Greenland is a haven for adventurers, a dream destination for wildlife lovers, and one of the best places to learn about Inuit culture. A trip to Greenland is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that’s unlike any other experience in the world. From the towering icebergs of the Ilulissat Icefjord to the colorful architecture of Sisimiut -- not to mention the delectable catfish and crowberries -- Greenland impresses, and I was blown away.
Your travel wish list may be filled with unusual and alluring dream destinations, but here are 10 reasons West Greenland should be at the top of that list!
1. The Arctic Foods Are Unusual -- And Delicious
For a territory covered almost entirely by ice, Greenland sure knows how to serve a tasty, fresh meal. Local seafood like halibut is available just about everywhere (served smoked or grilled), while the popular musk-ox burger -- a bit trickier to find -- is a culinary adventure in and of itself. This rich patty is made from the musk ox, a mammal found across Arctic territories like Greenland. Ilulissat’s Restaurant Mamartut regularly offers it.
For another Greenlandic delicacy, give crowberries a try. These blueberry-like berries sprout up in fields, on hills, and even along the roadside (because the isolated, traffic-free roads in Greenland are not like the roads at home!). While the crowberries are a bit tangier and significantly less sweet than blueberries, they taste great in crowberry liqueur -- so good, in fact, that I brought an entire bottle home with me!
2. The Sunsets Last For Hours
I saw some of the best sunsets of my life while traveling through Greenland. There’s something surreal about watching the sky turn orange as the sun sets behind an iceberg. Even better? The legendary sunsets of West Greenland last even longer during the summer, when the majority of the Arctic enjoys the “midnight sun.” In some parts of the Arctic, the sun doesn’t set at all in July and August! The extended late-August sunsets are particularly spectacular. I spent at least 2 hours photographing my first sunset of the trip.
A boat tour is the best way to experience these epic sunsets. In Ilulissat, you can take a sunset tour through the Ilulissat Icefjord to watch the icebergs come alive in hues of pink and orange. If you’re taking a cruise -- I went on my Arctic expedition with Adventure Canada -- you can spend hours on the boat deck watching Mother Nature put on her best show.
3. You’ll Probably Get To See The Northern Lights
One of the most common bucket-list items is witnessing the Northern Lights firsthand, and given West Greenland’s Arctic locale -- my two favorite towns, Ilulissat and Sisimiut, are above the Arctic Circle -- it is one of the best places to see it. Once the season of the midnight sun is finished, the cooler fall months with shorter days take over, and the Northern Lights are in full swing. You can actually see the lights as early as August; the Adventure Canada cruise immediately after mine witnessed them outside Sisimiut on August 22. (I, sadly, was not so lucky, thanks to the cloudy skies.)
4. You Can Hike Where Few Have Hiked Before
Greenland is one of the few places that doesn’t feel overexplored (yet), and I particularly noticed this on the quiet and scenic hiking trails along the coast. As part of our cruise, we hiked across the Arctic tundra near Upernavik in northwestern Greenland. This remote, isolated coastline felt like a set from The Lord of the Rings. The lush tundra and glassy lakes set beneath jagged, towering mountains were near silent, besides the shrill sound of a rogue gull communicating with its young. Hiking in this peaceful natural setting along the western coast reminded me why I fell in love with hiking in the first place, and now I’m determined to return for more time in Greenland’s great outdoors.
5. You Can See The Greenland Ice Cap From Above
Greenland’s massive ice cap spans more than one million square miles, making it the world’s second-largest body of ice after Antarctica. Given its size and remoteness, it’s hard to fully see or comprehend the ice cap from the ground, which is why an Ilulissat flightseeing experience with AirZafari is a must.
On this small plane, you’ll soar above the Ilulissat Icefjord and the Jakobshavn Glacier. You’ll see icebergs calving and, if you’re lucky, even whales swimming from this unique aerial vantage point. You’ll also learn that the ice cap is rapidly shrinking due to a series of summer heat waves.
6. There Are More Icebergs Than You Can Count
The coastline of Greenland is covered with massive and strangely shaped icebergs; some are hundreds of feet high. These natural wonders are common in waters located above the Arctic Circle, but even though I had read about icebergs and seen them in movies, I wasn’t prepared for the real thing. I spent hours on the Adventure Canada deck just admiring their unique shapes and incredible size and scope. I was surprised to learn that some of these icebergs are massive enough to last as far south as the latitude of New York City.
7. The Inuit Culture Is Welcoming
The majority of Greenland’s population is Inuit, which means a trip to the area will introduce you to the traditions and customs of a culture you’ve likely never experienced. Visiting the local museums is a must no matter where you go in Greenland; Nuuk’s National Museum of Greenland features especially detailed displays on Inuit history. These exhibits are designed to help visitors understand not just the group’s customs, but the hardships the Inuits have faced, the resiliency that’s helped them persevere, and the challenges that lie ahead.
Once you’re up to speed on Greenland’s Inuit culture, it’s easy to go out and experience that culture for yourself. Inuit guides offer tours in most Greenland towns, or you can go the informal route by striking up a conversation with a shopkeeper or waitress. I found that the Inuit residents of Ilulissat and Sisimiut were beyond excited to chat with me, and most spoke impeccable English.
8. Wildlife Abounds
Whales, musk oxen, foxes, and birds flock to Western Greenland, and there are numerous eco-friendly opportunities for visitors to see them. During my time exploring the coastline, I didn’t see foxes or musk oxen, but I did find that whales were easy to spot -- particularly in the waters near Ilulissat.
If Greenlandic whale watching is on your bucket list (and it should be!), take a zodiac tour of the Ilulissat Icefjord, where humpbacks and finbacks breach and dive alongside dramatic, sky-high icebergs. This was included in our Adventure Canada trip and was by far my favorite part of the journey. We saw at least a half dozen whales in 2 hours!
9. You’ll Learn About Climate Change Firsthand
Seeing the effects of climate change firsthand was my most emotional travel experience to date. It was gut-wrenching to witness how quickly these landscapes are changing, melting, and -- when it comes to glaciers -- shrinking. Learning how climate change affects the Inuit community made my heart sink even more.
But I also found the experience moving, and in some ways inspirational. The people of Greenland aren’t debating climate change, nor are they wallowing in it. They’re adapting and finding alternative methods of food preparation and homebuilding (particularly important with the thawing permafrost), and they’re showing the rest of us that lifestyle change isn’t just necessary -- it’s doable. This is the kind of transformative experience more travelers need to witness firsthand and share back at home.
10. It's Easy To Get There From Iceland
Greenland has always captivated travelers with its remoteness, and while it’s definitely still a wild and faraway place, it’s not as inaccessible as many think. Air Iceland operates flights from Reykjavik to towns like Nuuk and Ilulissat, and while these flights don’t come cheap, they make it easy to get to and from this once-in-a-lifetime destination.
A trip to Greenland is also a great excuse to visit -- or revisit -- Iceland. If the land of fire and ice is on your itinerary, don’t miss our guide to the best things to see and do in Iceland.
Greenland is a beautiful, bucket-list-worthy destination, but it’s also fragile. These lands and waters are facing massive change, which is why it’s more important than ever to minimize your footprint when visiting. Here’s how to visit the Arctic in a responsible, eco-friendly way.