Located far north in the Arctic Ocean, Greenland has some of the most dramatic and spectacular polar landscapes in the world. It is home to icebergs as tall as buildings, glaciers glowing in different shades of blue, and a massive ice sheet that covers almost 80% of the mega-island.
After traveling Greenland twice (as a researcher and media), I have completely fallen under its spell. I don’t consider myself a Greenland expert, but I am excited to share all that I have learned about Greenland travel in this comprehensive guide.
To help you plan your trip to Greenland, I have included info on the best places to visit in Greenland, recommended Greenland tours and where to stay in Greenland.
Greenland Travel Guide 2020 Why Visit Greenland?
Greenland is the world’s largest island, and yet very little of it is known to the outside world. There is a lot more to Greenland than glaciers and ice. The nation has layers of culture and history that will unfold once you’re here.
One of the reasons to visit Greenland is its fascinating people. Almost 90% of them are Inuit (native Greenlanders) who have a distinctive language and culture. They are incredibly proud of their roots, and always have a myth or story to tell.
READ NOW 10 Cool Things to Do in Nuuk, Greenland
Fun Facts about Greenland
Since most of Greenland is covered in ice, snow and glaciers, the Arctic nation is mostly white. So how did it get its name Greenland?
Greenland actually got its name from Erik The Red, an Icelandic murderer who was exiled to the island. He called it “Greenland” in hopes that the name would attract settlers. According to scientists, Greenland was actually green more than 2.5 million years ago.
Although Greenland is geographically a part of the North American continent, it has been politically associated with Europe for about a millennium. Since 1721, Denmark has held colonies in Greenland. Until today, Greenland continues to be an autonomous nation ruled under the Kingdom of Denmark.
READ NOW 13 Cool Things to Do in Ilulissat, Greenland
How to Travel to Greenland
Because of its remote location, it is expensive to travel to Greenland. There are no direct flights from North America to Greenland. Anyone traveling to Greenland has to fly through Reykjavik (Iceland) or Copenhagen (Denmark).
It is a good idea to combine Iceland and Greenland in one trip, as you will fly through Iceland to get here. Here are some tours from Iceland to Greenland.
Kangerlussuaq is the main gateway to Greenland. You will have to transit through this town regardless of where in Greenland you’re traveling to. Flights from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq take around 4-5 hours and cost around US$700 return.
Search for Flights to Greenland
Best Time to Visit Greenland
The best time to visit Greenland is in summer (July and August), when temperatures are comfortable and conditions are good for outdoor activities.
Summer in Greenland is glorious: everything turns green, while lakes and fjords will shine under the midnight sun. The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that Greenland experiences between May 25th to July 25th. The sun does not set at all.
If you visit Greenland in spring (April-June) or autumn (Sept-Nov), expect lots of snow. The temperature ranges between 5°F (-15°C) and 40°F (5°C). Greenland has extremely harsh winters and the sun does not rise for months. The temperature can go as low as -49°F(-45°C).
READ NOW Summer in Greenland: Cruising Nuuk Fjords
How Much Time for Greenland Travel?
Greenland is a huge island, and there are many interesting small towns worth visiting. I recommend spending at least 1 week in Greenland, since you have already spent a big chunk of money getting here.
In one week, I suggest just focusing on one part of Greenland. Ilulissat is the most popular town for travelers. It is home to the famous Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for the icebergs that dot the fjord all year round.
With 2 weeks in Greenland, you can get a good sense of what Greenland is all about. I recommend visiting Nuuk, Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat, following my Greenland itinerary below.
If you want to do the Arctic Circle Trail, most people take around 7-12 days to complete the trail.
1-Week Greenland Itinerary* Day 1: Wander around Ilulissat town Day 2: Walk the hiking routes around Ilulissat Day 3: Take a boat trip into Ilulissat Icefjord Day 4: Go dog sledding in Ilulissat Day 5: Go to a traditional kaffemik Day 6: Take a day tour to Eqi Glacier Day 7: Home!
*For more details on this itinerary, check out this section.
