If you aren’t deterred by the below freezing temperatures and a transport network consisting of largely dog sleds doesn’t put you off, the unspoiled winter wonderland of Greenland could be just the holiday ticket for you. Arrive in summer and take advantage of 24 hour sunlight .
Geographically part of North America, but governed by Denmark, Greenland is a land of stunning contrasts. The world’s largest island is also home to the world’s largest national park, spectacular northern lights, and some of the planet’s most pristine and unspoiled wilderness.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Ilulissat Icefjord’s massive icebergs, northern lights, hiking or dog sledding through quiet and untouched wilderness, 24 hours of summer daylight, whale and muskox safaris, picturesque towns where modern conveniences coexist alongside traditional Inuit culture, friendly locals, bathing in hot springs surrounded by ice floes, the weather!
What’s Not: No direct flights from North America, no railways or highways, poor signage, 24 hours of winter darkness, one of the world’s most expensive destinations because of its remote location, global warming shrinking Greenland’s massive ice cap.
When to Go
Summer is the most recommended time to visit Greenland, when tourists are greeted by 24 hours of daylight and temperatures warm enough for shorts. Dry air makes summertime weather feel warmer than thermometer temperatures. Spring and autumn are the best times to enjoy the northern lights, only visible at night, since the weather remains relatively comfortable, but cool. Greenland’s long and severe Arctic winters bring 24 hour darkness and temperatures several degrees below freezing.
Getting There & Away
Greenland has no railroads, highway system, or direct flights to North America. Overseas visitors must fly first to Copenhagen, Denmark or Iceland, all of which offer regular flights to Greenland’s many regional airports. Flying is also the easiest and most convenient way to travel within Greenland, and Kangerlussuaq Airport on Greenland’s west coast is the territory’s main transportation hub. Dogsleds outnumber cars in most Greenland communities, while European and North American cruise ships have become common sights along the coastline.
Health & Safety
Greenland’s residents are usually friendly to foreigners, and crime is virtually unheard of. All major towns have good quality medical care, but travel insurance is recommended. Gloves, hats, and warm clothes are also recommended, even in summer since temperatures can drop rapidly. Frostbite and hypothermia are the two biggest health risks during Greenland’s harsh winters, especially in isolated areas.
Food & Hospitality
Most Greenlandic restaurants offer local cuisine such as reindeer and caribou alongside typical North American, European, or Asian fare. Portions are usually large and prices are typically high compared to European or North American restaurants. Greenlandic coffee can pack quite a punch since it’s often mixed with whisky, Kahlua, and Grand Marnier. Many Nuuk residents rent rooms in their homes at a third of more expensive hotel prices, and isolated huts can traditionally be used by anyone.
Greenland is such a massive territory and the distance between communities is so vast, a cruise is one of the best ways to explore as many of Greenland’s unique attractions as possible. Most cruise itineraries are between eight and 15 days and visit the following destinations:
- Spend a day in Greenland’s largest town, Nuuk, to stock up on souvenirs and learn more about the territory’s unique history at the Nuuk Museum of Art, the Greenland National Museum, and the Katuaq Culture Center.
- The town of Ilulissat and the surrounding ice fjord which shares its name, is another popular site which can be explored in a day.
- Southern Greenland’s Scandinavian ruins and flowery green meadows are also worth taking a day or two to explore.
- Disko Bay is home to some of Greenland’s most accessible, yet unspoiled, scenery and warmest summer temperatures.
- A 20-day winter dog sledding voyage or an 18-day tour of East Greenland’s spectacular fjords are just two challenges offered to Greenland’s most adventurous tourists.
Ilulissat Icefjord: this immense glacier, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, is surrounded by the huge icebergs left behind during its daily journey of over 100ft.
Apussuit Adventure Camp: the massive Apussuit glacier provides a mighty backdrop to the only ski destination in this land of ice and snow.
National Greenland Museum and Archives: Greenland’s unique history and culture is remarkably preserved through the Norse Collections, Inuit Archaeological Collections, and other exhibits in this Nuuk museum.
Disko Island: this island on Greenland’s west coast offers over 2,000 hot springs, kayaking among spectacular glaciers, and year-round dog sledding.
Narsarsuaq and Qassiarsuk: many remnants dating from when Erik the Red first settled in Greenland in 985 AD still survive in these two southern towns.
Fishing: few summer fishing destinations are more unique than Greenland’s Arctic rivers and fjords, but a permit is required.
Hiking: Greenland is home to some of the world’s most rugged and unspoiled hiking terrain, although those unfamiliar with the area are advised not to leave the beaten path.
Ice golf: the thick ice hills of Uummannaq provide one of the world’s most unique and unforgettable golfing experiences.
Dogsledding: not only can visitors enjoy dogsled voyages from the passenger seat, they can also earn dogsled driving licenses after two training sessions in the east coast town of Tasiilaq.
Kayaking: the Inuit first invented kayaking centuries ago, and Greenland remains one of the world’s finest and most challenging kayaking destinations. Sailing: whale safaris and midnight excursions under the summer sun are just two of Greenland’s unique sailing experiences.
Festivals & Events
Here are just a few of the special occasions enjoyed by Greenland’s locals and visitors alike.
March: sculptors from around the world work their magic on the white stuff during the annual Nuuk Snow Festival.
March: the eight-day Arctic Circle Race is held in the western town of Sisimiut and considered the world’s toughest cross country ski trek.
June: on June 21, Greenland celebrates not only its National Day, but the first day of summer, with folk dancing, singing, kayak races, and other entertainment.
July: each July at the height of Greenland’s summer, Ammassalik Island hosts the Arctic Team Challenge, where competitors bike, canoe, and trek through glaciers before reaching the finish line.
December: Greenland truly becomes a winter wonderland during the holiday season, when candles and reddish orange stars illuminate in every home.