Greenland Travel Guide
Introduction Spanning over 2.1 million square kilometres, Greenland is the world’s largest island, and is larger than all but eleven countries around the globe. Despite this, it is also the world’s most sparsely populated country, with only 0.02 people per square kilometre, owing to its unforgiving polar climate, and the fact that more than three quarters of the island is covered by a glacial ice sheet that is three kilometres deep at its thickest point. While it may be a tiny country population-wise (little more than 56,000 as of the latest census), it comes up huge in hospitality, epic landscapes, and a 4,000 year old culture that will enchant you when you come into contact with it for the first time. Currency: Danish Krone Languages: Greenlandic, Danish, English
What To Do
Nearly all visitors to Greenland will begin their trip by flying into Nuuk, which is one of the world’s northernmost capitals, as well as one of its smallest, as it has just 16,000 people.
Despite having the population of what would be a run of the mill town elsewhere in the world, it is home to this nation’s cultural assets, which includes the National Museum of Greenland as its peak attraction.
Inaugurated as this nation’s first official museum in the 1960’s, the exhibits here chronicle 4,500 years of human habitation on the world’s largest island, with artifacts from the nomadic lives of the Inuit and the medieval settlements of the Norse (Vikings) being found throughout this cozy wood-frame building.
Thespians looking to get a taste of Greenlandic culture will find it on a visit to the Nuuk Art Museum.
Founded in 2005 in a former Seventh Day Adventist church, it contains the artistic heritage of a vast and remote nation, with watercolour paintings and drawings taking their place alongside traditional Inuit carvings made of ivory, soapstone and wood.
Noted Danish painter Emanuel A. Petersen also has a significant collection of works housed here, with over 150 paintings occupying a significant portion of the wallspace at this outstanding art gallery.
When the time comes to get out of the “big city”, head to the town of Qaqortoq, which can be found in Greenland’s south.
From here, it is quick boat ride to the Uunartoq Geothermal Springs, where groundwater bubbles up to the surface at a toasty 38 degrees Celsius.
The wildness of this undeveloped spring, combined with chilly air (rarely above 10 degrees Celsius in summer) mountain peaks and arctic wildflowers will make this afternoon one of the biggest highlights of your journey to Greenland.
While Greenland is commonly considered by many outsiders to be little more than a massive glacier island fringed by a barren, rocky coast, there is actually a fjord in its extreme south where it gets warm enough for a forest to grow.
While trees have been planted elsewhere in the country with limited success (check out the scrawny runts in Nuuk that somehow manage to survive), the Qinngua Valley is home to the country’s only natural forest.
While the maximum heights of the trees (the downy birch and grey leaf willows top out at 8 metres high) are severely limited by a climate that is still quite harsh by global standards, the novelty of their presence and the weather that enables them to exist make the Qinngua Valley a wonderful place to go trekking and backcountry camping during Greenland’s ultra long summer days.
If you really want to go on an epic adventure during your time in this remote country though, you’ll want to start saving and planning now for the expensive and challenging conditions that greet a visit to Northeast Greenland National Park. Comprising the entire northeastern quadrant of the island, it is the world’s largest national park, with its 972,001 square kilometres being larger than all but the 30 largest nations on earth. It is located in a desolate part of this country with no permanent human population (scientists, military and national park staff fly in and out of the region on temporary placements in camps), so those that wish to visit will need to be self-sufficient, and must secure the proper permits before arriving in Ittoqqortoormiit, the gateway town to this vast preserved expanse. While the lion’s share of the park is taken up by the massive interior ice sheet that has come to define this country in the eyes of foreigners unfamiliar with its nuances, much of the coast is ice-free tundra, giving wildlife like musk oxen, arctic foxes and polar bears plenty of room to roam. If you are exploring the park by cruise, you’ll have a chance to see many glaciers that descend to the water’s edge, giving you a chance to see one of the many places along the park’s coast where icebergs are born.
What To Eat
Being a polar nation with a growing season that is extremely limited or non-existent, the local cuisine has come to rely on the flesh hunted from the animals that roam the land and swim in the sea.
Suaasat, Greenland’s national dish, is a soup made from seal, whale, seabirds, or reindeer (in the past, the meat portion would come down to whatever was available at the time), and in modern times, it has come to include onion, potatoes, and rice/barley as well.
Seasoned with salt, pepper and bay leaves, it is a soul warming dish that will get your body ready to face a climate that is considerably colder than what you would associate with a summer’s day back home.
Another widely consumed dish by many Inuit descendants, eating Mattak might be disagreeable with those that are opposed to consuming cetacean species, but if it doesn’t bother you as much, this dish is usually consumed raw by those keeping to tradition.
Those that prefer their food to be cooked will also find this dish served up fried in many communities, so while it might not be as healthy as eating it the traditional way, you can keep true to consuming local food in this way.
If you are a caffeine addict, you owe it to yourself to have a Greenlandic coffee before leaving this unique country.
Featuring steaming hot coffee, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, whiskey and whipped cream on top, it is a sweet and strong way to finish off a hearty meal anywhere you happen to find yourself in Greenland.