While Greenland is best known as the “world’s largest island”, it has a surprisingly low population. With less than 60,000 people (in 2020) inhabiting the land, Greenland is a rare destination where you can witness the power and raw beauty of nature.
The remote landscape of Greenland makes it difficult to travel, but travelers who brave the journey will reap the rewards. Lying northwest of Canada, geographically located in North America, it’s often considered a European country because, for more than a thousand years, it has been politically and culturally thought of as such.
Tikilluarit – Welcome to Greenland!
Majestic mountains, astounding fjords, and polar glaciers are just some of the country’s highlights. With a vast coastline, Greenland is also a great place to explore the frigid waters of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Colorful towns and villages dot the landscape of Greenland as photographic gems and they welcome visitors with open arms.
With such a sparse population, you won’t find any major cities in Greenland, but with a developing tourist industry, there are plenty of unique hotels and hostels to explore.
Founded in 1728, Nuuk is the capital of Greenland. While Greenlanders consider the capital to be a city, for many, it’s just a larger town. With a population of 16,800 residents, there are only three hotels in Nuuk and one International Airport. But don’t let the small size fool you.
Nuuk is Greenland’s heart, and it’s rapidly expanding into the modern world. Nature surrounds the capital, but on Nuuk’s streets, you can explore the local shops, restaurants, and museums to get an insight into Greenland’s unique history and culture.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Towns to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Greenland’s history can be traced back thousands of years, but the story of the island’s inhabitants may surprise you. The country has a unique history that blends cultures from North America and the Nordic countries.
In 2500 BC, it’s believed that the first humans to arrive and settle in Greenland were people who traveled from North America. It was not until the 10th century that Europeans discovered Greenland; specifically, the Icelandic Vikings. However, the island’s harsh environment made living in Greenland difficult, and many of the migrants could only successfully inhabit the coastal areas.
Regardless of Greenland’s vast size, the inhabitants of North America and Iceland crossed paths. By 1200AD, Inuit Greenlanders conquered its frozen world and survived the Little Ice Age. The Icelandic Vikings did not last, and all Norse settlements disappeared. But Denmark and Norway believed that their Norse ancestors survived on the island, which led them to claim sovereignty over Greenland.
Today, Greenland is partially independent with its own government, but it heavily relies on Denmark for leadership. The country is considered to be a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, which makes Denmark the Home Rule Government.
Now, Greenland honors its past by including Eskimo culture and tradition in its society. With the rise of modernity, Nordic culture and customs have become more prominent on the island.
With Denmark acting as the ruler of Greenland, it may come as a surprise that Danish is not the official language spoken throughout the country. Instead, Greenlandic is the country’s official language, and it’s divided by region into three main dialects: Kalaallisut, Tunumiit, and Inuktun. However, Danish is widely spoken and the primary language around the Nuuk.
Similar to the country’s history, the language has been influenced by Inuit and Norse culture. While Greenlandic and its dialects are considered to be an Eskimo-Aleut language, there are some loanwords from Greenlandic Norse that are still used today. One word in the Kalaallit dialects is kona (woman), which is believed to have originated in the Norse language.
While Greenlandic is the official language, Danish and English are the mandatory second languages in Greenland’s schools. Many people in Greenland are conversationally fluent in Danish or English, which makes it easier for travelers to get around and connect with the locals.
While the splendor of visiting Greenland is exciting for many travelers, you need to prepare to raise your spending budget for your trip. Greenland is an expensive country to visit, and it’s not a budget-friendly destination.
The high cost of a vacation to Greenland is in part the difficulty of flying to Greenland, getting around Greenland, and the limited amount of tourist accommodations. Activities in Greenland are also very expensive, but for the best experience, you should save up and plan your trip accordingly.
A spending budget can help you achieve your savings goals for your trip to Greenland and assist you with deciding what activities you want to pay for once you’re in the country. Your spending budget should include estimates for the cost of your flight, accommodation, food, drink, transportation, and activities.
