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Greenland – Know before you go!

Travel: Where should you visit in Greenland?

The most famous area of Greenland is Ilulissat and I know from my research that this is the most recommended place to visit. The beautiful town in the Arctic Circle that borders Disko Bay is your first stop for icebergs and a chance to see a Glacier. Tourism in Greenland is slowly emerging and Ilulissat is definitely the hotspot. I fully recommend visiting Ilulissat, it is a picturesque destination with a wealth of activities on offer across the stunning landscape.

One common factor that kept coming up in my research was people only recommending Ilulissat, and even going as far as saying not to bother with anywhere else. That is never true for any country, and I was keen to see a number of areas to get a better feel of the country. With this in mind, I visited Nuuk, the Capital, and Kangerlussuaq.

Nuuk is the most northernly capital city in the world but due to Greenland being a Constituent Country of Denmark, it doesn’t fall into the definition that allows this to be reported. It is further north than Reykjavik but Greenland is not considered a sovereign state. Nuuk has beauty and history, with statues, a Cathedral, and an Arts Centre. It also has a shopping centre; I don’t know why but I was absolutely thrown by the sight of an escalator in Greenland.

Nuuk houses in Greenland
Nuuk Cathedral, Greenland

Kangerlussuaq is the gateway to Greenland as has the only commercial international airport. Check out this blog for more information about travelling around. The airport contains a hotel, restaurant, and Tourist Information Office with a gift shop. Many think this is all that the town has to offer because it is such a big facility, but again the there is so much more. The town is a major access point to the Russel Glacier Ice Sheet, and there is a museum, harbour, and lots of interesting walking routes.

So, to summarise, definitely visit Ilulissat but also consider visiting some other towns - there is so much more to see.

Weather: It is cold… but not as cold as you would think.

I have struggled to word this thought… it sounds crazy, but it really is true. I visited Greenland in April and the temperature was on average -10°C. There was thick snow all over the ground and the coldest night I experienced was camping on the Ice Sheet where it dropped to -24°C. There is no doubt that this is cold, but I felt so much colder at 0°C in Copenhagen. The difference is that Greenland was a very dry cold; there was extraordinarily little wind, the sky was either beautifully clear or thick with snow clouds, but I always felt that it was a very still environment. Even when it snowed, it floated down like in the films. Although it was cold, with the right clothes it was quite comfortable to be out in. I invested in good quality clothing before travelling, and this was the key; a good set of thermals, a down-filled jacket and fleece lined walking trousers made sure that I could enjoy being outside and focus on everything except the temperature. I think I would have felt significantly colder if not for having the right kit. So do not be deterred by the thought of Greenland being a harsh environment, it is so much more than that.

Ilulissat houses in Greenland

Transport: How can you get around?

The roads in Greenland exist only for getting around within the small towns, there is no road network that connects across the country. There is also no train network and no internal waterway. This means that the options for travelling further afield are limited to water or air. The two commercial modes of transport available are the Sarfaq Ittuk coastal ferry, or Air Greenland. The coastal ferry timetable is less regular, slower and unfortunately didn’t fit to mine, so I used Air Greenland. Check out this blog about how I travelled around.

There are buses and taxis to move around the towns, but I walked everywhere to see as much of the country as I could.

Air Greenland Flight Dash

Food: What is Greenlandic cuisine?

The main thing that I remember about Greenlandic food is that the portions were huge. I was incredibly grateful for this as I did a lot of walking each day and with the lower temperatures, the large servings were very welcome. The food is mostly frozen and imported via Denmark. There is a good availability of vegetables, but they are usually frozen as fresh produce is scarce. Meat and fish are their speciality and there is good quality meat available in all restaurants. There is an excellent selection of eateries though and I ate very well. The food is surprisingly varied; I ate at an American style bar, a Chinese Café, a Sri Lankan restaurant… in Nuuk, I ordered pizza to be delivered to my accommodation on the iPad. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Greenlandic and the translation tool was weak, so I didn’t have a clue what would arrive. Luckily it turned out to be vegetarian, which was delicious after a day of exploring.

Reindeer Hot Dog in Greenland

Accommodation: What accommodation is available?

When looking up accommodation on booking websites, the first offerings are as always hotels, and my first reaction was that these were incredibly expensive. The cost per night was equivalent to accommodation in central Tokyo, but the standard of the rooms and facilities that I was looking at was equivalent to British budget hotels. The offer looked genuinely nice, but I could not justify spending that amount of money at the expense of a potential activity whilst I was there. I instead started to look in to self-catering accommodation and (as always) the costs were much lower. On my trip I stayed in a cabin, a room within a shared house, and a room in a lodge. All of them were extremely basic by modern standards (they did have WiFi) but were toasty warm and perfect for what I needed. Five-star luxury has its place, but for me the beauty of Greenland is outside, and the accommodation is simply a safe, warm place to sleep at night.

Information: What else do you need to know?

One thing I would definitely recommend is that when planning, keep the timescales fluid. I did a lot of research when planning my adventure and one of the main things that I picked up from other people’s accounts was that the weather is in charge of everything. Internal flights are regularly delayed or cancelled due to the weather, and this is just part of the Greenlandic experience. As I have said before, Air Greenland pilots do an amazing job of flying in one of the most challenging environments, but they ensure safety by turning back when necessary and temporarily landing at a different airport if required. This can add unexpected time to your journeys, so build that into your plans. I ensured that I had nothing else planned on all of my flight days, allowing for any potential delays to not impact on my plans.

Another reason to keep timescales fluid is because that is very much the culture of Greenland. I mentioned earlier that tourism in Greenland is slowly emerging, and as such the shops and eateries do not stick to standard times. This is sometimes due to the weather and the safety of the staff, but the pace of life is also very relaxed. In the shared house in Nuuk, I met a Danish Nurse who was completing a 6 month placement in a care home. She explained that in Greenland, when people have worked enough to get the money that they personally need for that month, they will often turn down any other hours that are available and take the time off with their families. This means that some shops and eateries don’t always open. In Kangerlussuaq, I was on a hike that started near the museum so thought I could pop in. The museum had a sign on the door saying that it was closed until September (this was April). I would recommend having more ideas and activities planned than you will have time for, just in case something isn’t available when you hope it to be.

Tourist Information at Kangerlussuaq Airport, Greenland


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