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Are you looking to travel to Greenland? Do I ever have the post for you! I recently traveled to Greenland as a solo female traveler to find out what life is like in this cold and unforgiving corner of the Arctic.
Greenland is not a common travel destination. Most of the time when you tell people you’re going to Greenland, they respond with, “You can go there?” But travelers have long known that travel to Greenland is not only possible, but incredible.
I found Greenland to be a stunning and challenging destination, with spectacular natural wonders and a haunting history, all set in one of the most remote corners of the globe.
In this post, I’m collecting all of the vital information I learned from my time in Greenland — because I want you to know the truth about what to expect in Greenland.
Let’s take a look at Greenland!
This post was published in October 2023.
Table of Contents
Yes, you can travel to Greenland. Yes, people live there.
A lot of people have the belief that Greenland is nothing but a sheet of ice. While the Greenland Ice Sheet covers the vast majority of the country, Greenland is inhabited along its green coastline.
Greenland has a population of about 56,000, of whom roughly 89% are Greenlandic Inuit (including mixed race Inuit). That makes Greenland one of the most sparsely populated places in the world.
Yes, Greenlandic people are Inuit — same as the Indigenous people in Alaska and northern Canada. But they haven’t been here for thousands of years. The Inuit migrated from North America to Greenland in the 14th century.
Most of the population is concentrated on the southern and central west coast — the most populated city is the capital, Nuuk, with a population of about 19,000.
Yes, you can fly to Greenland. Air Greenland is a real airline flying from Copenhagen, Denmark. Icelandair flies to Greenland from Reykjavík, Iceland.
However, while there are roads within Greenlandic cities and towns, there are no roads connecting these towns. The only way to get from town to town is by plane or by boat. Air Greenland has small planes connecting these cities; the various boat lines are much smaller than you’d guess.
Why should people travel to Greenland?
What drew me to Greenland was the chance to visit a remote, beautiful, cold part of the world. I’m drawn to what I call “the edges of the world” — not just the polar regions, but far-north or far-south places with cold weather and quirky residents, like Newfoundland, Tierra del Fuego, Iceland, and Shetland.
Antarctica is still the most meaningful place I’ve visited, and it shattered my ego with its beauty and starkness. Since that trip, I’ve been longing to experience the Arctic as well.
The major difference is that unlike Antarctica, the Arctic is inhabited, and I’ve been curious about the Inuit people who have made their lives here for centuries. How do they live their lives, in face of harsh living conditions, colonialism, cruelty, and being on the front lines of climate change?
I didn’t get to experience Inuit culture firsthand as much as I had hoped, but I learned a lot secondhand — and the natural environment was intimidatingly beautiful. There’s something about being in isolated pockets of the world that strangely gives me comfort.
Overall, I’d say that this trip paid off very nicely — though not as astoundingly as Antarctica did.
Best Things to Do in Greenland
So many of my favorite activities in Greenland were hikes — especially the times I went solo hiking. I absolutely loved getting up at 5:00 AM to hike on Disko Island, seeing the waterfalls and black sand beaches lit up with the perfect early light.
Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is probably the most famous destination in all of Greenland. I absolutely loved taking a sunset cruise among the icebergs, and admiring the glacier lagoon while hiking near Sermermiut on the mainland.
Visiting the Greenland Ice Cap was another big highlight. It’s something you’ve seen on maps since you were a kid — and here you are, actually walking on it!
One thing that really surprised me was how few opportunities there were to explore Indigenous culture in Greenland. That’s something I really wanted to explore. (Much more on that below.)
For me, my favorite “cultural” activity was visiting Greenlandic grocery stores, local discount shops, and the occasional restaurant that doubles as a casino. The kinds of places where locals actually spend their time.
Yes, you can travel to Greenland independently.
A lot of travelers assume they need to book a tour in order to visit Greenland. That’s not true — plenty of independent travelers can and do travel in Greenland independently.
You can book flights with Air Greenland. You can book hotels on Booking or Airbnb, or independently through their websites. You can book activities through tour providers.
However — booking a package in Greenland could save you a lot of money. I actually booked a package, which is very unusual for me.
When I plan a trip, I travel independently 99% of the time. Packages aren’t my thing; to me, much of the fun comes from doing the research and finding the perfect places for me!
However, I started researching Greenland travel seven months ahead and realized that this was pretty late for planning a Greenland trip, especially in summer. Travel infrastructure in Greenland is limited and places book up quickly. Not a lot of hotels were left.
I ended up booking the Dream Trip in Disko Bay package with Greenland-Travel.com (which I paid for myself — nothing on this trip was sponsored). This tour included flights from Copenhagen and all ground transport; all hotel stays; some meals; and you could add on a package to include tours and activities (which you should). Unlike a tour, this package did not include a tour guide and gave full free time outside the scheduled activities.
It turns out that Greenland-Travel is part of a company that includes Air Greenland, the World of Greenland tour company, and the Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat. Because it’s all one company, you’re able to book these tours for less.
