Vikings in Newfoundland –Visiting L’Anse aux Meadows

Follow the ‘Viking Trail’ on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula to one of the most unique archeological sites in Canada, L’Anse aux Meadows. One thousand years ago Vikings sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to reach this spot on the northern tip of Newfoundland. What makes it so unique is that it the only known Viking site in North America.

At 270 km long the Great Northern Peninsula is the longest peninsula on Newfoundland. After visiting Gros Morne National Park, we followed the highway, called ‘Viking Trail’ all the way to the peninsula’s northern tip.

Even though it’s a long drive, there are a few interesting spots to visit on the way that help break up the drive. One of those is Arches Provincial Park. This small park is right beside the highway and allows visitors to see an interesting rock formation located just off the beach. Thousands of years of harsh waves hammering on the cliffs have created natural archways in the rock. There are three arches and apparently there used to be a fourth, but it collapsed years ago. The park is free and it’s a quick, worthwhile stop.

A little further up the coast is Flower’s Cove where you can walk along the beach to see massive thrombolites. These 650 million-year-old fossils look like large stone buns. What makes them unusual is that each mound contains a fossilized colony of cyanobacteria. If you remember your biology classes these bacteria are considered to be the first organisms to produce oxygen and created our oxygen-rich atmosphere. Thrombolites are very rare and can only be found in Flower’s Cove and in Western Australia. In Australia there are still living thrombolites.

As we drove further north the highway was bordered by dense boreal forests filled with fir, aspen and birch. Several times on the drive we passed huge piles of firewood, stacked along the side of the highway. Apparently, the firewood is used to heat homes in this area during the long, cold winters. Each woodpile belongs to a family and it remains on the side of the road until they can collect it. Trust is high in this community as none of these wood piles are guarded or protected. In most of Canada, homes have either central heating furnaces run by natural gas, or electric baseboards. Fires are usually considered a treat, not a necessity.

As we neared the end of the Great Northern Peninsula, not far from L’Anse Aux Meadow, we saw two adorable fishing villages in rugged, dramatic settings. St.Lunaire-Griquet is situated on the edge of a bay filled with mountainous islands. Colourful buildings spread along the shore add the finishing touch to the pretty scene. Further north we stopped at Noddy Bay. In the distance, steep cliffs mark the entrance to the large bay as if protecting a small cluster of homes.

Just before the most northern point in Newfoundland is a very interesting site in Canada’s history. At L’Anse aux Meadows the landscape appears very desolate and isolated. The name translates in English to The Bay with Grasslands, but there aren’t grassy meadows here. Instead thick shrubs and bushes cover the undulating land that surrounds a large peat bog. Even though we visited in early September there was a cold wind howling off the ocean. It seems like an inhospitable place and yet is the site of an important archeological find. The foul weather added to the site’s mystique.

The first known European settlement in North America came from the unlikely source of Greenland. Believed to be Vinland from Viking sagas about Leif Erikson and Erik the Red, the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows was only discovered in the 1960s.

On this site, archaeologists excavated the remains of 8 Viking buildings that were built in a similar manner to those found in Norse Greenland and Iceland. Walls were built of sod and peaked roofs were made from timber and covered in sod. Recent research dates the wood from these homes to be from the year 1021 CE, 1000 years ago. That’s almost 500 years before the first voyage of Columbus.

The buildings found on this site were longhouse dwellings, small huts, workshops and a forge containing an iron-smelting kiln. Archaeologists believe there may have been up to 100 people at a time in the village including women. While excavating, they found supplies that women would have used. There were stones believed to hold wool for looms and needles made from whalebone.

Today the location of the original buildings appear as mounds of grass. It was these unusual mounds that led researches to investigate. Before excavation, these mounds were covered in dense brush. Considering the harsh landscape it’s quite miraculous that these buildings were ever found.

Not far from these mounds are re-creations of the Norse buildings. We walked between the three low-roofed buildings with walls made from mud and sod and roofs covered in grass. We even saw wild flowers growing on one of the roofs. One building is a typical longhouse with a carved pediment above a rustic wooden door. Another is a small hut and the last is an iron smelting hut.