10-day Greenland Itinerary 3 days in Kangerlussuaq 4 days in Ilulissat 3 days in Nuuk 2-week Greenland Itinerary 3 days in Kangerlussuaq 4 days in Ilulissat 3 days in Nuuk 3 days in Sisimut
How to Get Around Greenland By Air
As Greenland is largely covered by the Ice Sheet, all of the settlements are located on the coast and are not connected by roads. All travel between towns is done by plane, boat, snowmobile or dogsled.
The best way to get around Greenland is by flying. Air Greenland flies the main routes regularly, often with more than one flight each day.
Domestic flights are not cheap, which is why Greenland travel is so expensive. For example, return flights from Kangerlussuaq to Nuuk cost around $450. Flying from Nuuk to Ilulissat costs around $560 return.
Search for Flights in Greenland
Once you’re in a town, it is relatively easy to get around on foot as Greenlandic towns are small. Even Greenland’s capital and biggest city, Nuuk, only has a population of 18,000. Just dress warmly and be prepared to walk in the snow even in summer.
There are public buses in Nuuk and Kangerlussuaq. A bus ride costs around 15 DKK ($2.20). There are plenty of taxis in Ilulissat and a taxi ride usually costs around 40-50 DKK ($6-8) each way.
There are no ferry connections between Greenland and mainland Denmark. The only ship that runs in Greenland is the M/S Sarfaq Ittuk, run by Arctic Umiaq Line. It sails between Qaqortoq (South Greenland) and Sisimiut (North Greenland) from March/April to January and from Qaqortoq to Ilulissat (North Greenland) from May to January.
Greenland Travel: Independently or Book a Tour?
Greenland vacation packages are very expensive — expect to pay around US$3500 for a 4-day tour. Check out these multi-day tours to Greenland.
It is absolutely possible to travel Greenland independently. I encourage you to book your own flights, hotels, and then book day tours like boat trips or dogsledding excursions. Day tours cost around US$100-199.
Guide to Greenland is a good resource to book tours directly through an automatic booking system. Here are some Greenland tours that I have been on and highly recommend:
Sail Amidst Icebergs in the Ilulissat Icefjord Camp on Greenland Ice Sheet in Kangerlussuaq Dog sledding in Disko Bay Kayak in Ilulissat Icefjord Boat tour of Nuuk’s fjord Traditional Kaffemik in a Local’s Home
Best Things to Do in Greenland Ilulissat Icefjord Boat Trip
Without a doubt, an Ilulissat icefjord boat tour is the #1 thing to do in Ilulissat. The Ilulissat Icefjord is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, and for good reason! An astronomical 35 billion tonnes (46km3) of ice make its way through Disko Bay in Ilulissat every year.
Some of the icebergs in the Ilulissat Icefjord stand at 100m above the level of the water (remember this is only 7-10% of the total size!). But it is only by looking up at these icebergs from the water that you get a true sense of their massive scale.
Book this Boat Trip here!
Kayak in the Ilulissat Icefjord
The Inuit have been using kayaks for thousands of years. In fact, kayaks were invented by the Inuits and the word “kayak” comes from the Inuit language.
Kayaking in the Ilulissat icefjord gives new meaning to iceberg sightseeing from the water as you get up close to the sheer ice towers. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Guide to Greenland runs kayak tours both during the day and in the evening during Midnight Sun. Your local guides will provide all the proper equipment including a dry suit. Whale sightings are a real possibility!
Book Your Kayak Experience!
Hike the Routes that Surround Ilulissat
Ilulissat is one of the best places to visit in Greenland, mainly because of the range of outdoor activities you can do in the area. Hiking in Ilulissat is a great way to explore the backcountry without spending much.
There are three marked routes just outside of Ilulissat. Each one offers hiking with spectacular views of both Ilulissat and the ice fjord. Below is a hiking route map from Ilulissat Guesthouse.