World of Greenland, for example, is the only company offering an Oqaatsut kayaking day trip! It’s not like Iceland, for example, where you have several different companies offering similar tours. There’s no real competition in Greenland.
An additional benefit to booking a package is having someone else be in charge of logistics if anything goes wrong. Which brings me to my next point…
You should be prepared for delays and cancellations when traveling in Greenland.
Greenland has extremely limited travel infrastructure — and the natural environment here is challenging. I had read about lots of Greenland travelers having their trips interrupted with cancellations.
And unfortunately, it happened to me, too. Our boat to Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island was cancelled due to weather. We had to spend an extra day in Aasiaat — and I had pretty much exhausted the things to do in Aasiaat after 24 hours there, which was not ideal.
Greenland-Travel took care of everything. They extended our stay at the hotel, got us food vouchers, arranged for us to take the next available boat, and even refunded us for the cost of one day of the trip as soon as we sent our bank details (another good reason to have a bank account with Wise, as I sent them the details of my EUR account and converted them to USD and transferred to my regular bank account). That was impressive!
Compare that to a fellow traveler I met who was traveling independently in Greenland. He was supposed to be on our same boat that got cancelled. And he ended up having to hang out nearby for nine hours, going back to the port every now and then and asking if there were any updates.
That alone made booking a package so worth it for me. I was very happy with Greenland-Travel and would recommend them.
You do not need to explore Greenland by cruise ship. In fact, you shouldn’t.
As someone who has worked in the travel industry for more than a decade, I’ve seen firsthand the damage that cruise ships inflict on local communities. But at first, I didn’t think it would be as bad in Greenland. Couldn’t they use the extra tourism?
Oh, was I ever wrong. Everyone I spoke to in Greenland who works in tourism HATES the cruises with a burning passion. Like everywhere else in the world, cruises dump enormous numbers of people into small spaces who crowd the streets, fill the sights to overflowing, spend little to no money, and leave.
In Ilulissat, locals told me that when cruise ships are in town, the wooden pathway to Sermermiut, a popular attraction, is so crowded that people walk on the ground, stomping on the delicate plants, despite being told repeatedly to stick to the path.
Originally I had been looking into Greenland cruises — probably with Quark Expeditions, as I had a great trip with them in Antarctica — but now that I know what I know, I would not recommend anyone do an expedition cruise to inhabited parts of Greenland.
Overall — please visit Greenland overland rather than taking a cruise. But if you are set on cruising, choose a small ship expedition that visits primarily uninhabited destinations.
Greenland is an Indigenous destination, but Indigenous people are rarely profiting from tourism here.
If there’s any one thing I want you to take away from this piece, it’s this. I was shocked at how few Indigenous people are profiting from tourism — or even WORKING in tourism in Greenland. All of the higher-level tourism jobs are taken by Danes.
I didn’t have a single Greenlandic tour guide — every guide was Danish. (Though two people I met had an Indigenous guide once.) I want to be clear that they were wonderful guides, enthusiastic and caring, many of them university students here for the summer, but I really wish I had been hearing from and interacting with Greenlandic guides.
Greenlandic people, by contrast, were often working in tourism as hotel maids, servers, cooks, occasionally hotel front desk workers or assistants to the boat captain. While one boat captain I had was Greenlandic, the rest of the boat captains were Danish.
In some ways, this is similar to any colonized region — the colonizers are privileged with more education and experience, as well as the money to make more money.
But what floored me is that there are almost no Indigenous travel experiences or activities in the parts of Greenland I visited, including Ilulissat, the most touristy place in the country.
I’ve taken part in so many Indigenous travel experiences around the world. Experiencing a Zapotec temezcal in Oaxaca; Indigenous gallery-hopping in Alice Springs, Australia; learning about Mi’kmaq life in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. In places like the Yucatán, Indigenous culture is so intertwined with life that locals pepper their Spanish with Mayan slang.
But there was very little of this in Greenland — a place where 9 out of 10 residents are Greenlandic Inuit.
On a Greenland travel booking website, I found two Indigenous activities in Ilulissat: a kaffemik, or a traditional local party with lots of food and cakes served, and a learn to speak Greenlandic crash course. Both cool things! I SO wanted to do the kaffemik, but alas — it was only offered one day per month, and nobody at any of the hotels knew of any other kaffemiks taking place.
You know what there COULD be in Greenland? Off the top of my head — a kayaking demonstration. Learn how to craft Greenlandic textiles or carve reindeer antlers. Have a traditional Greenlandic meal with a family. Go fishing (or ice fishing in the winter) using traditional methods. A Greenlandic music session. Go foraging for plants, Greenlandic style.
These activities would put money in Inuit pockets — and that’s the way it should be.
But until these activities exist, if you want to have a peek at Indigenous culture in Greenland, one of your best bets is to hang out outside the local church on Sunday. If there’s a christening taking place (and there often is), there will be locals in traditional Greenlandic clothing.
Other than that, I highly recommend visiting the Inuit Artist Workshop in Ilulissat, where you can chat with Greenlandic artists and buy their work.
