We all know that the Vikings were great warriors, famed for their fearlessness, ferociousness, and fealty to their leaders.
But they also produced some of the greatest adventurers of their era, roaming wide across three continents centuries before the Age of Discovery.
So who was the most impressive traveler of the Viking Age? Let's take a look at the contenders.
Most of what we know about Ragnar Lothbrok comes from Icelandic sagas and tales written in the late 12th and early 13th century CE. Photo: Fotokvadrat / Shutterstock
Ragnar Lothbrok: Roving raider of France and England
Half-man, half-legend, Ragnar Lothbrok is mainly known to history from 12th and 13th-century Icelandic tales and sagas.
While he almost certainly did not lead the famous raid on Lindisfarne - contrary to season 1 of The Vikings TV series - Lothbrok is thought to have had a penchant for raiding Christian settlements on religious holidays.
His crowning achievement was probably the Siege of Paris, when he and his army sailed straight up the Seine to attack the French capital, undoubtedly one of the most daring exploits of any Viking.
He is also believed to have made several raids on the northern and eastern shores of Great Britain before finally meeting his end in a bitter battle against King Ælla of Northumbria.
Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarsson was the first Norseman to intentionally sail to Iceland. Photo: Igor Faun / Shutterstock
Hrafna-Floki Vilgerdarsson (with a nod to Naddodd)
Hrafna-Floki Vilgerdarsson has often been acclaimed as the discovery and founder of the nation of Iceland.
It should be noted, however, that most historians credit another Norse explorer, Naddodd, with discovering it, and perhaps also deserves mention.
What is generally accepted, though, is that Floki was the first person to set sail to Iceland intentionally.
He was one of the main instigators of the settlement there, though it would only last 60 years or so before people returned to the island in the 13th century.
Still, what could be more impressive than establishing an entire country that is still surviving and thriving today?
Gunnbjörn Ulfsson was a Norwegian settler of Iceland and reportedly the first European to spot Greenland. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Gunnbjorn Ulfsson (or Erik the Red?)
Speaking of discovering new worlds, Norwegian explorer Gunnbjorn Ulfsson is believed to have been the very first European to sight Greenland, the vast mass of land that lies east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and is today a part of Denmark.
Yes, his sighting is believed to have been accidental - after being blown off course on a voyage from Norway to Iceland - and the Inuits had already been living there for thousands of years, but discovering the very edge of a new continent is no mean feat.
Or should the credit for the eventual Norse settlement of Greenland go to Erik the Red, who is said to have led the first party ashore?
Leif was the son of Erik the Red, who founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland. Photo: Dean K. / Shutterstock
Leif Erikson: From the old world to the new
While Erik's role in discovering Greenland sometimes goes uncredited, his son, Leif Erikson, has an even stronger claim to being the greatest traveler of the Viking Age.
A prototype of Christopher Columbus five centuries before the Genoese conquistador came on to the scene, Leif Erikson is thought to have been the first explorer from Europe to reach beyond Greenland to the true confines of the New World.
There is even some suggestion that Christopher Columbus, who spent a winter in Iceland before his journey to America, was inspired and informed by stories of Erikson's achievements.
Since 2000, the United States has even celebrated Leif Erikson Day to pay tribute to Leif's fantastic accomplishment.
An Icelandic saga mentions how Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir led a Norse expedition to North America. Photo: Nejron Photo / Shutterstock
Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir: The first lady of Vinland
Continuing our theme of explorers to the West, the Icelandic-born Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir was one of the greatest female travelers of the Viking Age. Gudrid sailed first to Norway, then further afield to Greenland, before also enduring a long pilgrimage to Rome.
Later, she became one of the very first Vikings to make the arduous journey to the new lands of North America.
The sagas tell us that she would go on to live in the Viking settlement of Vinland in present-day Newfoundland for three years before returning home.
In the meantime, however, she also gave birth to a son, Snorri, reputed to have been the first-ever European born on the American continent.
Harald Hardrada, a pivotal figure of the Viking Age, whose daring journeys spanned from Norway to the Byzantine Empire. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Harald Hardrada: To Byzantium and back
Though many experts see his death as ending the Viking Age, Harald Hardrada was also one of its most adventurous figures.
As a commander and later leader of the Varangian Guard, an elite unit in the Byzantine Army, Harald fought and journeyed his way through most of the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and other parts of the Byzantine Empire.
After returning to Norway and later becoming king, Harald would make his way to England to try to claim the throne there before finally meeting his maker in the decisive Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Our list is by no means exhaustible: Honorable mentions must go, for example, to the unknown Vikings who are thought to have wandered east and founded the kingdom of the Rus', and possibly Rollo, who was so adept at blending in with the locals that he eventually found himself appointed Count of Rouen and the first ruler of Normandy.
Bjorn Ironside, son of Ragnar Lothbrok, is also a possible contender, given that he was not only involved in the Siege of Paris but also later raided the Iberian peninsula and attacked Pisa, several cities in Italy, and even a few North African ports.
Nor should we forget the hardy crews, warriors, and shipbuilders that worked alongside the more famous names. Are there any more contenders for the most remarkable Viking traveler of all?
For a deeper exploration into the mysteries surrounding the Viking settlements in Greenland, pioneered by explorers like Erik the Red and Leif Erikson, consider reading this insightful article by the Smithsonian Magazine, available here.
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