Put on your captain’s cap and get ready to discover new lands, as Skyscanner tracks the maiden voyages of Erikson and Columbus to the New World.
Leif Erikson and Christopher Columbus were the first, or among the first, Europeans to set foot on North American land.
Erikson arrived in North America about half a millennium earlier than Columbus, but the news of his discovery did not spread throughout Europe as Columbus’ would.
Leif Erikson Day (9th October) is held on the same date in 1825 that the first round of Scandinavian immigrants arrived in New York.
Columbus Day (12th October) is celebrated in the US on the second Monday of October each year, to commemorate his reaching the Americas on October 12, 1492.
Leif Erikson was born in Iceland around 960, and from Reykjavik, day and overnight trips are offered to see the Erikson family farmhouse, a ship replica and other key Viking spots in the western countryside. Back in Reykjavik, the Saga Museum and Viking Village bring the people and events of so many centuries ago back to life. And no Viking history trip would be complete without a stay at the Hotel Leifur Eiríksson, conveniently located in the heart of the Icelandic capital.
Leif was invited to meet with the king in the former Norwegian capital around 1000, and ended up staying there for a short while. A statue and plaque near the waterfront are dedicated to Erikson. The city is also full of other remnants of its Viking past, including Nidaros Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, and a tall pillar with a figure of King Olav on top. It was from Trondheim that Erikson began heading straight west, with a stop first in Greenland.
Erik the Red, Erikson’s father, was the first European to find and live in Greenland, and that is where Erikson spent his childhood and finally set off on his voyage towards the unknown lands to the west. You too can set sail in the waters around Greenland on a multi-city sightseeing cruise that hits all the main ports. Inland excursions are available as well, including one to the Narsarsuaq region, where, along with many other Vikings relics in the area, a bronze statue of Erikson stands prominently on a grassy hillside.
Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada
Heading west from Greenland, Erikson’s first encounter with the rest of North America was on the shores of Baffin Island. His exact landing point is unknown, but you can explore the island yourself, as this vast arctic wonderland provides the opportunity to participate in plenty of exciting activities, such as wildlife viewing excursions, travelling through an untouched landscape of snow, ice, sea and glaciers, and a chance to witness the mystical Northern Lights.
Erikson and his group, coming south from Baffin Island (after a stop in Labrador), found a more friendly climate and lusher landscape in the northern part of Newfoundland, called L’Anse aux Meadows (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and decided to winter there. Visitors can walk through the site and view what’s left of the old Norse settlement, and nearby, Pistolet Bay Provincial Park is another great place to become acquainted with the human and natural history of the area.
Huelva & Port of Palos, Spain
Columbus and his three ships began their famed adventure in 1492 at the Port of Palos, near Huelva in Spain. The small village of Palos de la Frontera is where the port is located, and reminders of Columbus are all over the place. In Huelva, highlights include Columbus’ church, a museum devoted to him, and life-size recreations of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María in the harbor.
Canary Islands, Spain
Columbus stopped in the Canary Islands for a few weeks to make repairs to his fleet and wait for the right winds. Every summer, a boat race from Huelva to La Gomera is held, to retrace the path that Columbus took in the beginning of his long trip. And a Christopher Columbus trail winds through the streets of San Sebastian, pointing out all of the noteworthy buildings and milestones.
San Salvador, Bahamas
Although the exact island in the Bahamas Columbus landed on first is somewhat disputed, it is known that it was here that he made his initial North American landfall. At the appropriately named Columbus Isle, a Club Med-owned resort, visitors can enjoy all of the luxuries of a posh Caribbean vacation, and also learn a bit about the colonial history of the area on the Island Tour, which visits Columbus landmarks and other significant sites.
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After scoping out the Bahamas for several days, Columbus headed down to Cuba. A large, elaborately designed cemetery in Havana, the Cristóbal Colón Cemetery, bears his Spanish name. The Baroque-style Christopher Columbus Cathedral here once housed a portion of the navigator’s remains, and was built partially out of sea coral.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
The island formerly known as Hispaniola, which is now Haiti on the west and the Dominican Republic on the east, was where Columbus and his crew departed the Americas and headed back to Spain that winter. The Columbus Memorial Lighthouse in the Dominican capital city is the place to go to learn of Columbus’ time in the region, and see a spectacular lighting system that creates a huge, bright cross in the sky that can be seen for miles. A tomb at the memorial is also believed by some to contain Columbus’ actual remains.