GREENLAND VS ICELAND:

THE ARCTIC TRAVEL BATTLE

10 basic differences between Greenland and Iceland you should know before booking your vacation.

In the past few years, Iceland has been the hottest destination, for so many obvious reasons. Greenland, on the contrary, is relatively unknown. A treasured secret. This article explores why hopping on over to Greenland is worth the short extra flight when visiting Iceland by answering some frequently asked questions.

If we threw Iceland and Greenland into an Inuit drum dance competition to settle this question, you would certainly get some entertaining answers. After all, both Icelanders and Greenlanders have a fun (if not always similar) sense of humour. Instead, we’ll give you a few pointers that reveal the differences (or similarities) between these wildly beautiful countries instead. Regardless of whether you want to visit Greenland or Iceland for vacation, you’ll come out knowing some differences between them!

Fact box

Greenland is connected to the world via Iceland and Denmark. Both Air Greenland and IcelandAir fly directly from Iceland to Greenland. 

Here are 10 key reasons to consider:

1. explore

  • Hiker on the Kuannit hiking route standing atop volcanic rocks overlooking Disko Bay just outside Qeqertarsuaq. Photo by Paul Zizka

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Iceland

If you thought Iceland was the wilderness, you should hop on over to Greenland and explore the real wild west. Iceland has so much to offer, but the world has discovered a lot of it. Greenland is for the adventurers who have been everywhere else and want to explore the most unique and remote parts of the world.

Iceland had about 2 million tourists visiting in 2019. Greenland had about 100,000 tourists. With 2.17 million square kilometres of land and only 56,000 residents, Greenland has the lowest population density in the world. The numbers speak for itself and while we don’t want Greenland to grow too fast, we definitely have plenty of space to welcome more visitors all year round.

2. name

  • Tourists admiring the front face of Russell Glacier, close to Kangerlussuaq, on a clear winter's day. Photo by Reinhard Pantke - Visit Greenland
  • Hraunfossar. Photo by Visit Iceland

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Iceland

Greenland is ice. Iceland is Green. This line is a classic saying you can find about Greenland in the trusty encyclopedia called Google. Then why is Greenland called Greenland instead of Iceland?  Greenland is definitely icy, since 79% of the island is covered by the magnificent Greenland Ice Sheet. It is, by the way, the second largest body of ice in the world after Antarctica.

If you look at Greenland from a climate perspective, the world’s largest island is full of dramatic contrasts. For example, there are Arctic deserts in the north and much greener pastures in the south of Greenland.

Iceland is icy too, although a comparatively smaller chunk of it is covered by ice at 11%. Overall it has a milder climate than Greenland allowing for considerably lush greenery to flourish in the summertime. 

3. vikings

  • The statue of Leif Ericson, son of Erik the Red in Qassiarsuk in South Greenland. By Mads Pihl
  • Heimskautsgerdi Raufarhofn. Photo by Visit Iceland

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Iceland

Did anyone ever mention to you that Greenland is green, especially in South Greenland? Some theories suggest that the Norsemen who sailed from Iceland to Greenland either had a sense of humour or was business savvy, and made the world’s original marketing joke. In order to entice settlers to move to Greenland and join Erik the Red, they gave Greenland its name over 1000 years ago.  The truth is that they also settled in the greenest part of Greenland, South Greenland, which is flourishing with life in the summertime. 

If you want to explore why Iceland is called Iceland and Greenland called Greenland, a kind friend of Greenland, Andrew Evans from National Geographic, explains the story even further. 

The Norsemen settled in Greenland in 985AD, until they disappeared some 500 years later. If you like mysteries, you should delve into the theories of what really happened to Greenland’s vikings

The way that these Norsemen lived and farmed the land contributes to why South Greenland is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Today, the Greenlanders continue to farm the land, and if you visit these welcoming hosts, it’s quite easy to imagine life as it was all those centuries ago. 

Fact box

To this day the Inuit in Greenland call their country Kalaallit Nunaat, which means “land of the people”. 

Continues further down the page…

Package Tours

Blue Ice Explorer: Easy hiking package

Blue Ice Explorer

Easy hiking package. 8 days

Tour package for individual travellers in the best hiking area in Greenland! Accommodation at farms and in settlements.

