Sarfaq Ittuk ferry

All you need to know

You cannot visit Greenland without undertaking a sailing journey. Greenlanders are more likely to own a boat than they are a car, and the highways of the world’s largest island are not roads, but rather its oceans and fjords.

While flying may get you from place to place quicker, to fully experience the beauty and expanse of Greenland you need to include a journey by ship in your itinerary. And the ultimate sea journey is on the Sarfaq Ittuk passenger ferry that plies the west coast between Ilulissat in the North and Qaqortoq in the South on a weekly loop.

About the ferry

The ship is owned by Arctic Umiaq Line and is the only passenger ferry in Greenland. It can carry 238 passengers (each with a sleeping berth) and is a key link for the 12 settlements, towns and cities along its route. For the very smallest settlements, it is sometimes the only link to the rest of Greenland and the outside world, and for this reason, you will primarily find local Greenlanders aboard – especially south of Nuuk. 

For international tourists, it is a chance to slow down and travel as the locals do. It is usually less expensive than flying and offers the opportunity to see parts of Greenland that would otherwise be difficult to access. Seabirds accompany the ship throughout its voyage and, if you are traveling in the correct season, there is also the possibility of spotting whales and seals along the journey. 

It is one of the best experiences available on a trip to West or South Greenland.

Explore Sarfaq Ittuk’s route and destinations using the interactive Google map below:

Package Tours

Arctic Umiaq Line: Discover Greenland from the sea

Arctic Umiaq Line

Discover Greenland from the sea

The coastal ship Sarfaq Ittuk sails from southern Greenland up along Greenland’s west coast to Disko Bay.

Greenland Tours: Coastal Ship – South & West

Greenland Tours

Coastal Ship - South & West

13 days in the south & west of Greenland incl. 5 days on board Sarfaq Ittuk

Greenland Travel: The classic Greenland trip. The Golden Triangle

Greenland Travel

The classic Greenland trip. The Golden Triangle

Experience the Ice Sheet, whalesafari, greenlandic culture, the majestic icebergs and sailing with the coastal ship. This trip has it all!

Planning and Preparing for a trip
on Sarfaq Ittuk

How and when to book

Sarfaq Ittuk typically runs from April to January, with July and August being the peak months. If you are planning to travel during the peak, it is best to book as early as possible to ensure you secure your choice of accommodation on board and your desired departure dates. 

The easiest way to book is online at the Sarfaq Ittuk booking page. Here you select your dates, your origin and destination, your style of accommodation, and whether you would like to pre-book meals on board. The whole process takes a few minutes and provides you with your ticket and vouchers for any meals. Both of these must be printed and brought with you to the ferry.

Getting to and from the Ferry

Although the Sarfaq Ittuk Ferry has 12 stops along its journey, there are 3 main access points for travelers coming from abroad. 

If you want to complete the entire journey, you should fly into either Ilulissat in the North or Narsarsuaq in the South. Air Greenland offers flights to both destinations during the summer from Copenhagen and Reykjavik, and Air Iceland Connect does the same from Reykjavik. On days where there are no direct flights, you can reach either of these destinations with Air Greenland via Kangerlussuaq (from Denmark), or fly to Nuuk with Air Iceland Connect and take a domestic Air Greenland flight from there. 

If you choose to fly into Narsarsuaq in South Greenland, you will then need to get yourself from there to either Qaqortoq or Narsaq in order to catch the ferry (Narsarsuaq is not on the ferry route). This can be arranged as a helicopter flight with Air Greenland, or as a boat trip with Disko Line or Blue Ice Explorer.

For those who only have time to complete half the journey, you will either start or end your trip in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital city. Both Air Greenland and Air Iceland Connect have direct flights to Nuuk from Reykjavik, and Air Greenland offers year-round flights from Denmark via Kangerlussuaq.

If you are already in Greenland, Air Greenland offers domestic flights to many of the towns along the ferry route. Check their schedule to see all the different options. It is also possible to reach some of the ferry ports by boat, if you are already in the area. Disko Line runs transfers between Ilulissat, Qeqertarsuaq and Aasiaat in the Disko Bay area, and both Disko Line and Blue Ice Explorer run transfers to Qaqortoq or Narsaq in the South.

What to bring for your journey 

One of the key considerations for any trip to the Arctic is appropriate clothing. The best advice is to dress in layers that can be added or removed as determined by the weather. 

