Greenland: Nuuk & Ilulissat
Greenland, an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of Denmark, is truly a world apart and an adventurer’s destination. It is a surprisingly easy country to visit with flights from various cities in Europe expanding each year. The population numbers less than 60,000 in the largest non-continental island on earth, with over 16 villages and 17 cities.
Icebergs and glaciers are probably the most famous features of the environment. However, Greenland is a country with a rich, cultural history that spans back several centuries. Greenland offers the globetrotter a unique, exciting experience away from the hustle and bustle of city life with a focus on abandoned settlements, icy glaciers, unbelievable vistas and some of the most fascinating people in the world.
We visited the culturally diverse capitol of Nuuk as well as the tourist destination of Ilussiat. Both places offered an exciting peek into the lives of the Greenlandic people made up mostly of the Inuit and Danish people. Sharing our favorite things to do, places to visit, stay and dine from our recent trip.
Top Things to Do in Greenland
There is a multitude of things to do during your stay from glacier and helicopter tours, to hiking and kayaking, just to name a few. The people are very happy to share their stories and welcome you with open arms.
During our week in Greenland, we visited Nuuk and Ilulissat. We can’t wait to return and visit more destinations in Greenland and experience all that it has to offer. Here are our recommendations below
Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, is an Arctic metropolis with a small-town feel, shaped by nature and known for its cultural diversity. Nuuk mixes shopping, whale watching, skiing, and fine dining into a cosmopolitan experience with a backcountry twist where innovative, adaptive people, and trendsetting artists meet office workers, fishermen and hunters. Legends and traditions are reinterpreted by local artists, musicians, and designers. Nuuk is titled Colorful Nuuk, as the capital holds colorful houses and modern buildings, from start to end of the six-kilometer long town. The colorful buildings are a trademark for the town, as they stand to contrast the environment of rock or white winter snow, creating a spectacular picturesque canvas for the eyes
Our first stop upon arriving in the capitol of Greenland was to join Tupilak Travel They offer a wide variety of tailor made tours for the visitor looking to fully experience Greenland. Our trip included a full day boat tour to the ice fjords with a visit to the settlement of Qoornoq.
The boat ride to the fjords was captivating as we drove very close to the icebergs, Bird Island and saw the Nuuk Fjords. Depending on the time of year, you can also see local whales breaching. Our lunch was spent floating in the surreal bay surrounded by glaciers eating sandwiches of smoked cod and reindeer. It was a symphony of ice music as we quietly listened and spoke to our new friends from Denmark. Our guide (Sebastian) was captivating as he told us the history of the area and the old Norse settlement.
Known for their exclusive boat tours, we were scheduled to go to a settlement with Nuuk Water Taxi on our last day in Nuuk. Nuuk Water Taxi allows you to experience the stunning scenery of the area’s inlets, or transport people and/or cargo quickly, safely, and conveniently. One of their water taxis is perfect for 6 passengers to go in search of whales, see the northern lights, or explore the region’s icebergs and coastal settlements. Captain Anders whose knowledge of hidden special places made this a “must do” outing for anyone visiting Nuuk. We will sign up again for this tour on our next trip!
Photo credit: Nuuk Water Taxi
Unfortunately, our excursion was cancelled at the last minute due to an unforeseen emergency, where Captain Anders was needed to help with a medical rescue a few hours away. We of course, agreed this distress call took priority and admired how the community in Nuuk responds to those in need. When you live in remote towns in a vast country like Greenland, every person relies on each other for help.
Downtown Nuuk also offers a lovely Art Museum filled with a selection of older art from European traveling artists. Greenland National Museum and Archive is Greenland’s largest cultural history museum. The museum preserves the Greenlandic history, art and images from all over the country. In addition, Katuag is a cultural venue that offers musical, theatrical and visiting exhibits throughout the year. Just check their website and plan accordingly. The local museums are really a must for any visitor to better understand this special island.
Where to Stay & Dine in Nuuk
Accommodations are somewhat limited in Nuuk, but that is to be expected in a country of less than 60,000 people with visitors that number far less. Small Airbnb’s, cottages and a couple hotels are available in the capitol city. We stayed at an excellent hotel for our 3-night stay.
The largest hotel in Nuuk and located on the main street less than 6 km from the airport. Guest rooms are comfortable and spacious. We had all the amenities needed for a pleasant stay. Staff was helpful in every way and we gave a “green” thumbs up to the water filling stations in every hallway so guest can easily fill up their eco-friendly water bottles.
Guests have many dining options to choose from as well at Hotel Hans Egede including: Tom Norgaard, the manager of the hotel’s restaurant kindly invited us to dine at both restaurants during our stay. They did not disappoint.