And yet I learned so much about Greenlandic people.
Here are some things I learned:
In Aasiaat, my guide shared that Greenlandic women often have their first child at 18 or 19, they stay home with the baby a few years, and then go back to school for vocational training. Young men often work as fishermen.
The only university in Greenland is in capital city Nuuk, and there are only two fields of study: teaching and nursing. For everything else, you’ll need to study in Denmark or internationally.
There are only three police boats in all of Greenland. I saw one of them in Aasiaat. (Also, the police in that town sure do love driving the same streets over and over. Maybe they thought I looked like a criminal.)
You see purple wildflowers every now and then in Greenland, my kayaking guide in Oqaatsut told me. They’re called nivi, and Nivi is a popular name for Greenlandic women.
In the winter, some settlements (including as big as Ilulissat) can go for months without a grocery delivery due to the water freezing. When the grocery boat finally shows up, people go and line up, cheer the unloading of packages, and buy out everything in the store until the shelves are bare.
This was told to me with a smile, but it made my stomach clench. These people were starving. These people regularly starve during the winter.
Again, all of these guides were Danish, and I wish I had learned more directly from Greenlandic people.
I fell down a Wikipedia rabbit hole in Greenland and learned about the cruelties Danes inflicted on Greenlanders. Like the spiral case, where women and girls were sterilized without their knowledge or consent between 1966 and 1975. Guess when the investigation began? May 2023.
And then the “legally fatherless” case between 1914 and 1974, where the children of Greenlandic women and Danish men were legally made unable to inherit from their fathers.
And the Little Danes experiment in 1951, when 22 Greenlandic children were stolen from their families, sent to Danish families, and attempted to be reeducated as Danes. Half the children died in young adulthood. The Danish government didn’t apologize until 2020.
It’s infuriating how common these stories are around the world — how marginalized communities, from Black Americans to Indigenous Australians, are so often abused in similar ways.
Greenland Travel FAQ
Here are a few nitty-gritty things about travel to Greenland that you should know:
Is Greenland a country? Technically Greenland is part of Denmark, but it’s an autonomous territory, and many people consider it a country.
How do you get to Greenland? There are direct flights to Greenland from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Reykjavík, Iceland. Bigger airports are being built in Greenland so they can serve direct flights from North America soon. There are no public ferries to Greenland, but many cruises to Greenland depart from Iceland.
How long does it take to get to Greenland? The flight from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq takes 4.5 hours and you cross four time zones, so you arrive 30 minutes after you departed! The time zone is two hours later than the east coast of the United States.
Can you do a day trip to Greenland from Iceland? Technically, yes, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT DO THAT.
What currency does Greenland use? Greenland uses the Danish kroner (DKK), and almost everywhere accepts credit cards. I only brought a small amount of DKK with me and used credit cards for everything else. ATMs can be scarce outside the major cities.
Is the water safe to drink in Greenland? Yes, you can drink the tap water in Greenland.
Are there special requirements to visit Greenland? Visiting Greenland is the same as visiting Denmark. You won’t need any additional documentation if you’re able to visit the Schengen Area without a visa.
“Greenland has lots of ice, and Iceland has lots of green?” Not exactly.
You may have heard this saying before, but as soon as you say you’ve been to Greenland, EVERYONE will parrot this back at you. (It’s almost as bad as everyone saying, “It’s good luck, you know!” on our rainy wedding day in Boston, thinking they were the only ones saying this, but EVERYONE WAS SAYING THIS.)
Greenland is home to the Greenland Ice Sheet, which covers 80% of Greenland’s surface. Considering that Greenland is the world’s largest island, that’s a LOT of ice.
But there’s the other 20% that is NOT covered with ice — which includes the inhabited parts of Greenland. It gets pretty green here, and there are lots of lovely wildflowers, too!
You may be traveling with lots of Danes.
Greenland might not be an obvious travel destination — but it is a major bucket list destination for many Danish people, similar to how Alaska is a major bucket list destination for many Americans.
It turned out that eight Danes had booked the same Disko Bay package as me. At 39, I was the youngest; most were 50+. While we weren’t glued to each other’s sides all day, we did go to all of our activities together, stay in the same accommodation, and share many meals together.
My fellow travelers were interesting people, who made me feel welcome. That said, there will always be a bit of awkwardness when it’s a big group dinner and you’re the only person who doesn’t speak everyone else’s language! They always switched to English when including me, which was lovely of them, but I didn’t want them to feel like they couldn’t speak Danish together.
It made me extra happy I had read The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, a memoir about a British expat in Denmark trying to figure out what made Danish people tick. I put that knowledge to use and asked none of them what they did for a living!
One thing that surprised me was that the Danes, while well traveled, weren’t the extreme travelers I had expected. None of them had been to Iceland, for example.
But other nationalities traveling in Greenland were extreme travelers! The American and Swiss travelers I befriended in Greenland and I would have long, rapid-fire conversations veering from Indonesia to Uzbekistan, Guatemala to Moldova, and around and back again.
There are LOTS of cool places to visit in Greenland.