The atmosphere on Sarfaq Ittuk is very casual, including in the café. The interior of the ship is heated to a comfortable level so long sleeves and perhaps a light jacket is sufficient while indoors. However, if you wish to go out onto the deck to enjoy the scenery and the fresh air (highly recommended), you will need to be prepared with warm and windproof layers. Yes, even in summer. If you are traveling at the beginning or end of the sailing season, you will need additional warm clothing and a heavy jacket and pants if you plan to spend any time on the outer decks. Really, these recommended layers are no different to what we would suggest for other excursions you may embark upon in Greenland during your visit. Just make sure you come prepared with appropriate clothing for the season and you’ll be fine on the ferry.

Your camera is a must for the Sarfaq Ittuk journey. The scenery varies significantly along the route, and capturing the Greenland landscape from the ocean is a unique perspective.

For part of the sailing season there is also the possibility of sighting whales along the route – another reason to bring appropriate clothing so you can sit up on deck to keep an eye out!

Colder temperatures tend to drain batteries more quickly, so make sure you come equipped with one or two spares or a power bank if your phone is also your camera. There are plenty of power-points throughout the ship for you to recharge your devices (there are also charging lockers if you want to secure your valuables), but you don’t want to run out of power just as you come across a particularly beautiful landscape or a pod of whales!

We also recommend that you bring binoculars with you on the journey. At times you sail a reasonable distance from the shore so these are useful to explore the coastline in more detail. They also come in handy for birdwatching from the ship and also for spotting whales and seals. The ferry itself offers simple binoculars for sale in case you forget to bring yours.

Strategies for managing sea sickness

Sarfaq Ittuk is a coastal ferry, which means it spends at least some part of its journey in the open ocean. Although the shore of Greenland is never far away, you will still be rocked by ocean swells, or worse if the weather is bad. It is therefore essential to come prepared with your choice of sea sickness management.

Sea sickness is a form of motion sickness. It arises when your senses get confused – in particular, your body and inner ear feel the motion of the boat but your eyes tell you that things are stationary. Some people are more susceptible than others and if you aren’t sure how your body will respond, it is best to come prepared. There is nothing worse than spending most of your ferry trip lying down on your bed feeling nauseous!

One of the most popular ways to mitigate sea sickness is with a pressure-point wristband. If you don’t already own one, this drug-free method is sold on board Sarfaq Ittuk, as are tablets that can help with the nausea. A third method involves a patch that is placed behind the ear and left there for several days. If you would like to use this method, you will need to purchase them before coming to Greenland. 

If you do feel nauseous, stop reading/writing/focusing on something close, and just stare out at the horizon. After all, it is the scenery you came for, isn’t it? If that doesn’t do the trick, the best remedy is to go and lie down and close your eyes until the ocean becomes calmer.

 

Highlights of the trip

The journey on Sarfaq Ittuk is a highlight in itself. The intimacy of the ferry and the ease with which you can meet locals and connect with other travelers is a unique experience that is difficult to replicate elsewhere. And although the scenery along the entire route is wonderful, some particular highlights include:

Calling in at each of the settlements. Every one of them is different. Every one of them is interesting. It is a curious question to stand on the outer deck during a 15-minute stop and ask yourself whether you could see yourself living in such close quarters and such isolation from the rest of the world. 

The fjords between Narsaq and Arsuk. Traveling through the maze of broken coastline of South Greenland makes you realise just how uninhabited the landscape is. And while you won’t spot any humans, the shoreline is so close that if you keep a sharp eye out, you may get lucky and spot a reindeer or musk ox.

The Paamiut glacier. Approximately 2-3 hours north of Paamiut, the great Greenland ice sheet almost reaches the ocean. At this point, the ship is out in open ocean, but you can see the ice sheet stretching towards the sea with the naked eye, and even better through binoculars.

From Maniitsoq to Kangaamiut. Just north of Maniitsoq lies a region of jagged peaks and glaciers that is incredibly beautiful. The hardest thing to decide is which side of the ship to be on, as the views are stunning in every direction.

Disko Bay. Between Aasiaat and Ilulissat you will sail past enormous icebergs and have a good chance to spot whales. Keep a sharp eye out and have your camera ready to capture both spectacles during the several hours it takes to cross this enormous bay.

Life on board Sarfaq Ittuk

The weekly visits of Sarfaq Ittuk provide an important connection to the outside world, especially for the smaller settlements. Often, crowds of people wait at the harbour to meet the ship and welcome (or see off) loved ones.

No matter what time of day the ship arrives, you should try to witness each of these dockings. The smiles, the laughter, and the tears of greetings and goodbyes is special and real, and the waving continues long after the ship has cast off and resumed its journey.

Information Desk

One of the first things you see as you enter the ship is the Information Desk. This is where the Chief Purser can be found for much of the day, and should be your first port of call for any questions or requests you might have. If you have a query and the Information Desk is closed, feel free to ask the staff at Café Sarfaq.

