Leif Eriksson – Viking Explorer

Earth Science for Kids All About Leif Eriksson - Leif Eriksson the Viking Explorer
Earth Science for Kids All About Leif Eriksson - Leif Eriksson the Viking Explorer

You might have heard that Christopher Columbus discovered America, but this isn’t true. Native tribes had been living there for thousands of years when Columbus landed his ships. Additionally, at least one other European explorer had landed on North America before Columbus – Leif Eriksson the Viking Explorer.

Leif Eriksson Facts For Kids

  • Norse explorer from Iceland.
  • Born around 970 AD.
  • Son of Erik the Red.
  • Believed to discover North America before Columbus.
  • Named places: Vinland, Markland, Helluland.
  • Sailed from Greenland around 1000 AD.
  • Vinland possibly in Newfoundland, Canada.
  • Christianized Greenland.
  • Detailed in the Icelandic Sagas.
  • “Leif Eriksson Day” is on October 9.

Norse Exploration

Leif Eriksson, a renowned Norse explorer born around 970 A.D. in Iceland, is widely believed to have been the first European to step foot on North American soil, predating Christopher Columbus’s arrival by approximately 500 years. As the son of Erik the Red, the pioneer of the first European settlements in Greenland, Eriksson perpetuated his father’s legacy of exploration.

His voyages took him to what we now identify as Newfoundland, Canada, a place he christened ‘Vinland’, inspired by the discovery of wild grapes. His exploratory exploits, chronicled in Norse sagas, have cemented his place as a pivotal figure in the annals of Norse exploration.


Leif Eriksson, a distinguished Viking era explorer, is esteemed for being the first European to venture into North America, approximately half a millennium before Christopher Columbus. He named this area “Vinland,” an Old Norse term meaning ‘Wine Land’ or ‘Pasture Land’, indicative of the fertile lands and temperate climate he came across.

Present-day Newfoundland, Canada is widely accepted as the location of Vinland. Eriksson’s expedition to Vinland holds great historical significance by demonstrating that Vikings were among the earliest non-native explorers to arrive in North America.

Viking Age

Born around 970 AD in Iceland, Leif Eriksson was a prominent figure during the Viking Age, a period spanning from the late 8th century to the early 11th century. As the son of Erik the Red, another renowned Viking explorer, Eriksson inherited a legacy of exploration.

He is often heralded as the first European to reach North American shores, specifically areas of Canada, outpacing Christopher Columbus by approximately 500 years. Eriksson’s navigational prowess was legendary, as he fearlessly guided his crew across the treacherous North Atlantic Ocean, relying solely on celestial bodies and the patterns of the waves and birds for direction. His voyages are a testament to the Viking’s seafaring culture and their spirit of exploration, making a significant contribution to Viking history.

Greenland Settlement

Leif Eriksson, a historical figure of significance, is widely recognized for leading the first European expedition to North America, outpacing Christopher Columbus by several centuries. However, Eriksson’s accomplishments go beyond this pioneering journey.

Prior to venturing to North America, he established a settlement in the cold and unforgiving terrains of Greenland, which was initially discovered by his father, Erik the Red. Despite the harsh conditions, Eriksson and his fellow Vikings demonstrated their resilience and adaptability by building homes, farms, and churches.

This Greenland settlement was pivotal for the Viking expansion during the 10th century and stands as a testament to Eriksson’s leadership and pioneering spirit. It is from this settlement in Greenland, that Eriksson and his team are believed to have embarked on their groundbreaking journey to North America.

Erik the Red

Leif Eriksson, born circa 970 AD and son of Erik the Red, the founder of the first Norse settlements in Greenland, was a seminal figure in history as the first European to reach North American shores, a feat achieved around 500 years prior to Christopher Columbus.

Influenced greatly by his father’s adventurous spirit and exploration pursuits, Eriksson embarked on a journey to an area he named Vinland, given the plentiful grapevines he discovered there. This voyage marked a pivotal moment in the annals of exploration, forever etching Eriksson’s name in history.

Sagas of Icelanders

Famed Norse explorer, Leif Eriksson, is widely believed to be the first European to set foot on North American soil, specifically in regions that are now part of Canada, long before Christopher Columbus’ journey.

The ancient Icelandic texts, known as the Sagas of Icelanders, offer rich, detailed narratives of his explorations. These sagas reveal that Eriksson, born around 970 AD, was the offspring of Erik the Red, the pioneer of the initial Norse settlements in Greenland. Eriksson’s adventurous spirit and exceptional exploration skills led him to discover ‘Vinland’, a territory that many historians identify as present-day Newfoundland.

These narratives of Eriksson’s daring journeys not only shed light on the history of exploration but also provide captivating insights into the Viking culture.

Norse Colonization of North America

Leif Eriksson, an illustrious Norse explorer from Iceland, is considered the first European to step foot on North American soil, specifically in present-day Newfoundland, Canada, a feat he accomplished nearly 500 years prior to Christopher Columbus.