We walked inside the longhouse to find a warm, cozy atmosphere. Wood covers the angled ceiling and animal furs are draped across long benches in front of an open fire. We were greeted by ‘Vikings’ dressed in 10th century costumes sitting around the fire. They described what life would have been like for the Vikings and retold some of the old sagas. In the corner of the room beautifully hand carved chairs and colourful Viking shields provide more details of how it may have looked. There are no windows, the only natural light comes from the smoke-hole in the roof. On the other half of the longhouse bunkbed style beds take up a lot of the space. This was considered the women’s side of the house as there are also looms with partially completed weaving.

In front of the longhouse is a small open hut with a crude kiln. Vikings collected iron from the nearby bog and used it to make nails. We were told they made at least 100 nails in a kiln similar to this replica.

Researchers believe that this site was used as a base for further exploration rather than as a settlement. Vikings most likely stayed only for a few seasons at time before returning to Greenland. Part of the reason they believe it wasn’t meant to be permanent is because the buildings’ foundations didn’t have footings. As well, researchers discovered pieces of wood and butternuts that grow only as far north as New Brunswick. Likely the Vikings used this base to explore the southern coast to New Brunswick and possibly even further.

The surprising fact for us was that Vikings only came to this site a few times over 10 or 15 years and then abandoned it. Not much is known as to why they stopped coming, but it makes it even more remarkable that anything at all was found.

Visiting L’Anse aux Meadows

L’Anse aux Meadow National Historic Site is operated by Parks Canada. There is a daily entrance fee or you can use your Annual Discovery Pass. Check the Parks Canada website for operating hours.

Tips for Visiting Newfoundland

  • The TransCanada Highway in Newfoundland is shaped like a horseshoe as it travels along the west, north and eastern edge of the island province. There are smaller highways leading to the various capes, but in order to get from east to west, you have to drive all around the northern edge. There are no shortcuts across the island. It will take a full day to drive from one side to the other. There are quite a few potholes across the province so drive with caution.
  • Watch for moose while driving, especially between dusk and dawn. With 125,000 moose on the island there are, on average 700 moose-car collisions per year.
  • If you’re planning to rent a car or RV, the best advice is to book early. Even when there isn’t a worldwide pandemic, there are not many available.
  • Newfoundland Standard Time is 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic Standard Time so do don’t forget to change your watch.
  • Don’t confuse St. John’s, Newfoundland’s capital city with St. John in New Brunswick.

Getting to Newfoundland

Marine Atlantic ferries travel between Sydney, NS and western Newfoundland’s Port aux Basques (7 hrs) twice a day and to the eastern province’s Argentia a few times a week. If traveling to or from Argentia iis is a long 16 hour trip, usually overnight.  Another ferry travels from Blanc-Sablon, Quebec to St. Barbe on the Great Northern Peninsula. This ferry is much closer to L’Anse aux Meadow, however it is a long and difficult drive to reach the Quebec Port.

Most flights travel to St. John’s, but there are also international airports in Stephenville and Gander. Gander is famous for accepting planes from the US during 9/11.

Coming Next – Quaint Towns on Bonavista Peninsula, Newfoundland

For more pictures from our travels around the world visit Gallery on monkeystale.ca

To read stories from other parts from Canada click here, or other countries visit Destinations.

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106 comments

    • We were in Newfoundland this fall, it’s just taking us a long time to post all of the places we visited! When we were there the Atlantic Bubble had just opened up to outsiders and all visitors to had to shown proof of double vaccination. Everywhere had limited capacity but there were very few tourists so we didn’t have problems. Even the ferries were limited capacity so Newfoundland had even fewer tourists. We camped so made most of our meals but otherwise patios were open, I don’t think there was indoor dining. I doubt there’s much open now since things have gotten worse with covid and they are much more strict in the Maritimes than other parts of Canada. It was s difficult time to visit but also the perfect time because it was so quiet. Maggie