During June, July and August, there is also usually a guide on board to give talks about Greenland and what passengers see along the voyage. They also guide short tours in certain ports, if time permits. 

Accommodation

Sarfaq Ittuk has two styles of accommodation available for guests. 

Cabins can host up to 4 guests and contain a private bathroom, in-room movies, a small desk, a chest of drawers, and tea and coffee making facilities. Towels and linen are also provided and the cabins can be locked.

Couchettes are essentially open dormitories that contain 2, 4 or 8 bunk beds and a place to store luggage. Each bunk has its own light and curtain for privacy, but not all beds have access to a window. Passengers must bring their own sleeping bag (or a blanket may be purchased when booking the ticket or on board), and shared toilet and bathroom facilities are located in the hallway. Lockers are available for small valuable items for an extra per-day charge.

 

Common Areas

There are 3 main common areas on the Sarfaq Ittuk ferry.

Café Sarfaq is the social hub of the ship. It is where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, or you can purchase snacks and drinks throughout the day. You will often find loads of people here talking, playing cards or other games (the ship has several board games available in the café), reading (the café also has newspapers in Danish and Greenlandic), writing, and just hanging out. This is particularly true if the weather is not great, and makes it a fantastic place to meet people during your voyage. Note: you may only consume food and drink purchased on board in the Café.

The aft lounge is much smaller than the Café with booth-like seats where people are usually found engaged in quieter pastimes. It is the perfect reflective space that offers a wonderful view of the area through which you’ve just traveled, and there is even a massage chair if you really want to unwind.

Sarfaq Ittuk onboard cinema. Photo by Lisa Germany

Access to the on-board cinema is also through the aft lounge. The ship has an entertainment system with a small number of movies available, and the plush seats and darkened room are designed to give a real movie experience. However, if you would prefer to watch a different film, or a film at a different time, you can connect your personal device to the entertainment system from the aft common room and Sarfaq Café. You can also access the on-board Wi-Fi (for an extra charge) from these two areas.

The outside decks are a highlight of the ship and offer the very best views of Greenland’s incredible natural beauty. There are benches and deck chairs available for when the weather is fine, but remember to rug up! Even on the calmest day, the breeze generated by the moving ship can be very chilly. And don’t forget the sunscreen. The arctic sun can be quite strong despite the brisk air. 

Even if the weather is not sunny, it is worthwhile venturing out onto the decks from time to time for fresh air and to drink in the surroundings. Look for areas behind a bulkhead or other obstacle to escape the worst of the wind.

Note: the outside decks also do double duty as smoking areas. 

In addition to these main common areas, for those traveling with children, the ship also offers a small children’s play area down on Deck 2.

You can see a detailed map of the whole ship here.

 

Food and drink on board

Depending on where you board and where you will disembark, several meal times may pass on the ship. Guests have a few options when it comes to eating during the voyage.

Pre-purchased meal vouchers from Café Sarfaq. These are added at the time of booking and provide guests with 3 significant meals per day. Breakfast is from 7am – 9am and includes bread, cheese, processed meats, cereals, yoghurt, coffee/tea and juice. Lunch is from 12pm – 1pm and is generally a choice of one of two hot meals. Dinner is served from 6pm – 7pm and consists of another hot meal with either an entrée or dessert. All meals are eaten in Café Sarfaq and are a wonderful opportunity to sit down opposite someone you haven’t met and get to know them.

If you would prefer to take things as they come rather than ordering in advance, meals can also be purchased on the spot at the Café. Bear in mind that this is slightly more expensive than pre-booking your meals, though. Credit cards are welcome.

On-board light meals and snacks. From breakfast through to around 10pm, Café Sarfaq has light meals and snacks available for purchase. Items include fresh, open sandwiches, pre-prepared sandwiches, pastries, fruit, chips/crisps, dried fish, tea/coffee, juice, sodas and ice-creams. There are also vending machines (cash only) on Level 3 and in the aft lounge for out-of-hours purchases of snacks and drinks.

Bringing your own food. It is not allowed to bring your own food on board the ship, so we would recommend planning to eat in the on-board Café or, where possible, in the ports.

Eating off the ship. Depending on whether you are heading North or South and how the weather affects the ferry schedule, it may be possible to eat off the ship in Nuuk, Ilulissat and Sisimiut. The stops in each of the other ports are too short. 

Drinking on board. The tap water throughout the ship is safe to drink and you can refill water bottles from any sink. Sodas are available at Café Sarfaq and in the vending machines, and beer and wine are also available at the Café.

