Most of us are probably familiar with how in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and arrived in North America. But did you know that 5 centuries before him, vikings from Greenland were actually the first Europeans to set foot in North America? The L'Anse Aux Meadows National Historical Site on the northern tip of Newfoundland is evidence of that.
In the Norse Sagas it is said that circa 1000, Leif Erikson had heard about this land from another Norse explorer who accidentally came across it but did not stop to explore. Leif Erikson then decided to set off from Greenland to find it and he did. He set up a settlement there and called the land Vinland. The sagas mentioned 3 expeditions in total that were made out to Vinland, and for a long time the location of Vinland remained a mystery.
Fast forward to 1960, when a Norwegian couple Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad went to Newfoundland in search of Vinland. It was actually a local fisherman named George Decker who lead the two to the site which consisted of mounds on the ground, saying that he and other locals had played amongst them as children, believing them to have been left behind by the aboriginal people. After excavation efforts, they discovered the remnants of a number of Norse buildings at the site and it is now generally accepted that L'Anse Aux Meadows was the explorers' base in Vinland.
What to Expect
This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a Visitor Centre, the actual site, reconstructed huts, and a trail.
Your visit to L'Anse Aux Meadows will likely start at the Visitor Centre. Here, you can see models of what they believe the site looked like at the time, as well as some of the artifacts that they found there. While you're here, find out when the next guided tour is. Tours are around 45 minutes long and are lead by an experienced guide. While you can explore the site on your own, I preferred having a guide talk us through it. Our guide, Clayton, was a local who actually played amongst the mounds himself as a kid. He ended up taking part in the excavation efforts as well as helped build the reconstructed huts, so he was able to tell us stories about what happened during the excavation which really added to our experience.
The Actual Site
The actual site consists of mounds on the ground with plaques that tell you what the buildings were. You can actually walk on the mounds but we were assured that a lot of care was taken into preserving what lies underneath the surface for future excavations.
The Reconstructed Site
Eight sod huts have been reconstructed based on what they discovered during the excavation. They were reconstructed using the materials that the Norse explorers would have used - peat and sod on a wood frame. Inside the huts you'll find viking re-enactors who are happy to answer any questions you might have. There are also replicas of artifacts that were found at the site.
Birchy Nuddick Trail
We ended our visit by walking the Birchy Nuddick Trail. This trail links the actual and reconstructed site area back to the parking lot of L'Anse Aux Meadows, taking you around a beautiful, rugged coastline. The trail was mostly flat, and I loved being able to spot icebergs while we walked. We even spotted one that looked almost like a viking boat which was fitting for where we were!
Want to get here?
Hours: Varies throughout the year - check this site for the current hours.
Getting here: You'll have to get here by car. The closest airport is St. Anthony's airport.
Admission: Free in 2017 thanks to Canada 150! Check this site for current admissions.
Estimated time to spend here: Around 2 - 3 hours, longer if you walk the Birchy Nuddick Trail.
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