The earliest contact the Vikings had with continental Europe was for trade, rather than raid or settlement. A few scattered short-lived settlements were established along the northern coasts of Frisia and France in the 9th century.

Brothers Harald and Rorik were granted the island of Walcheren in Frisia in the mid-9th century and, in 911, Rollo gained control of the land which became the Duchy of Normandy. Normandy takes its name from the Vikings – Normannia – the Northman's land. The Vikings integrated quickly, adapting both the local language and religion, and building a powerful state.

Attacks on both Ireland and Brittany followed and, by 919, Brittany's defences had collapsed and the Vikings, under Rognvald, made Nantes their capital. No settlement or trading centre was established despite its ideal position at the mouth of the River Loire.

Other Vikings sailed further south to the Moorish kingdom of Spain, one of the richest kingdoms in Europe at the time. They travelled onwards to North Africa and Italy, carrying out further attacks.