The community atmosphere on board

Sarfaq Ittuk is a relatively small ship. Given that most people spend at least 2 days on board, it doesn’t take long before everyone recognizes everybody else and a small, intimate feeling of community is established. If you are interested in meeting and talking to local Greenlanders, this is a very easy place to do so! Don’t be shy. Simply strike up a conversation with the person you are sitting opposite or standing next to. Many Greenlanders on this part of the West Coast speak at least a little English and it is a great opportunity to learn about the country and the culture from a first-hand perspective.

Hang out in the Café in particular, and you never know what might happen. Often there are impromptu performances from one or several of the passengers on board that are unscheduled and unannounced. You have to be present in the heart of the ship and part of the community to enjoy these random occurrences. Don’t hide away in your cabin or couchette for the journey.

Part of what enables this special onboard comradery is the fact that there is no cellphone signal until you reach each of the ports. This encourages people to interact with each other, talk with one another, and play games together, rather than retreating into the limited and solitary world of their screen. And while it is possible to purchase Wi-Fi on board for use in the Café or Aft Lounge, we encourage you to do yourself a favour and resist the temptation. Remember what it was like before we were connected 24/7 and take the opportunity to rediscover the simple pleasures in life through face-to-face connection and marveling at the beauty of the landscape through which you are travelling. You can always share your photos later!

The views from on board

One of the unique things about undertaking the complete journey on Sarfaq Ittuk from North to South or vice versa, is the diversity of the landscape through which you pass. From the rolling hills of sheep farms in the South, to the beautiful Nuuk Fjord that hosts Greenland’s capital city and the iconic Sermitsiaq Mountain, to the craggy untamed wilderness around Maniitsoq, to the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Listed Ilulissat Icefjord – it is thousands of kilometres of changing landscapes.

Seabirds are your constant companions as you make your way along the coastline and, if you are lucky, you may also be joined by seals and whales for parts of the journey. Icebergs (including some quite large ones) are also a feature of this particular sea voyage and are found all along the route. Don’t worry though – Sarfaq Ittuk is designed for the Arctic environment and the captain has sophisticated radar systems that clearly show these obstacles. 

Insider tip: If the opportunity arises, definitely try to visit the bridge at some point during the voyage. The view from there is amazing, and the pilot is often very happy to chat and explain all the different instruments that help ensure a safe journey. If the door is open (outer deck, level 3) and the chain is not pulled across, simply knock and ask politely if it is possible to visit briefly.

Stops en route

Sarfaq Ittuk is a passenger ferry, not a cruise ship, so most of the port stops are short and functional. While it is possible to leave the ship for a very short sprint around Maniitsoq (1hr), the main ports where it is possible to leave the ship for a short exploration are: Nuuk (13.5hrs northbound, 2 hrs southbound), Qaqortoq (3 hrs), Sisimiut (2hrs) and Ilulissat (4 hrs). We definitely encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity!

Here is a brief guide to each of the stops along the route.

Qaqortoq
(3 hours)

The primary city of South Greenland and the logistical hub of the region, Qaqortoq is a gateway to exploring the history of the Norse settlement of Greenland. From here, there are excursions to many of the Norse ruins in the area, and even the opportunity to visit one of Greenland’s few hot springs!

You will need to stay at least a few days in order to visit the attractions of South Greenland, but the 3-hour ferry stop is sufficient to have a good wander around town to see the many historical buildings and Greenland’s oldest fountain.

Narsaq
(30 min, northbound only)

Narsaq sits at the base of 2 tall mountains in an area rich in mineral deposits. If you are a rock-picker or a hiker, this is a great place to spend several days.

The short stop in Narsaq and its late hour make it difficult to leave the ship. However, its spectacular location means it is definitely worth the effort to watch the approach and departure of the ship from the outer decks.

Arsuk
(15 min)

Arsuk means “lush” in Greenlandic. This is the perfect way to describe the fjord on which it sits – a haven for wildlife such as musk ox reindeer, sea mammals, falcons and sea birds.

The dock in Arsuk is not large enough to accommodate the Sarfaq Ittuk ferry so passengers must be shuttled to and from the settlement in a smaller boat. There is no opportunity to leave the ship here, but definitely get out on deck to watch the unloading and loading procedure.

Paamiut
(30 min)

Paamiut is a great place for hikers and birdwatchers. It has Greenland’s largest population of White-tailed Eagles (Nattoralik in Greenlandic) and, as you explore the stunning backcountry surrounding the town, you also have a great chance of spotting falcons.

If you walk very quickly, you should be able to take a quick snap of the Norwegian-style church before having to re-board the ship.

