Are you thinking of visiting Greenland, but don’t know where to start? This article is for you!
There is something unique about little-known, remote places. They capture your imagination and make you dream and wonder. But at the same time, the uncertainty and the unknown is very intimidating and the thought of visiting a place like that might never occur to us. And even if it does, it’s quickly pushed back and never explored further….
Greenland was like that for me.
I have been intrigued and curious about the big white spot in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for many years. But it looked so complicated to get there, let alone get around…
Once in a while, I’d start looking at ways to visit Greenland, but would quickly give up. Traveling to Greenland on your own always looked so complicated: there are no roads to travel around, there is little information, let alone easy individual itineraries…
Time and again, I found myself looking at the expensive Greenland cruises or organized trips that no regular family could ever afford… Not even to mention that it’s not the most authentic way to visit Greenland…
If you are having the same concerns and stumbled upon this article wondering how to visit Greenland on your own or looking for ideas on places to visit in Greenland, you came to the right place. Read on!
Can you visit Greenland on your own?
Yes, you can easily travel to Greenland on your own!
In this post, I show you how to do it and share a very simple Greenland itinerary that you can easily do on your own. It’s not just any itinerary, either. It’s a dream trip that brings you to one of the most beautiful regions of Greenland – Disko Bay – and shows you an incredible diversity that I never knew existed there.
Greenland was a bucket list destination for me, but as I said, I was intimidated just by the thought of planning a trip there. I’m so glad that I met the wonderful people from Visit Greenland, who totally changed my perception of the country and showed me that it is possible to visit Greenland on your own. And now that I know how it can be done, I want to share it with you and inspire you to discover Greenland before the rest of the world finds out!
Why travel to Greenland – is Greenland worth it?
To say that Greenland is a unique destination is an understatement. It’s a place like nowhere else we’ve ever been to. Wild, undiscovered, adventurous, yet somehow familiar and much more developed than I thought it was.
At the same time, it has preserved its rich culture and seamlessly combines a mix of old traditions like hunting and dog sledding with modern technologies and Western lifestyle.
With an ever-growing and improving network of transportation, hotels, and other facilities, Greenland is now more accessible than ever before. It’s no longer a destination solely for the rich cruise-ship passengers or adventurous backpackers. We met all types of travelers in Greenland – young people and middle-age couples, families with kids of all ages, but also retired solo travelers or groups of friends… Greenland is now truly a destination for everyone.
Greenland is also so much more than any guidebook will ever tell you. No pictures or videos will be able to show you the complete story. It’s more than a place, it’s a lifestyle. You have to feel it, taste it, smell it… In other words, you have to visit Greenland in order to truly experience what it is about. And it will leave you longing for more.
Greenland is totally worth a trip!
I hope that this article will inspire you to plan a real Greenland vacation and not just hop on to Greenland as a day trip from Iceland in order to tick the box or to impress your friends by adding one more country to your travel trophy list….
Greenland is a place for slow travel and I really advise to spend at least a few days in each place that you choose to include in your itinerary.
Where to go in Greenland?
To tell you the truth, it’s a tough choice as Greenland is so diverse and each region and each place has different things to offer. One thing that seems to be common is that everywhere you go, you’ll find picturesque little villages with colorful wooden houses and floating icebergs. Icebergs are your constant companion in Greenland – they’re always around. Icebergs are what makes every trip to Greenland so unique. The scenery changes all the time!
East Greenland is more remote and there are just a couple of thousand of people living there. It’s a region for hiking, fishing, hunting, and also a place to spot some polar bears.
Southern Greenland is actually green. You’ll find sheep farms and lots of hiking possibilities here. I was told that it’s actually so green that it’s referred to as the Banana Coast and sometimes compared with Venice since the best way to get around the region is by boat.
The area around Greenland’s capital town Nuuk is where you’ll find the biggest population of the country and most cultural activities. It’s also known for waterfalls and humpback whales.
Kangerlussuaq, also in the West, has Greenland’s busiest airport and is the best place to see Greenland’s Ice Cap (aka Greenland’s Ice Sheet).
Disko Bay in the West of Greenland is probably best known for Ilulissat Icefjord, UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the area that we traveled to. In addition to Ilulissat, we also visited Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island. These two places are so close to each other, yet completely different! I went there not knowing what to expect at all, and it blew me away. Disko Island is such an incredible place and is yet to be discovered by tourists.
And finally, there is North of Greenland. It’s the most remote area and it’s not really traveled much.
How to get to Greenland and how to get around?
