• The First European Explorers to America

    Was Christopher Columbus the first European to reach the American continents? His expedition was certainly well-documented, but it wasn’t the first. Around 1000 A.D., almost five hundred years before Columbus landed in the West Indies, Leif Erikson, a Viking explorer, landed on Canada’s eastern shore.

    Image of First European Explorers
    Image of First European Explorers

    Fun Facts

    • Erikson was the son of the legendary Viking explorer, Erik the Red. Erik the Red left Norway and settled Greenland.
    • Erikson traveled back to Norway where he met King Olaf. He converted to Christianity. King Olaf asked him to take his new religion back to Greenland.
    • On the return voyage, Erikson sailed off course and landed in Newfoundland. He named the land, Vinland, because of its abundant wild grapes and fertile soil.
    • Erikson and his men stayed for a few years but left and never returned because of conflicts with the Native Americans who lived there.
    • Apparently, Erikson came upon several Indians sleeping under their overturned canoes shortly after he arrived in North America. He and his men killed all the Indians. You can imagine why the Indians weren’t friendly.


    1. Expedition: a planned journey or exploration
    2. Well-documented: thoroughly recorded
    3. Convert: to join a specific religion or way of life
    4. Fertile: rich; capable of giving life

    Questions and Answers

    Question: How do we know about Leif Erikson’s adventures?

    Answer: We know about his trip from two Viking sagas, or epic stories, which have been recorded and handed down over the centuries. These accounts differ somewhat so archeologists aren’t sure exactly what happened. Scientists have discovered a site in Newfoundland which they believe to be the Viking settlement.

    Learn More

    Visit UNESCO to see photos of the Viking settlement remains.


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