Here are some of the places I visited in Greenland:
Kangerlussuaq is the town where the jets from Copenhagen land. From here, smaller planes take off to other parts of Greenland. So chances are high that you will spend at least a day here.
You won’t find much traditional Greenlandic culture in Kangerlussuaq — it was originally a US military base, which the Americans sold back to Greenland for a dollar in 1992. It still has the feel of a military base today, and now has a population of about 500.
The major activity in Kangerlussuaq is visiting the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is about a two-hour drive from the town. Walking on that ice is pretty cool, and the surrounding scenery is a great introduction to the country.
If you have a chance, be sure to eat at Restaurant Roklubben on Lake Ferguson, 5 kilometers south of town. This is probably the best single restaurant that I ate at in Greenland, and everything was spectacular.
Aasiaat, Greenland’s fifth-largest city, is not an obvious tourism draw — but I appreciated visiting it because it’s a modern Inuit city. Aasiaat has a population of about 3,000.
Aasiaat has a small museum — unfortunately closed for both of the days I was there — and a beautiful church worth visiting. You can also take a boat tour to see icebergs, the whale graveyard, and the abandoned settlement of Manermiut.
Beyond that, I found Aasiaat to be a fantastic place to photograph. So many brightly colored cottages on jagged, rocky hills, long steel pipes connecting all of them.
I recommend staying at Hotel SØMA Aasiaat, which has simple but comfortable rooms and has a great little canteen popular with locals. The view from the front is lovely.
Qeqertarsuaq and Disko Island
Disko Island is Greenland’s one and only volcanic island. It’s located across Disko Bay with direct boat journeys from Ilulissat and Aasiaat, making it a fairly easy destination to add on if you’re flying into either of those cities.
Right away, the volcanic landscape makes it feel so different — it looks so much like Iceland! Because of the geothermal activity, there are hot springs everywhere, and that draws whales to the island’s shores.
There are two major hikes you can do from Qeqertarsuaq: the hike to the waterfall, and the hike to Kuannit. Unfortunately I had awful weather the first day, but I woke up at 5:00 AM to do the waterfall hike before our 8:30 AM departure!
Qeqertarsuaq is a small town (population: 800) with lots of colorful homes and a lovely black sand beach with views of icebergs. I really enjoyed staying at the Hotel Disko Island, which served a fantastic dinner of snow crab.
Disko Island was my favorite place in Greenland. I only wish I had time to do the full Kuannit hike!
Ilulissat is Greenland’s biggest tourism draw and has the best tourism infrastructure in the country — plenty of hotels, tours, and activities. Ilulissat is the third-largest city in Greenland (population: 4,600) and is home to the Ilulissat Icefjord, one of Greenland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Here in Ilulissat, a glacier meets the sea, splintering off into thousands of icebergs. (Interestingly, some scientists believe the Titanic iceberg may have originated here.) You can see the icebergs up close, taking a sunset cruise through the glacier lagoon or kayaking close by. You can go fishing or whale watching here.
There is also nice hiking in Ilulissat. Sermermiut has a wooden pathway leading to views of the ice fjord (1.3 km or 0.8 miles), and from here you can split off and do the yellow hike back to town along the coastline (2.7 km or 1.7 miles) or the blue hike to the quarry (6.9 km or 4.3 miles). I did the yellow hike solo and loved it.
In general, I found it difficult to find quality souvenirs in Greenland — but Ilulissat is home to the Inuit Artist Workshop, where you can buy artwork directly from local artists. They’re open seven days a week and they take cash only.
I enjoyed getting to chat with an artist and take home an Inuit figure he carved from a reindeer bone. That’s where to spend your cash — into the pockets of locals.
In Ilulissat I stayed at the Hotel Arctic, an upscale hotel that is located a 20-minute walk from the main town but has a frequent shuttle. I loved my room, but they were a bit rough around the edges (like the restaurant would be half-empty but they couldn’t accommodate anyone for dinner — annoying for people who had just been offline for three days at Eqi Glacier and couldn’t call ahead!).
Oqaatsut is a small settlement an hour’s boat ride north of Ilulissat. I came here on a kayaking trip, and there is a lauded restaurant here called H8 Explorer.
The bay surrounding Oqaatsut is called Rodebay (red bay), which got its name from the blood of the whales that filled the bay. This was a popular spot for whale butchering in the past.
There’s not much to see in the town (population: 29!), but I did find it interesting to see a place like this and get some photos. I didn’t find the lunch from H8 Explorer to be that impressive (it was mostly cured lamb, whale steak, pickled halibut, and shrimp), but perhaps they’re a better option for dinner.
There’s also a hotel, Hotel Nordlys, if you’d like to stay overnight.
Eqi Glacier is a massive, incredibly active glacier a few hours’ boat ride north of Ilulissat. The glacier is five kilometers wide (3.1 miles) and brilliant shades of white streaked with bright blues. The glacier groans and cracks continuously, and this is the most reliable places to see live calving in Greenland.
