Travel to Greenland

Midnight ice fjord cruise - beautiful iceberg

Ever since I visited Antarctica in 2017, it’s been on my mind to travel to Greenland and the Arctic. It was worth the wait and slightly complex travel itinerary. The natural scenery is stunning! In addition, I was very interested in learning more about the culture and local way of life.

Of course, trying the local food was also wonderful. I loved the halibut, reindeer, musk ox, shrimp, salmon and berries. On the other hand, whale was not my favourite meat as it is very fishy tasting. The blubber was so chewy that I gave up on eating it after chewing for awhile.

July seemed to be a good month to travel to Greenland. The weather was relatively sunny and stable. And the temperatures were cool but not too cold, usually between 3-15C. If you can arrange to visit a few different towns, then that’s ideal as each area has different scenery and highlights. I will write a separate post about Ilulissat and the experience during the Arctic ferry journey for three days!

Misty morning over the fjord in Igaliku
Misty morning over the fjord in Igaliku
Sled dog puppies in Ilulissat
Sled dog puppies in Ilulissat
Colourful houses of Qaqortoq
Colourful houses of Qaqortoq

Highlights

  • Spectacular natural beauty with the ice cap, ocean, mountains, icebergs, glaciers, waterfalls
  • Enjoy the silence- it’s not a very busy destination
  • Trying some traditional foods including reindeer, musk ox, fish and whale
  • Wildlife such as birds, musk ox, Arctic fox, Arctic hare, reindeer, whales, seals and maybe even polar bears
  • See the local way of life including fishing
  • Kangerlussuaq is the mid-west international airport
    • Greenland ice cap hike
    • Russel glacier
    • Reindeer glacier
    • Wildlife
  • Ilulissat land of icebergs and the icefjord
    • Sermermiut hike and views of the icefjord. The longer blue trail is also beautiful, and it takes about 3 hours
    • Midnight icefjord cruise
    • Disko bay and visiting a small settlement for lunch
    • Whale watching, especially for humpback and fin whales
    • Kayaking is possible but I didn’t get a chance
  • Coastal ferry to see towns along the coast of southern Greenland including Sisimiut and Nuuk. We also saw humpback whales soon after leaving Ilulissat on the way to Aasiaat
  • Qaqortoq, small traditional town with colourful houses surrounded by beautiful nature
    • Stone and Art sculptures around the town
    • Qaqortoq museum- open in the afternoon with the side buildings mainly open when there’s a cruise ship in town
    • Great Greenland seal tannery
    • Boat ride to Hvalsey church
  • Qassiasurk a very small settlement with two beautiful churches and a nice coastal walk
  • Igaliku is a very small town where you stay in a country hotel with stunning views
    • Hiking, especially along the beautiful coast to the waterfalls
  • Boat trip through the Qooroq icefjord to see the Qooqqut Glacier
  • Narsarsuaq was a WW2 American base called Bluie West 1; lots of interesting history and some nice hikes up Signal Hill

Before you go

  • UK & USA citizens do not need a visa to visit for up to 90 days. However, since the UK is not in the EU you’ll have to wait until all passengers have exited the plane to get your passport stamped 
  • The official currency is the Danish Krone 
  • If you want to drink alcohol, you might try to pick some up from duty free as it’s expensive 
  • Since a lot has to be imported to Greenland, prices of goods and food is even higher than in Denmark 
  • The weather is very changeable so pack for all weather with layers 
  • Hiking boots are necessary as a lot of paths and streets are dirt and/or rocky 
  • You may want to book through an agency even if you’re not going on a group tour. It helps to coordinate transport, transfers and accommodation. You can still build in free time if you want to be independent 
  • There are no roads connecting the main towns since the middle of Greenland (over 80% of the land) is an ice cap
  • Book early as accommodation fills up quickly
  • There’s no security check for internal flights so you can take liquids 
  • During the summer the sun doesn’t really set, so you may need eye shades 
  • Be flexible as sometimes plans can change due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances 
  • There are a lot of mosquitos around so a bug head net and repellent are useful; the net can be bought at most stores and supermarkets
  • Bring any medicines you may need as healthcare is limited 
  • Most places accept credit cards but you may want some cash for smaller purchases and tips. There is usually at least one bank with a cash machine in each larger town
  • The power sockets have two round pins like in Europe 
  • Wifi is available in most of the larger towns but you may need to pay for access. I didn’t have any access in Narsarsuaq. In Igaliku, it was expensive so I used it sparingly 
  • Smaller towns such as Narsarsuaq and Qassiasurk may be very limited for supermarkets and cafes, so always have snacks 
Air Greenland plane from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat
Air Greenland plane from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat
Spouting fin whales in Disko Bay
Spouting fin whales in Disko Bay
Standing on an iceberg in Qooroq fjord
Standing on an iceberg in Qooroq fjord

