We're Calling It: Greenland Is the New Iceland—Here's Why

Updated 08/30/19
Jennifer Greenland/500px

Situated between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans lies the expansive Nordic island of Greenland. It is simultaneously the world’s largest island and the world’s most sparsely populated country. If you’re looking to get away from it all, this is the place to go—though you won’t be able to do it alone. Three quarters of Greenland is covered by a permanent sheet of ice, so there are virtually no major roads or railways, making it a difficult place to travel solo but a mecca for adventure tours. You’ll have to depend on planes, boats, and dogsleds (that’s right) to get around.

So what’s it like to explore Greenland? If you are willing to brave this remote Arctic tundra, you will be rewarded with incredible views and once-in-a-lifetime experiences like witnessing a midnight sun and seeing the aurora borealis from Nuuk, the country’s charming capital city. Get ready for hiking alongside glaciers, taking a plunge into the ice-cold water for a dive beneath the surface, and relaxing in a natural hot spring after a long day of adventuring. Up for the challenge? Consider these seven must-do activities as you explore Greenland.

Go Dogsledding

For the last 5000 years, dogsledding has been a practical means of transportation through the snow-covered landscape of Greenland. Only recently has it become a leisure activity for tourists and Greenlanders alike. Experience Arctic nature the authentic way by taking a dogsledding tour through the expansive white scenery. Arctic Dreams is one of many tour services that will plan a trek for you, letting you sit back and take in the natural beauty of Greenland. If you want to immerse yourself in the Norse culture, curl up with a reindeer blanket to stay warm on the ride.

Go Cold-Water Diving

An entire world exists beneath the ice sheets that cover Greenland, and you can experience it by going cold-water diving. If you’re comfortable in the water, you’ll have a chance to snorkel through the Arctic with up-close views of extraordinary icebergs beneath the surface, historic shipwrecks, and unusual plant life. Not for the faint of heart, “diving in the Arctic demands strength of character,” according to the official tourism site of Greenland. For the adventure junky, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Take a Dip in a Hot Spring

If plunging into Arctic waters isn’t your cup of tea, you might spend a day bathing in the warm waters of a natural hot spring. Tour services offer boat rides to and from the many springs found in Greenland, though the most popular are the Qaqortoq hot springs. Warm water bubbles up from underground geothermal springs, creating natural pools that stay at a toasty 38°C. Unwind after a long day of trekking through the wilderness by heating up in one of these natural spas.

See the Northern Lights

One of the world’s most spectacular natural phenomena, the Northern Lights, can be seen from Greenland, thanks to its location. The best place to see the aurora borealis is at the airport settlement of Kangerlussuaq, though you can see it from almost anywhere on the island during the right times of the year. It’s even visible from the capital city of Nuuk despite its many street lamps. Plan your trip for the end of September through the middle of April for the greatest viewing experience.

Go Flightseeing

With snowcapped mountains and enormous glaciers, the best way to see Greenland is from above. Take a tour via helicopter or aircraft, and treat yourself to a spectacular view of Greenland’s otherworldly terrain. Air Zafari offers tourist flights every day and lets you choose between a view of the volcanic Disko coastline and the sights of ice caps and glaciers with frequent flora and reindeer sightings.

Take a Hike

Hiking through the mountains of Greenland is no walk in the park, but with rocky mountains spilling into bright blue Arctic water, it’s one activity you’ll want to check off your bucket list. The best time to go hiking is between June and August for warmer weather. Choose a guided tour, or brave it on a marked trail on your own through the Ilulissat Icefjord in North Greenland, or see the Valley of Flowers near Tasiilaq in the east. If you’re up for something out of the ordinary—which you probably are if you’re thinking about planning a trip to Greenland—try taking a day trip to the ice cap for an Arctic caving adventure.

Experience the Midnight Sun

Due to its location, there are days during the summer when the sun never sets, which is a phenomenon that alters one’s sense of time and adds to Greenland’s reputation of being a near-transcendental place. One unforgettable way to see the midnight sun is to go on a guided midnight sun hike. Despite the late hour, your hike will be lit by the sun’s beams, creating a truly magical experience. “Basking in the midnight sun, and embracing the new outlook it causes, provides the same sense of renewal one often seeks in the southerly latitudes. It is quite common to feel energized by the midnight sun in Greenland, feeling that you can stay up long into the night, as your body begins to sync with the sky overhead,” writes Sarah Woodall of Greenland.com.

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