Climate change is constantly on your mind while in Greenland, and Eqi Glacier is where you see it visually, the rocky landscape streaked with where the glacier used to extend before it began receding in the 1910s.
Eqi Glacier can be visited as a day trip from Ilulissat — it’s about a three-hour boat journey each way — but for something REALLY special, stay for two nights at Glacier Lodge Eqi. This is the most unusual place I stayed in Greenland. There are tiny red huts perched on a rocky hillside overlooking the glacier.
You should know that there is zero phone signal or wifi here; the power may randomly go off; and the basic huts and glamping tents have shared bathrooms. I upgraded to a hut with an ensuite bathroom and was so glad I did.
The big daytime activity here is hiking. I joined a group for a hike to the moraine, overlooking the glacier, which took about five hours; you can also do a full-day hike to the ice cap and back (that was a hard no for me). And the food is really, really good for being in the middle of nowhere!
The one issue here was the mosquitos. At certain times of day, the mosquitos and flies were NONSTOP, making it essential to wear a net. But that was mainly when the sun was shining. When it was rainy or cloudy, there were very few bugs or no bugs at all!
There are plenty of other places worth visiting in Greenland, especially South Greenland. Two other places worth visiting are the largest and second-largest cities in Greenland — Nuuk (population 19,000) and Sisimiut (population 5,500). Each city has its own distinct flavor, and Nuuk is as cosmopolitan as it gets in Greenland.
Another place worth visiting is Ilimanaq, a settlement south of Ilulissat. This is home to Ilimanaq Lodge, one of the luxury properties in Greenland — and the two-Michelin-star KOKS restaurant of the Faroe Islands has temporarily relocated there!
I ate at KOKS in Tórshavn back in 2012 and enjoyed every bite rapturously. I wish I had had time to visit Ilimanaq, but they were closed on my one free day in Ilulissat. I did meet a couple who went and loved the multi-course tasting menu, which included a reindeer blood petit-four. “Those are three words that NEVER go together!” I joked.
Suggested Greenland Itinerary for First-Timers
If you’re planning an independent trip to Greenland and don’t want to work with an agency, I recommend you keep it relatively simple. Don’t switch destinations every day; give yourself a few days in each place to account for delays or bad weather.
Option 1: Ilulissat. The easiest option would be to base in Ilulissat, which is Greenland’s main tourism hub and has lots of different activities and accommodation options. You can do this for just a few days, or perhaps even a week.
Option 2: Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat, and Nuuk. These are the three main hubs in western Greenland, and three very different places. You’ll easily be able to fly between all of them without having to rely on boats.
Optional Add-On: Disko Island. Once again, Disko Island was my favorite place in Greenland. I would recommend adding on two or three nights here, ideally three, just to make sure you’ll have a day with good weather for hiking. Book your boat trip from Ilulissat way in advance with Disko Line and stay at Hotel Disko Island.
Best Time to Visit Greenland
When is the best time to visit Greenland? It depends on what you’re looking for. Like many Arctic destinations, Greenland travel is divided into summer travel or winter travel.
If you visit Greenland during the summer months — as I did — you can maximize your outdoor activities with hiking, kayaking, and exploring towns on foot. The closer you are to late June, the more midnight sun you’ll have. This is the busiest and most expensive time to visit Greenland.
If you visit Greenland during the winter months, you can enjoy winter activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling, or staying in an igloo — plus all the beauty of snow-covered villages. The days are VERY dark in winter, though. But if you’re looking to see the northern lights, your best luck will be during the winter months.
Late spring brings husky puppies and much larger, more intense ice formations. Fall brings a fresh dusting of snow without endless darkness. And the aurora borealis also tends to be active around the spring and fall equinoxes.
What are hotels like in Greenland?
While the tourism industry in Greenland is underdeveloped, there are plenty of comfortable places to stay. I stayed at a variety of Greenland hotels, and every hotel had clean and comfortable accommodation with a full restaurant on site.
In Kangerlussuaq most people stay at the Hotel Airport, a basic hotel inside the airport. I stayed there my first night and ate at the cafeteria downstairs.
In Aasiaat I stayed at Hotel SØMA Aasiaat, a welcoming mid-range guesthouse with a canteen on-site that was popular with locals.
Hotel Disko Island in Qeqertarsuaq was a simple place but felt almost luxurious with the attention to detail. The restaurant on site was excellent (and is pretty much the only place in town to eat at night). Get the snow crab!
Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat at one point called itself “the world’s northernmost four-star hotel,” but I see they’re not using that phrase anymore. I’m guessing somewhere in Svalbard has that title now.
Hotel Arctic was the most high-end place I stayed, with really nice rooms and luxurious-feeling beds. While there was a restaurant (and a bar with local craft beers!) on-site, often they would be empty yet not accepting dining reservations, telling us to buy a sandwich for the night instead. For that and other reasons, I think they were a bit rough around the edges for a nice hotel.
But the most special and unique place was Glacier Lodge Eqi, with its little red huts on a rocky hillside, overlooking a massive calving glacier in the distance. It’s very basic in some ways, but the food is great.