Greenland is big and since there are no roads connecting different towns, the best way to get to Greenland and travel the big distances in the country is by flying. Depending on where you go, you can either fly with Air Iceland Connect or with Air Greenland, from either Reykjavik in Iceland or from Copenhagen in Denmark.
Once you are in Greenland, you can cover the bigger distances by air – by a small airplane or by helicopter. In summer, there are also boats that make it easier and cheaper to visit smaller towns and settlements that are close to each other.
It might sound more complicated than it is. With some research and advance planning, you can easily plan your own dream trip to Greenland. In this article, I show you just one way to do it, but there are countless possibilities and possible itineraries.
Once in Ilulissat, we used (free) hotel transportation to get around when we had our luggage with us. The town is not that big and is also walkable and there are also taxis.
To reach Disko Island, we took a 2-hour boat trip with Disko Line from Ilulissat to Qeqertarsuaq (and then a few days later back to Ilulissat).
TIP: No matter where you travel in Greenland, it’s wise to schedule several days at each place you visit. See it as a safety margin for the unpredictable weather. That way if your flight is delayed or your boat gets canceled, you still have plenty of time to discover the place as planned.
We experienced this first-hand when our boat to Disko Island turned around due to huge waves ahead and we were stranded in Ilulissat till next day. It’s a frustrating experience mainly because of the uncertainty, but you realize that it’s very common in Greenland and the locals are the most relaxed people I’ve ever seen. If we don’t go today, we’ll go tomorrow, or the day after… Luckily, this doesn’t happen often in summer, but if it does, just try to make the best of it and go with the flow.
As I said, Greenland is really a place for slow travel – take a picnic to the beach and watch icebergs and whales from ashore, read a book under the midnight sun in summer, or spend a night watching the Northern Lights dance in the sky in winter….
Can you visit Greenland with kids?
Because so many of our followers asked me what I thought about taking the kids to Greenland, I think it deserves a separate mention. Yes, absolutely, you can visit Greenland with kids. But there are several things to consider.
Accommodations are mostly for 2 people, some hotels have 3-person rooms, and it’s even more difficult to find a family room for 4. I haven’t seen anything that could accommodate our family of 5 people. So chances are big that you’ll need to take two rooms, which will also be much more expensive.
Many places have discounts for kids, but many more-adventurous activities aren’t suitable for the youngest members of the family. This also means that you might not be able to do everything you want to unless you also have someone to take care of the kids.
We stumbled upon one or two public playgrounds in Greenland. Some restaurants had a kids’ menu available or were ready to prepare fish and chips if necessary. But Greenland is definitely not as kid-friendly as for example, Norway is.
At the same time, if you are coming to Greenland, you are probably here for the outdoors and adventure and know that playing with stones on the beach can be as exciting for a child as the most modern playground…
I visited Greenland with my 10-year old son and we had the most amazing time. He truly loved it! Luckily, he is quite open-minded for his age and could appreciate reindeer or fish for dinner and didn’t mind a strenuous day hike or a bumpy boat ride. I know that it would have been very different a couple of years ago… Also, he is really tall for his age and was just tall enough to be allowed to kayak.
So while you can visit Greenland with young kids, I think that the whole family will enjoy it more if you wait till they are at least 8-10 years old, maybe even older. After all, it’s an expensive destination, and it would be a shame not to enjoy it to the fullest.
That being said, I think that Greenland is an amazing destination for teenagers – it’s so different, adventurous, and exciting that you should have no problems convincing your teens to leave their smartphone in the hotel for a day.
What to do in Greenland – our trip itinerary for Ilulissat and Disko Island
We visited two places in Greenland – Ilulissat and Qeqertarsuaq and spent just 6 days/ 5 nights in Greenland. It’s enough to get a taste of what Western Greenland is about, but if I were to go back, I would plan at least a week for these two places. If time and budget permits, I suggest adding a few other destinations to your Greenland itinerary as well.
Our planned Greenland itinerary looked as follows. Keep in mind that the flights were just 3 hours and the boat just 2 hours, so there was still plenty of time to explore on travel days as well. Not to mention that the days are endless and it never gets dark in July, when we visited.
- Day 1: Flight from Reykjavik to Ilulissat (1 night at Hotel Hvide Falk)
- Day 2: Ilulissat to Disko Island by boat (3 nights at Hotel Disko Island)
- Days 3 – 4: Disko Island
- Day 5: Disko Island to Ilulissat by boat (1 night at Hotel Icefiord)
- Day 6: Flight from Ilulissat to Reykjavik
In reality, due to a canceled boat, our itinerary was slightly different. Luckily, we still had plenty of time to see and do everything we had planned on Disko Island, despite the change in plans.
