Greenland is the largest non-continental island in the world and one of the three countries that form the Kingdom of Denmark. The island lies between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans east of the Canadian arctic territories. Although politically it belongs to Europe, geographically it is part of North America. Its area is a whopping 2,166,000 square kilometers, the population is about 56,653, and the official language is Kalaallisut.
Along with people from the Faroe Islands, another dependent territory of Denmark, Greenlanders are citizens of the European Union. Greenland is an autonomous region with its own parliament located in the capital Nuuk, which is the world’s northernmost capital.
The island has been associated with Europe for more than one thousand years. Before European settlers arrived, Greenland was inhabited over at least four millennia by Arctic people whose ancestors came from the Canadian northern archipelago. It was in the 10th century that the first Norsemen set foot on the world’s largest island.
Particularly, they inhabited the southern part of the island that had a milder weather than the northern part. Greenland was under permanent influence of Norway, even after 1261 when it was no longer under the Norwegian crown. The Black Death that hit Norway in the late 15th century caused Norsemen to steadily disappear from Greenland.
The next European colonial power that was about to claim the huge island was Denmark. In the early 17th century, a group of Danish explorers arrived on the island. It was followed by a period of colonization that culminated with the transfer of Greenland into the Kingdom of Denmark in 1814 as a fully dependent colony. The island’s status changed in 1953 when it became a constituency of Denmark.
In 2008, after a local referendum, Greenlanders received more autonomy and extensive rights in the act of self-governance. The Greenland authorities took responsibility for a wider array of governmental services and fields of competence. The government of Denmark kept controlling such issues as citizenship, monetary policy, defense and foreign affairs.
With a population of 56,000 and an area of over 2 million square kilometers, Greenland is the world’s least densely populated region. The main ethnic group is Inuit (89,5%), a group of indigenous people living in northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland and speaking an Eskimo-Aleut language. There are also multi-ethnic Inuits like Danish Inuits and Norwegian Inuits.
Danish people represent 7,5% of the population. Today, the vast majority of the population lives on the southwest coast. Other areas of the island are sparsely populated. About 74% of Greenlanders work in the service sector, 16% in agriculture and 10% in industry. The main industries are fishing, fish processing, and mining.
Greenland is the world’s largest island that is not a continent. The nearest countries are Canada to the west and southwest and Iceland to the southeast located 1,210 km away in the Atlantic Ocean. Greenland shares with Canada a maritime border through Naris Strait and Baffin Bay, as well as a land border on Hans Island. Greenland boasts the largest national park in the world and is the fourth largest dependent administrative unit after Russia’s Sakha Republic and Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Australia’s state of Western Australia.
An amazing fact about Greenland is that 80% of its territory is covered by ice, making it the second largest ice sheet after Antarctica. The ice sheet is located mostly inland which explains why the central part of the island is uninhabited. The huge weight of the ice cap caused the central land area to deepen more than 300 meters below sea level. The ice-free coast, on the other hand, has many elevations. All towns and villages of Greenland are located on the coast, primordially on the west coast.
Flora and Fauna
Greenland has a high arctic tundra and a low arctic tundra, which are home to many plant and animal species. So far, approximately 700 species of insects have been identified in Greenland. The sea abounds in fish and invertebrates found mainly in the mild West Greenland Current. Seabirds represent a large part of Greenland’s fauna. Mammals inhabiting the island include the polar bear, reindeer, musk ox, arctic fox, arctic wolf, and northern collared lemming. Large colonies of seals and whales are concentrated along the coast.
Interesting facts about Greenland
1. Largest National Park
Greenland has the largest national park in the world, occupying the entire north-east of the country. The park is home to impressive arctic wildlife, which can be visited only after receiving a permission from the Greenlandic government.
2. Promotional name
Greenland’s name is pretty confusing knowing that the island is covered in ice and has little vegetation. In fact, this was a promotional technique used by the exiled Viking Eric the Red. When he reached the Greenland coast on his ship, he decided to give it an attractive name, hoping that other people would follow him and establish a new colony.
3. You can’t access it from Canada
Although it is part of North America, the only two countries you can access Greenland from are Denmark and Iceland by plane.
4. Whisky War
Whisky War was a border dispute between Denmark and Canada over Hans Island that lasted from 1978 to 2022 and ended with the peaceful division of the small uninhabited island into two. In 1984, Canadian soldiers raised the Canadian flag on the island and left a bottle of Canadian whisky.
The response came shortly with the Danish minister of Greenland affairs arriving on the island and planting the Danish flag, leaving nearby a bottle of Schnapps. The countries continued the amiable exchange of alcoholic beverages until they came upon an agreement on settling the pointless dispute in 2005.
5. More boats than cars
Due to the rugged terrain and deep fjords that define the coast, there are far more boats than cars in Greenland. The roads end on the outskirts of the towns. You can only get from one town to another by boat or plane. The low number of cars, small population and tiny industry make Greenland the place with the purest air and water in the world.
