When Vikings first traveled to Iceland from Scandinavia, they were met with a landscape void of people. It was up to them to turn this volcanic, tree-covered island into a place fit for human habitation. After this goal had been somewhat achieved and settlements grew, more people traveled from the east to live in Iceland.
Iceland became, for many people, a place to live out their exile as they fled from persecution or punishment back home. According to the historical records, this is exactly what happened to Thorvald Asvaldsson, the father of the famous Erik the Red. Thorvald was banished from Norway and therefore sailed to Iceland with his family.
Thus, Erik the Red’s Iceland journey began, and with the help of this article, you can experience the Erik the Red Iceland route for yourself. Trace the path of the famous (or perhaps infamous) explorer, who called The Land of Fire and Ice home for much of his life.
Who Was Erik the Red?
Before we examine the Erik the Red route, let’s learn a bit more about the man behind the journey.
Erik the Red was born as Erik Thorvaldsson, carrying a patronymic last name (son of Thorvald) as was the custom. This tradition continues on in Iceland even now, but has mostly disappeared from the other Nordic nations. The title of Erik the Red came later, as he was nicknamed this because of his red hair. He moved from Norway to Iceland at age ten.
Erik lived and traveled through several areas of Iceland, eventually settling his own farm, Eiríksstaðir. However, he took after his father in resolving his conflicts with violence and was banished from Iceland for many years. It was because of this that Erik decided to sail to Greenland, an unknown land at the time.
Other Nordic men had been to Greenland before Erik, either by accident or design. However, it is Erik who is credited with being the first permanent settler of the land. During his exile, he explored the uninhabited space and found an area which was free from ice, and therefore colonisable. He returned to Iceland to encourage others to join him there.
It is said that Erik gave Greenland its name to make it sound attractive to potential settlers. This intention worked, as hundreds of Icelanders sailed with Erik and together they created two new settlements. Later on, he supposedly died of a disease that killed many in the Greenland colonies.
But Erik the Red’s legacy did not end there. His son was the famous Leif Erikson, who is said to be the first European to land in North America. Most of what is known about Erik comes from the Saga of Erik the Red and the Greenland Saga. The Icelandic Sagas were recorded around the 1200s and 1300s.
Erik the Red’s Journey Through Iceland
Erik the Red’s Iceland journey took him to numerous places along the west coast. The four that we’ll be focusing on are:
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
We will examine how Erik came to be in each place, and how you can visit these places yourself. This is our Erik the Red route map, outlined in the same order which Erik himself took.
This is the place where Thorvald and his family first lived after arriving in Iceland. Hornstrandir is the northernmost peninsula in the country, found in the Westfjords—the northwest region. Since the best farming areas were already populated, Hornstrandir was the short straw for farmers; it had a short-growing season.
Today, however, Hornstrandir is completely uninhabited, with the last residents leaving in the 1950s. It was declared a nature reserve in 1975, meaning that no one could live here again. As a result, the area is full of wild vegetation and animal life, including a large population of arctic foxes.
Hornstrandir is open to visitors, but can only be reached on foot or via boat from the Westfjords’ capital, Ísafjörður. There’s no cell service here and no accommodation options beyond basic unattended campsites. You’ll have to know how to navigate with a map and compass to find your way around the reserve.
If you don’t feel comfortable throwing yourself into the wild, join a guided tour to Hornstrandir. There are excursion companies based in Ísafjörður that can take you on single or multi-day expeditions into the area. Be prepared to see huge fields of wild flowers, stunning rock formations and plenty of birds. Note that Hornstrandir can only be visited in summer.
Here you can find further information on the Hornstrandir Peninsula if you need inspiration for what to see and do when you arrive!
After Erik married and his father died, he moved onto the land owned by his wife’s family at Haukadalur. He established his own farm on their estate and named it Eiríksstaðir. He lived here for many years and had four children with his wife, in land better suited for farming.
Eiríksstaðir is located below the Westfjords, close to the west coast. You can visit the site yourself, where archaeologists excavated a Viking house in the 90s. This house is believed to be Erik’s home, and a museum detailing his story has been set up on-site. Since this museum is an authentic reconstruction of the original, you can really feel the history when you step inside.
To reach Eiríksstaðir from Reykjavík, head north along the Ring Road, then turn onto Route 60. Take a right onto Route 586, or Haukadalsskarðsvegur, and drive along it until you see Eiríksstaðir on the left.
Erik the Red was banished from Haukadalur after a violent clash with a neighbour. The local lawmakers sentenced him to three years of exile for his retaliation killings. He then moved himself and his family to the island of Öxney, this island is located just above the Snæfellsnes peninsula, in the Breiðafjörður archipelago.
To see Öxney, you could join a boat tour of Breiðafjörður which will take you around the islands. Most of the islands are now uninhabited, but there are a few houses on the largest, Brokey. Tours exploring this beautiful area leave from Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
After a dispute over wooden beams with another Icelander—which resulted in more murders—Erik was once again banished. At this point, he decided he had had enough of Iceland and wanted to leave. He had heard of lands west of Iceland that had been accidentally discovered by a man named Gunnbjörn decades earlier.
Erik the Red sailed west, leaving from the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, close to Snæfellsjökull glacier. Despite the long and perilous journey, he reached this new land—Greenland—and became its first permanent settler.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is sometimes referred to as “Iceland in miniature” because it contains many features that are characteristic of the island. This includes a glacier, extinct volcanoes, black sand beaches, natural hot springs, waterfalls and more. The area is truly a wonder to visit, and fortunately, most of it is protected as a national park.
We prepared a very complete blog entry with all you can see and do in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This way, you can follow Erik the Red's journey with far more detailed information.
To reach the peninsula, follow Route 1 north of the capital. Turn left onto Route 54, and then that road will take you down most of the peninsula. If you want to drive around the glacier, follow Route 574. You’ll be rewarded with incredible scenic views and the chance to see the glacier up close and personal.
On the way back, re-join Route 54 along the north side of Snæfellsnes to drive past the famous Kirkjufell mountain. This mountain was featured in the Game of Thrones series, where it was known as Arrowhead Mountain.
Erik the red sights in Iceland
Erik the Red, as a farmer, mostly lived and traveled through the more remote parts of Iceland. As you’ve read, even today the areas where he ventured are still almost empty when compared to Reykjavík. If you want a holiday where you can experience the true wilderness of Iceland, follow the Erik the Red route.
You could follow his path completely on foot, but it would be much quicker in a car. Book your preference at Cars Iceland today and get started planning your itinerary!