This windswept coastal outpost is the very spot where Norse sailors first settled in North America, the only authenticated Viking site on the continent. Here, the grassy, low-slung roofs of the Vikings' simple homes and work huts undulate like Nordic echo waves on the open, seaside landscape.
Today you can step back a thousand years—but with a 21st-century view. New improvements to this historic spit of open land at the edge of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula help bring the stories and struggles of these early settlers to life. The main house, first excavated in the '60s, has been redone, with a new sod roof and rebuilt wooden interior, along with new exhibits and a film detailing the settlement's history.
"The whole mystique of these Vikings, who were here hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus, has never, ever, gotten the recognition that he did—until now," says Tom Kennedy, retail operations manager for the Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland & Labrador.
When to Go: June through early October. The ancient settlement, a UNESCO World Heritage site, opens for the season on June 1.
How to Get Around: Car rentals are available at Newfoundland's Deer Lake Regional Airport. The five-hour drive north along the Viking Trail toward L'Anse aux Meadows provides travelers with a front-row seat to the province's green valleys, imposing mountains, and resilient coastline. A free iPhone/iPad app for Newfoundland and Labrador can help travelers find their way. Alternatively, the NorPen Bus Service runs along the Viking Trail and can do the driving for you.
Where to Stay: Fall asleep to the soothing sounds of the St. Anthony Harbor at Grenfell Heritage Hotel and Suites. Forty-five minutes south of L'Anse aux Meadows, it offers a choice of suites featuring fully equipped kitchens, balconies, and free Wi-Fi. There's also on-site laundry facilities and complementary continental breakfast.
Where to Eat or Drink: To watch icebergs and whales pass by, request a window seat at the Norseman Restaurant, where the locally sourced menu includes elk tenderloin, freshly caught Atlantic cod, and seasonal vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, and asparagus. Or walk down to the adjacent wharf with the chef to pick your own lobster from a floating pen. Save room for a slice of tangy partridgeberry pie topped with fresh whipped cream.
What to Buy: The Gaia Art Gallery carries moose antler carvings, silver jewelry, and Innu tea dolls woven from smoke-tanned caribou hide, beads, and cotton. For keepsakes with a Nordic twist, the Heritage Shop of L'Anse aux Meadows stocks historical books, knitwear, pottery, and music during the summer months.
What to Read Before You Go: The New Land With the Green Meadows by Anne Stine Ingstad (2013) explores excerpts from the diary of the author's mother, the Norwegian archaeologist in charge of L'Anse aux Meadows' excavation in the 1960s, with personal stories about the people and life there.
Fun Fact: The Vikings weren't the first settlers at L'Anse aux Meadows. Different aboriginal groups called the site home as far back as 6,000 years ago. Tools and campgrounds identified at the site have been linked to five or six distinct groups, including the Dorset Paleoeskimo, who camped here more than 200 years before the Vikings.
Jackie Middleton is an award-winning freelance writer based in Toronto.