• Imagining History

Viking Navigation - A Beginners Guide for Kids

Updated: Aug 11

Without access to modern day maps or navigational technology, Vikings had to rely on lots of unusual and inventive methods to navigate their ships across the world’s oceans.

Wildlife & Nature:

During a voyage, Viking sailors would keep an eye on animals and the environment to help guide them. Hearing the calls of birds would indicate a coastline was nearby. Spotting whales swimming close to ocean currents could keep them on track. Even the colour of the water or the temperature of different currents could help an experienced Viking sailor in the right direction.

The Sun & Stars:

Vikings would rely on the movement in the skies above them to keep them on course. For a less knowledgeable Viking, this might just mean following the direction of the sun rise or sun set (the sun always rises in the East and sets in the West). But more well-versed Viking sailors would also check the skies at night to map the movement of the stars as a way of determining which direction they were headed.


Much like a modern trail might include sign posts to guide you in the right direction, Vikings would make note of certain sights and landmarks to keep them on track. For example, a certain rocky outcrop or a ragged looking cliff top along the coastline on the journey.

But what if visibility is low and they couldn’t see these landmarks? A well-versed Viking sailor could read changes in the wind through just his sense of touch alone. Nearby land masses would reflect the wind back, allowing the Vikings to know which direction to travel.

Chants & Rhymes:

Many of the Viking methods of navigation relied on a familiarity of the sea and nature around them. Much of this expertise came from experience – either their own or that of the Vikings who came before them.

Knowledgeable Viking sailors would put their wisdom into chants and rhymes to pass on to other sailors. These chants might include directions to a particular land mass, warnings about dangerous routes or simple facts on how to map your location using the stars or nature.

Further Reading:

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