51 Interesting Greenland Facts to Inspire Your Visit
Greenland is one of the most unknown and isolated places in the world. Here are fifty of our favourite facts about Greenland to give you a flavour for this fascinating Arctic destination before you plan your trip there.
1. Greenland is the largest island in the world that is not a continent
The size of Western Europe, or one third the size of Australia or the main part of the USA – Greenland is BIG! It is the 12th largest country in the world, so keep that in mind when you are planning your itinerary.
2. Greenland has the lowest population density of any country in the world.
Although it is big, it only has a population of 56,000 people. That means you’ll run into 0.03 people per square kilometer. Of course, the population is not distributed evenly and nobody lives in the vast majority of the country, but even then – there is plenty of room to be alone – even in the capital city.
3. Greenland is home to the largest National Park in the world
The entire north-east of Greenland is one massive national park. Established in 1974 and expanded to its current size in 1988, it is a sanctuary for arctic wildlife as special permission must be obtained from the Greenlandic Government for access.
4 . 80% of Greenland is covered in ice
One of the most amazing Greenland facts is that Greenland’s “inland ice” is the second-largest ice sheet in the world (behind Antarctica). It is an incredible sight as you fly over the country and reaches up to 3,500m thick in some places.
5. Greenland is fascinating for geologists
There is something special about the rocks of Greenland. Even for non-professionals, the patterns found in them and the sheen they give off is not like anywhere else in the world.
They are beautiful. And some of them very valuable – with Greenland harbouring plenty of rare mineral and gemstone deposits.
6. Greenland only has one town that is not on the coast
Since it is only the fringes of Greenland that emerge from under the snow during Summer, all of the towns and settlements in Greenland are located on the coast. The exception is Kangerlussuaq, whose name means “big fjord”.
No surprise to discover that it lies about 160km away from the main coastline at the end of a very long fjord. Due to its “inland” location, it has some of the coldest weather in the country, and it is one of the endpoints of the famous long-distance hiking trail: The Arctic Circle Trail.
7. Greenland got its name as a promotional stunt
If Greenland is covered in ice, why is it called Greenland? Turns out, the exiled Viking – Eric the Red – came up with the name as a marketing ploy to encourage others to follow him to Greenland and establish new settlements there.
That being said, South Greenland (where Erik the Red settled) is actually remarkably green during Summer.
8. The Inuit name for Greenland – Inuit Nunaat – means “land of the people”
Although we all know the country as Greenland, the original peoples called their land “Inuit Nunaat”. Nowadays, Greenlanders have adopted the name “Kalaallit Nunaat”, which means “country of the Greenlanders”.
9. Greenland has the most northerly capital city in the world – Nuuk
Nuuk and Reykjavik vie for the title of most northerly capital city, but Nuuk beats out the Icelandic capital by just a few kilometres. We do admit, however, that because Greenland is still a part of the Realm of Denmark, Reykjavik is the northernmost capital for a sovereign country.
10. You can only get to Greenland from Denmark or Iceland
Even though Greenland is geographically part of the North American continent, you can’t fly direct (at the moment). You must first get yourself to Copenhagen or Reykjavik in order to access the country.
11. Greenland’s main international airport is not in its capital
Nuuk, the capital city, is located 317km (straight line) from Kangerlussuaq – which is where the main international airport is located. Two of the challenges of transportation in Greenland are its terrain and its weather.
While Nuuk is surrounded by mountains, Kangerlussuaq is located on an enormous broad plain and has the most stable weather in the country.
12. Some of Greenland’s international airports were once WWII air bases
Situated on the most efficient flight path between North America and Europe – Greenland occupied a strategic position for the allies during WWII.
Kangerlussuaq and Narsarsuaq airports (now two of the international airports for Greenland) were originally built and owned by the US to support the war effort. There was also a third airport in East Greenland – Blue East Two – which is now abandoned but still contains ruins and remains from that era.
13. There are no roads connecting any of the towns in Greenland
One of the more unusual Greenland facts is that due to the rugged terrain, the deep fjords that shape the coastline, the Greenland ice sheet, and the very small population, the road system in Greenland is extremely limited. Essentially, all roads stop on the outskirts of town.
14. There are more boats than cars in Greenland
The ocean and the fjords provide the most extensive “highway” system in Greenland, which is why more Greenlanders own boats than cars. In many of the small settlements you will not see a single car, but there are plenty of boats tied up at the shoreline.
