A Complete Guide to Visiting Greenland

A Complete Guide to Visiting Greenland

Greenland might be a remote island, but it is filled with untouched nature and beauty that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.  Add in the unique culture, photogenic opportunities, and a plethora of thrilling adventures and you have a destination that must be on everyone’s travel bucket list.  

Where is Greenland?

Greenland is a massive island, the largest one in the entire world actually, between both the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.  When you look at the map of Greenland, you will see that it is close to Iceland, which is another island that has similar qualities.  Many people wonder if Greenland is part of Europe, due to its close proximity. The answer to, “Is Greenland part of Europe?” is yes and no.  This island lies partly on the continent of North America, but it follows the laws of the European government.  

Greenland Map
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The capital city of Greenland is Nuuk and the time zone you will need to get used to during a visit is kind of complicated, because there are four different time zones on this island.  The capital city of Nuuk follows WGT, or West Greenland Time, while Thule Air Base follows ADT, which is Atlantic Daylight Time. Some cities, and areas of the country, follow the EGT and GMT time zones, which are East Greenland Time and Greenwich Mean Time.  Therefore, you will need to pay attention to where you are, so you know exactly what time it is when you are visiting.  

Is Greenland a Country?

Greenland is not technically a country, because it is an autonomous constituent territory of the country of Denmark.  

Who Named Greenland?

Those who consider traveling to Greenland often wonder how did Greenland get its name?  According to history, Scandinavian settlers named this island, but it was mainly Erik the Red who designated it Grfnland.  In the early years, it was also called Gruntland and Groendland before finally being called Greenland on all new maps.  

How Big is Greenland?

Since Greenland is the largest island in the world, many people wonder if Greenland is bigger than Australia.  Well, Australia is not technically an island, but it is also three times larger than Greenland. The size of Greenland is 836,300 square miles and that massive size poses the question of, “How many people live in Greenland?”.  

Population of Greenland

Despite the large landmass in Greenland, only 56,770 people currently live there.  So, yes, people do really live in Greenland despite the sometimes-harsh conditions of the island.  The official language of Greenland is Greenlandic, but you will also hear people speaking Danish when you visit.  

Is Greenland Safe to Visit?

Traveling to Greenland is considered very safe and in fact, it is one of the safest countries you can visit at the moment.  Yes, you will still encounter a pickpocket scam on occasion and a few other minimal dangers, but they are considered a lower risk than what you would experience in other parts of the world.  

Travel Requirements for Going to Greenland

A passport is required for traveling to Greenland and you must make sure that it is valid for at least three months past your return home date.  As for a visa, if you are traveling from the United States, you will not require a visa to travel to Greenland. However, depending on where you are traveling through to reach Greenland, you may require a Schengen visa, or another visa, for your trip.  Therefore, you will want to plan accordingly, so you have the necessary documents for when you arrive at all the airports you will pass through, as well as those you will exit from.  

Travelling documents

There are not many health concerns associated with a trip to Greenland, but you will want to check with your doctor to make sure no new concerns have popped up prior to your trip.  At one time, measles was present in Greenland, as well as Hepatitis B, so you may want to make sure you are vaccinated against those before you leave.  

How to Get to Greenland

There are only two airlines that fly to Greenland, so you will be limited to both Air Greenland and Air Iceland Connect for the final leg of your journey.  These two airlines leave from either Reykjavik or Copenhagen, Denmark, so you will need to fly to those areas before you connect with your flight to Greenland.

The largest airport in Greenland is Kangerlussuaq Airport, which is up to the north of the polar circle.  This is where most travelers begin their exploration of this island. However, if you know you want to spend most of your time in southern Greenland, you can always fly into Narsarsuaq Airport.  It is important to note that there are less flights to that airport every week, so you may not have as much flexibility with your travel schedule as you would if you flew to the other airport.  

If you choose not to fly to Greenland, you can choose to take a cruise to this part of the world.  

