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Travel Guide: Greenland

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HOTEL AVANNAA

Price (US$):
$155 - $156 / night

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Hotel Avannaa is a new privately owned hotel opened in 2011. The hotel offers 22 double/twin rooms. All our rooms have own bath room, 32 TV,… more »

HOTEL ARCTIC

. 87 ROOMS 3 LEVELS INTERIOR CORRIDOR more »

About  •  Understand  •  Regions  •  Cities  •  Other Destinations  •  Get In  •  Get Around  •  See  •  Talk  •  Do  •  Buy  •  Eat  •  Drink  •  Sleep  •  Stay Safe  •  Stay Healthy  •  Respect  •  More »

About

Greenland (Greenlandic: Kalaallit Nunaat; Danish: Grønland) is the world's largest non-continental island, in the far northeast of North America, largely within the Arctic Circle. Although it is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark, it was granted self-government effective in 1979, more recently it voted for more autonomy, in effect making it a separate country with formal ties to Denmark. Some inhabitants are now projecting the eventual road to independence. Copenhagen remains responsible for its foreign affairs, and of course is a source of investment. The closest neighbouring countries are Iceland to the South-East, Canada to the West and Svalbard in Norway to the North-East.

The Greenland Tourism and Business council's official website provides a wealth of information for the would-be visitor.

Understand

Although some maps with flat projections of the globe tend to make Greenland look the size of Africa, it is actually "only" about the size of Mexico. Greenland has the world's lowest population density.

It represents some 97% of the area of the Kingdom of Denmark. The Danish territorial claim is rooted in the 10th-century explorations of the Vikings, though administrative power has changed hands several times over the centuries due to developments in Europe. The native Greenlanders, or Kalaallit, are Inuit descendants of nomads from northern Canada. ("Eskimo" is offensive in some parts of the Arctic.)

According to the Icelandic Sagas, Erik the Red chose the name "Greenland" to entice settlers from Iceland. In fact, Greenland has far more ice cover (about 84% of its immense surface area) than Iceland does. This may only be legend: the southern coasts the Vikings settled are green in summer, and were likely more so during the Medieval Warm Period.

Be careful with maps of Greenland, as many Greenlandic names simply reference a particular geographical feature. For example, "Kangerlussuaq" means "Big Fjord" and so is not only the Greenlandic name for Søndre Strømfjord.

When visiting a city or village don't be afraid to ask for directions of shops, places to eat or somewhere to sleep, even if you think there might not be any. Most places (even Nuuk) are small enough for everyone to know where everything is, and therefore no one bothered to put up a sign. Don't be surprised to find a fully equipped supermarket inside a grey factory-like building in the middle of nowhere.

Regions

Southern Greenland
Nicknamed "Sineriak Bananeqarfik" (Banana Coast) by the locals, this is the most easily accessed part of Greenland and the one subject to the least extreme temperatures  
Western Greenland
Location of the capital Nuuk (Godthåb).  
Eastern Greenland
Sparsely populated, the gateway to the national park  
Northern Greenland
Northern Greenland is the northernmost inhabited region, much of it occupied by the Northeast Greenland National Park  

Cities

Greenlandic places generally have two names: the (traditional and now official) Greenlandic, or Kalaallisut, and the (once but no longer official) Danish. Greenlandic is abbreviated 'kl;' Danish is 'da.'

  • Nuuk (da: Godthåb) - the capital
  • Aasiaat (da: Egedesminde)
  • Tasiilaq (also Ammassalik, for its municipality and the island it is on) - the largest city in Eastern Greenland
  • Ilulissat (da: Jakobshavn)
  • Qaanaaq (da: Thule)
  • Qaqortoq (da: Julianehåb) - the largest city in Southern Greenland
  • Sisimiut (da: Holsteinsborg) - second largest city

Other Destinations

  • The Summit - the highest point on the ice cap, and a very inhospitable place, but nonetheless well visited by scientists drilling into the ice

Get In

Visas

Danish and other Scandinavian citizens do not need a visa for Greenland, but your passport needs to be valid for at least three months after your visit.

Generally, if you need a visa for entering Denmark, you also need to apply for a special visa for entering Greenland. Visas for entering the Schengen-area (including Denmark) do not automatically apply for Greenland; visas are available from the Danish embassy or where you usually would apply for a Danish visa so make sure that you mention that you are going to Greenland. If you stay for more than three months, you need to apply for a residence permit at the police station.

If you stay on the typical tourist paths you do not need any permissions, but any expeditions (including any trips to the national park, which by definition are expeditions) need a special permit from the Danish polar center. If travelling with an agency they will usually take care of the paperwork for you. If you are entering or travelling through Thule Air Base, you also need a permission from the Danish department of foreign affairs, since it is a US military area (doesn't apply for children u. 15, Danish police and military, US military or US diplomats). See Qaanaaq for details.

By plane

Flights to Greenland will almost always go to one of two airports: Kangerlussuaq (Danish: Søndre Strømfjord, English: Sondrestrom) or Narsarsuaq. From there local flights or boats will take you to your final destination, Scientific and technical personnel travelling from North America for research purposes typically fly into Kangerlussuaq aboard New York Air National Guard C-130s. If you are looking for the airport, the name of Greenland's airport service is Mittarfeqarfiit. Note that SAS ceased its operations to Greenland in 2009.

