Make Greenland A Summer Getaway Again

You may have noticed Greenland has been in the news as of late. Donald Trump wants to make Greenland great again and to erect a Trump Tower in Nuuk. 😉

Okay realistically speaking, most people don’t know much of anything about Greenland, let alone what life is like in this remote autonomous territory in the Arctic that belongs to Denmark. Luckily for you, I traveled to Greenland last summer and am providing a detailed description of what I saw.

As a teaser for the rest of this post, I’ll tell you while it may not be an ideal place to do business, Greenland could make for a beautiful summer vacation destination. Specifically, I’d suggest the Greenlandic Riviera. 😉

Prime coastal real estate

The inspiration for this trip

Believe it or not, it was not Donald Trump. Nor was it any special status Greenland has.

Since Greenland is a constituent country (think Curacao or Aruba, but belonging to Denmark rather than the Netherlands), it doesn’t count toward my completion of the UN member states list. It is, though, an important territory for additional checklists.

More so than counting territories, I really wanted to visit because I had been developing an affinity for the Arctic. The previous year I ventured north in late summer to Svalbard, where I had a blast partying with Russians and walking around with big guns on terrain north of the Arctic Circle. Because of this experience I felt the need to return to the Arctic. 

And this time it would be convenient to vacation in the Arctic because I was supposed to be coming from the Faroe Islands, from which I booked a cheap flight to Greenland. 

But things didn’t quite work out that way. As you may recall, I was supposed to fly to the Faroe Islands from Iceland. I arrived at the airport in Reykjavik only to find out I was at the wrong airport. The flight to the Faroe Islands, also part of Denmark, departed from the domestic airport in Reykjavik, rather than the international one. I missed the flight and was forced to change course. 

I ended up delaying my Faroe Islands visit by a year but managed to preserve my Greenland tip by booking a last-minute, very expensive flight to Ilulissat, a town in North Greenland.

Not according to plan, but heading to Greenland nonetheless

Flying over the Greenland ice sheet and along the coast

Flying from Reykjavik to Ilulissat is very interesting because you fly over the Greenland ice sheet. I had a window seat and enjoyed great views throughout the flight, though the excitement began when we started flying over Greenland.

At one point during the flight, the Atlantic disappeared and the fjords and green mountains of Greenland appeared. Later the landscape changed swiftly into a giant sheet of ice. 

Flying over Arctic ice

The Greenland ice sheet is a massive body of ice that covers about 80 percent of the surface of Greenland. It is the second largest body of ice in the world, behind only the Antarctic ice sheet. This is notable since I traveled to Antarctica earlier in the same year. So in a single year, I visited both the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as the two largest bodies of ice in the world. 😊

I was captivated by the sight of the Greenland ice sheet. I particularly loved seeing the many mountains around the periphery of the giant body of ice.

Ice + mountains

We eventually passed the ice sheet and started our descent into Ilulissat.  This came with more impressive views, including of icebergs — something Ilulissat is famous for. 

Arriving in Illulisat

After landing, I didn’t scurry off to any icebergs. Rather I just chilled at the airport. 

Then I hopped on a 45-minute domestic flight to Kangerlussuaq, another town on the west coast of Greenland. I needed to get to Kangerlussuaq because I had originally planned to fly in there and had the trip oriented around starting in this town. 

Kangerlussuaq is more of a settlement than a town, with a population of about 500 people. But it has Greenland’s largest commercial airport, which is actually a former U.S. Air Force Base.

Flying into a former U.S. air base

Something interesting to know about air travel in Greenland is that airports don’t have security controls. You just head directly to the gate after arriving at the airport. In fact, things are so relaxed that flights don’t even have assigned seating. So just be at the gate first, grab a great seat on a small plane and marvel at the Greenlandic landscapes while in the air. That’s what I did when traveling from Ilulissat to Kangerlussuaq.

If you’re concerned I missed the icebergs of Ilulissat, don’t worry. We’ll be heading back there at the conclusion of this journey. 