How to Get Around Greenland

When you arrive in Greenland, you should never expect to get around the island like you would anywhere else in the world.  The reason for this is mostly all the ice that covers the ground, but it is also because there are not many roads or railways connecting one town to any of the others.  

Basically, when you want to travel between different destinations in Greenland, you must take a helicopter, ferry, or small plane.  Since all these options are quite expensive, many people will forgo traveling to too many destinations or they will choose to cruise to Greenland instead.  

If you choose to take a ferry to many of the coastal towns in Greenland, you may find yourself traveling on the Arctic Umiaq Line.  These ferries go all the way from Ilulissat in the north to Qaqortoq in the south. Since the ferries take time to reach their final destination, you can reserve a cabin or couchette, so you can sleep during an overnight journey.  

Ferry in Greenland
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The Disko Line covers areas from Ilulissat, Greenland and Qeqertarsuaq to all the other areas within Disko Bay, Greenland, while Blue Ice Explorer covers all the southern areas of Greenland that includes Narsaq, Qaqortoq, and Itelleq.  

Cruise lines that travel to Greenland include Hurtigruten, Silversea, Lindblad Expeditions, and Quark Expeditions.  All the cruises these lines offer are on the longer side and often include a stop in Iceland. All these cruise ships are smaller and offer many luxurious touches too, so you will get a more catered experience than you would on a cruise ship down in the Caribbean.  

Most cruises go up to Greenland during the summer months, due to the weather conditions on the island throughout the rest of the year.  

Weather in Greenland

The weather in Greenland varies according to the season, so you will want to plan your trip for the time of the year that has the weather you prefer.  Greenland summers offer warmer temperatures with low humidity, while the Greenland winters bring cold temperatures and long dark days and nights. It is common for the temperatures to be well below freezing during the winter months in Greenland, so you must pack warm clothes and be prepared for delays if you visit at that time of the year.  

Greenland Iceberg

Best Time to Visit Greenland

Due to the extreme cold weather during the winter in Greenland, most people say that the summer is the best time to visit.  Of course, this is also the time when you can experience the midnight sun. However, if you want to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, you must brave the colder temperatures and visit between the months of September and March.  The best viewing times for the lights are during December, because the skies are the darkest at night during that time.  

Where to Stay in Greenland

There are not too many places to stay when you take a Greenland vacation, but there are a few amazing options for you to choose from.  

Ilimanaq Lodge is quite close to Ilulissat, Greenland and when you choose to stay in a bungalow there, you will discover you have incredible views of nearby floating icebergs.  Since this lodge is so close to the town, you can easily spend most of your time there, whether you are taking tours of the area, meeting the locals, or dining at one of the wonderful restaurants.  

Most people go to Africa for a safari, but you can manage to camp safari style in Greenland too!  Near Tiilerilaaq, Greenland, which is a remote area of the island, you will find a safari camp run by Natural Habitat Adventures.  Imagine a hot shower every night after a chef-prepared meal and time under the lit-up sky if the Northern Lights are taking place during your visit.  

There isn’t a lot of ice included within the igloos at Hotel Arctic, but you can still experience sleeping in an igloo if you time your visit to Greenland for between the months of May and October.  You can look out towards the icebergs within Disko Bay, Greenland or stay nice and warm inside your accommodations if the weather gets a little too chilly for you during your stay.  

Glacier Lodge Eqi
Credits: Greenland Travel, Flickr CC BY 2.0

Panoramic views of the glacier calving can be found at Glacier Lodge Eqi, which is not too far from Ilulissat, Greenland.  These lodges are all near the glacier and they all offer heated floors and private bathrooms. You may be in a remote area of the world, but this accommodation shows you that you can still have all the comforts of home at the same time!

