Have you ever wanted to see how the Vikings lived? You will get the opportunity to do so in West-Iceland, where you will find a hypothesis Viking longhouse. It is called Eiríksstaðir and I visit it every time I travel in this area.
I feel like I am stepping back in time when I visit this longhouse.
Top photo: Eiríksstaðir back in 2015
Eiríksstaðir in 2010
The Vikings started coming over to Iceland from Norway in around year 874, give or take a couple of years, and settled here in Iceland. So naturally, there are many areas in Iceland that are rich in Viking history. And Eiríksstaðir in West-Iceland is pure Viking :)
The Viking longhouse at Eiríksstaðir is a hypothesis house of the old Saga age longhouse where Eiríkur rauði - Erik the Red (died approx. 1006 in Greenland) and his wife Þjóðhildur lived.
Our lovely very knowledgeable guide in 2019 at Eiríksstaðir - I do NOT look good in a helmet ;)
Erik the Red and his father, Þorvaldur, had to leave Norway because of killings, and first lived at Drangar in Hornstrandir, where his father died.
Eiríkur then married Þjóðhildur and moved to Eiríksstaðir. But he was chased out of Eiríksstaðir for the killings of Eyjólfur saur and Hólmgöngu-Hrafn as you can read about in both Grænlendingasaga (Icelandic) and in The Saga of Erik the Red.
Eiríksstaðir in 2019
He, therefore, went to live at Eiríksstaðir on the Öxney (Yxney) island in the Breiðafjörður islands. He then fought with Þorgestur at Breiðabólstaður at Skógarströnd and killed two of his sons and other men, and was found guilty at Þórsnessþing district parliament. You can read about Þórsnessþing in Eyrbyggja Saga.
Eiríkur prepared a ship in Eiríksvogur and sailed for Greenland, but he had heard about this land called Gunnbjarnarsker which Gunnbjörn Úlfsson had seen. He stayed for 3 years in Greenland, until he came for a visit to Breiðarfjörður and stayed in Iceland for one winter.
Breiðafjarðar islands in West-Iceland
He then returned to Greenland and lived at Brattahlíð in Eiríkssfjörður fjord and was a highly-respected man.
Eiríkur gave Greenland its name, Greenland, to get people to move there. That name was quite a contradiction, as Greenland is almost covered in ice. According to Grænlendinga Saga, 25 ships left Iceland for Greenland in the year 985, but only 14 ships managed to reach Greenland.
Eiríksstaðir might be the place where the son of Eiríkur and Þjóðhildur, Leifur heppni - Leif the Lucky (around (970) 980-1020) was born.
The statue of Leifur at Eiríksstaðir
Leifur had heard of a land further west which Bjarni Herjólfsson had seen when he got lost on his way to Greenland. Leifur wanted to see this land and bought a ship from Bjarni.
Leifur left Greenland and sailed to North America. He was the first European to land there; thus it is said that Leifur "discovered" America and not Columbus in 1492 - and not Bjarni as he had only seen this land and not set foot ashore.
Leif the Lucky as depicted at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík, which I also recommend visiting
Leifur named this land Vínland or Wine country as they found grapes there. They built a longhouse and stayed for one winter and then sailed back to Greenland next spring with a ship filled with grapes and wood.
On his way back to Greenland Leifur rescued 15 men (and women) from a reef and got the nickname "heppni" or "the lucky". Amongst them were Þórir Austmaður and Guðríður, Þórir was the first husband of Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir, who was later to become Leifur's sister-in-law, when she married Þorsteinn Eiríksson after the death of Þórir.
Leifur became a missionary in Greenland at the command of the Norwegian king Olav. His mother built the first church in Greenland, Þjóðhildarkirkja church, which was named after her. But his father, Erik, never converted to Christianity.
The statue of Leifur heppni - Leif the Lucky at Eiríksstaðir
Leifur had 3 siblings, Þorsteinn, Þorvaldur, and Freydís, who all wanted to see Vínland and the Sagas tell us about their journey and adventures there. According to Grænlendingasaga, Þorvaldur died in Vínland (got killed by the natives) and Þorsteinn, who wanted to fetch his brother's body in Vínland, got lost on his journey and never reached Vínland.
Þorsteinn and Guðríður Þorbjarnadóttir arrived at Lýsufjörður in Greenland, where they stayed with Þorsteinn svarti. Here Þorsteinn Eiríksson died of a contagious illness, and Þorsteinn svarti's wife also caught this illness and died.
Guðríður later married Þorfinnur karlsefni, sailed with him to Vínland and had the first Caucasian child, Snorri there.
Freydís Eiríksdóttir as depicted at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík - a story from Eiríks Saga.
There are different accounts about their adventures and fate in Eiríks Saga and Grænlendingasaga, so it is best to read both of them (short Sagas) if you want to know more about what happened to Eiríkur, Þjóðhildur, and co. I prefer Grænlendingasaga, but there are also interesting accounts in Eiríks Saga.