Flights from the United States to Greenland are very expensive. While you may find deals that offer discounted tickets for around one thousand dollars, don’t be surprised if you see ticket prices for much more. The high cost of a ticket is in part because of Greenland’s remote location and limited airline services.
The Kangerlussuaq International Airport in Greenland only services routes between Copenhagen, Denmark, and Greenland or Reykjavik, Iceland, and Greenland. There is one gate for international departures at the airport and two gates for domestic flights.
Once you arrive from your international flight to Greenland, you must take a domestic flight to travel around because Kangerlussuaq sits out on its own. The time of year you travel to Greenland can also affect the cost of your flight. Greenland has two tourist high seasons, which occur in the summer and winter.
June to September are the most popular months to visit during the summer, while February, March, and April are the busiest in winter. During these times, flight costs will be much higher. To ensure you get the best price, book in advance.
Travelers should also be aware that if you visit Greenland during the winter months, your flight may be delayed or even canceled. The weather is unpredictable in Greenland and flexible travel dates are a must for visitors.
Planning is an enormous part of visiting Greenland, and you need to book your accommodation before you arrive in Greenland. There are few options for accommodation and during the busy months, they will quickly fill up. You can stay at a hostel, hotel, private rental, or at a campsite. But know that similar to flights, the limited availability of accommodation makes it very expensive.
Hostels in Greenland are the most affordable choice, but you should expect to still pay a high price. Hotels are even more expensive, and prices commonly range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars per night.
Private rentals through sites like Airbnb are another accommodation option for your trip to Greenland. Many Airbnb prices are more affordable than hotels and you can rent rooms, apartments, or houses.
The next big portions of your budget will go towards your food and drink. Greenland’s cuisine reflects the harsh landscape and many of the dishes are based on survival rather than enjoyment. It’s difficult to grow fresh food in Greenland, so many of the vegetables on the island are frozen and imported to the local supermarkets.
Traditional Greenland food is based on the sea and the local wildlife. Sauaasat is the national dish in Greenland. A stew often cooked from local game meat, the most popular style of sauaasat uses reindeer meat, but you may find a version that also uses meat or fat from seals, whales, and seabirds.
Many of the dishes in Greenland’s cuisine are based around the sea. Narwhal meat is a traditional Inuit meal that some visitors may be brave to taste. However, whale meat can be difficult to find because it’s traditionally hunted by the Inuit people. For more traditional dishes, you can also find halibut and cod that have been smoked or dried.
There are plenty of land-based meats used in dishes, too. Caribou, lamb, and muskox all provide meat that can be dried and boiled. Some parts of the animals are even eaten raw. But most of the meat will be cooked into a stew.
With a unique palate and taste, many visitors are eager to try new dishes unique to Greenland. However, you need to consider the cost of your meals and incorporate food into your budget.
You should plan to spend a substantial amount per day to eat out in Greenland, but at some nicer establishments, be prepared to spend a large sum for one meal. The price of your meal may also be inflated if you drink.
Alcohol is very expensive in Greenland and most beers, domestic or imported, cost a few dollars per bottle. While this may not seem like much, the bottles in Greenland are often 0.5 liters, so if you drink a lot, you’ll be spending much of your budget on drinks.
Greenland is also the place to adventure out into the wilderness, but the cost of activities might hold you back. Boat or kayak rentals are pricey, and many companies will charge a decent amount for a full-day rental.
Another popular activity is taking a helicopter over the glaciers. With companies like Heli Greenland, excursions in a helicopter often cost in the thousands.
How to Get Around
One of the biggest challenges with visiting Greenland is getting around the island. Greenland is big. Really big and it’s best that you focus your trip on visiting one or two places. Otherwise, your budget may get too crazy or you may get too stressed.
There are not a lot of roads in Greenland, and many of them are unpaved. Most roads are local, and they will not connect you to other towns or villages.
The only ways that you can travel around Greenland are by using domestic flights, ferries, and dog sleds. Domestic flights are the most popular way to get around because they are the fastest way to travel around the island. Air Greenland is the only domestic airline in the country, so they dictate the price of tickets.