Disko Line: Whale Safari

Disko Line

Whale Safari

Take a whale safari in Disko Bay and have a unique experience.

Greenland Tours: Best of the West

Greenland Tours

Best of the West

8 days exploring Disko Bay incl. Disko Island and visit to the Greenland Ice Cap

Greenland Tours: Northern Lights & Icebergs

Greenland Tours

Northern Lights & Icebergs

4 days in Ilulissat incl. dog sledding & Northern Lights tour

4. temperature

  • A sunny winter storm over Nuuk's suburb Qinngorput, Photo by Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Iceland

You have every right to ask, “Is Iceland colder than Greenland?” due to the names. Well, with the ice cap in its centre you would expect Greenland to be colder. Iceland has the Gulf Stream moderating its climate and Icelandic Mountain Guides explain how it does this in detail

But, Greenland can surprise you too! During the summertime, Greenland does have its own rendition of Arctic summer, complete with the midnight sun and refreshingly mild temperatures. 

You might even say that it can get warm since many people strip into shorts and t-shirts when the sun is shining – but you are always encouraged to bring layers wherever you are! 

It is valuable to know that the air is generally dry in Greenland, and because of this low humidity the same low temperatures may feel warmer compared to other countries, even Iceland! 

EXPERIENCE THE CONTRAST

Greenland when it’s cold:

Greenland when it’s warmer:

5. northern lights

  • Sea Ice, Iceberg, Aurora Borealis and moon. Photo by Erez Marom - Visit Greenland
  • Photo by Visit Iceland

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Iceland

There are few places in the world that can compete with Iceland and Greenland when it comes to Northern lights. The invisible aurora belt drapes itself over both countries, and when solar particles enter the earth’s atmosphere, the explosion of colour appears in the night sky. Inuit stories also say that it’s their ancestors who are playing football in the night sky with a walrus’ skull. 

A big difference between the two countries is that you don’t have to buy a tour to see northern lights in Greenland – it is very common to see them from your bedroom window even in its capital Nuuk! This is due to the low light pollution levels in Greenland. You can also easily take a short walk to find complete darkness. 

But sometimes, seeing northern lights while in the backcountry completes the experience. Try it while staying overnight in a hut overlooking an icefjord, in an ice igloo, or in the middle of nowhere so the dark skies can shine. Sometimes, it’s worth taking that tour! 

6. hot springs

  • A family enjoying the Uunartoq hot springs in South Greenland. By Mads Pihl

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Iceland

For those who like bathing in geothermal warm water, Iceland is a spa wonderland filled with hot rivers, secret and not so secret blue lagoons, hot tubs and more. Greenland doesn’t have such a varied repertoire of hot water options, however it does have one accessible, pure and natural experience hot spring enthusiasts just have to try: Uunartoq. 

Set on an island give or take 1.5 hours sail from Qaqortoq, South Greenland’s capital, Uunartoq hot springs is everything that Blue Lagoon in Iceland isn’t. When you embark on land, it’s a short walk to reach the two warm pools that average about 38 degrees celsius (or 100 fahrenheit). There’s a simple wooden hut for you to change into your swimmers, and then you can freely dip into the water. Surrounding you, besides a few other guests, are yellow buttercup flowers and a view of the sea where icebergs gently float by. 

Continues further down the page…

Package Tours

Greenland Travel: Summer paradise in the Arctic wilderness

Greenland Travel

Summer paradise in the Arctic wilderness

Experience the incredible UNESCO listed Ilulissat Ice Fjord! Fantastic icebergs. Sailing in the midnight sun. See the Ice Cap and much more

North Safari Travel: Summer Safari July

North Safari Travel

Summer Safari July

North Safari Travel offers a 5 day safari deep into the unspoiled Arctic wilderness near the ice cap in West Greenland. It's a real wilderness adventure in the world's Last Frontier.

Tasermiut Expeditions: Hiking and Kayaking Adventure

Tasermiut Expeditions

Hiking and Kayaking Adventure

8 days trip, kayaking and on foot: complete contact with nature, kayaking and hiking activities, discover Viking ruins in South Greenland.

