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Ilulissat – The Ultimate Travel Guide To Greenland's Iceberg Capital

Ilulissat – The Ultimate Travel Guide To Greenland’s Iceberg Capital

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Welcome to our Ilulissat travel guide. Ilulissat is the most popular tourist destination in Greenland, home to enormous icebergs and the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Ilulissat Icefjord, and gateway to fabulous Disko Bay. The name of the town means “icebergs” in the Greenlandic language and has been an important area for several thousand years.

Illulisat in West Greenland Church

An Introduction

An important location for the Inuit for thousands of years, “Jakobshavn” was established by the Danes in 1741. Several buildings from this period still survive but Ilulissat (it now uses its Greenlandic name) has grown to be the third-largest town in Greenland.

While fishing and prawns are still important industries for Ilulissat, tourism has almost caught up! If you have the time, it is worth spending a few days here before your cruise to get acquainted with the area and being in the Arctic. There is plenty to see and do including guided tours, museums, or simply chilling with one of the most impressive views in all the world.

In this guide, you will find everything you need to plan your visit to Ilulissat including arrivals information, where to stay, places to eat and things to see and do, all based on our experience.

How to Get to Ilulissat

  • If you are not coming on an organised cruise, the only way to get to Ilulissat is to fly from either Copenhagen or Denmark. There are no flights from North America or elsewhere in Europe at this stage, and no international ferries.
  • Most flights to Ilulissat pass through Kangerlussuaq (the primary international airport for Greenland) or Nuuk (the capital). However, during Summer there are some direct flights from both Denmark and Iceland

Ilulissat Flights

Ilulissat is serviced by two airlines: Air Greenland flies to Ilulissat all year round, Icelandair flies to Ilulissat only during the peak season of Summer.  No matter where in the world you are coming from, you must get yourself to either Copenhagen or Reykjavik first and fly from there.

For indirect flights, if you are coming from Copenhagen, you will transfer through Kangerlussuaq. If you are coming through Reykjavik, you will likely transfer through Nuuk. Please check carefully which airport you are departing from in Reykjavik, as Air Iceland Connect departs from the Domestic Airport but Air Greenland departs from Keflavik. It takes at least an hour by bus to get between these two airports.

The weight limit on all flights to Greenland is 20kg. This is usually strictly enforced and excess baggage is expensive so we encourage you to stay under this limit.

It is not uncommon for flights to, from and within Greenland to be delayed due to weather. At the very least, give yourself one extra day in either Copenhagen or Reykjavik before your onward international flight. We also recommend you take out travel insurance that will cover these types of delays.

Ilulissat arrival information

Once you arrive at Ilulissat airport, you have a few options to get into town. Most hotels will actually send a shuttle to meet you (included in the price of your stay), or you can take a taxi to your accommodation (~150DKK one way, depending on which side of town it is on). Alternatively, you can hike the ~3km to town if you are on a budget. There is actually a trail that leaves the road at the first corner.

Ilulissat Cruises

From 2025 we will offer 12 Guest Expedition Micro Cruises to explore Disko Bay from Illulisat and areas to the North. To be the first to hear about these new tours please join our Secret Atlas Explorer’s Club Newsletter.

You can check out our Expedition Micro Cruises and Northern Lights Photo Tour to explore Scoresby Sund in East Greenland here.

Illulisat Icefjord in Greenland

Where to stay in Ilulissat

As the primary tourist destination in Greenland, Ilulissat has several different accommodation options to choose from, including 4-star hotels, guesthouses and hostels. During Summer, accommodation sells out several months in advance, so we encourage you to book your accommodation when you book your cruise. Don’t leave it to the last minute.

Hotel Arctic

An upmarket 4-star hotel with stunning views across Disko Bay and the option of being able to stay in an igloo-shaped room. There is an excellent quality restaurant and bar, and scheduled transfers to the center of town (though it is also walkable).

Hotel Icefiord

Another beautiful 4-star hotel with an amazing restaurant and wonderful Disko Bay views. There is a bar to relax in during the evening and they have their own smokehouse from which they offer several different products. They also offer apartment accommodation at a different location.

Hotel Hvide Falk

A comfortable and centrally located hotel with lovely views across the entrance to Ilulissat Harbour from Disko Bay. There is a great restaurant that combines Greenlandic ingredients with Asian flavours and a separate bar. They also offer apartments and guesthouse accommodation.

Hotel Avannaa

Located next door to Hotel Arctic, offers standard rooms as well as a penthouse suite with views over Disko Bay. This hotel is part of the Seamen’s Home chain where all profits go to supporting the local community, and particularly the fishermen and seafarers in Greenland.