15. Greenland’s longest road is about 35km
This runs from Kellyville (a research station), through Kangerlussuaq and all the way to the Greenland Icesheet. It was originally built by Volkswagen to give them access to their cold car test track that was built on the inland ice. Now it is used for tourism and to give scientific researchers easy access to the ice cap.
16. The Greenlandic Sled Dog is still used by hunters as a form of transportation during the winter
Dogsledding is still an active part of Greenlandic culture and many hunters still use this ancient mode of transportation during the winter.
Unfortunately, snowmobiles are starting to take over (they don’t need to be fed and cared for all year round), so if you get the opportunity – make sure you go on a dogsledding trip while in Greenland. It helps to retain this cultural heritage.
17. The Greenlandic Sled Dog is the only breed allowed north of the Arctic Circle and in East Greenland
Over thousands of years, the Greenlandic Sled Dog was specifically bred for stamina and hardiness. To maintain the purity of the breed and ensure that future generations are able to fulfil their traditional role in this arctic society, it is illegal to bring any other breed of dog into the dog sledding areas.
18. Greenland offers exceptionally diverse landscapes
The landscapes of East Greenland are completely different to those of South Greenland. Both of these are completely different to the terrain near the Arctic Circle on the West Coast, which itself bears no resemblance to what you find in the far North of the country.
Every part of this enormous island is distinct in its geography, offering different adventures and Arctic views.
19. Greenland has the purest air and water in the world
With very few people and even fewer cars and industry – you can breathe very deeply in Greenland. Clear your lungs and drink freely from any of the streams or rivers in the country – no filter required.
20. Greenland is the perfect place to unplug
Although Greenland does have a mobile phone network and the internet, both are very expensive, likely much slower than you are accustomed to, and limited to the immediate vicinity of towns and settlements.
We recommend telling your loved ones that you won’t be contactable for your trip to Greenland and use this as the perfect excuse just to unplug and unwind.
21. Greenland’s larger towns are quite modern
Although Greenland’s towns are small and remote, they are surprisingly modern to many visitors. There will be at least one supermarket stocking products imported mostly from Denmark, and the larger towns have high quality restaurants that serve international food.
22. You should definitely visit the Pilersuisoq “supermarket” in smaller settlements
One of the key attractions in any small settlement is – believe it or not – the Pilersuisoq supermarket. These one-stop shops for the community stock a little bit of anything and everything that someone might need and are well worth a look – even if you don’t need to buy anything. It is fascinating to see rifles and ammunition lined up alongside reindeer antlers, fruit, and baby formula. They also sell great pastries!
23. It can get quite warm during Summer
Greenland is often thought of as bitterly cold. And although it does get quite cold during the Winter, Summer can be beautifully pleasant.
These days, it is not uncommon to experience 18-20 degrees Celsius if the sun is shining and there is not too much wind. Bring your sunscreen!
24. Greenland has 3 UNESCO World Heritage Listed areas
Rather than individual locations, Greenland’s 3 UNESCO sites occupy vast areas.
The Ilulissat Icefjord was inscribed in 2004, Kujataa (celebrating Norse and Inuit farming cultures) stretches across 5 different sites in South Greenland and was inscribed in 2017, and Aasivissuit – Nipisat (in recognition of Inuit hunting grounds) stretches between the Greenland Icesheet and the ocean near Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut and was inscribed in 2018.
25. There are Viking (Norse) ruins in Greenland
There are remains of Viking ruins in South Greenland and along the West coast. The best preserved of these are found in South Greenland near Qaqortoq, Qassiarsuk and Igaliku, and can be visited on a wide range of tours.
26. No matter where you are in Greenland, you will see icebergs
One of our Greenland facts that will make you want to visit. Although the Ilulissat Icefjord is famous for its enormous icebergs, you will find icebergs of varying sizes (some even bigger than in Ilulissat) no matter which part of the country you visit.
27. Greenland is home to the northern hemisphere’s most active glacier
Sermeq Kujalleq / Jakobshavn Glacer / Ilulissat Glacier – the glacier that feeds the Ilulissat Icefjord – is the most productive in the Northern Hemisphere.
The enormous quantity of ice that sheers off this glacier is partially why the Ilulissat Icefjord is so spectacular.
28. There are very few hot springs in Greenland
It is a common assumption that Greenland will be somewhat like Iceland. Nothing could be further from the truth!
