North Greenland is synonymous with icebergs and glaciers. It is home to what is said to be the world’s fastest-moving glacier, Sermeq Kujalleq, which is located close to the town of Ilulissat. In fact, the word ‘Ilulissat’ even means iceberg in Greenlandic!
Sermeq Kujalleq has seen some spectacular calving events and it is said that the iceberg that sank the Titanic originated here. An area encompassing the glacier itself as well as the icefjord it feeds into has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, and the magnificence and accessibility of the icefjord has made the town of Ilulissat one of Greenland’s top tourism destinations.
You can witness the spectacle of the icefjord very easily from the town of Ilulissat – a 20 minute walk from the town centre brings you right to its edge. This article outlines the different ways tourists can get up close and personal with the icefjord. However, you cannot see the glacier itself from here. To see the glacier, you have to swoop over it on a flightseeing tour. There is far too much ice in the fjord to be able to sail up to the glacier’s calving face.
If you’d like to get up close to a glacier in this area, you can sail from Ilulissat to Eqi glacier (slightly north of Ilulissat) in a day boat trip. You can even spend the night in a luxury lodge that overlooks this glacier’s dramatic calving face.
The waters around Greenland’s coast are packed with islands, but Disko Island is the largest of them. It’s so big that it has plenty of its own glaciers to explore.
Uunartuarsuup Sermia is visually strikingly different to other glaciers you may visit around Greenland. This is because it is situated on top of a mountain, which towers over the town of Qeqertarsuaq at a height of approximately 900 metres. In summer, the mountain’s sides are free of snow but its plateau remains icy, meaning it is relatively easy to access the glacier without specialised equipment.
Hiking up the mountain to the glacier takes 3 – 4 hours one way and can be tough in places, so allow a day for a return trip. As the glacier is so close to the coast, it is the perfect vantage point to enjoy a spectacular view over Qeqertarsuaq and Disko Bay, and to watch whales playing in the summer. You can do the hike self-guided (the trail is marked) or through any of the local tourism operators in town.
Disko Mountain Lodge is a hut on top of the glacier in which you can overnight if you want to extend your glacier experience even longer. The lodge is operated by Hotel Disko Island so stays should be arranged through them.
Destination Arctic Circle gives perhaps the easiest access to the ice cap of any of Greenland’s regions – which, of course, means easy access to glaciers, too!
Russell Glacier is perhaps Greenland’s most easily accessible glacier, because you can drive right up to it. This is an experience that is not to be sniffed at in Greenland, where it is most common to reach places by air or water. In fact, Russell Glacier lies at the end of the longest road in Greenland!
Russell Glacier is located 25 km away from the town of Kangerlussuaq, which is where Greenland’s main international airport is found. This is where it is easiest to access Greenland’s massive ice sheet that covers 80% of the country. Russell Glacier is one of the channels through which ice drains off the ice sheet, melting into a fjord and eventually the ocean.
The quickest way to see Russell Glacier is to take a flightseeing tour. This way, you can swoop over the glacier and be back in an hour, meaning you can often manage a visit even if you’re not staying in Kangerlussuaq but just have a layover there. This is also often possible on a bus tour to the glacier, which usually takes around 4 hours.
If you’re looking for a more active experience, you can also bike or hike to the glacier. There are many additional adventures to be had on the ice sheet itself, which is accessed at Point 660, a few kilometres up the road from Russell Glacier.
Although you can often see icebergs in the waters around Nuuk, you will not find any glaciers close to town. Fortunately, Nuuk sits right at the entrance of an amazingly intricate fjord system into which a few different glaciers feed, so it is an easy day trip to go and witness the city’s closest glaciers.
The most accessible glacier is Narsap Sermia, which is found right at the top of the fjord system close to the settlement of Kapisillit. Right next to Narsap Sermia, and even closer to Kapisillit, is an icefjord which is fed into by a few different glaciers.
