With the recent discovery of the supposedly mythical sunstone that may have helped them navigate the northern waters of the Atlantic Ocean, a major video game franchise and a new hit TV show on The History Channel, Vikings are ready to invade our collective unconscious, maybe chopping down a few zombies with their axes along the way. Pop culture won't be the first place most savvy travelers encounter Vikings -- the remnants of their massive empire dot Europe and extend into Canada -- but it may provide an excuse to take a second look at the great Norse destinations around the world.
The Vikings rose to power in 8th century Europe and rapidly spread through Scandinavia, eventually invading Ireland and Iceland as they took possession of Atlantic trading routes. What that means for modern travelers is that many countries have tributes to the culture that not only took their land, but also affected the culture and even the genetics of their people. From ritzy Denmark to the wastes of Greenland, monuments and exhibits devoted to these mighty warriors attract hordes of travelers and amateur historians every day.
It is impossible to understand Western culture, after all, without paying attention to the Viking's legacy. The Viking gave us Mighty Thor, inspired Wagner, kitted out Adrian Peterson and may well be the people we have to thank for our lovely blondes.
It is a Viking world, we just live in it.
Norway: The Viking Ship Museum
The best collection of Viking artifacts is housed in Oslo's <a href="http://www.khm.uio.no/english/">Viking Ship Museum</a>, which holds the beautifully constructed Oseberg ship, probably the best example of Viking maritime accumen. It doesn't hurt that the museum itself is quite graceful as well.
The small Swedish city of Trelleborg is crowned by a Viking fortress. The castle on the hill is a reconstruction intended to capture the size and weight of Viking settlements. Visitors to this scenic spot -- a drive from Stockholm -- <a href="http://www.trelleborg.se/trelleborgen">can occasionally see reenactments and staged fights</a>.
Sweden: Birka and Hovgarden
The best-preserved Viking trading settlement sits in Sweden's beautiful Birka archipelago. Today, the <a href="http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/555">Birka-Hovgården complex</a> is a World Heritage Site, but the range and variety of goods found around the site pays tribute to the breadth of the trade routes that once ended here.
Together with Geirangerfjord, <a href="http://www.visitnorway.com/us/Where-to-go/Fjord-Norway/Flam/What-to-do-in-Flam/Attractions-in-Flam/The-Naroyfjord-and-Aurlandsfjord/">Nærøyfjord</a> is recognized as a <a href="http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1195">UNESCO World Heritage Site</a> not only because its natural beauty is striking, but also because it was a center of Viking activity during that culture's heyday.
Newfoundland: L'Anse aux Meadows
L'Anse aux Meadows archeological site at the northernmost point of Newfoundland is<a href="http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/nl/meadows/index.aspx"> believed to have been the site of a Norse village.</a> Today, the park features three reconstructed Viking homes that resemble the Shire from <em>The Lord Of The Rings</em>.
Iceland: Statue of Leif Ericson
Standing proudly outside of the <a href="http://hallgrimskirkja.is/">Hallgrimskirkja</a>, the bold, modern church perched atop Reykjavik, the Statue of Leif Ericson commemorates the island nation's most famous son, the son of Erik the Red who likely <a href="http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/leif-erikson-day">discovered America</a> before Columbus.
An immersive historical experience, <a href="http://www.dublinia.ie/">Dublinia </a>allows travelers (and a smattering of locals) to see what it would have been like to live on the Emerald Isle back when it was in the hands of the Viking hordes. Provides a reason to remember that the "Irish look" -- red hair freckles -- is mostly the product of Viking insatiability.