The gentle guide to exploring the harsh landscapes of Greenland

WT Writer
Jan 13, 2021

It’s one of Earth’s harshest landscapes — but our ‘extreme’ expert Chris Haslam has made your trip to Greenland nice and easy…

Humanity clings to the edges of Greenland’s two million square kilometres of wilderness like puffins on a cliff, seemingly living by the grace of the goddess Sassuma Arnaa, wronged mother of the sea, and Kokksaut, a bird god who summons storms by ruffling his feathers.

The immensity and mystery of a land buried beneath an ice cap have inspired an Inuit culture of grim delight: legend says that Arsarnerit — the northern lights — are ancestors playing football with the severed head of an errant child. The wilderness is wandered by Qivittoq — vengeful outcasts with supernatural powers — and if you can tell a good ghost story Greenlanders will buy you drinks all night.

The best time to visit is late September, with long daylight hours, bearable temperatures and the chance to see the northern lights. It’s also a good time to spot blue, humpback and other whale species in the waters off the southern top. Finally, while Greenland makes independent travel easy — good air links, a reliable ferry network and plenty of simple accommodation choices — you’ll pay less and be better protected if you book through a tour operator.

Greenland Travel Itinerary

waterfall over rocky landscape with cloudy skies on Disko Island Greenland
Disko Island Waterfall Greenland. Credit | Istock

Day 1: Iceland

Once you reach Greenland, then Air Iceland Connect goes onward to Narsarsuaq. But before you get there why not spend a night in Reykjavík at somewhere cool — say, 101 Hotel? Make the most of the city’s cosmopolitan bar scene, because the only nightlife in Greenland is ancestors kicking heads across the sky

Day 2: Narsarsuaq

It’s a two-hour-20-minute flight to Narsarsuaq (population: 123), a former US airbase with an edge-of-the-world feeling. Situated on the Tunulliarfik Fjord, it’s where Norse Eric the Red landed in AD982, attracted by a long-gone forest that inspired the country’s misleading name. Make time for the museum, which tells the story of the Viking colony, then hike up Signal Hill for a glimpse of the southernmost tongue of the vast Greenland ice sheet. Stay at Hotel Narsarsuaq because, well, it’s the only one in town.

Colourful houses on Uummannaq Island in Greenland
Colourful houses on Uummannaq Island in Greenland. Credit | Istock

Day 3: Narsaq

Take the Diskoline ferry for an hour’s cruise, eyes peeled for whales, down the iceberg-strewn fjord to Narsaq, with its cluster of brightly coloured timber houses. Here, kayaking past floating ice is thrilling, as is hiking to the 450m summit of Tasiigaaq for views of icy mountains and islands. Wander the foreshore, observing Narsaq’s hunting and fishing community, then stay at no-frills Hotel Narsaq.

Day 4: Bredefjord

Wrap up warm and board the Blue Ice Explorer for a cruise up the berg-congested straits of Bredefjord, to where the Qalerallit and Naajaat glaciers meet the sea. The journey is an ice masterclass, showing off the soupy ‘brash’ stuff through to growlers (so called for the noise they make when they scrape along a boat’s hull) and understated ‘bergy bits’, sometimes as big as a house. Only chunks larger than this, showing just a tenth of their bulk above water, count as icebergs. When you reach the glaciers, the multi-hued walls of ancient ice attack all senses. Coldness hits as if someone has opened a freezer door; the air smells crisp, just released after millennia trapped in ice. Hear glaciers groaning, then roaring, as tower block-size slabs calve from the wall with a thunderous splash. On the way back, you’ll cast a line for cod.

Sailing Expedition in East Greenland houses aerial view
Sailing expedition in East Greenland. Credit | Istock

Day 5: Uunartoq

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon will seem like a municipal swimming pool after you’ve spent the day at Uunartoq island, southern Greenland’s natural spa. Camera batteries are exhausted by the sheer beauty of the four-hour boat journey from Narsaq. Once there, sit slack-jawed in 38C thermal waters, gazing at the ever-changing passage of light, shade and ice across sea and mountains, until you turn into a prune.

Days 6–7: Qaqortoq

Greenlanders compare the region’s most cosmopolitan town with the vertiginous villages of the Amalfi coast and, if you squint into the icy wind cutting across Julianahaab Bay, the polychromatic rows of defiantly cheerful houses indeed look a bit like Positano. Qaqortoq is home to Greenland’s cultural scene, its most touristy aspect a sculptural treasure hunt featuring 40-odd abstract carvings in rock faces throughout town. With two nights here, there’s time for a boat trip to the 14th-century ruins of Hvalsey Church, an atmospheric site. Stay at the arty Hotel Qaqortoq, with views across the bay

Day 8: Narsarsuaq

Take the 8.40am ferry from Qaqortoq, arriving in Narsarsuaq in time to check in for the lunchtime departure of your Air Iceland Connect flight to Reykjavík.

Ready to book? Visit dnata Travel to find out more about trips to Greenland.