      Liked by 2 people

  • Wonder why the Vikings didn’t stay and continue exploring North America. But then they were busy attacking England and Northern Europe in the Middle Ages where the booty was perhaps more valuable and closer at hand.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes they probably left because there was no one to raid 😊 We just watched Vikings on Netflix so it was fun to imagine the Vikings arriving to barren northern Newfoundland! No kings or palaces to rob. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • There is so much rich history in this place regarding Leif Eriksson having first heard of the “new” land from the Bjarni Herjolfsson who spotted the area ten years earlier but did not sail to the beaches. I sometimes wonder how distantly I might be related to any of the Norse explorers.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, we have Leif Erickson towns scattered across the country so we all have heard some of the sagas too. It was fun to put a place to the stories. Maybe you’re the great great great….. grandson to Erik the Red!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Wow, what a fun place to explore, transporting you back to where Vikings once stood. Looking at your photos of towering cliffs, rugged coastline, and rich greenery make it easy to see why the Irish felt at home when they first arrived in the 1700s, it’s so similar to our coastline! Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    • Newfoundland is very similar to the rugged Iriah coast and they are very proud of their Irish heritage. That wasn’t really apparent to us until St. John’s where it’s more populated and we met more Newfies. Thanks for your comments Aiva! Maggie

      Liked by 2 people

    • We love Newfoundland. I actually did go in winter one year. They get pretty harsh storms and a lot of snow! Summer is better. Thanks for reading reading Ken! Maggie

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  • Newfoundland looks like an amazing place to explore. These Vikings certainly did get around, and I wonder what made them abandon the area so quickly. They didn’t even bother with the rest of the continent. This was a fascinating post – I enjoyed seeing all the sites along the road.

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    • Thanks Leighton, most likely they left because there was no one to raid! It is strange that they came all that way and didn’t explore much further. It was a fun site to see and try to imagine it 1000 years ago. We have heard of this spot for years and were so glad we weren’t disappointed. Thanks for your comments! Maggie

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  • What a fabulous site to visit. We have always wanted to go there, but never made it. I understood that life was too harsh here, even for the Vikings and that is why they did not stick around. Thanks for taking us there. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Allan, I felt as if I were in one of CBC’s vignettes! They probably left because it was too much work and there were no villages with gold and jewels! It is a harsh place but funny that they didn’t build elsewhere, at least not that we know of. Thanks for your comments! Maggie

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      • At the end of the Vikings series, it seems they are in this golden place, which never gets named, but has First Nations Peoples wandering around. This romantic vision may have been Newfoundland or somewhere else in North America. In that same series, iot seems the Vikings were often lured back from farming and settling down for the adventure of conquest. A good mystery. Allan

        Liked by 1 person

  • That Viking-era house is so interesting and insightful. I’m sure there is so much to know for a traveler. I was surprised to hear that people still use wood in Canada during winters. As you mentioned, it is not a norm these days I suppose people living in the wooden houses (in one of the pictures) must be using the wood logs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were very surprised by the wood heating. In the rest of the country people will use wood to heat remote cabins at times in the winter but not usually for a house all winter. The Viking site was very interesting, especially because it’s the only known one in North America. Thanks for your comments Arv, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • That looks like a fascinating site, well worth the drive. I’ve been to Iceland and immediately saw the similarity in the buildings. It’s great that they’ve built those replicas so you can get a real idea of what it would once have been like here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes the replicas really help to imagine how the Vikings lived. They did a really good job at this site. I was also surprised at how they researchers could ever find them in the first place. Thanks for reading Sarah! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Very nice and interesting post, from historic point of view, but also nice to see all these photos.
    Also the Viking “house” looks really appealing! Also, very interesting to know that those settlements did not have any windows.

    Thanks for this nice post. I always like to read and learn about other cultures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It makes you realize how tough life was back then, living in a sod house, no windows, communal living. They did a great job at this site to recreate the Viking village. Thanks for reading! Maggie

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    • We love Newfoundland too. After having a great time in the other Atlantic provinces we thought it would be more of the same, but Newfoundland definitely has its own character. I’d already love to go back! Maggie

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  • Maggie and Richard, what an interesting post, and the photos are stunning! I watched a documentary about a Viking settlement in Greenland. They said that the area used to have a more temperate climate. When the weather got colder during a mini ice age about 1500, the settlement was abandoned. I don’t know whether that could have also been the case in Canada.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that’s interesting. This is a harsh part of Newfoundland so climate could have been one of the reasons. I didn’t hear anything about a mini ice age, but they really don’t know much about the site, why they came and why they left. Thanks for your input Cheryl, Maggie