Yellow Route – 1.7 miles or 2.7 kilometers (1.5-2 hours). This is the most popular route as you get fantastic views of the Ilulissat Icefjord without doing a long or difficult hike. Blue Route – 4.3 miles or 7 kilometers (4 hours). A relatively challenging trail that offers amazing views of the ice and surrounding area. Red Route – 0.6 miles or 1 kilometer (30min). This is not a loop trail i.e. you need to walk back the same way you came from. If you are short on time, this route will take you directly to a viewpoint where you can see the icefjord.
Explore the Old Inuit Settlement of Sermermiut
Sermermiut is an old Inuit settlement located on the outskirts of Ilulissat. The entire area has been designated as part of the Ilulissat Icefjord UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In summer, it is possible to make this short hike from the center of town. There is not much to see here per se, just a few stone ruins to mark an area. But there are spectacular views of the Ice Fjord from Sermermiut.
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Wander around the Town of Ilulissat
As Ilulissat is the main tourist town of Greenland, it definitely has the most interesting sights and tourism infrastructure. The town is located next to the sea filled with icebergs, and a stroll around town will reveal lots of beautiful viewpoints.
Besides having lots of scenic spots for photo opps, Ilulissat also has two great museums. One of them is the Ilulissat Museum, showcasing expeditions of the explorer Knud Rasmussen. The other is the Inuit Art Museum, which features paintings from Greenland, Faroese and Denmark, with the most notable by Emanuel A. Peterson.
If you’re looking for a local guide to show you around, I highly recommend Jan Cortsen (pictured), an experienced guide born and raised in Ilulissat. He’s fun and engaging, and is passionate about Greenlandic culture and history.
Go Dogsledding in Ilulissat
Dog sledding in Greenland has been a mode of transportation and hunting for approximately 5000 years. Contrary to other Arctic locations, dog sledding in Greenland is a way of life, by choice if not by necessity.
Ilulissat is known for having almost the same number of sled dogs as people, currently the town is home to 4600 people and nearly 3500 sled dogs. This is definitely one of the best places to go dog sledding in Greenland.
During the dogsledding tour, you will first meet a local musher who introduces you to his dogs. The Greenlandic sled dog is the purest dog race, due to is isolation from other dog races. The dogs are raised as work dogs, and therefore it is not safe to approach the dogs on your own.
Book Your Dogsledding Tour here!
Take a Day Tour to Eqi Glacier
Located 80km from Ilulissat is Eqi Glacier, one of the most active glaciers in Greenland. On this Greenland tour, you will sail north, passing the small settlement of Oqaatsut/Rodebay, the huge fjord system of Pakitsoq, and through the Ataa Strait lined with tall mountains.
This journey is beautiful in and of itself and you may be lucky and see whales and seals along the way. You will also most likely see chunks of the glacier face break off and fall into the fjord. Just make sure you are hanging onto the railing when the resulting wave reaches the boat!
Book Your Glacier Day Trip here!
Camp on Greenland’s Ice Cap
Camping on the Greenland Ice Cap is literally the coolest (no pun intended!) experience I’ve ever had! Granted, it was the coldest I had ever been, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. We had an excellent guide, who showed us amazing spots and took great care of us.
Kangerlussuaq is the only place in Greenland where you can literally drive to the Greenland Ice Sheet (which is only 25 km from town). The mini expedition took us to Point 660, for a fantastic panorama of the Ice Cap. We then hiked onto the Ice Sheet, wandered around ice valleys and slopes, and spent the night sleeping on ice. That night, we even saw Northern Lights in the dark sky above us.
Book the Camping Trip here!
Sail in the Nuuk Fjord
Nuuk fjord is the biggest fjord in the world, and it covers an area of almost 2,000 square kilometers. There is so much to see, you will probably need a lifetime to experience everything in the fjord system. Book a boat trip to experience the best of the fjord: from icebergs and waterfalls to whales.
The highlight of any boat trip to Nuuk fjords is catching your own fish! Because of the amount of fish here, it is incredibly easy to catch a fish (even if you have no fishing experience!). In summer, you can even bring the fish you caught to Qooqqut Nuan, a restaurant/guesthouse in the heart of the fjord. They will whip up authentic Thai dishes with your catch!