6. Warm summers
Greenland is known for its extremely cold weather, but it is not a reason for sun lovers to cancel their trip. While the winters are indeed bitterly cold, summers on the southwest coast can be quite warm. The temperature may rise to 18-20°C if there is no wind and sun is shining. Please note that the reflection of sunlight from snow may cause snow blindness and sunburn. That’s why, it is recommended that you take sunscreen and sunglasses on your Greenland trip.
Tourist attractions and destinations
Greenland offers a wealth of tourist attractions that are worth discovering. Green mountains covered with cheerful windflowers, breath-taking fjords, hot springs, Northern Lights, fresh air, stunning wildlife, and picturesque towns are all concentrated on this remote island. Some top attractions include:
1. Ilulissat Ice-fjord
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, this natural wonder is one of the most visited attractions in Greenland. Ilulissat Ice-fjord represents a section of the coast in Disko Bay where huge icebergs separate from the glaciers and float out into the sea. The superstar of the show is the iceberg Sermeq Kujalleq, a 5 km-wide and 1 km-thick giant that moves about 25 meters a day. Whether you watch this spectacle from land or boat, prepare your eyes for some memorable vistas.
2. Uunartoq Hot Springs
Hot springs are a defining feature of Greenland. If you want to take a healing bath, the best place to go is the uninhabited island of Uunartoq where the hot springs have a temperature of 38°C. Here, the main pool is fed by three naturally heated springs and is surrounded by beautiful icebergs and mountain peaks. You will have to take a short boat trip from Ilulissat to reach Uunartoq. Other notable springs are found on Disko Island and the eastern part of the country.
3. The Greenland National Museum
One the top attractions in the capital Nuuk is the Greenland National Museum. Here you can find artefacts related to hunting, kayaking, carving and Viking culture. There are mummies of women and children dating back to 16th century whose facial tattoos and clothing design are still recognizable. Geology and arts exhibitions are organized on a regular basis. After the museum tour, you can take a walk down the Nuuk streets to admire the mix of old colonial architecture and modern buildings. The 16,000-people town is home to the only university and shopping mall in Greenland.
Tasiilaq is the largest town in East Greenland and one of the island’s most beautiful settlements. It is located 100 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle amid a picturesque scenery dominated by a spectacular fjord surrounded by towering mountains.
The town’s Flower Valley is a popular destination with hikers and skiers. There are both short and long hikes to meet everybody’s physical condition. You can also enjoy climbing, sea kayaking, whale watching and helicopter rides over the glaciers. In winter, you can try skiing and dogsledding.
5. Viking ruins
If you are passionate about history and antiquity, you can visit the remnants of the settlements founded by Eric the Red dating back 1,000 years. According to estimates, around 5,000 Norsemen inhabited the icy island during the Viking colonial era. And although the settlements died out almost completely, some ruins have been miraculously preserved. You can take a journey back in time and witness some aspects of life of these Scandinavian seafarers. Notable Viking ruins include Hvalsey Fjord Church and Brattahlid.
6. Northern lights
The northern lights are well visible in the Greenland sky. The best time to watch this nature spectacle is from December to February because the nights are clearer. Although if you come from November to March you also have the chance to catch some beautiful views of the aurora borealis. The best places to watch the northern lights are Qaqortoq, Ittoqqortoormiit, and Kangerlussuaq.
7. Qaqortoq Museum
Qaqortoq is a picturesque village in southern Greenland perched on a rocky hillside above the harbor. It boasts vibrantly painted houses and panoramic views of the harbor and sea. The village’s central attraction is the Qaqortoq Museum set in the former colony manager’s house built 220 years ago. The museum features collections of artefacts from different cultures that inhabited Greenland such as Dorset, Thule and Norse.
Norse culture is in particular focus, being represented by kayaks, harpoons, blubber bags and a replica of a peat hut. The replica of the traditional Greenland boat, umiak, gives you an idea of how early inhabitants commuted around the island. The museum’s top floor features the Blue Room and Red Room decorated in a 19th century manner. The explorer Knud Rasmussen stayed in the blue room while the aviator Charles Lindbergh in the red room.
8. Boat and ferry tour
Boats are a vital means of transportation in Greenland. Not only do they take you from one town to another, but they also help you discover the most beautiful places on the island. You can take a short cruise along the coast to enjoy the icebergs floating off the glaciers and, if you are lucky, see whales swimming close to the water surface.
While a one-day trip may not be enough to see all Greenland’s beauty, you can take a multi-day cruise on a ferry to explore the bays, fjords and coastal ports. During the multi-day cruise, you have the chance to meet locals and get a feel for their everyday life and customs.
While boats help you explore Greenland’s sea and fjords, dog sleds help you discover its natural landscapes. Dogsledding is one of the favorite activities of those who want to experience the country’s stunning natural environment.