Domestic flights in Greenland are very popular, so there are plenty of routes to all regions and areas of the country. But domestic flights are very expensive.
Ferries are another method of transportation that’s used to get around Greenland, but like domestic flights, tickets can cost a lot. However, with amazing scenic views of areas like Disko Bay, ferries are sometimes preferred for getting around the island.
Top Towns to Visit
Greenland is so small that it doesn’t have any true cities, but there are a lot of towns and tiny villages. While some are smaller than others, seeing all Greeland has to offer should be a priority. Nuuk is the most visited town because it’s the country’s capital, but you can check out other locations like Ilulissat too.
Nuuk is the place to go if you want to experience Greenland’s culture and nature in one place. The capital is surrounded by stunning fjords, which can be visited and explored. The outdoor adventures in Nuuk include hiking, fishing, and sailing.
Nuuk is also embracing modernity, and new restaurants are putting the capital on the map. With good food and plenty to explore, Nuuk is Greenland’s top destination.
For most people who want to visit Greenland, Ilulissat is at the top of their list. This town is one of the most beautiful in Greenland because of its geographic proximity to the Ilulissat ice fjord.
The town is becoming a world-class destination with popular hotels, restaurants, and shops. But it’s the fjord that continues to attract visitors who want to sail out on the water and see the pristine ice.
Narsarsuaq is most well-known for its Norse ruins, which were named a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is one of Greenland’s most historical towns, which is set against a magnificent backdrop. This town is also the best stopover or home base location for people who want to visit the Greenland Ice Sheet.
For travelers who want to meet and connect with the locals, Ilimanaq is the place to go. This town is steeped in Greenland’s cultural heritage. There are old colonial buildings still standing, and the locals are eager to share their experiences and culture with tourists.
A short distance from Disko Bay, the most popular place to stay in Ilimanaq is the Ilimanaq Lodge.
With a blend of fire and ice, Qaqortoq is filled with ice and hot springs. This town also showcases Norse ruins, as well as art and local agriculture. The hillside location is speckled with multicolored houses and you can view Greenland’s only fountain, which is in this town.
Points of Interest
While you can’t hit every town on the list in one trip, you may want to base your vacation on points of interest or activities instead. Here are Greenland’s top tourist attractions and some fun activities that you can check out. Mostly involving spending time outdoors, make sure you pack accordingly for the weather.
Arctic Circle Trail
The Arctic Circle Trail is a 124-mile-long path that winds its way around many of the most popular sights in Greenland. The trail is challenging, but it can offer you great experiences like walking out on the ice caps or catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
The trail is your key to Greenland’s backcountry, but know that only healthy individuals should attempt the trek. The trail is extensive, and it takes an average of 9-11 days to complete from start to finish.
The Northern Lights
Greenland’s far northern location makes it one of the few destinations in the world where you can experience the Northern Lights. While the lights can be seen in various areas and times throughout the year, your best chance at seeing Aurora borealis is from August to April.
The lights really show themselves in the heart of winter. In Greenland, Kangerlussuaq is the best place to go to see the lights.
One of the unique ways to tour Greenland is by dog sled. Dog sleds have been an important part of Greenland’s history, and today it remains a part of the local culture. Dog sleds are available throughout the country, but some of the most popular tour areas include Disko Bay, the Tasiusaq Fjord, and Thule.
Opposite to its name, Greenland is a world of ice. While green vegetation grows in the summer months, the glaciers in Greenland have made the country famous. There are a couple dozen glaciers in Greenland, but the most accessible glaciers to visitors are the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Jakobshavn Glacier, known locally as Sermeq Kujalleq.
The World’s Largest Island
For extreme adventurers and travel enthusiasts, Greenland is your next destination. The remoteness of the island has helped preserve the country’s landscape and culture and made it one of the world’s more unique travel destinations.
With a little planning and a sense of adventure, Greenland will sweep you off your feet and take your breath away.