Marco Polo was a Venetian explorer, writer, and merchant. He explored Asia along the Silk Road and is credited with providing the Europeans with descriptions of the culture of the Eastern world, which remained unknown until his exploration. Polo's travel book inspired other travelers like Christopher Columbus. His writings also influenced European cartography, which led to the Fra Mauro map.
An Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, wanted to discover a direct water route from Europe to Asia. In his four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain, however, what he ended up discovering was not Asia, but America. Though he was not the first one to land in America, his historical journey began what eventually turned into Spanish colonization of America.
British explorer, navigator, and cartographer James Cook, who had also served the merchant navy and Royal Navy, was the first to complete an expedition around New Zealand. He explored areas in the South Pacific, such as eastern Australia and Hawaii. He was killed while trying to kidnap a Hawaiian king.
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was the first to link Europe and Asia through an ocean route, when he reached Calicut in 1498, thus enriching Portuguese trade with Asia. He made a second voyage later. He was made Count of Vidigueira in 1519 and the viceroy of India in 1524.
Francis Drake was an English explorer and naval officer. He is remembered for his Raiding Expedition, a prominent historical maritime event which unfolded between 1577 and 1580. Although Drake is considered a hero in the United Kingdom, his privateering led the Spanish to refer to him as a pirate. His expedition has also had a major cultural impact in Britain.
Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, is remembered for organizing the Spanish expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522. A skilled sailor and naval officer, he was in service of the Portuguese crown in Asia. He was killed during the Battle of Mactan. The Pacific Ocean was often called the Sea of Magellan in his honor until the 18th century.
Amerigo Vespucci was a merchant, navigator, and explorer. Credited with participating in two major voyages of the Age of Discovery, Vespucci's claim that the New World represented a new continent inspired cartographers to associate the name America (a Latinized form of his first name) to the newly discovered continents.
Leif Erikson was a Norse explorer widely believed to have been one of the earliest Europeans to have set foot on North America, at least 500 years before Christopher Columbus. He is also credited with establishing a Norse settlement at coastal North America, as told in the sagas of Icelanders. He has been portrayed in films like The Viking (1928).
Jacques Cousteau was a French explorer, naval officer, filmmaker, conservationist, scientist, photographer, researcher, and author. Renowned for his exploration of various forms of life in water, Jacques Cousteau is credited with pioneering marine conservation and co-developing the Aqua-Lung, the first underwater breathing apparatus to achieve popularity and commercial success.
Ibn Battuta was a Berber-Moroccan explorer and scholar who traveled extensively, visiting most of the Old World over a period of three decades. He is one of the most traveled explorers in history. After returning home, Ibn Battuta dictated an account of his journeys, which is simply referred to as The Rihla.
Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is remembered for leading three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was a key figure of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. An expert in navigation, he had also been a part of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery expedition. He was knighted by King Edward VII for his achievements.
Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de León was the first governor of Puerto Rico but had to give away the governorship to Christopher Columbus's son, Diego. Juan led the first European expedition to Florida. He was knighted by King Ferdinand but died in an attempt to colonize coastal U.S.
Nellie Bly was an American industrialist, journalist, inventor, and charity worker. She is remembered for her circumnavigation of the world in 72 days. She is also known for pioneering a new kind of investigative journalism as she worked undercover from within a mental institution to report on the institution. Nellie Bly’s life and work have inspired several works of art.
David Livingstone was a Scottish physician who played a major role at the London Missionary Society, where he was a pioneer Christian missionary. He is also remembered for his work as a missionary in Africa. Widely considered one of the most famous British heroes of the late Victorian era, Livingstone was mentioned in the 100 Greatest Britons list in 2002.
Henry Hudson was an English navigator and sea explorer best remembered for his explorations of modern-day Canada and the northeastern United States. He is credited with laying the foundation for the Dutch colonization near the Hudson River, which is named in his honor. During his final expedition, he became the first European to witness the Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait.
Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador best remembered for his expeditions that eventually paved the way for the Spanish conquest of Peru. Along with Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Pizarro became the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean after crossing the Isthmus of Panama. After two failed expeditions to Peru, Pizarro led a third and successful campaign to conquer Peru.
Samuel de Champlain was a French colonist, navigator, draftsman, soldier, and explorer who made between 21 and 29 trips across the Atlantic Ocean. He founded Quebec and New France and is considered an important figure in Canadian history. He is also referred to as the "Father of New France." As a businessman, he founded many trading companies.
Daniel Boone was an American pioneer, woodsman, explorer, and frontiersman. His exploits as an American frontier made him one of the earliest folk heroes of the US. Widely regarded as the founder of Kentucky, Daniel Boone is popular for his exploration and settlement of Kentucky. His life and work have inspired several movies, such as the 1936 movie Daniel Boone.
Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa became the first European to reach the Pacific from the New World, when he crossed the Isthmus of Panama. He is remembered for his long-term conflict with Spanish administrator Pedrarias, who eventually charged Balboa with treason and ill-treatment of Indians. Balboa was eventually beheaded.