While Iceland is filled with hot springs everywhere you go, Greenland has one easily accessible one – Uunartoq in South Greenland.
29. There are almost no trees in Greenland
Although Greenland is largely an Arctic desert, a few intrepid souls have attempted to grow trees here.
The biggest “forests” can be found near Nanortalik and Narsarsuaq in South Greenland.
30. Greenland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights
With 24hr darkness during winter and very little light pollution, the Northern Lights dance brightly over Greenland.
While they can be seen from anywhere (even from the centre of Nuuk!), one of the best places is near Kangerlussuaq, which has more than 300 days of clear sky each year.
31. There are opportunities for awesome heli-skiing, ski touring, and ski mountaineering in Greenland
Greenland is a winter playground for skiers. Although there are only a handful of small downhill ski centres, the virgin 2000m drops from mountain top to ocean attract heli-skiers and ski tourers from around the world.
32. Whale watching is huge in Summer
Greenland is a popular stop on the annual migration of many species of whales. The ever-playful Humpbacks in particular are very common in the waters around Greenland, and most places offer specific whale watching tours so you can get as close as possible to these magnificent creatures while still not disturbing them.
You can also go kayaking and even stand-up paddle boarding with whales in certain locations.
33. It is very easy to catch fish in Greenland
Greenland is known for its abundant fishing opportunities, and in certain regions, it has been relatively easier to catch fish compared to other parts of the world due to its cold and nutrient-rich waters. The country’s extensive coastline and numerous fjords offer a diverse range of fish species, including Arctic char, cod, salmon, and halibut, making it a popular destination for fishing enthusiasts.
34. Inuit hunters from Greenland invented the kayak
The word “kayak” actually comes from the Greenlandic word “qajaq”, as it was the Greenlandic hunters who invented this extremely maneuverable water transportation.
Traditional qajaqs are much smaller and narrower than what we are used to, and were custom built for each hunter to perfectly suit his body.
35. Greenland boasts a huge variety of wildflowers in Summer
When the snow melts, Greenland’s arctic vegetation comes to life. The abundance of colourful wildflowers surprises most visitors and you can forage for mushrooms, blueberries and crowberries later in the Summer.
36. The Arctic Circle Trail is Greenland’s most famous hiking route
The 160km long Arctic Circle Trail stretches from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut and is becoming a very popular multi-day hike during the Summer. It is still not crowded and you will walk for several hours without seeing another person – even during peak season.
You must carry everything with you (there is nowhere to re-stock or buy things along the way) and the infrastructure consists of 9 (mostly tiny) huts spaced roughly a day apart. It is the best way to get completely away from everything if you are a hiker.
37. You can experience the Midnight Sun and Polar Darkness in Greenland
From roughly the 25 May to the 25 July – the Sun doesn’t set if you are located above the Arctic Circle in Greenland. The exact dates depend on how far North of this line you are, and even if you are South of it – it never completely gets dark. You end up with an eternal twilight instead.
Of course, the opposite occurs during winter, when the Sun doesn’t rise above the horizon at all for several months of the year above the Arctic Circle.
38. You can get sunburned in Greenland
One of our Greenland facts that you may not have imagined. Sunscreen may not be top of your packing list for a trip to Greenland – but it should be! The Arctic Sun is incredibly strong and it is possible to get burned even in the middle of Winter (you get a double whammy from the sunlight reflected from snow).
Also pack sunglasses – regardless of the time of year. Snow blindness and even glacier blindness (looking at glaciers under bright sun) is a very real, if temporary affliction.
39. Greenlandic houses are exceptionally picturesque
Since colonial times, Greenlandic houses have tended to be small and brightly painted so that they stand out in the landscape. Historically, each colour had a specific meaning which denotes the use of the building, but these days Greenlanders can choose whatever colour they wish for their houses.
40. In Greenland, you can still see two cultures (Inuit and European) existing side-by-side
Although it is rapidly changing to become more Western, Greenland still retains quite a lot of its cultural heritage. During winter, it is not unusual to see dogsleds and snowmobiles heading out of town together.
Many Greenlanders still wear their National Costume for special occasions (while others turn up in the latest fashions). You can buy traditional meats that have been hunted/fished in Greenland for millennia alongside imported foodstuff in the local supermarket. The list goes on.
41. The official language of Greenland is West Greenlandic- Kalaallisut
When Greenland became self-ruling in 2009, Danish was dropped as an official language leaving Kalaallisut (the West Greenlandic language) as the only official language of the country. That being said, most Greenlanders speak excellent Danish, and a very large percentage (in the larger towns at least) speak very good English. They are a truly remarkable tri-lingual nation.