This monumental event, which occurred during the Viking Age, marked the onset of a 200-year period of Norse colonization in North America. Notably, Eriksson’s journey to North America was unintentional; he was initially en route to Greenland when he was diverted off course, ultimately landing in a location where he christened Vinland due to the abundance of wild grapes.

Eriksson’s remarkable achievement exemplifies the adventurous spirit and superior navigational skills of the Norse people during their era of exploration.

Skálholt Map

Created in the late 16th century, the Skálholt Map has a significant place in history as it prominently features Leif Eriksson, a renowned Norse explorer. Known for his expeditions to North America around 1000 AD, Eriksson referred to the region as Vinland.

His voyages were notably about half a millennium before Christopher Columbus. The Skálholt Map, one of the earliest depictions of the New World, is a critical artifact that supports the assertion that Eriksson and his crew were the pioneers from Europe to step on North American lands.

This map can captivate children’s interest as an entry point into the realm of exploration, underscoring the fact that history can be complex and multi-layered. The daring journey of Leif Eriksson exemplifies the spirit of adventure, courage, and inquisitiveness that propelled many explorers into uncharted territories.

Norse ships and navigation

Famed Norse explorer, Leif Eriksson, recognized by children as the first European believed to have landed in North America, particularly in Canada, before Christopher Columbus, was an adept seafarer and navigator, skills passed onto him by his father, Erik the Red. Eriksson and his crew journeyed across the sea in the characteristic longships of the Norse people, designed with a distinctive long, narrow, and flexible structure, ideal for traversing the tumultuous and unpredictable North Atlantic Ocean.

Equipped with large, square sails and oars, these ships could maintain effective travel even in tranquil winds. It was Eriksson’s profound understanding of these vessels and his navigational abilities that significantly contributed to his successful expeditions to North America.

Norse settlements in Newfoundland

Born around 970 AD, the famous Norse explorer Leif Eriksson is widely believed to have been the first European to set foot on North American soil, a remarkable feat he accomplished nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

His journey led him to the area now recognized as Newfoundland in Canada, where he established a Norse settlement known as ‘Vinland’, named after the discovery of wild grapes that indicated a climate warmer than their native Greenland. This settlement is historically significant as it symbolizes the furthest point reached by the Vikings in their exploration of the New World.

The remains of Vinland, unearthed at L’Anse aux Meadows during the 1960s, are the only known evidence of a Viking settlement in North America outside of Greenland. This site has gained global recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Science for Kids Website on Leif Eriksson - Statue of Leif Eriksson Near the Minnesota State Capitol
Science for Kids Website on Leif Eriksson – Statue of Leif Eriksson Near the Minnesota State Capitol

Leif Eriksson was the son of Erik the Red, the great Nordic explorer and warrior. Erik had been kicked out of Greenland and had moved to Iceland. Here, he built a settlement. His son, Leif, sailed to Norway, where he was converted to Christianity by King Olaf I. On his way back to Iceland, Leif landed and discovered North America. He called the place “Vinland,” because the land was covered with wild grapes.

All about Leif Eriksson Fun Facts for Kids - an Illustration of Leif Eriksson Discovering America by Christian Krohg in 1893
All about Leif Eriksson Fun Facts for Kids – an Illustration of Leif Eriksson Discovering America by Christian Krohg in 1893

Fun Facts About Leif Eriksson For Kids

  • Leif Eriksson visited North America around 1000 A.D., almost 500 years before Columbus made his journeys.
  • Eriksson spent a winter there before returning to Iceland. He never sailed to America again.
  • Other Viking explorers visited North America. They were meant with fierce attacks from native tribes.
  • Researchers aren’t sure exactly where Leif landed, but they believe it might have been at Labrador or Newfoundland, in Canada.

Leif Eriksson Vocabulary

  1. Warrior: a fierce fighter
  2. Settlement: village or community
  3. Christianity: belief in and worship of Christ
  4. Convert: join a religious faith
  5. Fierce: harsh, dangerous, hard

All About Leif Eriksson Video for Kids

Watch this awesome video for kids about Leif Eriksson:

Leif Eriksson Q&A

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

Answer: Several versions of his adventures were passed down through storytelling. They were written down in the book, the Saga of Erik the Red, or “Eiriks saga”, which was published in 1300. Because the stories were passed down for several generations before being written down, they might not be completely accurate.


Question: What is the correct spelling of Leif Eriksson’s name?

Answer: Leif’s real name in Icelandic is Leifur Eiríksson because the Norse alphabet did not have the letter ‘C’. However, his name is adapted and accepted in several different spellings. Some of the names used are Leif Eriksson the Lucky, Leif Eriksson, Leif Ericson, Eiríksson, or Erikson, and Norwegian Leiv Eriksson den Hepne.


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