were 333 inpatients at the start of November 2020 and 862 in April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.

But admissions are again rising fast.

“We’re seeing on average 26 per day admitted to hospital in the last seven days and 30 today. You can see that that’s very significantly up, pretty much double what it was two weeks ago,” Dr Nolan told reporters at the Department of Health.

In a sign of pressure on the system, nurses in Limerick’s main hospital complained yesterday that overcrowding there is worsening despite the provision of more than 100 additional beds.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to intervene directly to “look under the bonnet” and see why additional beds at University Hospital Limerick had not made a substantial impact.

More trolleys had been placed on wards and corridors in University Hospital Limerick in recent days as overcrowding continued, the union said.

Uneven pressure

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the uneven spread of coronavirus infections throughout the State meant some hospitals might be under more pressure than suggested by overall admissions data.

“It can happen that individual hospitals can be under quite a degree of pressure when the overall situation in the country might not suggest that’s the case. So we do know that maybe some hospitals in the west have already had a challenge with much more infections based on the most recent wave than other hospitals.”

He acknowledged reported pressure on hospitals in Limerick and in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and cited pressure also on hospitals in Co Mayo.

“We have seen quite a wide variation in case numbers in individual hospitals,” Dr Holohan said. “We have 150 give or take hospitalisations. That’s not spread evenly spread across the 30 or 40 hospitals that might be admitting patients with this infection.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said hospitals would be under pressure if there were no coronavirus admissions.

“The point that obviously the absolute numbers are much less than previous waves is very welcome,” he said.

“The reality is that if we had no cases of Covid in hospital tomorrow morning our hospitals would be under extreme pressure. Unfortunately that’s what we’re dealing with, both pre-Covid and now but particularly as a result of Covid in the last number of months

“Our healthcare workers are exhausted frankly. They’re facing into enormous backlogs in elective care, non-Covid care, non-Covid health plans, social care: both in acute settings and in community,” he confirmed.

“So while the absolute numbers are less than previously we’re very conscious that any increase in those number … has potential to be very significant to the health service that we’re trying to get back up to full function.”

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How is Germany using Covid health passes compared to other European countries?




In France the health passport is already in use for venues including cinemas, tourist sites and nightclubs and from the beginning of August will be extended to bars, restaurants, cafés, some shopping malls and long distance train or bus services. Find the full list of venues where it is necessary HERE.

The health passport can show proof of either; fully vaccinated status, recent recovery from Covid or a negative Covid test taken within the previous 48 hours.

It is required for everyone at the listed venues – visitors and staff – but staff have until August 30th to get vaccinated. The passport is required for all over 12s, but children aged between 12 and 17 do not have to start showing their passports until August 30th.

There is no fine for members of the public who do not have a health passport, but you can expect to be barred from any of the listed venues if you cannot show your passport to staff. Venues found not enforcing the health passport face being closed down.

The passport can be shown either on the French TousAntiCovid app – find out how that works here – or on paper. The app is compatible with vaccine certificates issued in EU or Schengen zone countries, and the NHS app is also compatible. The situation for those vaccinated in the USA is a little more complicated, but they should be able to swap their US certificate for a French one that is compatible with the app.


Italy’s green pass, ‘certificazione verde’, will soon be required to access more leisure and cultural venues, including indoor restaurants, gyms, swimming pools, museums, cinemas, theatres, sports stadiums and other public venues.

Although it’s been in use since June, the Italian government announced on July 22nd that it would be extending its health pass scheme from August 6th.

From next month, people in Italy wanting to access most venues in Italy will need to show proof of being vaccinated – including those who have only had the first of two doses – having tested negative for coronavirus within the previous 48 hours or having recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months.

At the moment Italy’s digital health certificate is available to people over 12 years old who were vaccinated, tested or recovered in Italy.

The Italian version of the green pass is only for people who were vaccinated, recovered or tested in Italy. If that’s you, find out exactly how to claim it here. If you don’t fall into that category, here’s what you need to know about accessing Italy’s extended green pass.

If you’re from outside the EU, the rules are complicated or still being negotiated. At the border, Italy accepts vaccination certificates, tests results and medical certificates of recovery from the United States, Canada or Japan. However, there is currently no news on how travellers can access the green pass once they’re in Italy.

As for the United Kingdom, Italy does not currently have an agreement to recognise vaccinations performed in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.


Covid ‘health passes’ haven’t been imposed at a national level by the Spanish government, but two regions – Galicia and the Canary Islands – have opted to require proof of vaccination, testing or recovery for people to go inside bars, cafés and restaurants.

In both regions the scheme is only being applied in municipalities with particularly high infection rates, and although it seemed that it would initially only apply to the interior of hospitality establishments, the Canary government has extended the requirement to gyms and cultural events held indoors. 

Other regional governments in Spain such as Valencia’s have shown interest in implementing a ‘health pass’ requirement, but this has been met with opposition from the hospitality industry for the economic losses and holdups all the checking could potentially cause. 

The German version of the EU health pass. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Zacharie Scheurer

The EU-approved Digital Covid Certificate issued mainly for the purpose of travel by Spain’s regions is the preferred means of proving Covid health status, although in practice bar and restaurant owners can accept other proof, paper or digital.

Neither the Galician nor the Canary government have announced what foreign tourists should show to access the interior of bars and restaurants in their territories. 

Spain’s Digital Covid Certificate is only available to residents in the country but as the system is standardised across the EU, European tourists will likely be able to use their country’s Covid Certificates with a scannable QR Code to go inside hospitality establishments (not needed for terraces).



Sweden is part of the EU-wide vaccine pass scheme which means the Covid-19 pass can be used as an alternative to showing a negative test result in order to enter the country.