We started and ended our trip in Ilulissat because that’s where the airport is, and it’s also a place that is considered must-see in Greenland. However, it was Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island that made us fall in love with Greenland. It’s a real hidden gem!
Not only is the scenery very different on Disko Island than anywhere else in Greenland, but it also has a much more local, traditional feel that Ilulissat lacks. Not to mention that there are hardly any tourists on Disko Island and the ones that visit by cruise ship for a day, don’t seem to venture any further than the town. It’s still to be discovered…
Below is a short summary of the very best things to do in Ilulissat and in Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island. Find out!
Ilulissat is famous for its Icefjord and is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greenland. The town has an airport with direct flights to Reykjavik and several other places in Greenland. There are also quite a few hotels, hostels, B&Bs, and other accommodation options, several restaurants, supermarkets, and shops in Ilulissat. Several local tour operators offer all kinds of activities and day trips in the area.
It is extremely easy to visit Ilulissat on your own. Furthermore, the town is easily accessible in all seasons and there is plenty to do in Ilulissat any time of the year. It will come as no surprise that many people choose to spend their entire Greenland vacation here.
This also means that Ilulissat is very expensive and is also quite busy. Accommodations are often fully booked and if you are planning to visit in summer, you should book your Ilulissat accommodation at least 6-9 months in advance (best even a year in advance if your travel dates aren’t flexible or if you are traveling with a family).
There is a lot to see and do in and near Ilulissat, but most organized activities and (multi-)day trips can’t be done on your own and are therefore very expensive, so you really should research what interests you the most and plan your trip well. Below is a short summary of what we did in Ilulissat and a few other suggestions. Read on!
Ilulissat Icefjord hiking trails
The good news is that the main highlight of Ilulissat – the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ilulissat Icefjord – can easily be visited individually and is completely free.
There are several well-indicated hiking trails next to the fjord offering the most stunning views of the ever-changing landscape. One of the trails – 1,4km walk to Sermermiut – is a relatively flat path on a wooden boardwalk and is accessible to everyone. If you can, climb a small hill at the end of this trail – there are several benches here where you could easily spend a few hours enjoying the amazing scenery.
We hiked all the trails in this area and loved the yellow hiking trail that starts at the Power Plant the most. It’s a moderate hiking trail of 2,7km with the most incredible views over the fjords, the town, and the sea. We even saw a group of whales here from the shore.
Ilulissat Icefjord by boat or kayak
Another popular way to discover Ilulissat Icefjord is by taking a boat tour among the icebergs. This seems to be the one excursion that everyone does. It’s also the most affordable one (and the one I linked to is much cheaper than anything that was available to book in town).
Taking a boat tour is also by far the best way to get really close to the icebergs. Often, you’ll see whales from the boat as well.
Whale watching tours are usually much more expensive and you get to see pretty much the same….
If you are more adventurous and don’t mind splurging a bit, you might also want to consider a kayaking tour in Ilulissat. Ours was a really adventurous experience. We went kayaking with Albatros Arctic Circle but were really unlucky to have picked the only rainy day of the summer.
Since this was the only company that allowed my 10-year old son to kayak (they had a height limit of 150 cm, whereas other companies had an age limit of 12 years), and the other date that would have suited us was fully booked, we had a choice of kayaking in the rain or not kayaking at all. So kayaking in the rain it was.
Packed from head to toes in two different waterproof overalls, we felt like Teletubbies. But you really don’t want to risk falling into ice-cold water unprepared. Luckily, that was an unnecessary precaution and nobody fell in, but the suits kept us warm and dry in the rain.
You cannot get close to the bigger icebergs with a kayak as that would be much too dangerous (they can calve and start rolling unexpectedly), but we kayaked between the smaller ones and it was really special.
Kayaking between the icebergs was another bucket list item for me and I have to say that I loved it despite the rain. Of course, it would have been much more enjoyable to do it under the midnight sun as planned, but this way it turned into one of those travel experiences that we’ll definitely never forget.
Ilulissat – explore the town and meet (but don’t pet) the huskies
There are organized tours available that take you around the town, but with a guidebook and a map, you can also just explore the town on your own.
We didn’t take a town tour in Ilulissat but did the one in Qeqertarsuaq (see further). It’s nice to have a local guide at least once during your trip in Greenland, but I don’t think it’s necessary to pay for a tour in every single town, as a lot of information is more general.