Hike the Nuuk Mountains
Greenland’s capital city, Nuuk, is enveloped by snow-peaked mountains which are surprisingly accessible all year round, right from the outskirts of the city. The iconic landmark of Nuuk is Sermitsiaq is the most prominent peak in the area. It stands at 4,200 feet (1,280m) tall and most can hike up to its peak in 2.5 hours (steep ascent though!).
Two other peaks that are easy to conquer are Lille Malene (also known as Quassussuaq in Greenlandic) and Store Malene (Ukkusissat in Greenlandic). The trail heads for both routes are found in the neighborhood of Uiffak.
We climbed Lille Malene in just under 3 hours and the views of the surrounding fjord was mind-blowing. From the top, you can enjoy views of Nuuk and the Kangerluarsunnguaq Fjord with its spectacular glaciers.
Enjoy Traditional Inuit Food and Storytelling
For centuries, Greenlanders have sustained themselves on animals found in the region, such as whale and seal meat. Today, the tradition continues, but locals are putting a modern spin on them. For those who are concerned about wildlife conservation, read this section.
If you are curious about Inuit culture, I recommend trying traditional Inuit food and learn about Inuit myths and legends at Inuk Hostels in Nuuk. They serve interesting fusion dishes like grilled seal meat, muktuk (raw whale skin and blubber), and musk ox burgers. The owner Lisse is a well-known persona in Greenland and has a wealth of knowledge on Greenlandic culture.
Go to a Local’s Home for Kaffemik
The Greenlanders are extremely proud of their kaffemik, a local tradition that’s a huge part of their culture. Greenlanders hold kaffemik to celebrate special events of all kinds – births and birthdays, first days of school and confirmations.
Most people start preparing days in advance and reserve fine china and decorative table linens for such occasions. When the big day comes, their home becomes a revolving door of celebration with old friends, family, and colleagues all through the day.
I was lucky to join a kaffemik in Nuuk — it was an incredibly fun and immersive experience going to a Greenlander’s home and talking to the family about their food and traditions.
Book a Kaffemik Experience here!
Wander Around the Colonial Harbor of Nuuk
The colonial harbor is the oldest part of Nuuk and also where colonisation began. This was where the person who founded Nuuk, a Danish missionary Hans Egede, landed and settled in 1721.
Egede’s house still stands today, right on the water front, alongside rows of other colorful Scandinavian high-roofed houses. Unfortunately, the house is not opened to the public as it is used to host special events.
Walk along the waterfront to the rocky shore and you’ll find a brass statue of Sedna, the goddess of the sea and marine animals in Inuit mythology. At low tide, you’ll see it in its full glory: Sedna, with long flowing hair, is depicted with a walrus and polar bear around it.
Visit the Greenlandic National Museum
For a crash course in Greenland’s history, head to the Greenland National Museum right behind Nuuk’s colonial harbor. Greenland’s largest cultural history museum houses artifacts from all over the country.
The most impressive exhibits include the famous mummies and costumes from Qilakitsoq in northwest Greenland, as well as the world’s oldest and almost complete intact skin boat – the Pearyland Umiaq. Admission is free in winter, and DKK 30 in summer.
Where to Stay in Greenland
Accommodation is limited in certain towns in Greenland, so be sure to book a few months before your Greenland vacation to ensure availability! For instance, there are only three hotels in Kangerlussuaq and they get booked up early especially in summer.
Kangerlussuaq: Old Camp
One of the two budget options in Kangerlussuaq, Old Camp is simple, clean and well run. Rooms are small, but comfortable and designed in Scandinavian style. It offers free transfers from the airport and the reception can organize Greenland tours for you. Check latest rates.
Ilulissat: Hotel Icefiord
One of the best hotels in Ilulissat, Hotel Icefiord has awesome views of the ice fjords from most rooms. I loved waking up to see icebergs right outside my window. Its dining room has good Greenlandic snacks and steaks. Well worth splurging to stay here! Check rates here.
