Think there’s nothing to do in Greenland but build igloos? Think again. Known for its austere expanse of ice sheets, sunny summers, and dark winters, Greenland is also rich in history, culture, and full of exhilarating natural wonders unique to its artic home and unbounded wilderness. If you’re up for a getaway that’s abundant in excitement and short on day-to-day drudgery, check out our top eight things to do in Greenland.
1: Visit Nuuk, Greenland’s capital city.
Known for its picturesque houses in bright reds and blues, a fjord network, and waterfalls, Nuuk sits on the southwest coastline in the shadow of mighty Sermitsiaq Mountain. With a long history of settlement in the area, both ancient native peoples and Norse invaders made refuge here. The Greenland National Museum is a must-see for its collections of artifacts, including hunting equipment, kayaks, carvings, and Viking relics that provide a vivid look into early island civilizations.
2: Watch whales up close in their natural habitat.
Greenland is blessed with several species of whales that regularly make their presence known once the fjords melt in spring. Tours are available throughout the summer from most major towns — such as Nuuk, Qeqertarsuaq, and Aasiaat — and typically include sightings of humpback, minke, and fin whales, with occasional sightings of killer whales, blue whales, belugas, and others. Check here for tour packages and pricing.
Whale watching near Illulissat, Greenland (Source; Shutterstock / Vadim Petrakov)
3: Head south to quaint fishing village Qaqortoq.
If you’re particularly intrigued by Greenland’s Viking past, head farther down the coast to Qaqortoq, an ancient fishing village perched on the steep hillside overlooking the harbor. Here you will find the Qaqortoq Museum, housed in the town’s oldest building built in 1804. The museum features harpoons, kayaks, blubber bags, and many other items used by Greenland’s Norse hunter-gatherer communities some 900 years ago. Also included are the reconstructed “Blue Room” and “Red Room,” guestrooms where both explorer Knud Rasmussen and aviator Charles Lindburgh once stayed overnight.
4: Explore actual Viking ruins.
A 30-minute boat ride from Qaqortoq gets you to Hvalsey Fjord Church — the oldest in Greenland and part of the extensive Viking ruins in the area. As you walk through the church and adjacent homesteads, imagine what life might have been like for Viking warrior Eric the Red and up to 5,000 other Norse settlers who were said to have lived in the area.
5: Have a soak in the Uunartoq Hot Springs.
When you’ve had enough Viking history for the day, head to Uunartoq Hot Springs for a leisurely soak and spectacular views. Though relatively modest in size, Uunartoq’s springs make up for it with its primo location on the uninhabited island of Uunartoq and gloriously clear geothermal waters. As you relax for a long soak, reflect on the incredible scenery, complete with floating icebergs and volcanic mountain ranges. Who knows? Perhaps Eric the Red once soaked his weary bones here as well.
6: See the amazing Ilulissat Ice-Fjord.
If you want to see Mother Nature in action, head up to the northwestern coast where the colossal Ilulissat Glacier feeds into Disko Bay. There, you can often witness the glacier “calving,” a natural splinting of the glacier edge into building-sized icebergs that float off into the ocean. The glacier is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth a trip.
7: Explore the western coast by ferry.
The best way to see Greenland is by boat, so why not do it Greenland style and take a multi-day ferry cruise down the western coast? The Sarfaq Ittuk Ferry operates a number of tours, ranging from a few hours to a few days, that include extraordinary views of Greenland’s icebergs, calving glaciers, coastal villages, and wildlife. Accommodations are modest (double occupancy cabins) but clean and cozy and three meals a day are served in the Ferry’s own Café Safaq.
8: See the northern lights.
No trip to Greenland would be complete without at least a glance at the Aurora Borealis (aka the northern lights). While most visible in the winter months, the gorgeous green sweeps of starlight are apparent in late summer as well. Thanks to its relatively small population (only 60,000 people), Greenland avoids the light pollution that typically obscures the northern lights when seen from other locations. If you’re here, you won’t want to miss it.
When to go
While there are things to do in Greenland throughout the year, the country’s stark beauty is at its most intense during summer (think midnight sun, green mountain landscapes, and wildlife) and winter (dark skies, glacial panoramas, and skies full of northern lights). While both seasons have their strong points, we recommend visiting during the summer (May through September) for its relatively milder temperatures (about 36 degrees Fahrenheit) and broader array of available activities, including whale watching.
Of course, we’ve only touched on a few great Greenland adventures here. For more on planning your trip, go to Visit Greenland online. And if you have done things in Greenland that you’d like to share, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add it to the list.