The Viking explorer who was born in Iceland, son of the famous Erik the Red, is considered the first European to reach the shores of North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. He possibly he came to what is now Newfoundland, a land he called Vinland

Statue of Leifur Eiríksson in Reykjavík
Statue of Leifur Eiríksson in Reykjavík

Leifur Eiríksson was the son of Erik the Red, who around the year 985 founded the first colony in Greenland, after being exiled from Iceland, where Leifur was very possibly born. According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Leifur traveled in the year 1000 from Greenland to Norway. During the trip and due to bad weather, he had to stop in the Hebrides islands where he spent the whole summer. While there he met Thorgunna with whom he had a relationship. When Leifur was preparing to continue his journey to Norway, Thorgunna confessed to him that she was expecting a child and asked to take her with him to Norway. Faced with the danger of the trip, Leifur decided that she should not embark. To help support her future son, he gave her a walrus ivory belt, a gold ring, and a Greenland wool cape. When the boy, Thorgils, grew up he traveled to Greenland, where he was taken in by his father.

When Leifur arrived in Norway he was received by King Olaf I Tryggvason, who converted him and all his companions to Christianity.

Arrival in North America

When an Icelandic merchant named Bjarni Herjólfsson told Leifur that he had sighted the shores of a new land without exploring them, Leifur bought a ship, and following the descriptions that the merchant had given him, he embarked with 35 men on the adventure of repeating the route and finding the new land.

When they arrived in North America, they landed at a place on the coast where a river flowed from a neighboring lake, the place was abundant in salmon and grasslands, and they decided to spend the winter there. They built houses and gave the place the name "Vinland", which means "wine country" because of the many wild vineyards.

The camp, called Leifsbúðir, is believed to have been located on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland, and lasted only a few years before being abandoned, perhaps due to the weather or internal problems. According to the Icelandic sagas, Leif and his crew came into contact with "Red Indians" whom they referred to as skrælingi, the encounters with the indigenous people were initially friendly with a trade relationship but at some point tensions grew with the arrival of Leif's brother, Thorvald, who was killed by the natives of the place.

In 1963 archaeologists found Viking ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows, in northern Newfoundland, that match Leifur's description of the site.

 Statue of Leifur Eiriksson in front of Hallgrimskirkja church

Statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front of Hallgrímskirkja church during the Winter Lights Festival

Statue of Leifur Eiríksson

You can visit the statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front of the Hallgrímskirkja church, offering an impressive sight to all travelers who come to visit it. The statue was a gift from the United States to Iceland in 1930 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Alþingi, Iceland's parliament. Although the gift of the statue did not end the controversy of Leifur's nationality nor did it mean an official recognition of the United States towards Iceland, many Icelanders interpreted the gift as a recognition by the United States that Leifur Eiríksson was Icelandic, a great achievement over Norwegians trying to claim Leifur as their own. It can be read in the revealing inscription on the statue: "Leifr Eiricsson. Son of Iceland. Discoverer of Vínland. The United States of America to the People of Iceland on the one thousandth Anniversary of the Althing A. D. 1930."