Qeqertarsuatsiaat
(15 min)

Qeqertarsuatsiaat is a small settlement of about 200 people, which is located on an island just off the coast. It is a former Danish trading post but nowadays is a peaceful settlement where residents mostly live from hunting and fishing. There is also a small ruby and sapphire mine in the area which is under development.

If you are traveling north, it is amazing to see how many people turn out to greet the ship, despite the fact it is 10pm!

Nuuk
(13.5 h northbound, 2 h southbound)

Nuuk is the capital of Greenland and the northernmost capital city in the world. It sits at the mouth of the impressive Nuuk Fjord and has several famous mountains – including the iconic Sermitsiaq – on its doorstep. It is also a cultural hub, with the Greenland National Museum, the Nuuk Art Museum, the Nuuk Local Museum and the Katuaq Cultural Centre all located here.

Travelling north, you have plenty of time to explore the city, enjoy some of Greenland’s best culinary experiences, and visit the beautiful viewpoints around town. You even have time to venture along the Nuuk Fjord or do a day hike around Lille Malene if nature is more your thing. Just book a day-trip in advance. 

Travelling south, your options are much more limited. The relatively short stop will allow you to walk into the main part of the city and visit a few of the viewpoints there before you will need to head back to the ship. 

Maniitsoq
(1 h northbound, 30 min southbound)

Maniitsoq is an angling hotspot, with abundant Arctic Char and local guides who can help you get the most from your efforts. For those who are not so into fishing, it is also frequented by large numbers of Humpback whales during the summer and offers many backcountry hiking options.

1 hour is just enough time to do a quick walk around the central part of town, but 30 minutes is unfortunately a little too short as the access from the dock is quite long.

Kangaamiut
(15 min)

Kangaamiut is the gateway to one of Greenland’s most impressive fjords – the Eternity Fjord. Its towering peaks and hanging glaciers draw adventure-seekers from all over the world for hiking, kayaking and heli-skiing experiences, but can equally be enjoyed from a sailing excursion for those who are after a more relaxed time.

Like Arsuk, there is no direct docking opportunity for Sarfaq Ittuk in Kangaamiut. So, if you missed the unload/loading via small boat there, here is another opportunity. 

Sisimiut
(2 hours)

Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest city and a nature lover’s paradise in both Summer and Winter. There are plenty of day hikes you can do from town, and it is either the start or end-point of the increasingly popular Arctic Circle Trail – a 160km trek between Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq.

While this short stop is not a sufficient amount of time to get out into the backcountry, it will allow you to explore the town itself. Depending on your journey, the church and the museum may be open – but even if they are not, it is a nice area to wander around and take photos. The Seamen’s Home is close to the harbour and is a good option to get a bite to eat, as well as the cafés along the high street, Taseralik (the cultural centre) and Hotel Sisimiut.

Aasiaat
(30 min)

Despite being the main logistics port and education centre of North Greenland, Aasiaat is not known as a tourist destination. That being said, whale watching is a common activity around Aasiaat during the summer, and it hosts some amazing artwork – including 24 images by the famous Danish artist Per Kirkeby in the Community Centre.

Unfortunately, Sarfaq Ittuk’s short stop in Aasiaat is only really sufficient to wander quickly around the port area and up to the church before you need to be back on board.

Qeqertarsuaq
(15 min)

With plenty of hiking trails, alternate boat connections to other towns around Disko Bay, and landscapes that are unique in Greenland – Qeqertarsuaq is a wonderful place to spend several days exploring. 

Unfortunately, Sarfaq Ittuk does not stop in Qeqertarsuaq during the peak of summer, and when it does call in there it is only for 15 minutes. This is enough time to catch a brief glimpse of the largest settlement on Disko Island from the deck of the ship, and will definitely entice you to return in the future. 

Ilulissat
(4 hours)

Ilulissat is the home of large icebergs thanks to Sermeq Kujalleq (the Ilulissat Glacier) that sits at the head of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Icefjord. Sailing or kayaking amongst the icebergs, whale watching, and exploring the nearby settlements are highlights of a visit to Ilulissat, but you will need several days if you want to get the most out of your visit.

During the relatively short stop of Sarfaq Ittuk, you can just make it out to the Icefjord for a quick look if you walk fast. Or, stay in town, check out some viewpoints, shop for souvenirs or have a great meal at one of the town’s fantastic restaurants or cafes.

Article by:  Lisa Germany

Lisa Germany is the trekking-mad blogger who has provided text and visual content for our Arctic Circle Trail and Sarfaq Ittuk powerpages. She currently lives in Nuuk and works as the Content Manager for Guide to Greenland.