A Hereford Beefstouw is a place where food and art form a synthesis and offers beautiful views of the city. Whether your order a ribeye steak or the Greenlandic Reindeer, you won’t be disappointed. The baked potatoes with sour cream and chives were a delicious addition, and the selection of desserts were tantalizing.
Restaurant Sarfalik is an innovative restaurant that combines the best Greenlandic and global cuisine for lunch and dinner. Our 4-course meal included a delightful and tasty local musk ox appetizer that was beautifully plated. The main dish of southern Greenlandic lamb shank was cooked to perfection. Our meal was complete with a perfectly set panna cotta plates to entice any appetite. We finished our evening with a nightcap at the hotels` Skyline Bar.
If you have extra time, be sure to visit Ilulissat, a short flight north from Nuuk.
What to Do & Where to Stay:
Ilulissat Guesthouse has some of the best views of Disko Bay where you’ll see icebergs, maybe some whale sightings or the northern lights in the winter time. I met Kasper Trojlsgaard, local owner of the guesthouse who has been living and working in Greenland for many years.
Kasper arranged for a private boat tour with Jonas to see the massive icebergs floating through Disko Bay. It was surreal as we navigated through the waterway between these giant ice sculptures, some towering as high as 250 feet!
Kasper took me on the city walk and introduced me to Karl, a local Inuit craftsman who carves objects out of reindeer antlers, and I bought a seal fur purse from another artisan. We also stopped at the local fish market to see what the “catch of the day” was picked up by the local fishermen.
A highlight was also visiting the town museum located in an old 18th century storehouse, where Greenlandic artists’ works, and Emanuel A. Petersen’s collection is exhibited. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Luckily, I was able to attend the reception of Bolatta Silis-Høegh, one of the country’s well known artist.
Next trip, I hope to go on a few designated trails nearby with views of the UNESCO protected lands and bay with icebergs. Ask for a map from the guesthouse with the walking paths – there are 1 km, 2.7 km and 6.9 km trails to choose from.
Kasper’s family’s lovely guesthouse offers tours all around Greenland, so if you need help to organize your Greenland Adventure outside Ilulissat, through their company “Arctic Friend” to custom make authentic experiences. They offer tailor-made tours for groups, private tours including VIP and luxury offerings all over Iceland. Check out their 10-day Greenland on a Budget for as low as ~$2,500 including airfare to/from Denmark.
Don’t Miss! A scenic flight over the iceberg bay to the UNESCO Isua Glacier and Ilulissat Ice fjord with Air Zafari offering spectacular sightseeing tours over the Russel Glacier, blue lakes and Ice Cap.
You might even spot reindeer or musk ox or both. We got up close to see the crevasses and blue lakes on our flight. Passengers are guaranteed a window seat on this flight to get the best photos. The views were absolutely breathtaking.
Air Zafari offers several tours to choose from in Ilulissat, Kangerlussuaq and Narsarsuaq. Visit Air Zafari to book your flight. Our pilot Helmuth Rame took us on an amazing flight and he shared insights about the local area. Highly recommend Air Zafari and Helmuth!
How to Get to Greenland & Get Around
Currently, there are two airlines that operate regular services to Greenland: Air Greenland and Air Iceland. We enjoyed the service of Air Greenland for our round trip from Reykjavik, Iceland to Nuuk. The service was a lovely 3-hour flight on a well-equipped Air Greenland Dash 8. Excellent comfort, refreshments and friendly service by the flight attendants and crew made it very memorable. We had inflight service 3 times on our 3-hour journey by one of the friendliest flight attendants in our recent memory.
The pilots made sure that this flight was unforgettable because of the informative dialogue and service friendly attitude. We highly recommend Air Greenland and will use them in the future.
The five most common Greenland airports are Kangerlussuaq, Narsarsuaq, Nuuk, Ilulissat and Kulusuk. In the near future, Nuuk airport will be expanding to accommodate even larger airplanes and expanded international flights.
A trip to Greenland would not be complete without first visiting the website of Visit Greenland. This is the official tourism office of Greenland and they are well equipped to guide any type of visitor who is considering a trip to this fabulous country. We found them to be extremely helpful prior to our trip and recommend them for anyone who is thinking about travel to this destination. When in Nuuk, make sure to stop by and visit their office located in the old village.
Currency: Danish Krone
Written and Edited by: Julie Bishop & Patricia Stone
Photos Credit: Julie Bishop & Patricia Stone
Global Adventuress would like to thank the following for hosting our stay in Nuuk – Visit Greenland Tourism Office, Air Greenland, Hotel Hans Egede, Tupilak Travel, Nuuk Water Taxi, A Hereford Beefstouw, & Sarfalik restaurant. Also big thanks to Ilulissat Guesthouse and Air Zafari for hosting us during our visit to Ilulissat.