Transport

  • Air Greenland is the main airline that flies to Greenland from Iceland and Denmark. Iceland air also has a few flights from Reykjavik. I flew from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq, and it’s about 4.5 hours. They give you food and drink during the flight. I also really enjoyed the selection of documentaries about Greenland including Winter’s Yearning, and a film called Sumé: The sound of a Revolution. I learned a lot about the culture in the few hours.
  • There are internal flights and the flight from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat is about 45 minutes on a propeller plane. Luckily, my flight was able to take off but we circled for awhile in Ilulissat due to low clouds. Several other flights were cancelled that day due to a mixture of weather and airplane technical issues. Some people were delayed 2-3 days. A lot of people blame the internal flight delays on Nuuk as those flights are often prioritised, which delays other flights. Keep in mind that travel is weather-dependent. I did hear from a few people that Air Greenland manages the accommodation for those who are delayed.
  • There are flights from Narsarsuaq, in South Greenland, to Copenhagen which take about 4.5 hours. Flights were often delayed and sometimes for days. This can be because of scheduling or plane issues, or the weather.
  • I used a travel agency called Arctic Friend to book my trip, as the connections and finding accommodation seemed complicated. They also arranged various transfers and excursions. Overall, they did a great job to organise the itinerary. It was definitely helpful to have them organise the transport and accommodation. Also, to find out how much time to spend in each place and types of activities. The communication and sending me info was sometimes slow, as they’re a small company and don’t always have people available. Also, the north was more organised than the south, where they go via another company, Blue Ice.
  • The towns in Greenland are not interconnected by roads. Therefore it is necessary either to take internal flights by plane or helicopter, or boats.
  • The coastal ferry by Arctic Umiaq Line is a good way to see different places along the coast.
  • Blue ice runs quite a few local boat transfers in South Greenland. They also organise tour packages and run some of the hotels, like in Igaliku. They have an office at the Blue Ice Cafe in Narsarsuaq. Re-confirm the timing and destinations with the company the night before, as the planning changes due to the passengers needing to be moved around on any day.
  • Helicopters are also a possibility for sightseeing, and they’re used for emergencies. You can book when you get to the specific town