The best time for dog sled trips is in the winter months when snow is on the ground. The top destinations are Disko Bay, Tasiusaq fjord, and Thule. If you don’t like the idea of dog sledding, you can take a snowmobile tour. There are many tour operators that offer both types of excursion.
With a population of just 500, Kangerlussuaq is a major tourist hot spot. People come here for two reasons. One, the village is the starting point of the 200-km Arctic Circle Trail, the most popular hiking trail in the country. And second, it is located close to the Greenland ice sheet, which is only 30 kilometers away. If you want to feel the ice sheet with your own feet, you can take a half-day tour to it.
You will not only walk there, but also experience the impressive scene where ice kisses the horizon. Another way of exploring the immense ice cap is by helicopter. Hikers looking for less challenging trails than the Arctic Circle try the Sugarloaf Mountain slopes.
11. Nuuk art museums
Art lovers can find refuge even on this remote arctic island. The Nuuk Art Museum features a collection by Svend and Helene Junge showing the life of Greenlanders through art. There are paintings of Greenland and various craft pieces describing the island. For a deeper insight into local handcrafts, visit the Kittat Economusée which is also in Nuuk. Here, you can see how the traditional Greenlandic costume is made. You can literally attend the manufacturing process and even take part in it.
Ski touring is one of the most popular outdoor sports in Greenland. Adventure seekers have the chance to explore the massive arctic ranges and visit places they could hardly find anywhere else in the world. Greenland has an impressive number of ski touring terrain routes suitable for any kind of skier.
You can go for a short and light trip or embark on a two-week expedition across the demanding alpine ranges. It’s up to you whether you will ski the arctic expanse near the central ice sheet or accept the challenge of the soaring mountain peaks emerging directly from the coastal fjords.
Why should you try ski touring in Greenland?
1. Combine skiing and boating
If you take a trip along the Greenland coast, you can enjoy sailing and skiing at the same time without arranging two different excursions. You can simply get out of the boat and ski the frozen realms then back down to the boat. The skiing track is oftentimes close to the boat dock, so you don’t have to walk much from the debarkation point to the actual ski route.
2. Memorable scenery
Greenland is home to some otherworldly natural beauty that you can explore either by boat, helicopter, hiking or ski touring. It prides itself on massive icebergs looming high above the sea, stunning fjords, steep waterfalls, vast ice sheets, and snow-capped mountains with breathtaking views. This ensures you will have a memorable and rewarding skiing trip.
3. Achieve a stronger mind and body
A ski touring trip in Greenland helps you improve your fitness and endurance. It will make you push your physical limits and test your patience. If you manage to overcome yourself, you will get physically and mentally stronger at the end of the trip. Such important qualities as willpower, resilience and determination will reach their peak.
3. Untouched land
While it grows in popularity, Greenland remains an isolated land with an untouched nature. You are guaranteed to enjoy your ski expedition if you are looking to unplug from the world and find inner peace amid a fairytale winter environment. Also, due to its small population and few cars, the island has some of the cleanest air and water that your body will be privileged to experience.
What are the best places to go?
Qeqqata is one of the country’s most easily accessible municipalities with a convenient location in the southwest and two airports serving flights from inside and outside of Greenland. Ski tours with a boat trip from the city of Maniitsoq heading into many fjords. One of the most popular destinations is the Eternity Fjord surrounded by 2,000-meter snow-covered peaks and offering fantastic views. For easy climbs, head out south to low-elevation coastal mountains around Nuuk that have ascends and descends of 800-1,300 meters.
2. Schweizerland Alps
The Schweizerland Alps are located in the eastern municipality of Sermersooq. Unlike coastal fjord peaks, this region boasts taller mountains that may reach a height of 3,000 meters plus. Some peaks are interconnected by glaciers which are great for skiing.
If you consider yourself physically and mentally prepared, you can travel the whole distance of the mountain range of 175 kilometers. During this journey, you will explore incredible unspoiled landscapes, camp in tents, and meet local wildlife, particularly polar bears.
When is the best time to go ski touring in Greenland?
The best season to go ski touring in Greenland is March through May when temperatures start to increase. The southern part of the island is usually warmer being farthest away from the North Pole, but the higher you climb a mountain the colder it gets. The northern and inland regions have traditionally the lowest temperatures that range from -20 to 0 Celsius degrees in spring. Keep in mind that that the Greenlandic wind makes you perceive the temperature a bit lower than it is.
How to get there?
Due to its landscape, Greenland has a very poor road system with the longest road being only 35 km. The island doesn’t have railways either. Most people travel by boat, plane or snowmobile. Getting to Greenland is possible only by flying from Denmark or Iceland. If you are taking a plane from Copenhagen, you will most likely arrive at Kangerlussuaq Airport.
If you fly from Reykjavik, you will likely land on either of these airports: Maniitsoq, Nuuk, Kangerlussuaq or Kulusuk. From here, you will head to the place of destination by boat or helicopter. The tour guide will meet you in Copenhagen, Reykjavik or at one of the airports mentioned above.