Nuuk: Hotel Hans Egede
The city’s best hotel is Hotel Hans Egede, a modern four-star hotel with bright, comfortable rooms and a great view of the harbor and the sea. It has a central location in the heart of town, within walking distance from the colonial harbor and nearby museums. Check rates here.
Nuuk: Greenland Escape
A great budget place to stay is Greenland Escape, which is surprisingly affordable for the high quality accommodation and proximity to town. A single room is around 50euros per night. Check the latest prices.
Nuuk: Inuk Hostels
Overlooking the beautiful Nuuk fjord is the Inuk Hostels (pictured), that is located in the hills surrounding Nuuk. Rooms here have a log cabin feel and are quaint and charming. The owner Lisse is a well-known character in Greenland and she has a wealth of knowledge on Greenlandic culture. Check the rates.
What to Eat in Greenland
Because of its location, you can expect to find lots of incredibly fresh seafood in Greenland. There are quite a few good restaurants in Nuuk and Ilulissat that serve amazing fish stews and fillets (see this section).
Food is expensive in Greenland. If you’re looking for a proper fish or lamb meal in a nice restaurant, expect to fork out at least $50 for a full meal. There are cafes and Asian diners that serve more affordable options that cost $15 for a meal. For those on a shoestring budget, check out local supermarkets for ready-made hot dogs and sandwiches.
Traditionally, Greenlanders eat marine animals like whales, walruses and seals. To prevent overfishing, each administrative area in Greenland is assigned a certain quota for each species. Certain species like the blue whale are protected and thus cannot be fished. Also, no export of whale and seal meat is allowed — they are only consumed locally.
Where to Eat in Greenland Kangerlussuaq: Restaurant Rokklubben
The only upscale restaurant in Kangerlussuaq serves an excellent buffet with traditional Greenlandic dishes and fantastic lamb chops. They run shuttles to Old Camp and Polar Lodge for guests staying there. Read Tripadvisor reviews.
A casual cafe and diner that serves healthy and sumptuous salads and paninis. They have excellent shakes and lunch dishes. We ended up coming here almost everyday! Read Tripadvisor reviews.
The best restaurant in Nuuk is undoubtedly Sarfalik, on the highest floor of Hotel Hans Egede. The fine dining restaurant serves contemporary gourmet meals using a mixture of local ingredients. The tasting menu includes dishes like musk-ox tartare, pan seared scallops and roasted Greenlandic halibut. Book a table here.
A excellent spot to try modern Greenlandic food is Katuaq, the in-house bistro at the Katuaq Cultural Centre in Nuuk. The stylish cafe dishes up Greenlandic tapas in hefty portions. If you’re ready to indulge, try the enormous seafood platter made up of snow crabs, marinated scallops, and shrimps. Read reviews here.
Nuuk: Restaurant Unicorn
This newly opened restaurant (owned by the same couple behind Qooqqut Nuan in Nuuk fjord) stands right at Nuuk’s colonial harbor. Its fish and meat dishes are excellent and really well worth splurging on. Read the reviews.
Nuuk: Charoen Porn
Craving for something more international? This family-run restaurant serves outstanding, authentic Thai food right in the center of Nuuk. I’ve eaten here so many times, that I only have praises for it. Get address here.
Greenland Travel Cost
Let’s face it: Greenland travel IS expensive. Besides the pricey flights to Greenland, accommodation and transport are pretty expensive too.
Accommodation — A twin room at a basic hostel with shared bathroom costs US$150-200 per night. A more upscale hotel with nice views can go for $300-400 per room. Food — A restaurant meal in Greenland generally costs around 200-300 DKK ($29-43) per person. The cheaper options are Asian diners that usually have Thai dishes for around 100 DKK ($14). Day Tours — Greenland tours are around $100-$199 for a 2-hour boat trip or dogsledding experience. Guide to Greenland has a huge range of tours and an automated booking system. READ NOW Antarctica vs Arctic: How to Plan Your Polar Cruise Internet and Data in Greenland
Getting connected in Greenland is sadly not easy or cheap. The harsh weather conditions often disrupts the internet network. Sometimes the internet connection in Greenland can drop for a few days, and there is no way of going online except to wait.
