Greenland can be a daunting destination for first-time travellers. It’s probably unlike anywhere you’ve ever been before – so you have lots of questions, and it isn’t always easy to find the answers.
Here, we’ve tried to gather all those first-timer questions in one place, to give you a great jumping off point for your Greenlandic adventure.
Summer or winter?
It is a common misconception among first-time visitors that visiting Greenland in winter is some sort of unmanageable Arctic expedition. We won’t lie to you: our weather can be unpredictable, but it is a risk visitors must be willing to take all year around. There is no such thing as bad weather…only bad research! It is true for most destinations that they have different things to offer in different seasons, and our giant island is in fact open for visits and full of things to do all year round.
Because Greenland is such a large country, the characteristics of seasons vary between regions. For example, summer in South Greenland means lush and green landscapes, whereas in the North it can mean icebergs drifting lazily through fjords and bays. Winter in the Capital region is warm city lights dotted across a snowy backdrop, while in East Greenland the frozen sea becomes the winter scenery.
Whether you want to visit at Easter, in Autumn or for Christmas, therefore depends on what your dream trip to the Arctic looks like: where do you want to go and what do you want to experience?
What do I want to experience?
Sit down and envision what the musts are on your Greenland bucket list. What kind of traveller are you? Are you a dog sledder? A foodie? Or a ski tourist? Some activities are only available at certain times of the year in certain destinations, so this can help to give your itinerary a direction. Kayaking in between icebergs, for example, is a summer exclusive, whereas you can experience the northern lights in every location during the winter season. If you already have a particular activity in mind, check out our things to do page to find out where in Greenland you can do this.
In case you are not already certain what your focus should be when visiting Greenland, a good start is to ask yourself whether you’re primarily interested in Greenlandic nature or culture. You can also check out the Big Arctic Five – five iconic experiences that you simply cannot miss when visiting Greenland. Maybe they will inspire you to fly over ice on a dogsled, experience the dancing northern lights, photograph towering icebergs or silky soft snowflakes, meet the pioneering people or sail alongside some of the largest mammals in the world in one of our endless fjords.
Should I travel via Denmark or Iceland?
When you have decided which destination is right for you, whether it is Capital coolness or Icefjord adventures, you can start planning how to get from your corner of the world to our Arctic one. There are two ways of getting to Greenland by plane: through Reykjavik or Copenhagen (sometimes also Aalborg in the summer), and one or the other might be easier for you depending on where you’re coming from and where you are going. Even though you might have to settle for an extra stop, why not make a trip out of it and enjoy exciting Copenhagen or stunning Iceland before you venture on to one of the locations with direct flights: Nuuk, Kangerlussuaq, Narsarsuaq, Ilulissat or Kulusuk. You can also choose to continue your journey and fly, sail or hike your way from those destinations to other locations in Greenland.
Visa to Greenland
When entering Greenland, keep in mind that if you do not need a visa for Denmark, you also do not need one for Greenland. However, if you do need a visa for Denmark, you will need a special permit to enter Greenland (separate from your visa for Denmark). Make sure to note that you are traveling on to Greenland when you apply for your visa for Denmark. Learn more here.
Preferential Scheme: Fasttrack visa application for Chinese citizens. Read more here.
How to prepare for the unexpected
There are many unique things about Greenland – and one of them is all those unusual things you have to think about as a tourist to Greenland that you’ve probably never thought about on holidays before. We’re here to clear a few of them up for you.
WiFi (or lack of!)
Getting online as a tourist in Greenland is not as easy as in other parts of the world. Although most hotels and cafés in major towns and settlements have WiFi, you often have to pay for it by the minute or by the megabyte. It is becoming more common to find free WiFi around and about, but prepare to be disconnected a lot of the time if you don’t want to pay.
If you really need to stay connected, the cheapest way is to buy a local SIM card at any TELE-post shop and use the mobile data network, which covers most towns and settlements fully.
Well, there are polar bears in Greenland. But they are not as easy to spot as you might think, and they are (usually) not walking the streets! Polar bears are most common in Northern and Eastern Greenland, but even here they are rarely spotted by tourists. If hiking in these areas it is sometimes advisable to take a rifle with you just in case. Talk to the locals/your guide/the local tourist office for the most up-to-date advice.
Check out our infographic for more information on encountering polar bears in Greenland.
Delays / Cancellations
Now here’s something that’s a more certain experience than a polar bear. Greenland may be globally accessible nowadays, but it is still very much an Arctic wilderness, and nature is in charge.
This means that the weather can change suddenly and dramatically and that it often gets in the way of our plans. It is normal to experience some delays throughout your travels to and around Greenland, especially if you have a lot of connections – so an accepting and relaxed mindset is a great thing to bring with you. Simply sit back, enjoy the wait, and know that our transport and tourism staff are doing their best to keep you on track with your plans.
Availability of food
Greenland’s geography creates some other logistical obstacles that it is helpful to bear in mind. Most of the fresh fruit and vegetables we eat (and anything else we like that can’t be grown or sourced in Greenland) are imported from Denmark by plane or ship. These journeys are also at the mercy of our wild and powerful nature, which means that you cannot rely on those things that you are used to back home always being available.
