Introduction to Greenland
First things first, the name Greenland is an absurd choice for this place. Greenland not the lush verdant paradise I imagine when I think of a “green land.” Instead, Greenland is a barely hospitable arctic vortex. If that wasn’t confusing enough, Greenland literally means “land of people”, and considering the entire island supports a population roughly the size of my undergraduate university, this further proves the absurdity.
The most common legend as to why Greenland got its name is that a Viking named Erik the Red made it up to convince people to go there. Whether this is true or not, Erik the Red may have been on to something because you should want to go there (but not because it is a temperate green island).
As most regular readers know, I’m obsessed with destinations near the Arctic Circle, and definitely looking forward to visiting Greenland myself.
Geography: Map of Greenland without the Ice Sheet
Roughly 85% of the Greenland’s land is covered in an enormous ice sheet. The average height of this ice sheet is 1.6 miles high! The immense weight of the ice sheet pushed the center of the island roughly 1000 feet below sea level.
Officially, Greenland is in North America, which may explain why the United States tried to buy it from the Danish. They said no.
The population of Greenland is about 56,000 people, with 14,000 living in the capital Nuuk. The average daily temperature of Nuuk, Greenland varies over the seasons from −8 to 7 °C (18 to 45 °F), probably not as cold as you thought.
This is what Greenland looks like without its ice sheet.
Officially, Greenland is part of Denmark, but at the same time it is kind of independent because the Danish don’t bother interfering much. The trend in recent years is for Greenland to become more and more autonomous, but completely autonomy is unlikely as Greenland still enjoys LARGE subsidies from Denmark.
Economy and Daily Life
Sealing, whaling, hunting, and fishing are the primary sources of income for inhabitants in Greenland. In recent years, the country’s tourism industry has been expanding as well. Many visitors combine Iceland and Greenland on the same trip as Iceland is one of the best access points to Greenland (read more about visiting Iceland here).
There are no roads between cities because the coast has many fjords that would require ferry service to connect a road network.
An apartment in the capital of Nuuk has a 32 year waiting list (yes, this is not a typo, it is 32 years).
The minute a child is born they are typically put on the waiting list for an apartment they may or may not get 32 years later. Buying a house is also very difficult because real-estate is expensive. The expense is due to very little usable space in Greenland.
Who would have thought that Nuuk could be up there with Manhattan and San Francisco for ridiculously expensive real-estate markets in North America.
Top Things To Do In Greenland
My opinion is yes, you should definitely go to Greenland if you have the opportunity.
Not only is the landscape exquisite, but the towns are completely picturesque and the history is well preserved. Visitors do say that there is no way you can miss the grueling aspects of daily life in the arctic, but keep reading to learn more about the highlights of a visit.
Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
I love watching the the Northern Lights anywhere, but the experience in Greenland is supposed to make the trip worth it by themselves. The colors dance through the night sky virtually every night that sun actually sets.
They say that there is 99% chance that you will see the Northern Lights if you are in Greenland between September and April.
Glaciers Give Birth To Icebergs
Glaciers consist of heavily compacted snow that build up year after year (with no real summer to melt them). Every year the Greenland Glacial ice sheet produces thousands of icebergs when pieces break off into the ocean. The tallest icebergs float away at a height of a 15 story building.
Supposedly it was an iceberg from Greenland that got lost and sunk the Titanic!
Midnight Sun in the Greenland Summer
One of the hardest things to fathom is the fact that in the summer the sun never sets in Greenland. Literally for 24 hours a day the sun is up and shining. Though this can knock your circadian rhythm out of whack, extended sunlight is amazing!
The variety of whales, seals, and fish in Greenland cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Also, the isolation of Greenland makes all of these creatures even easier to spot.
I have been on whale watching tours where I sat on a boat for hours and hours, to only see a small snippet of a whale tail through a pair of binoculars. Whale tours in Greenland do NOT have this problem.
The Ice Sheet
The ice sheet is not just a white blur, the compact ice has jagged cracks featuring a full array of beautiful blues and greens you have to see to believe. Visitors say the pictures can never do these justice.
Dog sledding is an Inuit classic, and is not just a novelty. This is still an integral part of life in Greenland.
Kayak tours are incredibly common in Greenland, and are an amazing way to navigate through ice fields and small islands.
Not just in Iceland! Greenland has its own hot springs, but be careful because some of them are hot enough to burn you.
Tour operators flying airplanes and helicopters are available to book. Their tours are one of the best ways to see sites you could never otherwise access.
How To Get to Greenland
Commercial airlines are the only way for travelers to get to Greenland, served by airports in Denmark, Iceland, and Nunavut (Canada).
Be sure to book early as flights can get expensive!
Have any of you made it there? Was it as awesome as I expect it to be?
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