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  • What an interesting drive. I love those arches and mounds and scenery. The Viking area is very interesting as well. I didn’t realize you did this entire drive of Canada this last fall, I had thought it was awhile ago. Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since we couldn’t/shouldn’t travel outside the country we decided to drive across the country. It was a great way to spend the summer and fall. Newfoundland was definitely worth it, so many fascinating places to see. Thanks for reading Katelon 🙂 Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Wow, what an amazing drive! Those arches are stunning, so are all the beautiful bays you saw on route. But I’m blown away by the Viking settlement … that’s really interesting and your photo’s are great in explaining the history!

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  • This was a very timely post, as my husband and I were just talking about the early explorers to the Americas, yesterday. We, too, wondered why they didn’t stay in a land far richer in resources than their homeland.
    You’ve also given us a new destination on our to-do list, as we’ve seen the Western Australian stromatolites, cousins to thrombolites, but not the latter. You can’t see enough rocks, especially in Australia.
    Thanks for the informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No one is really keen to say why the Vikings left and I wonder why of all of the places in what is now Atlantic Canada they put houses in a very inhospitable area. They clearly travelled south to areas more appropriate for farming. It is small but a very interesting site. The thrombilites were also amazing. Only found in Newfoundland and Western Australia! This small province has so many incredible places, you’d love it! Maggie

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  • So much of my Canadian geography from school is coming alive in your posts! Flower Pot Cove is super fascinating and of course L’Anse aux Meadows! I didn’t realize that the Vikings only came and went from there during certain seasons and that they didn’t spend a lot of years using it. The fishing villages just add to the charm of this part of Canada. As you’re getting to the end I’m beginning to realize that you now have to drive all the way back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Linda, the entire trip felt like I was relearning my history and geography classes, and in Flower Cove, biology! I said to Allan earlier that I felt as if I were in one of the vignettes from CBC! The drive home was very long, but we did it almost direct with very few stops. Looks like next year may be BC and the Yukon if travel is still iffy. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Oh this place looks so interesting! When I was a kid, I learned how to write in the runic alphabet thanks to this one issue of a children magazine where it was featured. I don’t know why they did that in the first place. Like what some of your readers pointed out in the comments, I’m also curious about the reason why the Vikings didn’t stay for too long in this new land they found. But that’s what makes history interesting — most of the time we’ll never know completely of what really happened in the past. Now I’m intrigued to watch that Netflix series!

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    • That’s a different childhood hobby! The show definitely does not romanticize Vikings, it’s quite violent, but it did make me wonder what they were doing in Canada. And also to understand a little about the women that went along. I had no idea before visiting L’Anse aux Meadows that women travelled with the men. It certainly is a different part to Canada’s history. Thanks for your comments Bama. Maggie

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  • this is a fascinating place! Love the houses covered by land, must keep them warm in the winter! Didnt know vikings went to Canada either (excuse my ignorance). Just need to find one of those horny hats!

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  • It would have been fascinating to see the North American continent 1000 years ago. I wonder how many Vikings made that transatlantic crossing more than once. Their navigational skills are truly impressive.

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  • Thanks for the details about this site. It would be great to see where Europeans first arrived in North America (as far as we know). It is remarkable that humans have been on the planet for eons but only recently have we been able to explore the surface of the entire planet.

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  • The diversity of the human experience will never cease to fascinate. Appreciate narratives like this because it reminds one that there are stories of people’s lives beyond what we hear of in the mainstream. The Vikings came to the continent before the mainstream Europeans, and did their own thing. And there are people still living in isolated places like this doing their own thing and being happy in their own way.

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    • That’s very interesting, yes these isolated places are fascinating. I sometimes wonder how people survive, but they do. The Vikings didn’t seem to be typical explorers trying to expand their rule, yet the sailed so far in open boats fo some unknown purpose. It’s an interesting site. Thanks for your input! Maggie

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  • Looks like a scenic drive to get to L’Anse aux Meadows. I love the rock formations at Arches Provincial Park. It must have been neat to step back in time and learn about the history of the area and Viking settlers. We didn’t have enough time to drive to L’Anse aux Meadows when we visited Newfoundland, so I enjoyed the virtual tour.