But aside from travel into the country, the pass is not used at all for access to things like events, museums, restaurants or bars. The government hasn’t ruled it out entirely, but has said the Swedish preference is to open up for everyone at the same time instead.

To access the Swedish version of the EU vaccine pass, you need to have either had both doses of your Covid-19 vaccine in Sweden, or at least the second dose, so it is not currently possible for people vaccinated elsewhere to receive it. Another group excluded from the pass is those without a Swedish personnummer or social security number; although the eHealth Agency has told The Local they are working on making it available to the thousands of people in Sweden who were vaccinated without this number, this is not expected to happen until September at the earliest.


Denmark controls access to certain activities and facilities – from indoor dining to cultural attractions like museums and sports games – using the scannable coronapas application, which tracks vaccination status, recent recoveries and test results.

The system is currently only available to Danish residents enrolled in the public health system, but it’s compatible with the vaccine certificates from other EU and Schengen area countries. People from outside the EU/Schengen area who received full courses of Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca can also use proof of vaccination in place of a coronapas. That documentation needs to meet a handful of requirements to be legally valid: the documentation must be in English or German and contain your name, date of birth, the vaccine you received and the dates for your first and second doses. 

The coronapas scheme is set to twilight on October 1st, when Denmark is scheduled to fully reopen. 


Norway’s domestic Covid pass is used to access large events such as concerts, festivals and football matches in addition to domestic cruises and tours. 

To enter venues and events using the pass, you will need a valid certificate. 

Certificates will be valid if three weeks have passed since your last jab, you are fully vaccinated, have had covid in the past six months and can prove so via the health pass, or have received a negative test result in the previous 24 hours. 

The certificate is presented as a QR code and will scan green if valid and red if not. 

It’s worth noting that a valid domestic covid certificate is not valid for travel as part of the EU’s health pass travel scheme. You can read more about how the Norwegian Covid certificate is used for travel here

A paper version of the certificate can be ordered here

Covid certificates in Norway require a national identification number and level four security electronic ID. Unfortunately, this means that it’s practically impossible for tourists and non-residents to access the Norwegian certificate and attend events that require a health pass. 

Furthermore, as the Norwegian certificate’s domestic version is different from the version used for travel, it also means that EU health passes can’t be used as a substitute for domestic vaccine passports. 


Austria was one of the first European countries to introduce a Covid-19 health pass system, having done so on May 19th as the 3G Rule. 

The 3G Rule refers to ‘Getestet, Geimpft, Genesen’ (Tested, Vaccinated, Recovered) and describes the three ways someone can provide evidence they are immune to the virus.

As a result, the framework is relatively well established in Austria. 

Austria’s Covid-19 health pass, known as the “green pass”, is needed to access bars, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers, gyms, events and a range of other venues. 

Travellers at Berlin Brandenburg airport at the end of June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

For entering nightclubs, you need to be either vaccinated or have received a negative PCR test in the past 72 hours. This information will also be included in your green pass. 

As of July 1st, masks are not required anywhere that the green pass is required.

In effect, this means masks are required in public transport, supermarkets and museums. 

EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s Covid-19 immunity card and how do I get it?

Austria is a part of the European Covid-19 pass network since July 1st.

This means that if you are visiting Austria and you have the pass from your EU country, you can use it in Austria. 

Unfortunately, people with Covid-19 passes from outside the EU cannot yet use it in Austria, however they can use paper documentation. 

Also, as an Austrian phone number is needed to get the green pass (other than in Vienna), foreigners with documentation of a vaccination, recovery or a test cannot download it and use it when they are in Austria. 

Please read the following link for more information. 

EXPLAINED: Can tourists use Austria’s Covid-19 green pass to visit bars and events?


Switzerland also has a Covid-19 health pass, known domestically as a Covid-19 immunity certificate. 

However, this is only needed at large events (more than 1,000 people), nightclubs or discos. 

Some bars and restaurants can choose to ask for the Covid certificate, upon which they are allowed to dispense with other rules such as mask rules and social distancing requirements. 

READ MORE: How to get Switzerland’s Covid-19 health pass

In mid-July, Switzerland became a part of the EU’s Covid-19 pass framework, meaning that you can show your EU country pass in order to enter Switzerland. 

Switzerland as yet does not accept other Covid passes, but this has been flagged as a possibility in future. 

If you arrive in Switzerland, you can show the evidence of your vaccination to the authorities in your Swiss canton and you will be issued a Covid certificate. 

Unfortunately, this only includes Swiss-approved Covid vaccines. According to the Swiss government, this is only Pfizer/Biontech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, i.e. AstraZeneca is not accepted. 

More information about getting the pass if you are visiting Switzerland is available at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How do tourists get Switzerland’s Covid certificate to access events, clubs and restaurants?

Elsewhere around Europe 

In Hungary immunity certificates delivered from the time of the first vaccine shot are required in health establishments and to attend sports and music events, as well as gatherings of more than 500 people.

 In Luxembourg a pass is asked for in shops.

In Azerbaijan a health pass has been mandatory since the beginning of June to enter sports centres or attend weddings.

In Portugal such a certificate is required to stay in a hotel or play sport. It is also required to eat inside restaurants, but only at weekends in the most hard-hit regions.

In Ireland the health pass is for the time being only needed for indoor eating and drinking in restaurants and pubs.

In Russia the Moscow region in June imposed a health pass for restaurants but this was so unpopular it was scrapped three weeks later.

The British government is planning to introduce in September a health pass in England to enter nightclubs and other places admitting large groups of people. Professional football matches could be included, reports say.

The UK’s other nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — set their own health policies.

Georgia is also planning a health pass.

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