Trip of a Lifetime... Greenland
Trip of a Lifetime... Greenland
An icy wilderness of immaculate beauty
Greenland. We’ve all heard of it. Most of us know it’s an island. Most of us know where it is, and that by default it gets rather nippy in winter. And summer for that matter. But beyond that there appears to be a 2,166,000 km2 void in our knowledge, which is intriguing to say the least. The aforementioned figure, for instance, makes Greenland the largest island and the 12th largest country on the planet. With its population of 59,700 – one person for each 39 km2 – it is also the most sparsely populated nation on the planet.
Quite what the Viking vagabond Erik the Red was thinking when he named Greenland 1,000 years ago is unclear: 80% of the land is covered in ice and the remaining 20% is permafrost, meaning there’s practically nothing in the way of verdant terrain. The vast majority of the population lives in a scattering of small settlements that cling to the ribbons of serrated coast, mainly in the west, and roads are almost non-existent – certainly between towns at any rate.
Greenland, then, is about as green as the Moon. It is also, however, one of the most pristine, untouched and exhilarating places you could ever hope to visit, which is why we have chosen to feature it as one of our Trips of a Lifetime! The lack of infrastructure (there are no railways either) means that, for the casual holiday-maker, Greenland is not a DIY destination. Therefore, if you want to explore beyond the main transport hubs, we strongly recommend you join an organised tour of some sort. In this article we have selected two to whet your appetites, but be mindful that there is a fantastic variety on offer, so be sure to explore the links for additional information and inspiration.
Ilulissat Winter Wonderland
Ilulissat is a pretty harbour town on Greenland’s west coast whose name in the local dialect means ‘icebergs’. This is after the nearby ice fjord, a place of phenomenal natural beauty, where the Jakobshavn Glacier crumbles gargantuan bergs – some more than a kilometre in height – into the sea on a minute-by-minute basis (it’s the most active glacier in the northern hemisphere).
Much of the excursions on the Ilulissat Winter Wonderland tour revolve around the fjord, but your first experience of it will be on the flight in, from Kangerlussuaq (Greenland’s only international airport) to Ilulissat, where the plane soars at a delightfully low altitude over the whole scene. For this reason you may choose to opt out of paying for an additional helicopter flight once there, though if you have the cash to spare you certainly won’t regret it. Other fjord excursions include a small road trip to a magnificent viewing point and a 2-hour boat cruise, where you can get almost within touching distance of the icy giants.
Away from the fjord, you can choose between a number of dog-sledding excursions, one of which will take you on a six-hour adventure into the silent, stark landscape, pausing at a traditional Inuit settlement – Oqaitsut – en route. The inhabitants number less than 40 and are entirely dependent on fishing and hunting.
Winter Aurora & Polar Circle Adventure
The small settlement of Kangerlussuaq, the main base of this tour, may not have the same charm as Ilulissat, but its surrounds offer an exceptional variety of experiences. Most importantly, this is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. One of the (absolutely essential) excursions is to take an evening trip to a cosy log cabin at nearby Lake Ferguson, where a guide will tell Greenlandic legends while the night sky performs its legendary colour display.
If you can drag your eyes away from the heavens, there are plenty of other trips available. The region is teeming with wildlife, with particularly strong populations of muskox and reindeer, and you can pay a visit to a prime viewing location for both. Also on offer are dog-sledding tours, a classic Arctic experience which will see you dragged across the ice and snow by a team of huskies, just like the Inuit have been doing for centuries.
One of the more adventurous excursions will take you inland to the Greenland Ice Cap, which completely covers the interior of the country and which is the second largest ice sheet on Earth. The draw here is the landscape itself: you’ll see former glacier valleys, frozen rivers and mind-blowing natural ice-sculptures; this is nature at its rawest.
The Winter Aurora & Polar Circle Adventure is also operated by Regent Holidays (see above for details). Prices begin at £1,835 per person (excursions not included). See here for more details.
Main image credit: ilovegreenland
This is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights
By Themes (All Destinations)
- Central America
- Middle East
- North America
- South America
"Once you step onto the road, and you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to" - J.R.R. Tolkien