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    • We almost didn’t either because it’s such a long drive and there wouldn’t be icebergs at that time of year. What a treat though! We’re so glad we went. The drive had a few good stops and the park was excellent. Next time… Maggie

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    • Thanks for reading it Diana! It’s such a small historic site that I don’t think may know about it outside Canada. But it is very well done and worth visiting. Maggie

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  • Thank you for sharing this Maggie. I’ve always wanted to see this site after those Heritage Canada commercials. Looks like it’s well worth the visit. Plus all the amazing places along the way. Thanks for the tour!

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  • Super interesting read – I love those longhouses. So cozy! I also love that Canadians use the honor system with their wood piles.
    Every time I think you couldn’t extend your road trip any farther, you do! 🙂

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  • Gosh I would so love to visit there – I can’t imagine how we ever will (I live in New Zealand – Covid, closed borders and family visits in Canada, US and Europe will have to be done first….) but I am going to put this on my bucket list.

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    • It is a great historical site, even though it’s quite small it is very well done. We live in Western Canada and covid ‘forced’ us to travel within Canada. We’re so glad we did because we’ve now fallen in love with the maritimes provinces! Thanks for your comments. Maggie

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  • Looks amazing, I’d love to follow the Viking trail! One good thing about COVID is we’ve all become more connected with our home countries and explored more of them, I’m grateful for that 🙂

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  • What a terrific post, Maggie! Like everyone else, I’m curious about the Vikings. But I’m even more fascinated by the Thrombolites! I’d never even heard of them, and since James is a geologist, that’s saying a lot! Thanks for sending me on a mission to learn even more about them.

    The longhouse does look cozy and inviting, but I’m sure that life was very challenging for those hardy Vikings. Great series, Maggie. ~Terri

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    • Thanks Terri, We didn’t know anything about the thrombolites before our trip either. It was strange to see these ancient fossils just out on the beach. I think the Vikings are way more hardy than me, just thinking of sailing across the Atlantic in an open boat is enough for me, never mind being on one! Thanks for your comments Terri! Maggie

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  • How fascinating that Viking artifacts were discovered, and the buildings reproduced there. The longhouses are interesting. I’m not surprised about the woodpiles, since I have always been impressed with the more easy-going and trusting culture (compared to the U.S.) of Canadians.

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    • The Viking museum was great, quite small, but very well done. I’ve heard about it most of my life so was great to finally see it. I guess we were more surprised that they heated their homes with wood, more than the trust factor. I think it’s pretty common around cottages to have your wood piles out in the open. thanks for reading, Maggie

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    • Thanks, yes it’s a small museum but they’ve done a very good job at recreating the homes. And the staff are very knowledgeable in explaining the interesting history. Thanks for your comments, Maggie

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  • Fascinating, I love that they have folks in the proper attire to give more explanations, always a bonus! Did they explain how the bathroom situation was handled back then?

    Are there any opportunities (in a post-pandemic world) to stay in those reconstructed buildings? Are they planning on constructing more of them for tourists?

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    • It was definitely more interesting to have a viking explain the history than read it on a plaque. I don’t think there are plans to allow people to stay, but there is a privately run viking village not far away where you can do viking activities. Thanks for reading.

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  • An absolutely fascinating part of history and of the world. It is one place I would have wanted to travel to on the American continent, so I thoroughly enjoyed taking the trip via your post.

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    • It is such an unusual historical site for us in Canada since it’s the only Viking village in NA. They have done a very good job re-creating it and giving information. Thanks for your comments! Maggie

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  • How interesting, I’m so amazed that these houses have survived all this time. I really enjoyed this post. I’m inclined to think they may have been shipwrecked as weather conditions may have become more challenging. But also as another reader suggested, there wasn’t much for them to pillage. They were defeated in Ireland in 1014, but managed at sometime to abduct a lot of irish women to populate Iceland with them.

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