Planning a trip to Greenland? Here's four ways to get there.
At 836,330 square miles, Greenland is the largest island in the world, slightly bigger than Mexico and three times the size of Texas. A Danish territory, it is home to Arctic foxes, polar bears, and reindeer, and it’s a prime location to catch sight of the elusive northern lights and monumental rivers of ice.
Greenland is not only ground zero for global warming—heating up twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet—but it’s also one of the most pristine and rugged places on earth. Contrary to popular belief, it is indeed inhabited, electricity-powered, and accessible—with some planning. Here is how to go to Greenland by air and sea.
What to Know About Greenland’s Airports
There are six international airports in Greenland: Kangerlussuaq, Nuuk, Ilulissat, Kulusuk, Narsarsuaq, and Constable Point. Kangerlussuaq (pronounced Kahn-ga-lu-suac) is in Western Greenland and it’s the country’s largest transportation hub, not Nuuk, the capital. There isn’t much to do in this tiny airport town but it’s the easiest gateway to Greenland’s majestic mountainscapes and ice caps, and there are few things cooler (no pun intended) than that.
Getting to Greenland by Air From Denmark
There are no direct flights to Greenland from North America. There is also no international ferry service between Greenland and Canada, Denmark, or Iceland. Getting to Greenland will entail flying from Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, or from one of three cities in Iceland if you aren’t arriving by sea. –
Air Greenland, the national carrier, makes a daily pilgrimage from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq, just north of the Arctic Circle. This 4.5-hour route operates throughout the year. Airports in Denmark such as Narsarsuaq airport in South Greenland is served only in the summertime.
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Getting to Greenland by Air From Iceland
From Iceland, there are direct flights that take you to Greenland from Reykjavik, Akureyri, and Keflavik withIcelandair. From Reykjavik, there is a daily flight to Kulusuk in the summer (reduced to twice a week in the winter), and to Nuuk twice a week all year round. Icelandair also operates flights to Kangerlussuaq, Narsarsuaq, and Ilulissat several times a week in summer and winter.
Air Greenland will also take you from Iceland (Keflavik) to Nuuk throughout the year and from March to October, to Ilulissat, where you’ll find gleaming white icebergs in every shape and size that will blow your mind. The town’s name actually means “iceberg” in Greenlandic, and hiking trails around the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ilulissat Icefjord will show you how pristine yet fragile this snow-white landscape is.
INSIDER TIPWhen booking any excursions, keep in mind there is usually a minimum number of participants needed which means you’re out of luck if that number isn’t met. Leave wiggle room in your plans and be open to tours that you might not have thought of. You definitely won’t be disappointed.
Getting to Greenland by Cruise
If you’re wondering how to go to Greenland and see the country relatively affordably and practically, a carefully-organized cruise to Greenland might just be the answer. Hurtigruten Expeditions has 13–20-day closed loop itineraries departing from Reykjavik and taking in numerous Greenland sights—including capital Nuuk, Disko Bay, Manitsoq, and Evighed Fjord—before returning to Reykjavik. Celebrity Cruises also has an Iceland and Greenland itinerary departing from Reykjavik and ending in Boston. With Swoop Arctic, you can sail to Greenland from Canada or Norway taking in wild seascapes and dramatic scenery along the way. You will also find expeditions with Vantage Travel, Ponant, and Fred Olsen Cruises.
Taking a Day Trip to Kulusuk
The easiest way to get that much-coveted stamp in your passport is also the easiest itinerary to plan: taking a day trip from Reykjavik, Iceland. A two-hour Air Iceland flight during the summer months from the city airport gets you to Kulusuk, a small island village on the east coast where you can get a taste of colorful houses and snowcapped peaks. This fleet of small but sturdy Dash-8s don’t hold many people, and these trips are sold out months in advance, so plan as early as you can.
INSIDER TIPThere is no real border patrol between Iceland and Greenland. You will be spared immigration lines but whatever town you fly into, just ask someone at the airport to stamp your passport.
How to Get Around Greenland
Greenland has few roads and no trains, so domestic travel is by plane, helicopter, dog sled, or ship only. The only passenger ferry is the Sarfaq Ittuk that’s owned by Arctic Umiaq Line. It has 12 stops along Greenland’s coastal towns and settlements—much of inland Greenland is ice-covered—and it carries up to 238 passengers. Facilities and cabins are basic but the views are unbeatable.
Where domestic flying is concerned, Air Greenland is an excellent airline that covers virtually every inhabited corner of the island. Keep in mind that Greenland is not just expensive, it’s very expensive. A 15-minute flight may cost you $500, and a no-frills hotel room might cost over $400 per night, depending on where you are.
Notes on Traveling to Greenland
Greenland is one of the most difficult destinations to arrange. It’s certainly possible with enough research and advance planning, but keep the weather in mind. The arctic climate causes complications for aviation so delays are to be expected. You might end up at the airport for hours on end waiting for fog to clear, only to be told that the flight is canceled. People have been known to be stranded for extended periods due to bad weather conditions so be sure to plan your trip loosely and leave more than enough time to get back home.
The best time to visit Greenland depends on what you’re looking to see: Northern Lights chasers should aim for February to April, though they have been spotted from November until spring—keep in mind that temperatures across Greenland are below freezing during these months. You’ll spot bowhead whales feasting from March to May. The most popular time to visit is summer when temperatures reach about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the midnight sun is blazing.
INSIDER TIPArctic mosquitos are prevalent in the summer so if you travel during this period, bring mosquito repellent or go one step further and cover up with a netting mask.