Greenland can truly be said to be a world apart
Greenland, an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of Denmark, can truly be said to be a world apart. The population numbers less than 60.000 in this, the most sparsely populated country and the largest non-continental island on earth. Icebergs and glaciers are probably the most famous features of the environment. Colossal fantastic shapes of blue and white float on a sea of deepest azure. The inland ice, kilometers thick, appears static, but cracks and creaks as it shifts and expands. Green mountains with beautiful wildflowers, breathtaking fjords, precipitous cliffs, hot springs, crystal clear skies, and clean air are all waiting to be discovered. Animals flourish in the sea and on land, seals, whales, polar bears, and reindeer to name but a few. Bearing the climate in mind, transport here is somewhat unusual. There are virtually no roads between towns, so if you want to explore it will be by boat, airplane, sled, or snowmobile.
Justifiably Greenland’s most visited area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, this amazing berg-strewn section of coast in Disko Bay is where huge glaciers ‘calve’, an expression meaning that icebergs break off from the glaciers and float out into the coastal waters. This is a perfect place, if you’re lucky enough to get the timing right, to witness this awe-inspiring natural spectacle, which can be watched from land. The immense glacier Sermeq Kujalleq, more than five kilometers wide and one kilometer thick, feeds into the bay. Be prepared for stunning vistas and nature at its most majestic.
Top on many visitors’ Greenland wish list is to experience an up-close encounter with whales. Most of the fjords melt by May, so June and July are usually the best months for cruising among icebergs and whale watching along the breathtaking coastline. Tours usually depart from towns such as Qeqertarsuaq, Nuuk, and Aasiaat and are offered by operators like Disko Line and Greenland Adventures. Typical encounters are with humpback, minke, and fin whales, but occasionally also blue whales, killer whales, narwhals, beluga whales, sperm whales, and pilot whales. Patience is required but richly rewarded.
Uunartoq Hot Springs
Hot springs are found throughout Greenland, but on the uninhabited island of Uunartoq, the springs are the perfect temperature for bathing. Here, three naturally heated springs merge into a small pool where you can immerse yourself surrounded by icebergs and stunning mountain peaks. Uunartoq is a short boat ride from the town of Ilulissat. There are literally thousands of springs elsewhere in Greenland, most notably on Disko Island, whilst on the easterly side of the country there are around a hundred more.
The Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis
The Northern Lights are often referred to as the ‘the biggest light show on earth,’ and during your visit to Greenland, if at all possible, you shouldn’t miss this incredible natural spectacle. If planning to visit for the sole purpose of seeing the Aurora Borealis, then make sure to travel in winter. There’s a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights anytime between November and March, although December through February are the best months because the nights are clearer. The Northern Lights are visible across Greenland. Qaqortoq (south), Ittoqqortoormiit (east), and Kangerlussuaq (west) provide the best views.
Nuuk – Greenland’s Capital
Nuuk, the capital and administrative center of Greenland, has a population of around 16.000 and is popular with visitors. The Greenland National Museum is of particular interest and contains a collection of hunting equipment, kayaks, carvings, and Viking finds as well as hosting regular exhibitions of geology and the arts. The 500-year-old mummies of women and children (discovered in 1978) are so well preserved some of the facial tattoos and various colors of the clothing material are still recognizable. Nuuk is the departure point for tours of the Godthåb Fjord, one of Greenland’s most beautiful regions, and the atmospheric buildings of the old colonial harbor are well worth seeing.
Hvalsey Fjord Church
Visiting the remnants of Eric the Red’s thousand-year-old Norse colonies is a must do if exploring southern Greenland. At their peak, it’s estimated that something around 5.000 Norsemen lived throughout Greenland. Why the settlements died out remains a mystery. A visit to the sites of the ruins is a fascinating journey back in time into the lives of these hardy hunter-gatherers. There are several Viking ruins found in the region including the Hvalsey Fjord Church (oldest in Greenland) and Brattahlid near the town of Qassiarsuk (20 minutes’ boat ride from Narsarsuaq international airport).
Dog-sledding and Snowmobile Tours
Without doubt, exploring the wildlife is one of the top things to do in Greenland, and the best way to experience the country’s utterly unique natural environment is on a sledding tour or snowmobile excursion. Reindeer, polar bears, and white-tailed eagles are just some of the beautiful creatures to experience. Naturally, the winter months are the best time for dog sled tours and snowmobile trips. Some of the most popular areas to explore are Disko Bay, Tasiusaq fjord, Qaanaaq, and Thule.
Tasiilaq – East Greenland
Although it has just 2.000 inhabitants, Tasiilaq is the largest town in East Greenland. It lies on the island of Ammassalik, about 100 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. Set amidst breathtaking scenery on a fjord surrounded by soaring mountains and bisected by a small river, Tasiilaq should be high up on any visitor’s agenda. The Flower Valley behind the town is a popular place for short or long hikes. Popular winter activities are skiing trips and dog-sled tours. In summer, activities include hiking, climbing, helicopter rides over the ice sheet and glaciers, sea kayaking between icebergs on the fjord, whale watching, and fishing. As Tasiilaq remains one of the most isolated settlements on earth expect an experience like no other.
Thule & Northwest Greenland
In 1910, Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen and his friend, Peter Freuchen, established a trading post in northwest Greenland and named it after the mythical island of Thule. Rasmussen undertook several expeditions from Thule into the Arctic where he investigated various Eskimo tribes and researched their myths and legends. “Knud Rasmussen Land,” in northern Greenland, is named after him. The U.S. air base (Dundas) was set up on the site of the old trading post during WW2 and remains to this day. Interestingly, in 1953, the original village (Qaanaaq) was moved 200 kilometers north to Murchison Sound because the noise of aircraft disturbed the seals and birds on which the Eskimos depend. The Hvalsund Fjord in Thule is now a well-known cruise ship destination.