Settlement life

In addition to being the site of an American settlement and military base during and after World War II, the Kangerlussuaq region is known for having a large glacier. The Russell Glacier flows westward from the Greenland ice sheet. The ice sheet is very accessible from Kangerlussuaq. 

In Kangerlussuaq, I was staying in a private room in a small hostel. Greenland is not as expensive as Iceland or Norway, but it still isn’t very cheap.

There was no transport from the airport to the hostel. So I walked. I hiked one or two kilometers over tundra right beside large mountains. 

Better views to come…

I was worried about polar bears, but it turns out Greenland barely has any. There are basically only polars bears in the far north of the territory. Kangerlussuaq is too far south to spot them. It’s definitely not like Svalbard where you need to carry a big gun at all times to defend against polar bears.

On my first day in Kangerlussuaq, I walked around, took photos, went to a park and hung out in the hostel. 

Off to the ice sheet

The next day I embarked upon a tour to the ice sheet. We traveled by bus. 

The real trekking begins

Upon arrival, it was time for a hike. First we crossed some rivers, then we took our first steps onto the ice sheet. We probably walked for about a kilometer over the ice.

Rivers getting icy

Lakes and rivers form out of the ice sheet, making for beautiful sights and pictures. 

Scenery getting beautiful

Off in the distance were gray and green mountains, which complete this picturesque Greenlandic landscape. Plus there was wildlife. We saw deer, reindeer and muskox. 

Free to roam

Muskox are these large animals that live in Greenland and other northern territories. They look kind of like buffaloes and they are known for their musky odor. In Greenland, you can frequently eat muskox. You can also eat whale meat, reindeer and basically every animal that roams around.

The trip to the ice sheet was very enjoyable. As you can see, I was taking a liking for the views.

Happy trekker

Capital life

The next morning I flew from  Kangerlussuaq to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. By capital, I mean a city of 20,000 people, which represents nearly half of Greenland’s total population of about 50,000.

Landing in Nuuk

In case you were wondering about the possibility of a Trump Tower going up in Nuuk, the city does have some skyscrapers. By skyscrapers I mean approximately 4 to 6-story buildings. There are a handful of them.

The Nuuk skyline

Despite its small size for a capital, Nuuk actually has quite a lot to offer. There are nice restaurants and even some bars. 

Pleasant capital

I spent the first day walking around and exploring, taking a look at the “skyscrapers” and better yet… the beach. Yeah, Nuuk lies on Greenland’s southeastern coast, and the weather was nice, so I went to the beach. I remember vividly a view from the beach of a nice house with a mini iceberg drifting in the water in the foreground.

Can’t get it out of my mind 😊

Nuuk is a pleasant city that is quite scenic. It’s also a city where you can use Tinder. 😉

In the evening, I went on a date with a Greenlandic girl… and her dog. She seemed like a typical Greenlandic Inuit girl. We had a nice chat and went for a walk with her dog, venturing somewhere out of town with very nice views at sunset. 

A bit romantic

We also saw the new prison on the outskirts of Nuuk. I guess this wasn’t so romantic, but I did learn Greenland has a large domestic violence problem. A lot of alcohol-related domestic violence occurs in the territory with men beating their wives and children. 

Fjording 

Day 2 in Nuuk was not really spent in Nuuk. It was an excursion day spent on a fjord. The Nuup Kangerlua fjord is a 160 km long fjord, one of the longest in the inhabited part of Greenland. It weaves far inland, and we set sail on it in a small boat headed for the Greenland ice sheet. 

Boat trip

There were a few people on this boat tour with me. We were searching for wildlife and managed to spot some. I saw plenty of birds. More interestingly, we spotted whales, I think even some humpback whales. 

Watching what?

The scenery along this fjord was spectacular. There was a variety of icebergs appearing in various forms and colors. More so than whale watching, we were iceberg watching. 

Some colors

And the fjord was lined by tall mountains and high cliffs. 