You can sail to see both Narsap Sermia and the icefjord in a day trip from Nuuk.
If you have more time, book an individual boat transfer and stay for a few days in the serene settlement of Kapisillit. From here, it is a relatively short and easy hike over to the icefjord, which is packed with icebergs of all shapes and sizes. In Kapisillit, there are a couple of different accommodation options, including Arctic Hostel and Asimut Camp, and there are hiking opportunities to keep you busy for days.
If you’re visiting South Greenland, you’re already a part of the exhilarating tangle of fjords, glaciers, islands and winding coastlines that make up the region. There are inlets and glaciers everywhere, and moving between towns must usually be done by boat or helicopter since settlements are dotted across this fascinating terrain. This means there are many more accessible glaciers in South Greenland than can be described here.
Kiattuut Sermiat is relatively close to the town of Narsarsuaq, which is often known as the gateway to South Greenland. It feeds into the Tunulliarfik fjord, one of the many fjords which runs all the way down from the ice cap to the ocean at the south of the country.
This glacier has earned itself the nickname of the ‘Devil Horns Glacier’ among locals, due to its unusual appearance. Two large rocks rise out of the ice at the top of the glacier, giving it a striking resemblance to devil horns.
This glacier is a bit more isolated, lying right at the end of the long, narrow and astonishingly beautiful Tasermiut fjord. The closest settlement is Nanortalik, which lies on the island of the same name, at the other end of the fjord.
Although it is quite isolated, there are a number of ways for tourists to experience this unique glacier. Tasermiut Camp is a local operator offering multi-day glamping experiences in Tasermiut fjord, as well as half-day boat tours to the glacier. You can also take a boat tour with Nanortalik Boat Charter.
See the glacier from above on two of the helicopter flightseeing tours offered by Sermeq Helicopters: Tasermiut Expedition and Essential South Greenland. You can also charter the local private boat, Polar-tut Narsarsuaq, to sail there.
Insider tip: On the way to this glacier, there’s a bonus glacier on the south side of the fjord just before reaching Tasermiut Sermiat. It has receded quite far in the last couple of decades, and the exposed moraine (seen as a distinct line of differently-coloured rock) is highly visible.
This glacier is accessible from the town of Narsaq, is a bit further north than the other two and closer to the ocean. It is equally as stunning although totally different.
View this glacier in style with a helicopter flightseeing tour with Sermeq Helicopters. This tour actually lands on the glacier, so you can have the once in a lifetime opportunity of walking on Greenland’s ice cap.
Alternatively, choose a more relaxed and slower mode of transport, with a boat tour to the glacier with Greenland Sagalands.
3 glaciers in one trip: If you want to tick off multiple South Greenland glaciers in a combined trip, you can take the Greenland Multiadventure tour with Tasermiut South Greenland Expeditions, in which you will hike, bike and kayak through South Greenland over 12 days, and visit the Eqalorutsit, Kiattut and Qooroq glaciers.
East Greenland’s glaciers are slightly more difficult to access, but no less spectacular. The most accessible are those within the Sermilik fjord system, which is close to East Greenland’s largest (and only) town, Tasiilaq.
This is a glacier which, like Sermeq Kujalleq, gets a lot of media attention due to its often dramatic calving events. It is also a favourite glacier for scientists to study. It is one of Greenland’s largest glaciers and feeds into the Sermilik fjord system, where there are a number of rapidly calving glaciers making for a spectacular icefjord experience.
To see the Helheim Glacier itself, you need to take a helicopter tour with Arctic Wonder. Aside from this, there are plenty of options to see the Sermilik fjord by boat. Although these boat tours do not sail all the way to Helheim Glacier, there are many other glaciers along the fjord that you can see. Take a boat tour into the fjord with Arctic Dream, Tasiilaq Tours, The Red House or Dines Tours. Experience even more immersion in the fjord with a stay at Icecamp Greenland, a brand new lodge which is located right on the edge of the Sermilik fjord.