Greenland is a land vast removed from most aspects of modern day society. An immense landmass at the top of the world, it is both stark and beautiful. As an ice cap covers approximately 80% of its surface, most human settlements have been relegated along the coasts. Even then, only the hardiest and strongest have been able to survive the harsh arctic climate. From early Eskimo inhabitants to Icelandic settlers, Norse explores, and currently as part of the Danish Kingdom, Greenland has seen many groups of people pass through its barren landscape.
Ilulissat, located just over 200 miles north of The Arctic Circle is an unquestionable stop on any trip to the country. Located on the west coast and a 3 hour flight from Reykjavik, Iceland, the vast expanse of the Greenlandic Ice Cap below the plane is a breathtaking start to the journey. Aircraft types are generally small turboprops and don’t be surprised if a few rows at the back of the plane are reserved for boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables, as getting shipments of food into Greenland can be an undertaking. If traveling during colder months, also be prepared for flight cancellations, as the weather over Greenland can be turbulent and unpredictable.
The country has a population of fewer than 60,000 and at 4,500 people, Ilulissat is the 3rd most populous city; there are almost as many sled dogs as people here. With only a handful of hotels and public restaurants, options are limited, which is part of the allure of this isolated settlement. The best property in town is Hotel Arctic which boasts several rooms that feature incredible views out onto Disko Bay. For more adventurous guests during warmer months, you can stay in an aluminum igloo at the foot of a fjord outside the main property. Hotel Arctic also has the best restaurant in town, Restaurant Ulo which features amazing a la cart items such as fresh crab legs, scallops, halibut, and Greenlandic lamb.
After filling up on delicious local fare, there are numerous excursions to explore the surroundings. Greenlandic sled dogs which are integral to the way of life here are plentiful and available for rides that showcase the stark yet beautiful surroundings. The town of Ilulisat is also great for a leisurely stroll; the beautiful colored buildings and homes add an exciting pop of color plus stopping in for a visit at the Knud Rasmussen Museum provides an interesting history of the area. The building the museum is housed in was the birthplace of polar adventurer Knud Rasmussen and provides insight into the life of this explorer and his numerous expeditions.
For a bit more exertion, take a hike with a local guide out to the fjords to feel the all-encompassing beauty of this wild place. For an even more unique perspective, hop on a helicopter ride above the UNESCO World heritage site of the Ilulissat Ice-fjord. Seeing the expanse and majesty of the icebergs from above is a once in a lifetime experience. A final crowning adventure is sailing along the Ilulissat Ice-fjord. After seeing these towering cliffs of ice from both land and air, getting up close on the water allows the ability to marvel at their majesty from a new perspective. Taking this trip during the sunset hour adds to the already incomprehensible beauty of the scenery. This boat excursion makes you feel infinitesimally small and completely in awe of nature’s beauty.
Among these incredible sights, Ilulissat holds an important place in the conversation of how we treat our planet and how it will be preserved for future generations. Global warming is a weighty and divisive issue that the Ilulissat Ice-fjord and the Greenlandic Ice Cap that produces it are at the center of. The rate at which the ice here is melting is alarming and has sparked scientists, politicians and everyday citizens around the globe to unite in doing more to save planet Earth.
Greenland is one of the most remote and untouched areas in the world. It is a wild, savage and stunning country that proudly showcases the beauty of nature contrasted with its harsh and unforgiving climate.