Hernando de Soto was a Spanish conquistador and explorer best remembered for his expeditions in the Yucatan Peninsula and Nicaragua. The first documented European to have crossed the Mississippi River, Hernando de Soto is also remembered for guiding the first European expedition into the territory of the present-day USA. He also played a key role in the Conquest of Peru.
Bartolomeu Dias was a nobleman of the Portuguese royal household in the 15th century. Famous as an explorer, he sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa and set up a route from Europe to Asia. He became the first European to anchor in Cape Good Hope, South Africa, during the Age of Discovery. He perished in 1500.
Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer. Specialized in exploring the polar regions, Amundsen was an important figure of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, an era in the exploration of Antarctica. He disappeared in 1928 when he was involved in a rescue mission in the Arctic. Owing to his significant achievements in polar exploration, several places are named after him.
Chris McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp, was made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which was later made into a movie. The adventurer had hitchhiked through Alaska, and later took shelter in an abandoned bus, where he eventually died of starvation and poisoning, cut off from civilization.
Richard Francis Burton was a British explorer, soldier, and scholar. He is best remembered for his explorations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Along with John Hanning Speke, Burton was the first European to witness the Great Lakes of Africa. A prolific writer, Burton wrote several scholarly articles about numerous subjects like sexual practices, falconry, human behavior, travel, and ethnography.
John Smith was an English explorer, soldier, colonial governor, author, and Admiral of New England. In the early-17th century, Smith played a major role in the establishment of the first indissoluble English settlement in America, which came to be known as the English colony at Jamestown. Apart from helping Jamestown survive various challenges, Smith's leadership also helped the colony flourish.
Best known for his bestselling novels such as Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer is not just an author who writes about the outdoors but is also a mountaineer himself. He was part of the 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest which witnessed 4 of the team members dying in a storm.
American mountaineer Scott Fischer was known for scaling the highest peaks of the world, including Mt. Everest and K2, without using oxygen cans. He later became a mountain guide and co-launched his own adventure travel company Mountain Madness. He died in a blizzard while guiding a group of clients to Mt. Everest.
US naval officer Robert Peary is credited with discovering the North Pole, with explorer Matthew Henson as his attendant, though he was challenged by Frederick A. Cook, who claimed to have achieved the feat independently before him. Later, diary entries revealed Peary may have been 100km short of the pole.
Pedro Álvares Cabral was a Portuguese nobleman, navigator, explorer, and military commander. Regarded as a prominent figure of the Age of Discovery, Cabral is often remembered as one of the earliest Europeans to set his foot on Brazil. Pedro Álvares Cabral is also remembered for his voyage to India in a failed attempt to return to Europe with valuable spices.
A frontiersman and a fur-trapper, Kit Carson played a major role in the US’s westward expansion. Mostly known for guiding explorer John C. Frémont, he was criticized for his contribution to the displacement of native Americans as an Indian agent. He became part of folk legend for his exploits as a fighter, too.
Known as the ultimate American mountain man, Jim Bridger is remembered for his exploration of the Western United States. It is believed, the illiterate fur trader was the first white man to explore the Great Salt Lake and one of the first to visit Yellowstone. He also worked as a forest guide.
Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian polymath who won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his post-war efforts after the First World War. A well-known explorer, humanitarian, and diplomat, Nansen achieved international fame for his attempt to reach the geographical North Pole during his Fram expedition. His techniques and innovations influenced a generation of succeeding Antarctic and Arctic expeditions.
Robert Falcon Scott was an explorer and Royal Navy officer. He is remembered for leading two expeditions to the Antarctic regions, the second of which was the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. Although Scott and his companions died during the second expedition, they helped discover the first Antarctic fossils, which proved that the place was once forested.
Best known for his exploration of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon, Meriwether Lewis led the legendary Lewis and Clark Expedition. He had also been the governor of Louisiana. His mysterious death at age 35, due to gunshot wounds, sparked a huge debate on whether it was a murder or a suicide.
British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace is largely remembered for his theory of evolution through natural selection, which inspired Charles Darwin’s studies. He began his career as a surveyor’s apprentice and later introduced concepts such as reinforcement in animals, also known as the Wallace effect. He was awarded the Order of Merit.
American naval officer Richard E. Byrd is remembered for his pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, using airplanes. Though he was awarded a US Congressional Medal of Honor for completing the first flight over the North Pole, it was later revealed that he had returned when he was 150 miles away from the destination.
Dutch explorer and Dutch East India Company merchant Abel Tasman was the first European to reach the shores of Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, and Van Diemen's Land, the last of which was named Tasmania in his honor. His circumnavigation of Australia proved that it was a separate continent.
Frontiersman William Clark is remembered for his iconic expedition to the Pacific Northwest along with Meriwether Lewis, in what is known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He had also been a US Army soldier and the governor of Missouri Territory. He named his first-born after Lewis.