Further north, for example, because of sea ice, no boats can visit the towns and settlements for most of the winter, which severely restricts the amount of goods that can be imported. If you have particular dietary requirements, therefore, it is highly recommended that you bring with you those foods that you can’t live without. It is also helpful to have an open mind about what you feel like eating – as the range of options (particularly in smaller destinations) is sometimes limited and based on what has recently been caught, hunted or delivered in the area.
What are the locals like?
Greenlandic people are known for their welcoming and hospitable nature, and they will always return your friendliness with warmth. Don’t be surprised if locals strike up conversation with you in the street. Generally speaking, the simple advice below is a great start to positive relationships with local people:
- Smile and say hello
- Ask before you take pictures, and always respect a “no”
- Talk to people, not about them
- Respect local habits
- If invited into a local’s home, always remember to take off your shoes before entering
You can hear the language and the different variations in regional dialects in this video:
We often refer to Greenlanders as ‘pioneering people’, since, throughout history, they have always been explorers and have had to adapt to living in harsh conditions. As one of the relatively few tourists to Greenland, we hope you also embrace the pioneering mindset and tag your social media posts with #greenlandpioneer.
Many tourists even learn a few words of the Greenlandic language to help them get by. Try out the phrases below:
How are you? Ajunngi?
OK / Good: Ajunngilaq
Thank you: Qujanaq
You’re welcome: Illillu
9 things you can’t live without in Greenland
Greenland is very diverse and there are different things to pack for different kinds of trips. However, these 9 things are the things we find absolutely necessary for any trip, anywhere, for any reason in Greenland. Forget them at your peril!
Check, double check, and triple check that your travel insurance policy not only covers healthcare in Greenland, but that it covers specifically the activities you are planning on enjoying. Much of Greenland is classified as a remote, wilderness area, and even insurance policies that ostensibly cover ‘everywhere’ often exclude these kinds of areas. Check the smallprint and contact your insurance company to ask specifically about your trip if you are unsure.
Mosquito net (summer only)
If you are travelling between June and August and planning on doing pretty much anything outdoors, you will probably hear about Greenlandic mosquitos. Our special brand of mosquitos are particularly resilient and are often not bothered by repellent, so it’s best to bring a headnet as well to minimise disturbance.
A great camera
Greenland’s incredibly photogenic nature constantly compels you to snap its stunning landscapes. With endless days in the summer and dancing northern lights in the winter, you will kick yourself if you don’t have a camera capable of catching these spectacular polar phenomena.
Even if you are not usually a hiker, Greenland will turn you into one. As soon as you touch down on the treeless landscape, the surrounding mountain peaks and potential views start to lure you in. It’s a good idea to bring hiking boots just in case you get tempted by a trek into the rugged wilderness. Even within towns in Greenland, much of the terrain is uneven and rocky, so good boots are sometimes preferable simply for a stroll around the town centre.
These might be one of the last things you think about when heading to an Arctic destination like Greenland, but even when it’s not sunny, sunglasses are indispensable for fending off the reflection of light off of snow or water. Pack sunglasses regardless of the time of year you’re visiting.
Winds in Greenland can be strong and chilly and can hit at any time of year. Even when it looks warm and sunny, a windbreaker jacket can greatly increase your comfort level.
A guide book
Combat the inconveniences of not always having an internet connection by carrying a comprehensive guidebook with you at all times. This way, you can easily check accommodation options, look for tour providers and find your way around town even when you are offline.
Similar to the previous recommendation, an old-school travel journal will be a life-saver when you experience a moment you just need to record but cannot post to your social media platforms. Take a book with you, fill the pages with your experiences, and share with the world once you get back online.
A sense of humour
This might be the most important thing that you can’t live without in Greenland. In the remote and wild Arctic, things do not always go as planned. Be prepared to take this in good humour, be flexible, and even laugh about it! A change of plans opens you up to even more brand new and once in a lifetime experiences!
Get inspired by real-life first-timers
Still not convinced it’s worth the effort to venture to Greenland, or need some more inspiration to help your decisions along? Check out some quotes from real-life first-timers to get a glimpse of some of the amazing reasons that you should be a first-timer.
“We chose Greenland to kayak. For me probably one of the best places in the world to have a kayaking trip.”
“There’s not a lot of places in Europe where there is actually wilderness. Like a really big area of wilderness.”
“I have been quite a few places in the world and this is probably the most beautiful I have ever seen. I was mesmerised by the nature.”
“It’s the way people are in Greenland. They’re very open and smiling and they haven’t any set judgments about you before you come.”
“We came here for adventure. It’s our 30th anniversary tomorrow and I asked my wife if she wanted to go to the romantic Greek isles, and she said no, she wanted to do something adventurous. So we came to Greenland and it really is just magical.”
“When we arrived, I put my feet on the ground and I saw the icebergs, and I felt the cold air. And I said, OK, I worked a year and a half to come here, and now I’m here. That was the best feeling.”
Anna Maria Jakobsen