Whether you’re a fan of the History Channel’s “Vikings” series or just fascinated with the Viking era, you could create quite the travel itinerary by visiting some of the world’s top Viking sites. These destinations often have plenty of other things to see and do that make worth planning a vacation around too. From Canada’s easternmost province to Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and beyond, it’s time to start planning.
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L'anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Situated at the very northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in the easternmost province of Canada, L’anse aux Meadows is the only authenticated Viking settlement in North America. Not only can you enjoy stunning scenery, often including icebergs in late spring and early summer, but you can walk in the footsteps of the Vikings. The site includes ruins that can be explored and recreated buildings like a Viking longhouse. Nearby is the replicated Viking port of trade called Norstead where you can throw an ax, watch yarn being spun, sit in a chieftain’s chair holding a drinking horn and sword and try your hand at a traditional Norse game.
More than a thousand years ago, Eric the Red stepped onto Greenland. He was followed by many more settlers over the next 500 years with the traces of these early Vikings easy to find in the innermost, warmest fjord systems in the south and west regions of the country. There are an array of fascinating attractions in Greenland to explore. You can see a reconstruction of the very first Christian church built on the continent of North America, and Eric the Red’s longhouse next door. There are many well-preserved stone ruins from storehouses, farms, stables and more.
Located north of Scotland between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic, this Denmark-owned province famed for Viking folklore and puffins known as the Faroe Islands, saw the first Norseman arrive around 825 AD. Unlike those who came to pillage, they came to settle, and today there are a number of early Viking farmsteads that can be visited like Kvivik, which experts believe date to around the 10th century when a Viking longhouse and barn was built near a small river that flowed through a valley to the sea. Many interesting artifacts have been uncovered and can be found in the Historical Museum in Torshavn, which is one of the most popular attractions in the Faroe Islands.
Legend tells that Iceland was named by a clever Viking who tried to disguise the fact that the new settlement was actually a remarkably lush, green land worthy of envy from the entire Nordic world. Norwegian Vikings arrived in the 9th century, persevering through drift ice, harsh winters and unexpected volcanic eruptions. Today, Icelanders are direct descendants of those Vikings and there are multiple sites in Iceland that can be explored to get a first-hand look at this history. The National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik includes exhibits focused on the Viking Settlement Period, while nearby Viking World holds an exact replica of a ninth-century Viking ship. The Eiriksstadir Living Museum features a replica of Erik the Red’s home and farm – this was also the place legendary Leif Erikson was born.
Shetland Islands, Scotland
The Shetlands were once a Viking stronghold and the imprint they left on the islands can still be seen today, including the names of places, geographical features, personal names, birds and more. The Shetland dialect has words with Old Norse origins too. Lerwick is famous for its annual Up Helly Aa Viking festival, and outside the city there’s evidence of settlements at Old Scatness and Jarlshof, Catpund and Cunningsburgh.
There is a ton to explore in Denmark, including in the town of Ribe, the oldest in Denmark and one of the most important cities during the Viking Age. Excavations have revealed Vikings lived here for years, and many of the findings can be explored at the Ribe Viking Center. There’s an excellent Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, west of Copenhagen, with five huge reconstructed Viking ships that were excavated from the nearby fjord.
Norway is not only one of the world’s most beautiful countries, but it’s also one of the best for a Viking expedition. You can find out just how the Vikings managed to travel so far a thousand years ago by visiting Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum and its massive Oseberg ship which dates from around 800 AD. It was discovered in a large burial mound south of the city and is widely considered to be one of the greatest relics from the Viking Age. Part of the Museum of Cultural History, you can also view a wide range of Viking-related archaeological finds.
While Norway may be more famous for its Vikings than its Swedish neighbor, there were actually more Viking expeditions that began in Sweden. Researchers from Stockholm University recently found the first confirmed female high-ranking Viking warrior in a burial mound in the town of Birka, which is an ideal place to start your exploration. Founded in the mid-8th-century it was a vital Northern Europe trading center. Reconstructions of Vikings’ house and special events provide an excellent taste of Viking life.
With frequent attacks by the Vikings on Britain, there are many great places to explore there as well, with York one of the top spots. They fought their way through England, taking over the Anglo-Saxon town, eventually settling here. Visit the Jorvik Viking Centre with life-size dioramas depicting Viking life in the city and some 800 finds. The Lindisfarne Priory monastery site in Northumberland, abandoned by monks after numerous attacks, is worth a visit as well.
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man has a significant Viking heritage, home to Viking castles, recreated Viking homesteads, monuments and archaeological sites. One of the highlights is Peel Castle, the fort of Magnus Barefoot, the 11th-century Viking King of Mann and House of Manannan which offers many ways to delve into Viking culture, including a longship and Viking artifacts. Visit The Braaid, the ruins of a Celtic and Viking farm settlement, which today are made up of the foundations of two Viking longhouses and a stone circle outline of a Celtic roundhouse.
There is plenty of Viking evidence across Ireland, with the Vikings first invading in 795 AD. They settled in Dublin from 841 AD on, which became a hub for Viking expansion and trade. The National Museum of Archaeology holds many great finds from this ear. Waterford, while more famous for its crystal, was founded by the Vikings and is the oldest city in the Emerald Isle. Follow the Viking Triangle, an area of the old city walls and the largest Viking settlement where you can visit the Index Gallery, Medieval Museum and Blackfriars.