Here the most basic huts and glamping tents have shared bathrooms, and I upgraded to a comfort hut that had an ensuite bathroom. No way was I going outside to pee in the middle of the night.
And when have you had the opportunity to be so isolated with views of a roaring glacier from the comfort of your little red cabin?
My big piece of advice: Bring an eye mask. Don’t count on hotels in Greenland to have blackout curtains.
The internet isn’t great in Greenland.
There is internet in Greenland, but don’t expect it to be great. In most places, speeds are slow.
These days, I like to buy an eSIM online when I travel so I can download a phone plan without having to get a card at a shop. I ended up getting an eSIM from Nuuk Mobile via the Airalo app. I got 1 GB of data for $9 USD, and I topped up three more times over my 11-day trip.
Did it work? Probably about two thirds of the time. When it worked, it worked fine — but it would randomly not work at all, even in busy places like the middle of Ilulissat or Aasiaat.
The one place I visited that had no internet whatsoever was Eqi Glacier — there was neither phone signal nor internet. The lodge had a satellite phone for emergencies. I knew that going in, and it was a nice digital detox for a few days.
My big piece of advice: Act like you won’t have any internet at all. Let your loved ones and job know that you’ll be unreachable.
And download all the entertainment you need BEFORE your trip (ebooks, podcasts, TV episodes, etc.). You’ll have a much easier time downloading them at home.
Greenland is very expensive.
Greenland is one of the most expensive travel destinations I have ever visited — and easily the most expensive place I’ve paid to visit out of pocket. You should know that going in.
Greenland is up there with Switzerland and Norway, and is more expensive than comparable destinations like Iceland and Finland.
Here are some prices I paid in Greenland in August 2023:
Coffee and cheesecake in Ilulissat: 65 DKK ($9 USD)
Local craft beer in Ilulissat: 95 DKK ($13.50 USD)
Gin and Labrador tea cocktail in Ilulissat: 118 DKK ($17 USD)
Two-course meal with one glass of wine at Roklubben in Kangerlussuaq: 580 DKK ($82 USD)
Greenlandic buffet at the Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat, food only: 435 DKK ($62 USD)
Kayaking excursion in Oqaatsut with transportation and lunch: 270 EUR ($286 USD)
Upgrade to a hut with a private bathroom at Glacier Lodge Eqi: 445 EUR ($471 USD) (yes, this is the cost of the upgrade alone)
The food in Greenland is not great.
I’ll be honest — I did have some wonderful meals in Greenland, but the overall quality of food in Greenland was lackluster at best. You can count on eating a good amount of seafood (particularly cod, shrimp, halibut, and the occasional snow crab or whale), with occasional lamb, reindeer, or musk ox (the beef of Greenland).
Fruits and vegetables are very limited here. I visited several grocery stores in Greenland (one of my favorite things to do in a new country!) and I was shocked at the terrible state of produce. So much produce was banged up, dried out, or moldy. Some grocery stores sold strawberries covered with thick layers of mold.
You’ll find a lot of Danish specialties, like smørrebrød (various open-faced sandwiches), and in the Danish tradition, the bread and butter is top-notch. Greenlanders also enjoy having coffee and cakes in the afternoon, which is fun!
There are a few Thai restaurants in Greenland, which might shock you if you haven’t come across lots of Thai restaurants in far northern Finland and the Faroe Islands like I have. There are a surprising number of Thai people in the Nordics.
Unfortunately, the Thai food had zero spice whatsoever. I asked the Thai servers to make it Thai spicy, the kind of spicy Thai people like. Say that in Thailand and they will happily murder you with chiles; in Greenland, it was about as spicy as mayonnaise.
But the best meals? Ooh, let me tell you about those.
In Kangerlussuaq, Restaurant Roklubben is superb. I had a fabulous potato soup and a roasted reindeer steak, which was perhaps the best meal of the trip. You’ll need to book the shuttle to the restaurant as it’s five kilometers out of town.
In Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island, Hotel Disko Island has an excellent restaurant. If snow crab is on the menu, you need to get it. What a delicious feast that was — we ate it like barbarians.
The restaurant at Glacier Lodge Eqi made some truly delicious dishes, including a tomato-based chowder with shrimp and halibut that I’m still thinking about.
In Illulissat, Restaurant Ulo at the Hotel Arctic puts on a Greenlandic buffet on Monday nights from June through August. I didn’t find the food particularly delicious, but this is your chance to try seal soup, whale, shrimp with lots of roe and all kinds of local seafood.
And if you’re craving something NOT Greenlandic, the burger at the Hotel Arctic is pretty decent.
What’s it like to travel to Greenland with dietary restrictions? I imagine it’s a challenge, but one that is mitigated by communicating with restaurants ahead of time. If you book through a company like Greenland-Travel, they’ll probably help you with that.
But just from what I observed, you can probably get by in the larger towns with simple restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc.), but I wouldn’t want to travel to Greenland with a long list of food allergies.
Get ready for Greenland wildlife — just not polar bears.