The contrast…

Eventually the boat reached the Greenland ice sheet, basically coming to a stop at a glacier. We watched and waited for some ice to fall in the water and actually it did. Splash!

Splashdown

On the way back to Nuuk we stopped at an island with a small settlement. There was no one living there, though. There were, however, tons of mosquitos. The mosquitos really like Greenland in the summer when the ice melts and the swamps appear.

This island is called the Qoornuup Qeqertarsua Island and it is home to the Qoornoq, a fishing village that in actuality is a ghost town. 

Qoornoq

We walked around the island exploring the unoccupied houses. Actually, we spent two hours in this ghost town/uninhabited fishing village that lies on a remote island in the middle of a fjord. By the end of the two hours, I had explored every last spot on the island and certainly enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. With that said, it’s a funny sight to see.

Getting a vantage of every corner

Greenlandic cruising

I didn’t spend too long in Nuuk. I was eager to embark on a Greenlandic cruise. Cruising in Greenland basically means taking a standard ferry up and down the west/south coast and stopping at all of the little coastal towns. 

This ferry starts up in the north in Ilulissat, heads down to Nuuk and continues to southern Greenland. I spent two nights aboard this ferry, sleeping in a large open air dormitory along with heaps of Greenlanders. It wasn’t that bad actually. I slept well.

As we headed south along the coast, I saw some more beautiful landscapes, as well as whales and other wildlife. Unfortunately, the weather worsened and the views did too. There wasn’t a whole lot to do aboard this ship.

The Arctic Umiaq Line – the great cruise line of Greenland

To pass the time I finished a couple books and completed one edition of Pokemon on my phone. I also chatted with some Greenlandic girls. 

Typically we would have about half-hour stops in the harbors of coastal towns. In some instances the stops would be longer. Then I would leave the ferry, take some photos and return.

The ferry is heavily subsidized for Greenlanders. They use it as the normal means of transport up and down the coast. 

Flying in Greenland is very expensive, so most people take the ferry and hop from settlement to settlement. Also, many of these settlements don’t even have gas stations, so you can get the picture as to why the ferry is a lifeline for locals.

Narsaq and Narsarsuaq

After two nights and three days aboard the ship, I reached Narsaq in southern Greenland. Narsaq is a nice town, quite big actually — more than 1,000 people. 

Narsaq

I stayed in a comfortable hotel that had a nice restaurant and even a biergarten with good local beer. 

Cool town

The day after I arrived, I hiked around Narsaq. There was quite a lot to see. I hiked into a forbidden area, hopping a fence and walking over tundra. I hiked and hiked. I was searching for a lake that I saw on a map. I really wanted to see this lake. 

Didn’t stay on the path for long

I ended up finding the lake. To my surprise, there were little kids swimming in it. The lake was cold — about 8-10 degrees. And it contained a bunch of mini, melting icebergs. 

You may remember my polar plunge in the Antarctic. Having survived that, of course I could go for a brief dip in a southern Greenlandic lake. 

Indeed I did. And indeed it was a quick dip. I stayed in the water for 30 seconds or so, then got out and hiked a bit up the mountains before returning to Narsaq. 

My Arctic plunge

The next morning it was time to hop from Narsaq to Narsarsuaq. What’s the difference between the two? Narsarsuaq is just a settlement. And it’s more remote. But Narsaq and Narsarsuaq are in the same region of southern Greenland. 

Departing Narsaq for Narsarsuaq

I boarded a boat and arrived in Narsarsuaq after an hour or two. But I wasn’t in Narsarsuaq to explore. I was transferred directly from the harbor to the airport. 

Narsarsuaq has a large airport for a settlement of about 150 people. It’s the only airport in the region, and when I arrived a bunch of tourists had also just arrived.

There is even a hotel at this airport. I spent a night at the hotel, though I did not spend the night in transit like I did at the Johannesburg airport. 