Guesthouses

Ilulissat Guesthouse

A mixture of accommodation types, each with iceberg views. From entire houses for families and groups to individual rooms – staying here gives you access to communal kitchens and living rooms so you can cater for yourself.

Blue Trail Guesthouse

Located on the edge of town near the start to the Blue hiking trail, this guesthouse offers basic but clean and comfortable single and double rooms with private bathrooms. There is also a communal living room and an enormous kitchen so you can self-cater.  Airport transfer, breakfast, lunch and dinner can be provided at additional cost.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]

Budget

Ilulissat Hostel

By far the cheapest accommodation in town. Small, shared rooms with either two single beds or bunk beds, shared bathrooms, a communal kitchen and wonky walls are all features of this centrally located but very budget accommodation. 

Restaurants

Due to the relatively large number of tourists, there are also several different foodie options in Ilulissat

Hotel Arctic, Hotel Icefiord and Hotel Hvide Falk restaurants.

All three large hotels have fabulous restaurants with incredible views across the icebergs in Disko Bay. Their menus are varied so best to check directly, and each one offers a “Greenlandic Buffet” during the Summer months.

Restaurant Mamartut

Due to the relatively large number of tourists, there are also several different foodie options in Ilulissat.

Often touted as one of the best restaurants in Ilulissat. Home-style cooking or a Greenlandic Tapas plate make the short walk out to the restaurant well worth the effort.

Café Iluliaq

Centrally located with outdoor seating when the weather is nice. It offers a café menu with burgers, sandwiches and pizza, as well as excellent Thai dishes. It is also sells locally-made beer from Ilulissat’s Immiaq micro-brewery.

Cafénnguaq 

Centrally located and very popular, these guys make some of the best sandwiches you’ll ever taste. The interior decoration is a little eclectic and it is a great place to chill out.

Make your own picnic

Stop by either the Brugseni or Pisiffik supermarkets as you walk from the center of town to the start of the boardwalk and pick up bakery items or even cooked items from the deli. Then keep hiking to the Icefjord, decide where you want to sit, and enjoy your meal.

What to see in Ilulissat

UNESCO listed Ilulissat Icefjord

THE reason to come to Ilulissat. This incredible, ice-choked fjord is fed by the most active glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. Enormous icebergs become trapped on an underwater moraine before breaking free – releasing thousands of icebergs of all sizes into Disko Bay.

Eqi Glacier

Known as “the calving glacier”, Eqi is the most visited glacier in the Ilulissat region. It is a sailing trip to reach it and, once there, you are almost guaranteed to see multiple calving events (where chunks of ice break off the face of the glacier) over the 2 hours you spend watching.

Ilimanaq or Oqaatsut

Although Greenland only has a small number of towns, it has a far greater number of smaller settlements. Ilimanaq and Oqaatsut are two such places that you can visit on a day tour from Ilulissat to see a very different pace of life.

Ilulissat Museum

Otherwise known as the Knud Rasumussen museum after one of Greenland’s greatest explorers, it has a whole room dedicated to his exploits. An ideal place to spend a couple of hours getting acquainted with Greenland’s history before you start your cruise. 

Entry price: 60DKK (also includes entry to the Art Museum)

Ilulissat Art Museum

Housed in the former residence of the colony manager, the gallery has a permanent collection that features work by Emanuel A. Peterson – a Danish artist and one of the most famous painters of Greenland. Upstairs, temporary exhibitions (5 – 8 per year) rotate through, a mixture of international as well as Greenlandic artists. 

Entry price:  60DKK (also includes entry to the Ilulissat Museum)

Ilulissat Artisan Workshop

Drop by the artisan workshop to see local carvers at work creating their souvenir tupilaks. You can buy directly from the artists here, or from numerous places around town.[

Activities in Ilulissat

Ilulissat offers a wide variety of outdoor activities that cater for any level of physical fitness. We recommend that you spend a few days in town before joining our cruise to participate in some of the different activities.

If you would like to participate in one of the following activities, please contact us and we will connect you with a local tour operator who will arrange the activities for you.

Boat tours

Sailing amidst the enormous icebergs of the Ilulissat Icefjord is a highlight of any trip to Greenland. You can sail under the midnight sun during Summer, or in the dead of winter – they run all year round. It is a very different experience to get up close to them and see them from the water.

Whale Watching

Between June and September, Ilulissat is a fantastic location for whale watching. The playful humpbacks are the most common, though Minke and Fin whales are also often seen. Although it is possible to see whales from the shore, if you join a specific whale-watching tour, the captain knows where the whales were last seen and will take you as close as possible without disturbing the world’s largest animals.