A lot of travelers expect to see polar bears in Greenland. While polar bears are one of the symbols of the country, it’s very rare to see them near inhabited areas. Your best chance may be seeing them by cruise ship in uninhabited parts of East Greenland.
But you know what you WILL see, if you’re lucky? Further inland, including around Kangerlussuaq, you might see reindeer and musk ox.
In the water, you might see whales upon whales upon whales — mostly humpback whales, minke whales, the occasional fin whale. (While I went on a whale-less whale watch in Aasiaat, I saw plenty of whales north of Ilulissat, near Oqaatsut.) And there are tons of cool birds in the skies.
And my absolute favorite — the arctic fox! Probably the cutest animal I’ve ever spotted on my travels!
But don’t approach the huskies in Greenland.
You’ll see plenty of husky dogs throughout Greenland — but you should never approach or touch them. Here in Greenland, huskies are workers, not pets.
Greenlandic huskies are the only dogs you’ll find in Greenland (with one prominent exception — the drug-sniffing dog at Kangerlussuaq Airport).
If you’d like to get some time with huskies, there are a few husky experiences you can do in Ilulissat. If you visit in the winter — or, more likely, fall through spring — you can go dog sledding in Greenland! An amazing Inuit tradition.
If you visit in the spring months, there will be puppies — and puppies are the only dogs that visitors can handle. Some let you cuddle the babies! (If I had been here in the spring, I would have been ALL OVER THAT.)
Visiting at another time of year? There is a group in Ilulissat that does a “feed the husky dogs” experience. Essentially throwing meat to the dogs and having them bark ferociously. That’s not really my thing, but it might be yours.
But other than those organized experiences, you should keep your distance from huskies in Greenland. The adults will be leashed, but be careful if you’re wandering into different areas to take photos. If you try to pet one and it attacks you, the whole pack will be put down.
Is Greenland safe for solo female travelers?
I knew from the beginning that I would be traveling solo in Greenland. Not only was this one of my long-held solo travel dreams, but my husband Charlie has zero interest in visiting the Arctic.
Greenland in general is a very safe destination for travelers. Violence against travelers is rare; the risk for natural disasters or political upheaval is low.
In fact, you might have an easier time being solo. When there are only 12 seats on the Disko Line ferries, you’ll have more luck getting a single seat than two people getting two seats. Additionally, don’t be surprised if you get a room with a single bed, which I did twice.
I didn’t receive any street harassment in Greenland, and none of the men made me feel uncomfortable — locals or visitors.
I hiked alone twice in Greenland — from Qeqertarsuaq to the waterfall on Disko Island, and along the Sermermiut yellow trail in Ilulissat — and felt extremely safe both times. Those were both short and easy (under two hours round-trip). I would not have attempted an ambitious hike solo, though, in Greenland or anywhere else.
In Greenland you may want to keep extra cash hidden on you somewhere, as you might get stuck somewhere for a few days in a place without ATMs.
The only times I felt nervous or borderline scared in Greenland was when there were huskies around. I had heard Greenlandic huskies were vicious and I didn’t want to get close to them. I do not like when street dogs show aggression and have bad memories of the dogs of Bali not letting me down the street.
A few times in Greenland I accidentally walked into a husky’s territory — like when taking photos in what looked like a junkyard in Aasiaat. I backed off with my eyes down every time I came across an adult husky. But you know what? None of them showed any aggressive behavior toward me, ever. Not so much as a low growl. Perhaps that was because I kept things low-key.
But overall I found Greenland to be a very safe place to travel solo, especially with the extra security of booking a package tour, as I did with Greenland-Travel.
Read More: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women
You’ll inevitably compare Greenland to Iceland.
If you’ve been to Iceland — as most Greenland visitors have, Danes excluded — Iceland will be on your mind for much of your Greenland trip. It certainly was on mine. I’ve been to Iceland four times, most recently on a two-week road trip the year before my Greenland trip.
I love Iceland and think it’s a fantastic destination for first-time solo female travelers, first-time international travelers, or anyone who wants an easy international destination.
I hate to say it, but Iceland provides much better value for money for tourists. While Greenland is beautiful, the scenery in Iceland is much better (is it any coincidence my favorite place in Greenland was Disko Island, the one volcanic island, which looked just like Iceland?). And Iceland is concentrated, with stunning natural sights around every corner.
Additionally, Iceland is much easier to get to, very easy to get around by driving, and has TONS of travel infrastructure. There are hotels at various price levels and all kinds of tours. All that…and while an expensive destination, Iceland is actually cheaper than Greenland.
Greenland is where you go for the isolation — to be removed from the world. That is much harder to find in Iceland, especially if you’re sticking to the much-traversed southwest corner of the country. You’re above the Arctic Circle in most of these places in Greenland. And Greenland gives you undeniable travel clout.
But yes. Being in Greenland reminded me just how good Iceland is as a destination. I’d love to get back to Iceland for some hiking in Thórsmörk next.
Add time in Copenhagen before and after your Greenland trip.