Most hostels charge for their WiFi service, and they can cost up to $10/hour. If you do need to get online, I suggest staying at upscale hotels to make sure you can get a stable internet connection.
Alternatively, you can get SIM cards at the Telepost shop outside of the Kangerlussuaq airport or Nuuk’s city centre. Note that even EU SIM cards do not work in Greenland.
People of Greenland
Today, 88% of Greenland’s population are Inuit (predominantly Kalaallit) or mixed Danish and Inuit. The remaining 12% are of European descent, mainly Danish.
Greenlanders do NOT appreciate being called ‘eskimos’. The proper name for them is Inuit or Kalaallit, which actually means ‘Greenlander’ in the native Inuit language. The Inuit Greenlanders identify strongly with Inuits in other parts of the world, like Canada and Alaska.
The Greenlandic national costume is a beautiful and colorful display of their culture. Today it is used on special festive occasions such as Christmas, Easter, confirmations and weddings. I got lucky and met a lot of people dressed in traditional wear at the church on a Sunday.
Language in Greenland
The majority of the population in Greenland speaks both Greenlandic (mainly Kalaallisut) and Danish. The two languages have been used in public affairs since the establishment of home rule in 1979.
The Greenlandic language is an interesting language with a long history. It is closely related to the Inuit languages in Canada, such as Inuktitut. “Kayak” and “igloo” are Greenlandic words that have been adopted directly by other languages.
Today, the young generation learn both languages, as well as English, in school. Almost everyone I met in Greenland speaks English.
What to Pack for Greenland Travel
Regardless of the time of year you are visiting Greenland, be sure to bring high quality winter gear. I have been in Greenland both in summer and winter, and can assure you you’ll need proper warm gear.
For those traveling Greenland in summer, I advise wearing 3 layers: wool bottom, fleece and a waterproof jacket.
If you visit Greenland outside of summer, I recommend wearing 4-5 layers: thermals, wool bottom, fleece and a thick winter parka.
My Greenland Packing List
1. Long Sleeve Moisture Wicking Tees: The key to staying warm in Greenland is layering. Bring some long sleeve t-shirts that are great for hiking, that you can easily remove throughout the day and night.
2. Fleece-lined Long Sleeve Thermal Underwear: Pack thermals even if you’re traveling in summer. Temperatures can dip below zero – and they’ll be particularly useful if you’re kayaking or dogsledding.
3. Fleece Base: This is my favorite gear for cold climates. It’s thick but lightweight, and keeps me warm even in sub-zero temperatures. Plus most fleece are cheap and easy to find everywhere.
4. Soft Shell Jacket: Pack a thin waterproof, soft shell jacket regardless of the season you’re traveling. I used this almost everyday on my summer trip in Greenland.
5. Waterproof Ski Jacket: It may be heavy and a pain to travel with, but you’ll need it if you’re traveling outside of summer. Don’t skimp on a quality coat as it will keep you comfortable.
6. Quick-Dry Pants: These pants are lightweight, thin, comfortable and waterproof. I can wear them in winter and summer, without feeling too warm or cold.
7. Fleece-lined Leggings: For ladies, these are brilliant to keep warm and comfortable. You can use them as they are in summer, or as a base layer in winter.
8. Beanie:You’ll definitely need something warm on the top of your head in winter.
9. Ski Gloves: Bring thick ski gloves as they’re good for snow and rain. I would recommend getting a pair of gloves with touchscreen pads so you don’t need to take them off to snap photos on from your smartphone.
10. Wool Socks: Invest in some high quality wool socks that can keep your feet dry and warm when hiking in the mushy tundra of Iceland.
Any trip to Greenland is an adventure, so be sure to bring your intrepid spirit and an inquisitive mind! Wrap up warm regardless of the time of the year you’re visiting Greenland. Bring a good camera and prepare to be blown away by the beauty of Greenland.
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Do you have any other questions on Greenland travel? I hope my Greenland travel guide has helped you plan your own Greenland vacation. Leave a comment below and I will try my best to help!
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