Accommodation

  • In Kangerlussuaq, there is one hotel and a couple of hostels. I stayed in the Polar Lodge Hostel, which was clean, comfortable and simple. The bathrooms are shared but I had my own room with two single beds, a desk and wardrobe. Also the screens on the windows were essential due to huge numbers of mosquitoes! It’s owned by Albatros Arctic circle, which also runs a lot of the tours and excursions. The hotel and Polar lodge are literally next to the small airport
  • Ilulissat is a bit larger and has a number of places to stay. I stayed at the Hotel Hvide Falk, which is also part of the company Albatros Arctic circle. It’s also the oldest hotel in the area from 1971. The views of the sea and icebergs are amazing! Some nights they have a Greenlandic buffet and I recommend it to try a variety of local foods.
  • For three nights I stayed on the Arctic Umiaq coastal ferry. The couchette area is like a hostel with groups of 4-8 beds. Each bed has its own curtains, a pillow, disposable sheet and pillowcase. Below the beds there’s space for smaller luggage. Otherwise there are unlocked cubby areas to leave larger luggage. The upper decks have windows but the lower decks may not. Book early as it fills up quickly during the summer season. I had requested a cabin but they were sold out, so I ended up with a couchette. It was okay for 3 nights. Hot food is available for reasonable prices from the restaurant. The Arctic ferry journey was an experience and I will write a separate post about it!
  • The Siniffik inn in Qaqortoq is a friendly bed and breakfast run by Heidi Møller and her husband. She was kind enough to pick me up and drop me off at the ferry port. It’s not far but the inn is up a hill. The inn is comfortable, clean and warm. I had my own double room and bathroom. Breakfast had a good variety. And Heidi is a great source of local knowledge.
  • Narsarsuaq is a very small town despite having the international airport. Unfortunately the one hotel was fully booked. I stayed at the Polar-Tut lodge which is about 10 minutes walk from the related Cafe Polar-Tut. It’s a basic hostel with small individual rooms and shared bathrooms and toilets. They provided bedding and towels. I had to put the sheets onto the bed myself. It was clean and quiet, and despite being fully booked I only heard one other person in my whole block of rooms.
  • At Igaliku, there is one hotel called the Igaliku country hotel or Bygdehotel run by Blue Ice. The boat arrives to Itilleq and it’s about 4 km to walk to the hotel on a rocky road. Luckily, the hotel comes to pick up the luggage. It took me an hour leisurely walking. The hotel is the red one towards the right as you come down the hill into town. I had a single room in the hotel which was small, clean and cosy. The bathroom and toilets are shared. There are cottages for families and groups. The view is amazing from the hotel. And there’s a cafe with outdoor seating that’s nice on a sunny day.
Colourful Sisimiut
Colourful Sisimiut
Greenland kayak competition, flipping over
Greenland kayak competition, flipping over
Waterfall in Igaliku, a nice hike
Waterfall in Igaliku, a nice hike

Currency

The official currency is Danish Krone. One British pound is about 8.6 DKK as of July 2022

I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave as this fluctuates

Crabs at the Qaqortoq fish market
Crabs at the Qaqortoq fish market
Chocolate cinnamon roll from Brugseni
Chocolate cinnamon roll from Brugseni
Nachos at Cafe Polar-Tut in Narsarsuaq
Nachos at Cafe Polar-Tut in Narsarsuaq
Greenland buffet, Hotel Hvide Falk
Greenland buffet, Hotel Hvide Falk
Reindeer soup at the Greenland buffet, Hotel Hvide Falk
Reindeer soup at the Greenland buffet, Hotel Hvide Falk
Sri Lankan spring roll at Inuit Cafe, Ilulissat
Sri Lankan spring roll at Inuit Cafe, Ilulissat
Lunch at H8 at the Oqaatsut settlement
Lunch at H8 at the Oqaatsut settlement
Fried halibut red Thai curry at Cafe Iluliaq
Fried halibut red Thai curry at Cafe Iluliaq
Cheeseburger and fries at Kunguak Cafe and Ice Bar
Cheeseburger and fries at Kunguak Cafe and Ice Bar
Spicy chicken wings, rice and salad on the Artic Umiaq ferry
Spicy chicken wings, rice and salad on the Artic Umiaq ferry
Pad thai with shrimp at Inbox Cafe, Qaqortoq
Pad thai with shrimp at Inbox Cafe, Qaqortoq
Musk ox stew, rice, carrots, picked shallots and berries at Igaliku Country Hotel
Musk ox stew, rice, carrots, picked shallots and berries at Igaliku Country Hotel
Iluliaq stout beer at Cafe Iluliaq
Iluliaq stout beer at Cafe Iluliaq

Food

As expected, food in Greenland is relatively expensive, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. The supermarkets have a good selection of bread, tins, jars and lots of frozen foods. There are some fresh fruits and vegetables available too.