A bit outside the town, on the way to Sermermiut, there is a place where many sled dogs are kept. Huskies aren’t pets in Greenland, they are working dogs, and make sure to keep your distance from them at all times.
Dogs older than 5 months are leashed and puppies run around freely. It seems to be acceptable to pet a puppy if they come to you, but approaching big dogs is not done unless the owner tells you that it’s ok.
Since huskies have no work in summer, they stay a bit outside of town, and also only get fed every other day (or so we were told). We were just there at the feeding time and it was a really impressive sight.
I can’t even start to describe the sound and the enthusiasm of the dogs… We knew something was happening long before we saw a guy arrive with huge bags of fresh fish on his motorbike. The dogs sensed that food was coming long before we saw or heard anything.
Other things to do in Ilulissat
If you stay in Ilulissat for a few days, there are many more possibilities. There are day trips available and multi-day trips to Oqaatsut, Eqi Glacier, and Ilimanaq. You can go fishing, hiking, or enjoy the incredible scenery from a small airplane or a helicopter…
In winter, there is dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and of course the Northern Lights, to mention just a few…
You can find some Ilulissat tours on Viator, or look for local tour operators online. Make sure to do your research before your trip as organized activities in Greenland are really expensive.
Disko Island – Qeqertarsuaq
Qeqertarsuaq is the biggest town on Disko Island and is home to 840 people, one hotel with a restaurant (Hotel Disko Island), a supermarket that sells everything from bread to bikes and guns, a small museum, and a local café. The only other village on the island is hours away and has just 12 inhabitants…
Disko Island is just 2 hours by boat from Ilulissat, but that means it’s much more remote and the best time to visit is in summer when there are good boat connections.
It’s here that we discovered the more traditional side of Greenland, as I always imagined it would be.
Disko Island is of volcanic origin and is therefore very different from the rest of Greenland, which is more like a huge rock. If anything, I can best compare Disko Island with the highlands of Iceland.
We only visited a very small part of the island, close to Qeqertarsuaq, and I can’t believe how diverse it is! Black sand beaches with icebergs floating in the distance, basalt columns, waterfalls, lush green coastal areas with a big variety of plants, and even a big glacier on top of the nearby mountain that’s the only place where you can go dog sledding in Greenland in summer!
We went to Disko Island not knowing what to expect and it exceeded all our hopes. From the moment we arrived on the tiny harbor till the moment we left, we loved every minute of it. If you are looking for the most unique place to visit in Greenland, then I think it’s really as good as it gets.
I am sure that increasing tourism will slowly change the town, but there are so many possibilities here that I think it can only get more interesting and more exciting as a tourist destination.
Let’s hope that locals will benefit from it as well. For one, they seem to be very happy with the new restaurant at the hotel – there were many locals dining there every evening and I can’t blame them. The food at the restaurant is of the highest standard. Compliments to the chef!
From everything I saw, Qeqertarsuaq has so much potential! For now, it’s a true hidden gem of Greenland and I’m so glad to have had the privilege to visit it before telling the rest of the world that it’s so worth a trip.
Below is a short summary of what we did on Disko Island and a few other suggestions. Read on!
Qeqertarsuaq town tour
Upon arrival on Disko Island, we were picked up by Caroline, a student from Denmark who worked at the hotel for the summer. She loaded all the bags in the van, asked if anyone wanted to walk, then drove some 200 meters after which she excitedly announced that we had arrived at the hotel. Of course, we all started laughing, and of course, we could have easily walked.
The first thing we did in Qeqertarsuaq was a town tour. As I said, it’s just a small place with less than a thousand inhabitants, but we learned quite a lot. Not just about this place, but more about some local habits and traditions in Greenland.
By complete coincidence, we crashed a local wedding. With handcrafted colorful traditional costumes and local traditions that involved lots of loud cheering and huge amounts of rice being thrown at the couple after they left the church. There were also fireworks at midnight. This was, of course, the absolute highlight of the town tour.
We also learned about the color-coded houses. Traditionally, each color was used for different type of buildings, making it easy for people to quickly find their way around (street names didn’t exist in the past). Yellow houses were for anything related to healthcare – a house of a doctor or a nurse, or a hospital; red ones – for government institutions or churches; blue – for fishermen, etc.
Nowadays, everyone paints their house as they wish, but the towns in Greenland are still as colorful as in the past.
We also learned that many houses in Greenland have two numbers on them. The yellow number is the house number in the specific street, as we know it in the West. The black one indicates the order in which the houses were built in town. So the oldest house would be number 1 and so on. We found a house number 4 in Qeqertarsuaq, but for some strange reason, it’s forbidden to photograph it. Our hotel building had the number 13.