Down in Igaliku, Greenland, which is down on the southern part of the island, you will find cozy cabins that are part of the Igaliku Country Hotel.  This quaint village area only has thirty long-term residents, but you will fall in love with the entire area. During the day, you can go hiking and explore different parts of the small village and at night you can lay in bed while listening to the sounds of the outdoors.  

Many travelers like yourself spend a good amount of time in the capital city of Nuuk, Greenland.  That is where you will find Inuk Hostels, which is only about ten minutes away from the city center if you hop onto one of the rare buses on the island.  This hostel is full of traditional turf huts scattered amongst the coastline and the fjords.  

What to Do/See in the Main Cities in Greenland

1)Ilulissat, Greenland

The Ilulissat ice fjord can be found within Disko Bay and has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list since 2004.  The glaciers in this area calve quite often, so you will have an excellent chance of seeing icebergs break away from the glaciers and start floating across the open water.  One of the main glaciers in this area is Sermeq Kujalleq and it is five kilometers wide and at least one kilometer thick.  

Ilulissat, Greenland
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Another fascinating thing to do while visiting Ilulissat, Greenland is stop to see the different landscapes that have been created over the years and now hang in the Emanuel A. Petersen Art Museum.  

Not too far from Ilulissat is the ancient Eskimo settlement of Sermermiut.  This settlement was discovered early in the 20th century and work to excavate it began at that time as well.  People haven’t lived in this village for more than two thousand years, but you can see many of the artifacts from the indigenous Eskimos that were there at that time.  If you do not want to make the journey to the village, you can see many of the artifacts that were discovered during the excavation process at the Ilulissat Museum.  

2) Nuuk, Greenland

Colonial Harbor is where all the history of Nuuk began, and it is that area that was founded by Hans Egede back in 1721.  While Nuuk was originally a trading post, it wasn’t long before it was turned into the capital city of Greenland. Walking around the harbor will have you passing by Egede’s home, which has been carefully preserved over the years.  The home is currently used for special events by the Greenland government, so unfortunately, you cannot see the inside.  

The Greenlandic National Museum can be found in Nuuk, Greenland and it is filled with collections of carvings, hunting equipment, and other Viking finds.  One of the best exhibits within the museum though is that of the mummies of women and children, which were discovered back in 1978. These mummies had been so carefully preserved over the previous five hundred years; you can still make out many of the features of their clothes.  

The Nuuk Kunst Museum is another museum that is worthy of your time and the inside is filled with many different works of art that were inspired by the many myths of the island, as well as the cultures and traditions.  

Nuuk, Greenland
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The Nuuk Cathedral is one of the more popular attractions within the capital city of Greenland and many visitors take the time to stop and see the red wooden panels of the church tower.  This cathedral stands out amongst all the other buildings within the city, so spotting it is very easy.  

One of the best places to watch the sunset, especially the midnight sun during the summer, is Myggedalen.  This area is also known as Mosquito Valley, and while there is not much else for you to do there, the scenery is more than you could ever hope for.  

You may think that there is nothing to do in Nuuk after the sun sets during your Greenland vacation, but you can always venture into Godthaab Bryghus, which is the popular brewery in Nuuk.  This is actually the oldest brewery on the island, and you can take a tour to hear how the owner, Jörg-Erich Sennhenn from Germany, brought his love of brewing beer over to Greenland. They currently have five different beers that you can try.  While you can drink the beer whenever they are open, you must call ahead if you want to take a tour of the facilities.  

3) Qaqortoq, Greenland

The Qaqortoq Museum is one of the main attractions within the fishing village of Qaqortoq, Greenland.  Artifacts from the Norse, Thule, and Dorset cultures can be found in this building that was once considered the home of the Julianehab colony manger.  There are two rooms on the top floor of this museum, and they are designated as the Blue Room and Red Room. Knud Rasmussen and Charles Lindbergh both stayed in those rooms when they were visiting the area.  

