Everything You Need to Know Before You Plan a Trip to Greenland

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You’ve probably never considered Greenland as a travel destination, but I’m here to tell you that you do.

I visited Greenland as part of a press trip to cover Extreme E’s event in Kangerlussuaq, a town that contains the country’s largest international airport but that also boasts a population of only 500 people.

You’ve probably heard the old joke that Iceland isn’t ice and Greenland isn’t green, but if you’re looking for an out-of-the-way destination that can provide your adventurous heart with all the fun you can offer while also showing off some stunning views.

That said, getting to Greenland is a pretty tough feat. Here’s everything you need to know about traveling to this incredible country.

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Travel Is Limited

Unless you live in Iceland or Denmark (or are part of a larger charter flight), you aren’t going to find any direct flights to Greenland.

It can be a little bit of a pain to get to Greenland if you live in the United States, since you have to essentially fly to Europe and then fly back to North America. And there’s a good chance that if you’re going to a city like Nuuk or Sisimiut in Greenland, you’ll have to fly into Kangerlussuaq and grab a smaller local flight to wherever you’re headed. Flights are also fairly expensive because of that.

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Adventure Tourism

Greenland isn’t really a country for folks looking to relax. Sure, some cruises pop into the various port cities, empty out all the cruisers for a few hours, and then pop off again — but you’re not getting the full experience.

But that full experience is generally pretty rugged. There’s a lot of physical effort with hiking and kayaking. There are some cushy hotels, but the harsh temperatures and weather patterns still pervade any time you leave the door. It’s a rewarding vacation, but it’s not one for the folks who want to sun themselves on the beach.

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Seasons Matter

Because Greenland is in the Arctic Circle, it’s usually pretty chilly, but seasons also provide massive changes to things like daylight hours and temperature. In the winter, you’ll rarely see the sun. In the summer, it’ll look like daybreak at two in the morning.

That necessarily limits the amount of things you can do. If you’re planning a big hiking adventure, you’ll probably want to aim for the summer. If you’re looking to relax and take in the northern lights, then winter will be more your style.

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Photo: Paul Bright on Unsplash

No Between-City Travel

At least, no between-city travel that’s very easy.

Greenland doesn’t have any roads that connect one settlement to the next. Hard to believe, right? But with settlements so far apart and the terrain so rugged, paving roads between settlements would be more cost than it’s worth.

If you want to go from, say, Sisimiut to Nuuk, you’ll likely take a small charter flight. You’re also invited to hike, bike, cross-country ski, take a dog sled, kayak, or ATV if you’re ambitious and willing to carry fuel. But you can’t drive.

Deceptive Temperatures

You’ll probably check the temperature before you head out for your trip, and you might think, well that’s not so bad! But be warned: depending on your location, temperatures can be deceptive. Near the ocean or an iceberg, you’ll be greeted with biting winds and frigid temperatures that cut through the bone.

Near the tundra or tucked in between mountains, though, and the dry air will convey the heat from the sun and make everything feel much warmer than it really is. If the clouds come out or the rare rain shower falls, you’ll be chilled to your core.

You’ll definitely want to pack plenty of thin layers. I found myself wearing four pairs of leggings in Kangerlussuaq when it was raining and still wishing I had more. But when the sun was out, I actually felt too hot. The more thin layers you have, the better you’ll be able to regulate your temperature.

Spartan Settings

If you’re traveling in smaller towns or between towns, you’ll be greeted with very spartan settings. The hotel I stayed at was actually a hostel. I shared a room with one other person and a bathroom with the entire floor. We had very questionable WiFi and little cell phone service. There are nicer hotels in the bigger cities, but if you’re out trying to find the authentic experience, don’t expect luxury.

Take Advantage of Tours

Because it can be so tough to navigate Greenland, it’s a great idea to look into tours that schedule everything for you and provide transportation, meals, and lodging. Seriously — Extreme E had over-landing shuttle buses lined up for us, and we desperately needed that high ground clearance. Anyone else behind the wheel likely would have gotten lost, too, since there’s very minimal cell phone service outside the cities or towns. This is definitely a place you don’t want to get lost!

I'm Elizabeth Blackstock, managing editor of AGGTC, blogger, journalist, novelist, editor, MA/MFA graduate student, wife, motorsport fanatic, and bearer... More about Elizabeth Blackstock