In Narsarsuaq or at the Narsarsuaq airport, there is not a whole lot to do. I went for a walk, marveled at the landscape as I always do in Greenland and then ducked inside for minke whale steak. Yes, that’s what I had for dinner at the Narsarsuaq airport hotel. The minke whale is still hunted and its meat makes for good steaks. This was a delicious way to wrap up my stay in the south of Greenland. 

Back in the north for breathtaking beauty

Breathtaking beauty

At last it was time to finally explore where my Greenland trip began. I flew from Narsarsuaq to Ilulissat. 

Located about 350 km north of the Arctic Circle, Ilulissat is a town of fewer than 5,000 people. But it’s the third largest city in Greenland. 

Ilulissat is the most interesting town to explore for many tourists who come to Greenland. That is largely because it is the de facto capital of the Disko Bay region. The Disko Bay area has been inhabited since the establishment of the first Viking settlements in Greenland in the 10th Century.

Life north of the Arctic Circle

After arriving in Ilulissat, I checked into a a nice hotel. Shortly later, it was time to start exploring the bay.

By the way, at this point it was early August. Up above the Arctic Circle in Ilulissat in early August, there isn’t a complete midnight sun. The sun would go down at around 11 or 11:30 at night. Still this made for long evenings.

Partial midnight sun

On my first evening in Ilulissat, I boarded a sunset/midnight sun cruise on Disko Bay. The setting was magnificent. We were cruising in between icebergs with lots of whales swimming beside us as there was an incredibly beautiful sunset lighting up the lake. 

All I can ask for

As you can see in photos, the scene was breathtaking. But the most incredible thing might have been the amount of whales. Other than in Antarctica, I had never seen so many whales in my life. I even saw an orca whale while cruising around Disko Bay.

In Disko Bay, they’re everywhere.

I got plenty of photos, but photographing while on this midnight sun cruise was a bit tricky. That’s because it was very cold outside. I would constantly need to go inside the boat to warm up after venturing out on the deck to take photos.

Chilly but well worth it

The next day was my last in Greenland. I took a cruise across Disko Bay to a settlement on the opposite side of the lake from Ilulissat. 

On the south side of Disko Bay I was supposed to go on an excursion that was part of a tour. But apparently the tour was completely booked so I could not go. 

Instead I decided to go for a hike. I wanted to hike to a site on the shore of the bay where I could see big icebergs. It sounds simple but it wasn’t and I was very ill-prepared.

I set out on this hike. There weren’t proper trails, but I was okay with that. But then after a while, I ended up wandering into a swamp with lots of mosquitos. As I was walking through this swamp my feet were getting wet. 

No trail needed?

Problems were compounding. I was getting very wet and cold. I also did not bring enough water with me. And I greatly underestimated the distance to the icebergs. But I coped. 

Changing terrain

After making it through the swamp, I climbed some hills, bringing me to viewpoints for excellent photos. I snapped pictures of the large icebergs as well as the surrounding mountains. 

Even though I was wet and tired, I then ventured up large hills and captured more photos. Despite being on land and high up, I could still see plenty of whales in the bay. Again, Disko Bay has tons of whales. 

Now whale watching

Still whale watching

The hike ended up totaling about 25 km. It was exhausting, but I survived and it turned out to be an amazing adventure. 

Satisfied adventurer

Upon returning to the settlement, I ate a late lunch in a nice restaurant. This settlement, Ilimanaq, which was previously known as Claushavn, has a population of less than 100. But they’ve got a good restaurant, and it’s a great place to begin and end an adventure. 

Back to civilization

After I ate, I took the boat back to Ilulissat. I explored this major Greenlandic town a bit to conclude my trip. The next day I flew back to Iceland. 

Will I see you in Greenland?

Late night summer relaxation

Maybe Greenland does not technically have a riviera. But it does have a particular coastline where most activity in the constituent country lies, and as you can see, this area is breathtakingly beautiful. Yes, it’s expensive to fly there and maybe you’d rather not spend a couple nights sleeping in a ferry dormitory. But once you get a taste of the beauty, it’s hard not to consider Greenland as a destination for your next summer vacation. And for single men, cute Inuit girls await. 😉