Qaqortoq, Greenland
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Not too far from Qaqortoq, Greenland are the Norse ruins that are referred to as the Hvalsey Church by the locals.  This was the first Christian church in Greenland, and it was constructed back during the 14th century.  While Norse culture was part of this region after the church was constructed, the last written record of it included a wedding at this church in 1408.  

4) Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Only five hundred people live within Kangerlussaug, Greenland, but it is still a popular destination that you will want to add to your list if you love to hike.  The Arctic Circle Trail is the main attraction in this small town.

The Arctic Circle Trail
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The entire trail is two hundred kilometers in length, but it gives you the opportunity to gain access to the Greenland ice sheet.  If you require a shorter hike, you can always climb to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain for the incredible views of the surrounding area and the ice cap.  

Other Amazing Things to Do/See in Greenland

While all the cities have a few wonderful things to do, there is so much more for you to experience when you are having a Greenland vacation.  In fact, some of these other amazing things to do and see will have you meeting Greenland people and seeing how they live their life on this somewhat desolate island in the middle of nowhere.  

One of the best experiences to have while on a Greenland vacation includes watching the Northern Lights.  These dancing lights appear starting in early fall and continue until early spring. While you can see the Aurora Borealis anywhere in Greenland, you may discover that you prefer certain areas over others while you visit.  

Kayaking

Kayaking in Greenland is so much fun, because you can be out on the water seeing the icebergs and whales up close.  There are many different kayak rental companies all along the shorelines of this island, so you will always be able to find one when you feel the need to get out and explore!

If you are one of the people who do not want to tackle the water in a kayak of your own, but you are still interested in seeing the whales that live in the waters off the island, you can always take a whale watching tour.  These tours leave many of the bigger towns like Nuuk, Aasiaat, and Qeqertarsuaq. Once you reach the middle of the ocean, you will normally see humpback and fin whales, but there are times when blue whales, beluga whales, orcas, and narwhals can be spotted too.  

Many people think of Alaska when it comes to dog sledding, but this activity is quite popular in Greenland too.  You can visit a mushing camp during your Greenland vacation, or you can take advantage of dog sled rides to get to where you want to go for your next adventure on this island.  

The world’s largest national park can be found in Greenland and it is nine hundred seventy-two thousand square kilometers is size.  You will find this national park in the northeastern section of the island and you must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Nature and Environment before you begin to explore the stunning landscapes that include glaciers, icebergs, and mountains.  

Every Greenland vacation must include a dip or two into one of the thousands of different hot springs on the island.  All the springs are heated naturally, and you will find that every time you enter one, you can instantly relax and let all your stress melt away.  

Greenland via a helicopter
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

You may not be interested in traveling around Greenland via a helicopter, but you might want to consider going up in one to see the island from a different vantage point.  The aerial views are spectacular, and it is an excellent way to see glaciers, icebergs, and even the fjords from high above.  

Speaking of glaciers and icebergs, there are so many different ones scattered about the island and the surrounding water.  Most of the larger ones are up in the northern parts of Greenland, but you will still find some good ones down in the southern part of the island as well.  

Expert Tips on Traveling to Greenland

One of the first things you will want to consider for your Greenland vacation is what types of activities you want to do when you are there.  The answer to that question will determine whether you visit during the summer, fall, spring, or winter months, because you cannot do every single activity every month of the year.  

It is best to know that mosquitos thrive in most parts of Greenland, especially down in the southern parts of the island.  These pesky bugs are the worst from the middle of June through the end of August, so you will want to be prepared with long pants and long-sleeved shirts, as well as bug spray and mosquito nets.  Other ways to avoid the mosquitos is to spend time down by the water where it is windier and near the farms where sheep live.  

A Greenland vacation will be a trip that you will remember and cherish for a lifetime.  Your days on this island will be spent meeting the Greenland people and seeing how it would be like to start living in Greenland.  Greenland tourism might not be as advanced as other areas of the world, but it is advanced enough to make your Greenland vacation spectacular and have you wanting to return again in the future.  

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