  • Air Greenland the flag carrier, has several flights per week from Copenhagen, Denmark to Kangerlussuaq on large A330 planes.
  • Air Iceland operates year-round flights from Reykjavik to Kulusuk, Ittoqqortoormiit and Nuuk and additionally to Narsarsuaq and Ilulissat during the summer months. (Note that they use the Danish place names for some of these.) One popular day excursion is to fly from Reykjavik to Kulusuk, where traditional handicrafts are on sale, before returning to the comparative comforts of Iceland. Reykjavik has direct connections to North America, making this the shortest civilian route between North America and Greenland.

By boat

Realistically, there is no ferry service from Europe or North America.

There are cruise ships from both continents that visit Greenland.

Get Around

There is no road or rail system. The easiest way to get around Greenland is by plane, particularly Air Greenland. In the summer, Arctic Umiaq Line passenger ships provide service to destinations between Narsarsuaq and Uummannaq along the west coast.

See

  • Icebergs and glaciers (especially the Ilulissat Icefjord)
  • Animal life - Whales, seals, walruses, musk oxen, reindeer/caribou and polar bears.
  • The Midnight sun - In the northern 2/3 of Greenland, the sun stays above the horizon for days or even several weeks in the summer. In the remainder, the weeks around the summer solstice (June 21, a national holiday) see the sun dip below the horizon for only a short while each night, with the sky never getting truly dark. (Of course the reverse is true in the winter.)

Talk

The official language - Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) - is actually that of the more populated western coast. The eastern dialect is slightly different. Both are highly challenging languages to learn, as words are very long and often feature "swallowed" consonants. Try uteqqipugut or Ittoqqortoormiit on for size.

The good news is that almost all Greenlanders are bilingual Danish speakers, and many will even have a functional command of English. Greenlandic words may come in handy for travellers wanting to experience the "real Greenland", though.

Greenlandic is different enough from Inuktitut, the language of the Canadian Inuit who share similar historical roots to the Greenlanders, that the two peoples have difficulty understanding each other. However, attempts are being made to unify the Inuit language, and Greenlandic - with its existing libraries of translated Shakespeare and Pushkin - seems like the most natural option.

Do

  • Hiking - You can freely hike anywhere in Greenland as there is no property ownership anywhere in the country. DO go off the few small walking paths that exist. You will easily find yourself in offbeat locales, and wonder if you are perhaps the first person to ever stand in that particular spot. This rare sensation is by far the best reason to travel in Greenland.
  • Driving a dog-sled
  • Kayaking
  • Mountain climbing

Buy

  • Inuit art and crafts
  • Sealskin -- which the Great Greenland fur company has fashioned into everything from coats to thick belts to purses and pencil cases.
  • Duty-free -- most flights land at Kangerlussuaq, one of those lovely places on earth where you can buy duty-free after landing. Stock up on cheap booze, smokes and everything else at prices far lower than the rest of Greenland. Important: Greenland is not a member of the EU, so although you may be traveling from Denmark, the custom rules are the same as for a trip out of the EU.

Supermarkets

These are the names to look for, if you need to buy groceries:

  • Pilersuisoq - Chain of larger supermarket usually found in small villages. Has a little bit of everything.
  • Pisiffik - Chain of larger supermarkets present in the cities.
  • Spar - Dutch supermarket chain with a few shops in Greenland.
  • Brugsen - Danish supermarket chain with a few shops in Greenland.

Eat

Food in Greenland is generally not that different from American or continental European tastes. Restaurants carry typical European fare. Local food can be purchased at local markets in each town. Many Greenlandic restaurants combine traditional foods (locally-caught fish, shrimp and whales; also muskox and reindeer) with more familiar dishes. Expect to find whale meat at a Thai restaurant and caribou in a Chinese joint. Nuuk also has several burger joints and a couple of very high-end restaurants, most notably Nipisa, which specializes in (very expensive) local delicacies. Prices are high everywhere, but servings are generally large, especially with fries.

Drink

A local specialty is Greenlandic coffee. Its creation in some places is pure performance and it hits hard: its coffee laced with liberal amounts of kahlua, whisky and Grand Marnier. One of the best places to buy is at the Sukhumvit Thai Restaurant, for about $22CAD.

Sleep

Greenland is expensive. Nice hotels exist in all of the more visited areas (Hotel Hans Egede in Nuuk, Hotel Arctic - with its igloo rooms - and Hotel Hvide Falke in Ilulissat), but cheaper options exist. Try for the Seaman's Home hotel in Maniitsoq, Nuuk, Qaqortoq, Sisimiut and Aasiaat. Also check with the Nuuk Tourism office for its hostel program, where locals have rooms they will rent out for a third the price of the town's hotels. They usually speak Danish and Greenlandic, along with very rudimentary English.

Stay Safe

Crime, and ill-will toward foreigners in general, is virtually unknown in Greenland. Even in the towns, there are no "rough areas." So long as the visitor uses basic common sense and etiquette, he or she should be fine.

Stay Healthy

During the northern summer, the days in Greenland are very long. Always make sure that you get as much sleep as you're used to, as sleep deprivation can lead to all manner of health problems.

During the summer, also watch out for the Nordic mosquitoes(Although they are not dangerous, they don't transmit any diseases, they can be irritating .

Respect

As mentioned above, the word "Eskimo" is considered pejorative by many Arctic peoples, especially in Canada. While you may hear the word used by Greenlandic Natives, its use should be avoided by foreigners. The group of "Eskimos" are used to call themselves Inuit and for the ones in Greenland Kalaallisut, a Greenlander.