If you’re flying to Greenland from Copenhagen, I highly recommend giving yourself a two-day buffer on either side of the trip. Why? It gives you insulation from flight cancellations.
It’s not uncommon for flights to be cancelled to and from Greenland due to weather; since COVID, flying has been a bit of a mess with more cancellations than usual.
Luckily, Copenhagen is a delightful place to spend a few days. Some of my favorite things to do in Copenhagen include visiting Tivoli, the amusement park that inspired Walt Disney; enjoying the outdoor international food market at Reffen; admiring the Impressionist sculptures at Glyptotek; restaurant-hopping in hip Nørrebro, and taking lots of photos of Nyhavn, the colorful harbor.
And if you’ve never ridden a bicycle in a city before, Copenhagen is one of the best places to start. The infrastructure for cyclists here is second to none.
Greenland Packing List
Packing for Greenland is extra important because in most places you won’t be able to buy gear. Like most places, layers are the name of the game. You can take a look at my Iceland Packing List, which is nearly identical to what you need for Greenland.
If you visit in the summer, you can expect temperatures approximately from 35 F to 55 F (2-13 C). Temperatures will vary wildly depending on the time of day, whether there’s sun or wind, and how close to ice you are (BOY did it get cold on the ice sheet!), and how active you are makes a difference in how you feel.
In one day in Ilulissat I went from t-shirt weather while hiking to freezing and wearing everything I owned while sailing the icebergs after sunset.
I ended up having my laundry washed through my trip at the Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat, which had a surprisingly reasonable rate.
Here are some items that I found essential for a summer trip to Greenland:
Waterproof hiking boots — Yes, waterproof is a must, as you may be hiking through puddles. I brought my trail runners as alternative shoes for non-hiking days. And bring good hiking socks. I love my merino wool socks.
Base layers — Essential year-round. I love Uniqlo’s Heattech base layers (they’re super-affordable, too!) and every day I wore a Uniqlo Heattech long-sleeved top and Uniqlo Heattech leggings underneath everything. I would add a thick sweater if it was cold.
Puffer jacket and waterproof shell — Some travelers prefer to have a single jacket that does both, but I preferred the flexibility of wearing one jacket or both, especially when I got hot while hiking. I got both from the Patagonia outlet in Prague.
Hiking pants — I rotated two pairs throughout my trip (I was glad to have two, as one got very muddy!).
Eye mask — You’ll need these because it’s not easy to sleep through the midnight sun! And not all hotels have blackout curtains! I visited in August, when things weren’t so bad, but we still had the sun quite early and late.
Day pack for hiking — I’ve been using my Pacsafe Venturesafe as my carry-on work/hiking backpack for years, and it worked great in Greenland.
Reusable water bottle — Yes, the tap water is safe to drink in Greenland. Fill up whenever you can; it gets dry in the Arctic!
Sun protection — I got unexpectedly sunburned on my first day — because the Greenland Ice Sheet was reflecting the sun into my face! All that ice does double duty here! Don’t skimp on sunscreen or sunglasses, and consider a hat with a brim.
Strong portable charger — I was able to charge devices sufficiently in my room, but I always bring a portable charger on my travels. This is especially important if you get power outages like I did at Glacier Lodge Eqi.
Pre-downloaded entertainment — The internet is bad in Greenland, so I recommend coming with already downloaded ebooks for your Kindle, TV episodes, and podcasts for your downtime and travel days.
What I didn’t need — There’s no need for an umbrella when you have a hooded raincoat; I brought rain pants but didn’t need to use them; and I didn’t rent a telephoto lens this time, as this wasn’t a wildlife-focused trip.
Is Greenland Worth It?
I am SO happy that I chose to travel to Greenland. I feel enormously privileged to have visited this harsh and often unforgiving destination, to have hiked in its nature, and to be closer to understanding a bit of Greenlandic life.
However, I don’t think that Greenland travel is for everyone. I don’t think it’s one of the better choices for less experienced travelers, nor someone who wants lots of diverse activities and experiences. And as I said before, I think Iceland provides a lot more value (and wow factor) for slightly lower prices.
I do think that Greenland is an excellent destination for experienced travelers who are independently minded, enjoy getting off the beaten path, love nature, and are able to roll with the punches when things don’t go as planned.
If this post is resonating with you, I highly encourage you to look into traveling to Greenland. This is a truly special place in the world.
More on Iceland:
- What NOT to Do in Iceland
- The Ultimate Iceland Packing List
- What My Iceland Trip Cost: Detailed Budget Breakdown
- Blue Lagoon: Does it live up to the hype?
- 35 Awesome Things to do in Reykjavík, Iceland
- Why Iceland is Great for First-Time Solo Female Travelers
More on Antarctica:
- A Typical Day on an Antarctica Expedition Cruise
- The Ultimate Antarctica Packing List
- Kayaking in Antarctica: What You Need to Know
- Antarctica and the Traveler’s Ego
- My Favorite Moments in Antarctica
- Solo Female Travel in Antarctica: What’s it Like?
Have you been to Greenland? What tips would you share?