Seven back-to-basics experiences in Greenland

The pristine Arctic wilderness of Greenland is an ideal destination for those craving communion with nature, from dog sled safaris to experiencing local traditions with an overnight igloo stay.

By Visit Greenland, Air Greenland
Published 8 Apr 2021, 15:00 BST
An arctic realm of ice and rugged peaks, Greenland is one of the last wild corners of ...

A pristine realm of ice and rugged peaks, Greenland is one of the last truly wild corners of the planet. 

Photograph by Rob Withworth

With its fjords, icebergs and rugged mountains, Greenland is one of the few destinations on the planet that still provides a true sense of remoteness. Seemingly endless miles of raw, Arctic wilderness and a local culture steeped in age-old traditions give travellers the opportunity to get back to basics and experience life at a slower, simpler pace. And for Brits, reaching the world’s largest island will soon become easier than ever, with two of the country’s airports being renovated to attract more international flights.

1. Go dog sledding

Layer up, hop in the back seat and let the pack lead the way. Dog sledding has been an essential mode of transport and hunting in Inuit cultures for around 5,000 years, and today it remains a central component of the Greenlandic way of life. It’s also an exhilarating way to take in the country’s oh-so-white landscapes under the skilled guidance of mushers, who use verbal commands and whips to guide the Greenland sled dogs — a knowledge passed down from one generation to the next. Experience this traditional activity with an afternoon ride in Ilulissat, a town that counts almost as many sled dogs as people.

Dog sledding has been part of the Greenlandic way of life for centuries. Today, it remains a classic way to experience Arctic nature.

Photograph by Aningaaq Rosing Carlsen, Visit Greenland

2. Spot whales on an expert-led safari

Summer in Greenland is prime time for whale-watching, when up to 16 species of these gentle giants — including humpback, fin and minke whales — visit the local waters. Tune into nature and keep an eye out for their spouts of water on a tour of the iceberg-laden Disko Bay or the extensive fjord system in South Greenland. The fun’s not over for wildlife lovers: home to the world’s largest national park, the country is also a safe haven for a varied range of Arctic creatures. Go on a musk ox safari, pack binoculars to glimpse reindeer, white-tailed eagles and fast-hunting peregrine falcons or listen out for the chirping song of the snow bunting.

A humpback whale breaching the water in Nuuk Fjord. During the summer months, whale-watching trips are organised from most Greenlandic towns.

Photograph by Klaus Eugenius, Visit Greenland

3. Be mesmerised by the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are one of the world’s most sought-after natural shows, and for good reason. The small footprint of Greenland’s towns and settlements, coupled with hundreds of clear days every year, create the perfect conditions for admiring this phenomenon from late August to early April — and while the aurora belt spans across the entire country, in central and northern Greenland the odds are especially favourable. Visiting during the summer? North of the Arctic Circle, many towns offer night-time excursions to make the most of the midnight sun season and its lingering sunsets.

The Northern Lights over Sisimiut, the second-largest city in Greenland.

Photograph by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland

4. Come face to face with the icebergs

With 80% of its landmass covered in ice and endless colossal glacial formations, Greenland is one of the iceberg capitals of the world. The largest concentration of icebergs in the country is found at the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in western Greenland, where the new Icefjord Centre, set to open its doors in summer 2021, will offer an insight into their importance in nature and the impacts of climate change. To admire them from sea level, take a sailing trip in the evening, when the light is best, or hike along the icefjord. More intrepid explorers can try flightseeing, which involves a low-and-slow helicopter or fixed-wing plane flight over the icebergs.

Two bikers at Ilulissat Icefjord. There are various ways to see the icebergs of Greenland — from land, sea or even the sky.

Photograph by Ben Haggar, Visit Greenland

5. Learn about local traditions in the country’s museums

To learn all about Greenland’s ancient communities and how they adapted to the region’s harsh environment, turn to the country’s museums, keepers of national and local history. The Living Settlement initiative at the Qasigiannguit Museum, on the country’s western coast, gives adults and children alike the chance to re-enact everyday life in 16th- and 17th-century settlements using replica garments and tools from the era. Another project paying homage to Greenland’s culture, the open-air Stone & Man exhibit in Qaqortoq turned South Greenland’s biggest town into a permanent art gallery, with dozens of traditional designs carved into the streets’ boulders and rock faces.

A woman carving seal skin for a tent at Qasigiannguit Museum's Living Settlement initiative.

Photograph by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland

6. Taste Greenland’s Arctic flavours

Whether it’s a farm-to-plate dish or a modern, internationally inspired recipe incorporating seasonal ingredients, the country’s cuisine is closely linked to the Greenlandic sense of identity. Local ingredients range from fresh game meat, including reindeer and muskox, to foraged berries and herbs, such as crowberries and angelica. Even more bountiful is the sea pantry, with the cool Arctic waters offering everything from trout and char to snow crab and the famed Greenlandic halibut. If visiting South Greenland during the late summer, make sure to participate in the Igasa Food Festival, an ever-changing, multi-day event that celebrates the country's food culture as well as the farmers, hunters, fishermen and chefs behind it. 

Polar cuisine in Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland. 

Photograph by Lola Akinmade Akerstorm, Visit Greenland

7. Try angling, one of the locals’ favourite activities

During the summer, when the country’s rivers teem with Arctic char migrating upstream, anglers clad in hip waders can be found keeping watch, fly rods at the ready. Many fishing destinations in South and West Greenland can only be reached by boat or helicopter, providing a real sense of seclusion, and local operators can organise camps and transportation in cooperation with professional fishing guides. River fishing requires a valid license — available at local post offices and travel agencies — and there are a few rules to keep in mind: use hooks without bars, only take the fish you can eat on the trip and release all living catches.

Fly-fishing at Erfalik River. In Greenland, many fishing destinations can only be reached by boat or helicopter, meaning that there are rarely more than six to 12 fishermen on a river at once.

Photograph by Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland

Three unique lodges in Greenland

Igloo Lodge
Accessible from Ilulissat via a snowmobile ride, Igloo Lodge’s six spacious igloos are well insulated and equipped with sheepskin rugs, sleeping bags and candles. The lodge is the perfect gateway for a hike to the lookout point above Ilulissat Icefjord and Sermeq Kujalleq glacier.

Glacier Lodge Eqi
Choose between luxury cabins and rustic huts on the edge of nature or a well-equipped tent in the wilderness, all of which overlook Eqi glacier and offer wintry views across the fjord. Powered by solar energy and with all waste returned to the town, this is a great eco-friendly choice, too.

Ilimanaq Lodge
Ilimanaq Lodge’s 15 solar-panelled luxury huts, situated along the coastline, are complete with large windows from which to admire any passing icebergs and humpback whales. What’s more, the lodge aims to provide jobs to help prevent depopulation of nearby Ilimanaq village, which counts only 52 inhabitants.

Plan your trip 

Flights from the UK to Greenland are usually via Iceland or Denmark. Travel around the island is by boat, helicopter or plane, using a well-operated network of sea and air connections.

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