If there is one thing that you absolutely shouldn’t miss in Qeqertarsuaq, it’s the Kuannit Hike. It’s a relatively easy hiking trail of 3-4 hours (total hiking time from town and back) that allows you to explore some of the most diverse scenery of Disko Island.
Starting at the black sand beach dotted with huge chunks of ice, the walk passes the beautiful coastal area, stunning basalt formations and several waterfalls, before it ends at a green lush place that locals call Kuannit.
Kuannit gets its name from the Angelica plant (Kvann in Greenland). Angelica is a type of wild celery that grows at this incredibly lush and fertile location. This plant has traditionally been one of the most important sources of vitamin C in the region and is still used a lot today.
Our guide picked some for the hotel restaurant and we had angelica sorbet for desert in the evening.
I cannot even start to describe how beautiful the scenery at Kuannit is. Pictures don’t do it justice either. I never knew that places like that existed, let alone so high in the Arctic. Kuannit is like the very best of South Africa, the Azores, Iceland, and Greenland in one place.
What makes this beautiful coastline even more special is that the ocean below it is dotted with icebergs.
As we sat there drinking warm tea and enjoying the scenery, we also saw a whale jumping out of the water in the distance. Traveling doesn’t get any better than that!
Dog sledding at Lyngmark Glacier
Another must-do experience on Disko Island is a visit to Lyngmark Glacier. However, hiking up the high mountain where the glacier is, takes at least 2,5-3 hours one way and it’s a really strenuous hike.
It took us 3 hours to get to the top and then another half an hour to get to the hut. So if you are planning on doing this, make sure that you have an entire day allocated to this activity.
Hotel Disko Island has a hut at the glacier and it’s possible to stay there overnight as well if you like to. We opted for a day trip that included dog sledding and didn’t sleep there.
It was a very long day, but absolutely amazing. The views were well worth the hike and dog sledding was just the cherry on the cake.
I have to admit that dog sledding here on Disko Island was very different than dog sledding I had experienced in Norway. In Greenland, they use traditional sleds and working dogs. It’s less glamorous and less comfortable, also because we were sledding in the middle of one the warmest summers ever and ice on the glacier was seriously melting. But it also felt so much more authentic that way!
You understand just a little bit better how locals travel around here in winter and how sled dogs are an essential part of life in the Arctic.
To us, it was once again, a way to experience a more authentic side of Greenland and it’s an experience my son and I will never forget.
Seeing the glacier from close by was also really interesting. It didn’t look like any other glacier I had ever seen and the colors of the ice were incredible. From white to grey to pink and everything in between….
Once again, I just couldn’t believe how such a small place can be so diverse. And we only saw a tiny part of Disko Island… Incredible!
Whale watching from the shore
One of our best memories from Disko Island was an evening stroll on the beach. It was our last night here and we decided to go whale watching. Armed with warm jackets, a thermos of tea, and a telelens, we set to the beach, which is just minutes walk from the hotel (everything is really close in Qeqertarsuaq).
We had hardly arrived when we saw a whale in the distance. Whales are actually quite easy to spot in Greenland because they are always surrounded by birds that are on the lookout for some fish that whales push to the surface.
Sitting here on this misty beach with huge icebergs in the distance, watching whales from the shore, and sharing a cup of tea with my son… I will cherish this moment forever. Happiness can be as simple as that.
Other things to do in Qeqertarsuaq
As I mentioned, tourism on Disko Island is just starting to develop. In addition to the things mentioned above, there are also more hiking possibilities, you can rent a mountain bike at the hotel, or book a boat tour to spot whales from closer-by and see the beautiful coastline of Kuannit from the sea…
Is Greenland vacation for you?
That last evening on Disko Island, we met an older couple from Denmark who also came to the beach for the whales. They told us that they come to Greenland often, that they had brought their kids and grandchildren with them this time, and that it’s the best vacation they can imagine. I couldn’t have agreed with them more.
I realize that vacation in a place like Greenland is not for everyone, but if you love nature and remote places, and if simple things in life give you pleasure, you will absolutely love Greenland.
My best memories? The most simple things, actually… Watching the smile on my son’s face as we spotted our first iceberg from the plane. Reading a book on the terrace of our hotel in Ilulissat while watching the never-ending sunset at midnight. Seeing whales from the shore so many times.
My only regret? That we didn’t stay in Greenland longer.
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