The story of Freydís, their sister, is also very different in these 2 Sagas. In Grænlendingasaga she is depicted as a true villain, but she has a smaller role in Eiríks Saga and one of the accounts shows her in a strange situation in Vínland, as you can tell from my photo above, which I took from the excellent museum, the Saga Museum in Reykjavík.
The ruins of the old longhouse
At Eiríksstaðir you can walk up to the ruins of the more than 1000-year old lodge and you will find a statue of Leif the Lucky close to the ruins. It is believed that these people lived in this longhouse until around 980.
The ruins were covered with grass after the archaeological excavation, so many people don't know about them - but on this spot the longhouse of Erik the Red was most likely located.
Storytelling by the longfire at Eiríksstaðir
The Saga age longhouse was opened in the year 2000 some 100 metres from the ruins of the original longhouse. At the same time the replica of a Viking ship Íslendingur - the Icelander set off for America in the trails of Leif the Lucky a 1000 years earlier.
The longhouse is built with a remake of old Viking tools and is said to be the best-built longhouse in all of Europe.
It is a very cute longhouse and has a fire burning inside it like in the old Viking homes. The staff is dressed in Viking costumes, a "knock-off" of the Viking fashion from the 10th century. Inside the longhouse, they told us the story of the Vikings, who lived in this area. We were also shown a pair of Viking bone skates.
From my visit to Eiríksstaðir in 2015
We got to dress up like Vikings and try the Viking weapons, so you can get some great photos at Eiríksstaðir. Notice that the helmet is without horns; most people believe that Viking helmets had horns on them, but that is not true. No Viking helmets have been found with horns.
The Vikings used horns to drink from and made tools from the horns, but they didn't put them on their helmets. And the ordinary Viking didn't even own a helmet as the metal in the helmets was as expensive as gold and silver!
The storyteller told us the story of Eiríkur rauði, Þjóðhildur, and Leifur and how the Vikings lived and worked in the longhouse. There was a long fire in the middle of the longhouse and the Vikings slept sitting in an upright position as to not choke from the smoke from the fire, the storyteller told us.
The most ornate bed belonged to the masters of the house and the servants slept in beds that had a lower front than that of the masters of the house. And the virgins slept in the attic (see the photo below) where they were protected from the men.
It is believed that around 20 people were living in this house at the same time, so it must have been crowded! And then sometimes groups of winter guests stayed there as well - for the longest time! The women in Iceland were very powerful as can be read in the Icelandic Sagas.
And the women had the key to the pantry and there the men were not allowed to go - as the Viking men were known to eat everything at sight - much as our men today ;)
At Eiríksstaðir emphasis is put on the role of women, as often their important role is left out and the emphasis put entirely on the role of the Viking men.
In 2019 Eiríksstaðir got new proprietors and a food truck was added, where you can get some traditional Icelandic food.
It is called Þjóðhildarpotturinn or the Kitchen of Erik the Red and here you can buy food from the 21st century as well as Viking-style food from the 10th century. They offer f.ex. traditional meat broth, smoked trout, and cured lamb.
If you are not into that kind of food then they also offer sandwiches :)
The food truck and the lovely Viking woman serving food - it was very windy during my last visit to Eiríksstaðir
The new proprietors have got many good ideas about how to make the best use of Eiríksstaðir. A Viking festival is planned on the last weekend in August.
It is so worth visiting this lovely hypothesis Viking longhouse while travelling in West-Iceland. I always feel like I have stepped into the Viking ages when visiting Eiríksstaðir longhouse. So don't miss it if you would like to experience the Viking side of Iceland.
With Bjarnheiður Jóhannsdóttir, one of the new proprietors of Eiríksstaðir
Eiríksstaðir is open daily from May 1st until September 30th, from 09:00-17:00 (9 am-5 pm). There is an entrance fee for adults, but children enter the longhouse for free. Guidance and storytelling by the long fire is offered every half an hour. Tickets are sold at a ticket office by the car park. In the wintertime, pre-booked groups can visit.
For more information check out their website Eiríksstaðir.
Eiríksstaðir longhouse is located in West-Iceland, 76 km north of Borgarnes on the way to the Westfjords. From Borgarnes, drive on ring-road 1 north towards Akureyri, turn left onto road 60 heading towards Hólmavík.
Turn right onto road 586 (before reaching Búðardalur) and drive for 8 km into Haukadalur past a lake until you see Eiríksstaðir on your left-hand side. On the junction of roads 586 and 60, you will see a sign above. Eiríksstaðir fæðingarstaður Leifs heppna means Eiríksstaðir the birthplace of Leif the Lucky.
The closest village is Búðardalur, which is 15 km away.
Here is the location of Eiríksstaðir on the map. GPS: 65°03'32.9"N 21°32'20.4"W
I have written other travel-blogs about Vikings activities in Iceland if you want to get acquainted with the Vikings in Iceland:
The travel-blog on Eiríksstaðir Viking Longhouse is my second travel-blog here on Guide to Iceland, written back in 2013, but I update it regularly. Since then I have written 280 travel-blogs on various locations and activities in my country.
Have a lovely time exploring the Viking areas of Iceland :)