Tasermiut
 – Tasermiut Fjord, Hot Spring & Unesco Heritage

Tasermiut South Greenland Expeditions

Tasermiut Fjord, Hot Spring & Unesco Heritage

The most complete journey you can do; big walls of the Tasermiut fjord, bathing in Uunartoq hot springs, Inuit ruins visit, Unesco Sites.

7. road trips

  • 4WD on dirt road in Inneruulalik. Photo - Aningaaq R. Carlsen, Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Iceland

We’ll just give it to you straight! If you want to go on a road trip around the country, totally go to Iceland! The ring road in Iceland is one of the most stunning road trips you can take around a country. 

We don’t really have roads in the normal sense. Towns in Greenland are not connected by regular roads, but we do have invisible roads in the sky and the fjords. Greenland is connected by plane and boat. On the other hand, we admit that Nuuk boasts one of the shortest, yet most beautiful loops in the world a capital city has to offer. You can also take a wildlife spotting road trip to the Greenland Ice Sheet!  

Fun fact

There will soon be a gravel road connecting Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq! It is currently possible to travel between the two locations by hiking, biking, dog sledding and by snowmobile! 

8. size and map

In a true size map, Greenland is further east, west, north and south than Iceland. You will however find it west of Iceland on most maps. Both Greenland and Iceland are located between the Arctic and Atlantic ocean. The two countries are separated by the Denmark Strait. Geologically, Greenland is part of North America whereas Iceland is the place where the European and North American tectonic plates meet.

Geographically speaking, Greenland is actually much bigger than Iceland (although most of the country is uninhabitable due to the Greenland Ice Sheet). It is also the largest island in the world – (sorry island continent Australia!) With 836,000 square miles (2.17 million square kilometers) of land to boot, Greenland has a lot of space to offer its guests, and since we don’t have an overload of them we’d say that’s a benefit these COVID-19 days, especially when you want to keep distance and avoid the crowds.

Tip

Want to find out the true size of Greenland compared to your country? Check out how Greenland really is a big chunk of land with “The True Size of…

9. sovereignty

  • National Flags. Photo by Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland
  • Iceland Flag. Photo from Pixabay

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo from Pixabay

Some people are also confused about sovereignty and ask “Is Iceland part of Greenland”? In the past, both countries were in fact, part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Iceland assumed control of its own foreign affairs when Denmark was occupied by Germany in 1940 during World War II. It officially became an independent republic in 1944. 

Greenland, on the contrary, is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark, although it is self-governing. Greenland has had Home Rule since 1979 and Self Rule since 2009, which means that the country has assumed the political decisions and competencies that were previously issued from Denmark. With the passing of the Self-Government Act Greenland has the possibility to take over the jurisdiction of more areas. Responsibility of the judicial system, defence and national security, civil rights law and foreign affairs are under the Danish government.

Tip

The government of Greenland provides an overview of the history of politics on their website.

10. price point

  • Boarding an Air Greenland flight at Kangerlussuaq International Airport. By Petter Cohen, Xtravel

Photo by Visit Greenland

Photo by Visit Greenland

The flight to Greenland is probably the biggest price differentiator to travelling in Iceland and Greenland. When it comes to prices on accommodation and restaurants in general, there are broader options in Iceland. However, as tourism develops in Greenland, prices are becoming more competitive. According to feedback from travel agents who planned tours to both countries before COVID-19, the cost of travelling to these two countries were becoming similar. For an independent perspective you can read Full Suitcase’s travel comparison of Greenland and Iceland

Greenland vs Iceland Travel:

what’s the verdict?

So there you have it. Of course, this is a biased rendition of the Greenland and Iceland story, told from the Greenland perspective. We’re big fans of Iceland too and in reality we think that our two countries really complement each other well. We also hope that you understand more of the differences between Greenland and Iceland – for the adventurers who are looking to experience a more raw, more untouched, more wild version of Iceland, Greenland is literally a flight away. Hopefully you’ve discovered that Greenland can also pack a punch for travel!

A traveler waiting to board a plane from Ilulissat in Greenland. Photo by Camilla Hylleberg - Visit Greenland

Article by Tanny Por

Tanny is a world citizen who helps to share the outside – inside perspective of travelling in Greenland. She also works with strategic initiatives in the areas of content marketing and destination development for Visit Greenland.