Rare marine animals and strong Inuit traditions thrive in Qaanaaq (Ultima Thule) - the northernmost town in Greenland.
Qaanaaq has one Pilersuisoq supermarket that stocks a little bit of everything, including limited, basic camping supplies. It is best to bring all of your outdoor gear with you.
For souvenirs, seek out locals who sell privately. Qaanaaq is particularly known for its beautiful bone jewelry and tupilaks.
Qaanaaq is the destination for people wanting to experience extremes. It is the most northern town in North Greenland where the Sun never makes it above the horizon for 3.5 months of the year (a time of Polar Darkness), and then never sets for 5 months over summer (known as the Midnight Sun). Qaanaaq – a place where traditions such as hunting with dog sleds, kayaks, and harpoons are still common and necessary for survival. A place where the sea ice extends for more than a day’s dogsled from shore during the winter and where massive icebergs dwarf the colourful houses along the shore.
Despite this, you do not need to be an extreme outdoor adventurer to enjoy a visit to Qaanaaq. You simply need an open mind, a willingness to go with the flow, and an adventurous spirit to make the most of your journey to Ultima Thule – the top of the world.
Given its isolation, Qaanaaq is not as difficult to reach as you might expect. However, you will have to time your trip carefully. There is one flight per week to and from Qaanaaq that transits through Ilulissat and Upernavik, and flight delays due to weather are not uncommon.
Your other option is to join an expedition cruise that calls into the port during Summer.
The best times to visit Qaanaaq are: December – June (dog sledding), July – August (sailing, kayaking, hiking), November – January (Polar Darkness); April – August (Midnight Sun). It is also possible to visit Qaanaaq’s neighbouring small settlements; Siorapaluk or Savissivik all year round.
Qaanaaq is small enough that the only time you need transport is to and from the airport. Accommodation providers generally arrange to pick you up/drop you off, and the municipality runs a car back and forth. Otherwise, you just walk everywhere.
For excursions in the area around Qaanaaq, the most common way to get around is by boat during the summer, or with a dog sled or snowmobile across the frozen sea during the winter.
Still emerging as a tourist destination, Qaanaaq has limited tourism infrastructure. Accommodation options include one small hotel and several houses where you can rent a single room or the entire property. There are no designated campgrounds, but it is possible to wild camp on the outskirts of town.
You may think that in a small, isolated settlement at the top of Greenland there would not be so many things to do. Although tourism in Qaanaaq is still in its infancy, this couldn’t be further from the truth!
During Summer, take a hike into the hills behind Qaanaaq for an eagle’s eye view over the town and Baffin bay, or make the most of the constant daylight to explore the waterways around Qaanaaq.
Visit one of Qaanaaq’s neighbouring settlements, sail towards the North Pole, watch the ice calving from a glacier face, or go in search of the elusive Narwhal. Thousands of these medium-sized toothed whales (also known as “the unicorn of the sea” thanks to the single long tusk that characterises the males) come to Qaanaaq to breed during the summer. Although they are very shy animals, you have your best chance of spotting one in the area around Qaanaaq.
Other wildlife to keep an eye out for as you sail around Qaanaaq are walrus, seals and little auks.
It is worth noting that challenging weather often grounds flights for several days at a time and, due to sea ice, the resupply ship only makes it as far as Qaanaaq two or three times per year. This means that the community in Qaanaaq still relies on the traditional hunting of animals for their survival. There are strict quotas for this cultural practice that enabled the Inuit to traditionally survive, while ensuring the sustainability of the different wildlife populations.
During winter, the sea around Qaanaaq freezes over, cementing the impressively large icebergs in place. Riding a dogsled past these ice cathedrals in the constant darkness of the Polar Night with a twinkling starry sky above is an unforgettable experience to be shared with a local musher.
Experience the heartbeat of the Arctic (otherwise known as Greenlandic dog paws pounding on the frozen sea) and learn how to set up a long-line on an ice fishing trip in Qaanaaq. Or explore the frozen ocean on a dog sledding expedition of several days to obtain a true understanding of the hardiness of the local people in Qaanaaq and the close bond between the hunter and his dogs.
Make the time to visit the white house that contains the Qaanaaq museum. This used to be the home of the famous Arctic explorer, Knud Rasmussen, who set off on no less than 7 ambitious and highly successful expeditions from the area around Qaanaaq. It now contains exhibitions about Rasmussen and other explorers, as well as historical items from the area.
Qaanaaq does not yet have any restaurants or cafes. The hotel serves meals for their guests (breakfast is included, you must order lunch and dinner a day in advance), and Iherit has a kitchen for guests to cook for themselves. Tavfi is the local bar, but it only serves drinks.