In Kangerlussuaq, there are not any restaurants around the airport. I ended up just eating bread and Danish salami as there is a supermarket that’s open until 17:00! There was an option to be transported by bus to a restaurant called the Rowing Club, but I just wanted something simple. Breakfast at the polar lodge included bread, jams and honey, muesli, orange juice, milk, coffee and tea.

Ilulissat had quite a few restaurants to try. The Hotel Hvide Falk had a Greenlandic buffet twice a week. I was really impressed by the variety of foods to try. It was nice to be able to try a little of each dish. They had snow crab, shrimp, musk ox, reindeer, whale, whale blubber, smoked salmon, smoked and steamed halibut, catfish, lumpfish roe, cowberry parfait and more. Everything was delicious except I’m not a fan of the strong taste of whale.

Ilulissat had the widest selection of places to eat of all the towns I visited. More specific recommendations are in my Ilulissat post. Interestingly, I found good Sri Lankan and Thai food there!

Qaqortoq has a few cafes, and the best restaurant has to be the Inbox cafe- a little Thai corner. It’s located in a building near the ferry port and isn’t easy to find if you’re not looking for it. However, people do find it as it’s booked out every night. If you want a table, then book at least a day in advance. The service is very friendly and efficient. There’s free wifi. The menu is a mix of traditional Thai food and Greenland fusion. I had the musk ox red curry and rice, which was flavourful and spiced but not spicy. I also had the wonton soup and prawn pad Thai. The portion are generous and I’m amazed that they can get the Thai food ingredients! The server told me that ingredients from Thailand can take 3-4 month to arrive and from Denmark about a month.

I also enjoyed the Kunguak cafe and ice bar. Their cheeseburger and fries was tasty and they’ve got a great selection of ice cream and shakes. The cafe looks out onto the lake and has free wifi too.

Surprisingly, Qassiasurk has its own cafe, Thorhildur! I had yummy chocolate cake of the day and a berry smoothie. It’s a great place to relax after walking around the area, and waiting for the boat. There is wifi available for purchase.

Narsarsuaq has a hotel with the only restaurant around, but when the hotel is fully booked, then so is the restaurant. There are two cafes, Blue Ice and Polar-Tut which have some snacks like burgers, sandwiches and nachos. I ended up having nachos for dinner. The supermarket closed by 13:00 on Saturday and completely on Sunday so that wasn’t an option for me.

In Igaliku, the food was all available for purchase from the Igaliku country hotel. I’m not sure where else you would get food as there is only one small store around. The breakfast buffet was a good variety of bread, cheese, salami and cereals. Lunch needed to be booked in advance and is make your own sandwich. I had a roll with hummous, boiled egg, red pepper, cheese and salami. And dinner is one option. The first night was a delicious musk ox and mushroom stew, brown rice, carrots and red berries. Dessert was lemon mousse. The second night was a prawn pie, like a fritatta, with focaccia and vegetables. The dessert was berry crumble with fresh cream. All of the food was delicious!

Turf church in Qassiarsuk
Turf church in Qassiarsuk
Misty morning over the fjord in Igaliku
Misty morning over the fjord in Igaliku
Beautiful blue iceberg in Qooroq fjord
Beautiful blue iceberg in Qooroq fjord

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: You don’t need a guide all of the time, but having a tour or travel agency help to plan the transport and accommodation would be useful

Q: Do people speak English?

A: Yes almost everyone speaks some English, though most speak Greenlandic and Danish

Q: Can I travel solo?

A: Yes, it is safe to travel on your own. However, for hiking alone, you need to be careful and let someone know your plans. The phone connections are not very good in remote places so there is no way to call anyone for help.

Q: How easy is it to send postcards?

A: It was easy to find the post office in Kangerlussuaq as it’s a very small town. However, the hours are very short from 9-11 and 14-16 Monday through Friday. It’s called Tusass and most of the larger cities have one. Postcards were more difficult to find. The post office and the first few shops I checked didn’t have any. Luckily the polar lodge gift shop had some.
Postcard cost £0.75 stamps cost £3.20

See Sending Postcards from Abroad for details on cost and the time it took to reach the USA.

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