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Greenland is one of those mysterious, far-away places that few travelers have visited and few people permanently live. In fact, Greenland only has a population of about 56,000 people! As the eco-tourism industry expands around the world and global warming threatens to melt the glaciers, Greenland is seeing more visitors each year. It’s known as a place that’s isolated, dark, and cold. However, it also has one of the most beautiful natural landscapes on the planet and one of the best-preserved local cultures anywhere in the world. It’s been called one of the last frontiers for world exploration and known for its fjords, icebergs, whales, and treks. So if you’re ready for the remote adventure of a lifetime, check out these top things to do and see in Greenland.
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Perhaps the thing that Greenland is most famous for is the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, which is a natural phenomenon and light show that’s visible between September and April. Summer months may have the warmest temperatures, but it’s virtually impossible to see the Aurora Borealis during the summer because of the midnight sun. A couple great places to view the Aurora Borealis are Ittoqqortoormiit or Kangerlussauq.
The other big draw to Greenland is the icebergs, and there are many icebergs and glaciers that are still visible in the area. The largest icebergs tend to be located in the northern region of the country, but the southern region has some smaller ones as well. Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, is in North Greenland, and the best way to see it is to hike and set up camp on a glacier.
If you only visit one town while in Greenland, make it Nuuk. Nuuk is the capital city and is a great place to go to learn about the country’s history and culture. Visit the Greenland National Museum in the oldest part of the city that dates back to the early 1700s. Nuuk has a population of about 15,000 people.
With a population of just over 3,000 people, Qaqortoq is another town worth visiting in south Greenland. It’s close to the harbor and has an Inuit Museum and unique art sculptures to see.
Snowmobiling is a popular sport in Greenland because there is almost always snow on the ground. For the best snow conditions though, you’ll want to visit between the chilly months of January and March. A huge part of local culture and a means of practical transportation, it’s also an adrenaline rush you’ll never forget.
Similarly, dog sledding is another very traditional and popular activity for Greenland’s tourists. There are tour companies that provide guided dog sledding experiences, providing an authentic way to see the landscape and bond with friendly pooches that love to run fast in cold temperatures. Eastern Greenland and north of the Arctic Circle are two of the most popular dog sledding areas.
Now you might wonder exactly what Greenland cuisine might entail. Well for one, it’s all about local agriculture and wildlife that can withstand the harsh Arctic climate. There are many species of fish (cod, trout, Arctic char, and redfish, to name a few) that are caught and served in restaurants here, and land mammals on menu include reindeer, muskox, and lamb. Food here is frequently dried, smoked, and salted, and then served with sauces.
Greenland continues to be a popular destination for cruise ships, especially during the summer months when the whales are out and about. May through September is the best time to spot a whale from the safety of your sailing vessel. Cruising allows visitors to navigate the grand rock and ice-covered shoreline and truly appreciate the pristine natural beauty in all directions.
Believe it or not, the waterways of Greenland aren’t always frozen over and kayaking was one of the first ways that native people used to get around. Kayaking is still a popular activity for tourists today, and the Blue River is one of the best places to take a boat out. The Blue River is actually crystal clear turquoise in color and located on the Petermann Glacier.
Hikes in Greenland have a little something for everyone, with varying degrees of intensity, length and landscape. The Arctic Circle Trail runs 160 kilometers between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut, and typically takes hikers about eight or night days to complete. This is also one of the best-marked hiking regions in Greenland. June through August are the best months for hiking, and other hiking hot spots exist in Ilulissat Icefjord, near Tasiilaq in east Greenland, and the Greenlandic Ice Sheet. One interesting tidbit: There’s no such thing as privately-owned land in Greenland so you can hike anywhere you like — just be respectful of distant neighbors and the environment.
Although Greenland’s geography has prevented it from becoming an incredibly diverse region, it’s worth learning about its heritage and cultural settlements. You can visit the Sermermiut settlement, which is an ancient Inuit settlement that’s been preserved with artifacts from indigenous people. It’s only about a mile from the town of Ilulissat and makes for an excellent day hike. Greenland also has a strong Danish colonial heritage, and you can visit sites in Nuuk, Sisimiut, and Ilulissat to learn more about the region’s history.
Viking culture is also a big deal in Greenland, and several regions of Viking ruins still exist here today. Erik the Red embarked from Iceland to find Greenland, ushering in the Viking area over 1,000 years ago. Head to southern Greenland to visit the Hvalsey Fjord Church and the Brattahlid ruins. Although it’s not quite clear what happened to Viking societies that lived here for 500+ years, top guesses are because of the harsh climate and battles with the native Inuit people.
Sure, winters are nothing short of brutal in Greenland, but there is a place here that averages 98-degrees throughout the year. Visit the island of Uunartoq to soak up the warmth in the hot springs, which are the most popular hot springs in Greenland. Summer, winter, spring or fall: anytime is a good time for a soak in these three springs that run together to form a warm, giant tub. Another spot worth checking out is the Disko Island hot spring, which is near the town of Ilulissat.