42. Traditional Greenlandic food is based on hunting and fishing
Whale, seal, fish and seafood, musk-ox, reindeer (caribou), ptarmigan. These are the traditional foods of the Greenlandic Inuit and many Greenlanders still enjoy them regularly.
In fact, the hunting seasons are eagerly awaited each year (yes, hunting is still a way of life in Greenland) and you’ll often find Greenlanders out fishing.
43. Modern Greenlandic food often incorporates traditional ingredients
Modern Greenlandic food uses traditional main ingredients fused with flavours and techniques introduced by chefs from around the world. It is not unusual to see a reindeer or musk-ox burger on the menu, nor a whale thai red curry.
In fact, you can find excellent Asian-inspired fusion cuisine in almost all the major towns of Greenland (Thais and Filippinos make up the second-biggest immigrant group in Greenland behind the Danes).
44. Greenlandic coffee is a special occasion
Whiskey, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, whipped cream, oh and coffee of course. That is what goes into a Greenlandic Coffee. There is also a whole story behind the creation of the coffee – so you should definitely order one and see the entire spectacle of its creation.
45. There are 3 Greenlandic micro-breweries
One of our favourite Greenland facts! Although Danish beer is the most commonly available in Greenland, there are also 3 Greenlandic Breweries that produce on a much smaller scale. Godthaab Bryghus is based in Nuuk and is the largest of the local producers (you can also do a beer tasting tour with them).
However, keep an eye out for beers from Qajaq Brewery (based in Narsaq in South Greenland) and Immiaq Brewery (based in Ilulissat in Disko Bay) who sell their beer in bottles and on tap in select places throughout the country.
46. The West Greenlandic National Dress is spectacular
Take functional clothing designed for living in the harsh climate of the Arctic and embellish it dramatically with materials brought to the island by Danish colonists. This is how the West Greenlandic National Costume was created.
Featuring sealskin, several different types of seal leather, fox or dog fur, cotton, and bright “pearls” imported from afar – this stunning artwork is still very commonly worn by Greenlandic women for special occasions. The men’s costume of white cotton anorak and black trousers pales into comparison next to their female companions.
47. The shamanic tupilak has morphed into one of the most iconic souvenirs from Greenland
Modern tupilaks are usually fantastical creatures carved from reindeer antler, musk-ox horn, narwhal tooth, or sperm whale tooth by master craftsman.
They are the most commonly purchased souvenir in Greenland, but make sure you purchase one from reindeer or musk-ox horn – the other materials cannot be taken out of Greenland.
48. Greenland has some of the best musicians in the world
Greenlandic music is some of the best music you’ve never heard of. Most of it is sung in Greenlandic, but it is a testament to the musicians these days that the power of their music transcends language barriers.
If you get the chance to see a band live (particularly one of the more recent bands that are still releasing music) – definitely take the chance to see them!
49. Greenland has several music and culture festivals throughout the year
Greenland has a vibrant cultural scene – particularly in Nuuk and Sisimiut. Both cities have dedicated Cultural Centres where a wide range of events are scheduled throughout the year, and both host large, annual music festivals (Akisuanerit in Nuuk, Arctic Sounds in Sisimiut).
Nuuk also has the National Theatre, 4 different exhibition spaces, and hosts the enormous Nuuk Nordisk Culture Festival (where artists from across Nordic nations come together to collaborate and showcase their work) every second year. Other smaller music and cultural festivals are also held in various towns and settlements around the country.
50. Greenland is home to the toughest ski-race in the world
The Arctic Circle Race is a 3-day, 160km test of fitness, stamina and grit for cross-country skiers. It is widely regarded as the toughest ski race in the world where competitors have to cope with camping and cooking for themselves for 2 nights, often in temperatures below -20 degree Celsius.
51. There are several marathons and running races held in Greenland each year
The final on our list of Greenland facts! If you enjoy running, there is plenty of scope to compete in Greenland! Like the Arctic Circle Race, the Nuuk Marathon is meant to be one of the toughest in the world – despite being a city-based race. You can also run your marathon in several other places in Greenland, including Aasiaat (Midnight Sun Marathon), Kangerlussuaq (Polar Circle Marathon), Sisimiut, Ilulissat, and Qaqortoq. There are also many shorter race options
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