You may have heard the myth about the naming of Greenland and Iceland—the first inhabitants to arrive in Iceland saw the gorgeous green planes of grass and mountaintops and decided on the frigid, perhaps more unappealing name so pirates or other explorers would choose to head toward the soft pastures and warmer climate of Greenland (or so they thought!), which is the real land of miles and miles of ice.

Despite their differences in terrain, the two make the perfect combination for a northern adventure, being just under 900 miles from one another. If you choose to build one of our custom Iceland itineraries, our expert Travel Specialists can easily add a tour to Greenland from Iceland so you can experience the best of these two worlds—explore deep fjords, hop aboard a whale-watching cruise or visit the local Oqaatsut settlement and learn the way natives keep warm and live off the land. 

As you fly from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Ilulissat, Greenland, on a tiny 37-seater plane, you may think you’re soaring over a neverending cloud formation. But look a bit closer and you’ll realize that you’re making your way over miles and miles and miles of ice. 

Although I count myself incredibly blessed with some of the places that I’ve visited in my years of travel, the immense honor of getting to land at Ilulissat airport wasn’t lost on me. Although our Icelandair flight had 37 seats, because of the landing runway restrictions, only 34 lucky souls per flight are allowed to actually land in this town with a population of about 4,500 permanent residents.

With only six hotels and a limited number of flights per day, coordinating both having a place to sleep plus air travel takes professional assistance (and thankfully, Tenon Tours has an amazing partner to help with these logistics!).

Ilulissat is the Kalaallisut word for “icebergs” and is the top spot in Greenland for getting up close and personal with ice. Ice breaking off of the Icefjord changes the landscape daily and many hotels offer rooms with views of the water (highly recommended). And certainly ice is a theme with almost all activities in and around town.

During my three nights in Greenland, I enjoyed an evening sailing to the nearby Icefjord with an excellent guide and a full-day cruise to Eqi Glacier which is actively calving. As we sat in the still peaceful waters, we heard cracks and thunderous booms echoing from the glacier and although late in the season, spied whales from our boat on the way back to Ilulissat.

We also through Sermermiut Valley, a UNESCO site. Culturally important, this area has hosted settlements for over 4,000 years and leads those who wish to enjoy its wooden path straight to the edge of the Icefjord. We were joined by Karl, a local guide and father, who provided cultural context about the Greenlandic people who have called the area home and the controversy over the area becoming a UNESCO site, while also entertaining us with stories of his family.

I suggest all visitors take a boat ride to the Oqaatsut settlement and enjoy dinner at H8. This settlement has just 32 inhabitants and the restaurant is run and maintained on a rotating basis by Danish citizens who offer top-notch food and also take visitors on a tour and kayak trips. There is only running water in one of the buildings (and not the restaurant) and in between our arrival and dinner, we had the opportunity to walk around the settlement, watch children play with basic playground equipment, and explore the local cemetery which was quite moving. While we dined, local fishermen caught one of the country’s 2 fin whales for the year and everyone sprung into action to prepare hot coffee for the fishermen but also caravans of boats began arriving to help with breaking down the whale which is a process that lasts days. It was a fascinating experience and we were lucky to be there for such a moment. You can take a boat back to Ilulissat as we did or for those interested, it is possible to walk back.

We also spent time with two wonderful, warm individuals who run the Arctic Living Kennel. Dogs in Greenland are working dogs, and it’s important for all visitors to recognize this as they are not for petting. They are noisy, and they appear unkempt because of the time chained in their respective packs. However, historically, these dogs are what have kept the Greenlandic people alive as they went out hunting and fishing and they are highly revered—but not pets. However, at Arctic Living Kennel, Ane Sofie, a local Greenlandic woman, and her Danish husband, Flemming, sit down with visitors to chat about their dogs and share stories about their adventures out in the wild. 

Beyond the ice, which was stunning and fascinating and worrying, it was the human connection that made Greenland a trip that I find hard to put down in a simple blog entry. Sitting and having dinner and sharing jokes with Ane Sofie and Flemming, hearing about Karl’s daughter who was dabbling in baking, and witnessing a young and hearty Danish couple run a restaurant without running water was what made this destination particularly special. 

Most travelers who make it to Ilulissat come by expedition ship as part of Arctic explorations but I encourage anyone interested in visiting to travel by land instead. A new, larger airport is on the horizon and new hotels are being planned so to capture this moment in time, traveling sooner rather than later is the name of the game! You can expect comfortable although relatively basic accommodations and above-average meals. Because of variable weather owing to the ice masses, flights can get canceled or postponed and it is advisable to have at least one post-night in Reykjavik before connecting with your international flight home. Again, this is something Tenon Tours will assist with!

So break out the thermals, get ready to dine on musk ox, and start planning your adventures amongst the ice.

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