Hiking

Ilulissat has 3 main, well-marked hiking trails to the Icefjord. The easiest option is the boardwalk that goes through the historically important Sermermiut valley. You can hike this yourself or take a guided tour to learn more about why this area was key for the local Inuit.  There is also the Yellow Trail (which tracks around the end of the Icefjord) and the Blue Trail (which follows the Icefjord and then heads up into the hills), both of which can be done independently or on a tour.

Kayaking

To fully appreciate how enormous and awe-inspiring the icebergs of Ilulissat are, you really need to look up at them from the waterline. During Summer, there are kayaking trips available every evening – including ones that also allow you embrace the Midnight Sun.

Scenic flights

The best way to see the full extent of the Ilulissat Icefjord is to take a scenic flight over the area. It is also the only way to see the Ilulissat Glacier that feeds the Icefjord. There are several different options available and flight paths are designed to take in the most interesting features.

Fishing

Greenlanders love to fish! And catching fish in Greenland is remarkably easy! In the Disko Bay area you can go fishing for capelin, cod, and trout – depending on exactly what time of year you are visiting.

Getting around Ilulissat

If you enjoy walking, it is possible to get everywhere you need to go in Ilulissat by foot. Depending on where you are staying, it may be 2-3km into the centre of town from your accommodation, so keep that in mind. The innumerable stairs you will find throughout the town often provide shortcuts (compared to the road), but if you don’t feel like walking or are in a hurry – call a taxi. Its best to order one in advance as they tend to be oversubscribed – especially during peak hours. 

Events in Ilulissat

There are a few major events that happen every year in and around Ilulissat – mostly during the Summer.

Arctic Palerfik – April

This 3-day event follows the Ilulissat Icefjord and features more dogsleds than you can count. It is the traditional “farewell to winter” and the last trip that hunters will make by dogsled for the winter. 

Greenland National Day – June 21

Greenlanders celebrate their national day on the longest day of the year. You may see some Greenlanders dressed in their National Costume and often there are choirs, BBQs and bonfires.

Arctic Midnight Orienteering – June

A 4-day orienteering extravaganza featuring 3-4 races. Organised by the local orienteering club, this event has taken place every year for the past 20 years.

Kangia Race – June

3 days. Demanding terrain. Backcountry camping. This adventure race is one for those who enjoy challenges.

Disko Arts Festival – sometime in the fall/Autumn

Annual festival for experimental musicians and artists. Emerging local and international artists come together to collaborate, explore and present new work.

Ilulissat: Your questions answered

How far is it to the Ilulissat Icefjord?

The Ilulissat Icefjord with its enormous icebergs is located only about 2km from the town. It is very easy to walk there, and there are 3 main hiking trails that allow you to explore it from land. The easiest and shortest trail follows a boardwalk all the way to the ice.  

Can I see the northern lights in Ilulissat?

Yes, you can see the northern lights in Ilulissat. and watching them dance over the massive icebergs is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Remember, you can only see the northern lights when it is dark, and the sun doesn’t set in Ilulissat between May and July.

For more information on viewing the Northern Lights in Greenland please check out our Ultimate Guide To Northern Lights Viewing In Greenland.

If you would like to see the Northern Lights in Greenland please check out out Northern Lights Cruises in Greenland.

When is the best time to see the northern lights in Ilulissat?

The northern lights can be seen in Ilulissat whenever it is dark.  This means you can potentially see them any time from August through to May, however, the best time of year is February – April.

What is the temperature in Ilulissat?

Over the course of the year, the temperature in Ilulissat ranges from about -19 degrees to +10 degrees Celsius. During cruising season, this reduces to a high of +11 and a low of +5 – so much milder than you were probably imagining! On a sunny day with little breeze – the strong Arctic sun can feel much, much hotter, so make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen, a sun hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from sunburn! When can I see the midnight sun in Ilulissat?

The midnight sun occurs between 20th May and 24th July in Ilulissat. During these dates, you can enjoy the area with 24 hours of sunlight. Don’t forget to bring your eye mask!

What is the currency in Ilulissat?

Ilulissat and all of Greenland used the Danish Krone as its currency. If you wish to use cash, you should either bring it with you or withdraw it from the ATMs in Ilulissat (found at the banks and in some supermarkets). Exchanging currency can only be done at the bank and only during certain times. Most places (but not all!) also accept Visa, Mastercard or Dankort (Eurocard, Diners and American Express less so).

Does Ilulissat have a post office?

Yes, there is a post office in Ilulissat where it is possible to post postcards and packages home. Look for the Telepost building which is located a little further along the road than the large Pisiffik and Brugseni supermarkets.  

Where do cruises depart from in Ilulissat?

All Ilulissat cruises depart from the harbour. 2 weeks before departure we will forward you a map so you can locate the expedition vessel for your voyage.

To explore Greenland with Secret Atlas in a small group of 12 guests please check out our Expedition Micro Cruises.

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