North Atlantic

The Vikings who crossed the Atlantic

Explorers and settlers from western Norway travelled west to the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland.

Faroe and Iceland

Faroe was the nearest landfall to the west, along with Shetland and Orkney, and was settled from c.825. According to the ‘Faereyinga Saga’, the first Viking settler was Grimur Kamban. The climate was unsuitable for growing crops, but the land provided good grazing and sheep and cattle became the basis of the economy.

Tradition says that Iceland was discovered by accident around 860 by brothers Ingolf and Hjorleif, who returned to settle around 870. It is recorded that the Christian Irish monks left when the first Norse settlers arrived. A huge wave of settlement commenced from the 870s and by the mid-10th century the population was estimated at c.50,000.


Greenland was discovered around 900 by Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson when he was blown off course while sailing from Norway to Iceland. Eirík the Red and his followers established the first Norse settlements from 986 in two main areas, known as the Western and Eastern Settlements.


The Vikings didn’t reach the modern country of America, but they certainly crossed the Atlantic and got to the north of what is now Canada. Both the 'Saga of Erik the Red' and the 'Saga of the Greenlanders' report that groups of Vikings went to a place called Vinland. There are impressive remains of a Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, in the north of Newfoundland, which dates to c.1100, about the same time as the sagas record the discovery of Vinland.

Evidence of contact between Vikings and the native Dorset people of Baffin Island, Canada, has been found in at least four different locations by archaeologist Patricia Sutherland. The work of Dr Sarah Parcak, who has been involved in archaeological investigations utilising space satellite remote-sensing, may have recently found evidence for Viking bog iron extraction in Point Rosee, Newfoundland. Tests are in progress, however, this may turn out to be a natural feature.