European colonization of the Americas began as early as the 10th–11th century, when
West Norse sailors explored and briefly settled limited areas on the shores of present-day
Vikings who had discovered and settled in
Greenland, then sailed up the
Arctic region of
North America alongside Greenland, and down alongside Canada to explore and settle.
 According to
Icelandic Sagas, violent conflicts with the indigenous population ultimately made the Norse abandon those settlements.
Extensive European colonization began in 1492, when a Spanish expedition headed by
Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a new trade route to the
Far East but inadvertently landed in what came to be known to Europeans as the "
New World". Running aground on the northern part of
Hispaniola on December 5, 1492, which the
Taino people had inhabited since the 7th century, the site became the first European settlement in the Americas. European conquest, large-scale exploration,
colonization and industrial development soon followed. Columbus' first two voyages (1492–93) reached the
Bahamas and various
Caribbean islands, including Hispaniola,
Puerto Rico and
Cuba. In 1497, sailing from
Bristol on behalf of
John Cabot landed on the North American coast, and a year later, Columbus's
third voyage reached the South American coast. As the sponsor of
Christopher Columbus's voyages,
Spain was the first European power to settle and colonize the largest areas, from
North America and the
Caribbean to the southern tip of
Other powers such as
France also founded colonies in the Americas: in eastern North America, a number of Caribbean islands, and small coastal parts of South America.
Brazil, tried colonizing the coasts of present-day Canada, and settled for extended periods northwest (on the east bank) of the
River Plate. The
Age of Exploration was the beginning of territorial expansion for several European countries. Europe had been preoccupied with internal wars, and was slowly recovering from the loss of population caused by the
bubonic plague; thus the rapid rate at which it grew in wealth and power was unforeseeable in the early 15th century.
Eventually, the entire
Western Hemisphere came under the ostensible control of European governments, leading to profound changes to its landscape, population, and plant and animal life. In the 19th century alone over 50 million people left Europe for the Americas.
 The post-1492 era is known as the period of the
Columbian Exchange, a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations (including slaves),
communicable disease, and ideas between the American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres following Columbus's voyages to the Americas.
Political map of the Americas in 1794.