Best known for its stunning, sprawling wilderness, Greenland is the ultimate expedition destination for all types of travelers, from adventurers to history buffs, amateur to pro photographers, and travelers with a keen interest in Inuit, Thule and Norse culture. The largest island on the planet, its pristine coastal areas, massive fjords and immense parks make Greenland a nature lover’s paradise.
Passengers explore Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord by Zodiac cruiser. Photo: Acacia Johnson
If you’ve dreamed of Zodiac cruising in a UNESCO World Heritage Site like Ilulissat Icefjord, or immersing yourself in Norse and Viking history at ruins like Hvalsey Castle, Greenland is the Arctic expedition destination for you.
Within Greenland, there are three distinct regions you might explore:
- East Greenland
- South Greenland
- and West Greenland
Some expeditions let you experience the highlights of two or three regions, while others give you a deeper dive into the area that interests you most:
In this post, we’ll explore what you can expect to do, see and experience in Greenland, and how these three unique regions differ.
Vast natural spaces including mountains, fjords and valleys, coastal areas, tundra, glaciers and more offer all the variety a lover of the great outdoors can handle. Depending on where you visit, you might go hiking in immense parklands, Zodiac cruise through ice-choked fjords and inlets, visit fascinating historic sites and authentic Greenlandic villages, and more.
Keep your camera handy, as you might see muskoxen, whales or seals while out exploring or on deck.
On your Greenland expedition, you’ll have access to the ship’s open decks and bridge for wildlife watching and photography as you cruise from one excursion site to another. Your Expedition Leader is constantly monitoring sea and ice conditions, charting the safest path forward to the most interesting and exciting Zodiac cruise and shore landing destinations.
Your days will be filled with:
- Zodiac excursions with skilled, experienced guides to help you interpret and understand what you’re seeing,
- hiking and exploring diverse landing sites, from authentic Greenlandic villages to incredibly remote tundra and fascinating historic sites and ruins,
- expert lectures and presentations from marine biologists, geologists, naturalists and other scientists and Arctic experts,
- optional adventures and activities like photography workshops offered onboard, hikes of varying difficulty, and even sea kayaking in the birthplace of the word ‘kayak’,
- nutritious, delicious chef-prepared meals to keep you energized throughout an active expedition,
- and onboard celebrations and events in the lounges, dining room and on deck, as organized by your Expedition Team.
- visit the community of Tasiilaq on the banks of King Oscar Harbour;
- cruise through deep, steep-walled valleys along coastlines flooded with seawater and explore Bernstorffs Fjord by Zodiac, in search of glaciers;
- and land at the island of Ammassalik, one of the most isolated inhabited regions on Earth.
Passengers hike the colourful tundra in East Greenland. Photo: Steven G. Denver
South Greenland is a great place to discover evidence of the country’s thousands of years of inhabitation--from the earliest residents approximately 4,500 years ago, to the arrival of the Inuit some 1,000 years ago, to Erik the Red’s development of Norse communities beginning in 982 A.D.--have left Greenland a rich history and fascinating culture. Visit South Greenland if you want to:
- cruise Lindenow Fjord, the least-occupied fjord in Greenland, and head out in Zodiacs to search for bearded seals lying on the pack ice;
- explore the excavated Norse farm site at Herjolfsnes, a well-preserved 15th century Norse church at Hvalsey, and maybe even Prins Christian Sund, if ice conditions allow;
- relax in the the natural outdoor spa at Uunartoq, where three springs form a small stone-dammed pool you can bathe in beneath the surrounding soaring mountain peaks.
Overlooking Prins Christian Sund. Photo: Lynsey Devon
“From the Arctic desert landscapes in the far north to Atlantic influences and lush sheep farms in the south, a distinct cultural and climatic diversity shapes our way of living across the geographical vastness of the island as much as it will inspire your travel experience.” - National Tourism Board of Greenland
West Greenland is where you’ll find the spectacular Ilulissat Icefjord and might even see icebergs freshly calved from massive glaciers. You might visit Eqip Sermia, one of the most scenic and photographed places in Greenland, and also visit authentic Greenlandic villages. Explore West Greenland for:
- a peek at Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the most active calving glaciers in the world, and the breathtaking vistas at Uummannaq and Disko Bay;
- fascinating history at places like Qilaqitsoq, where the remains of eight fully dressed mummies were discovered in 1972, and one of Greenland’s oldest towns, Qeqertarsuaq, settled in 1773 as a whaling station;
- the friendly, colourful town of Sisimiut, where you’ll enjoy a traditional kayaking demonstration.
Colour and ice at Uummannaq. Photo: Acacia Johnson
Over twenty years of Arctic exploration has taught us that September and October are the best times to visit Greenland. As the summer’s midnight sun wanes, the growing darkness improves the visibility of the Northern Lights. You’ll find that the later in the season you visit Greenland, the cooler and darker the conditions.
You have different options for getting to Greenland:
Fast-Track Your Adventure in West Greenland with a Fly-Cruise
Head to West Greenland late season for great Northern Lights shows. Photo: Yukun Shih
If you’re short on time and big on adventure, a 10-day Fly-Cruise Arctic Express expedition is just the ticket. You’ll visit fascinating Inuit settlements and get to know the people of Ittoqqortoormiit. Trek the tundra and at Greenland National Park, where you can climb mountains and watch grazing musk ox and other arctic wildlife. If the Northern Lights cooperate, you have a chance of seeing some of the best on the planet.
Visit Three Arctic Islands in 13 or 14 Days
If Greenland is one destination you’re hoping to explore as part of a larger, longer Arctic expedition, Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland, Spitsbergen is an option. You’ll spend 3 days exploring the best that stunning East Greenland has to offer, but also explore Spitsbergen and disembark in Iceland. This is a good choice if you want to explore Greenland’s fjord-strewn northeast coast by Zodiac and on foot, visiting the remains of an ancient Thule settlement and cruising through Scoresbysund.
Take a Deeper Dive Into West Greenland or East Greenland
As you learned above, West Greenland and East Greenland are two incredible destinations each offering a unique type of experience. If you really want to immerse yourself in West Greenland, focusing on the Disko Bay area, Ilulissat Icefjord and Eqip Sermia, Uummannaq and traditional Inuit villages, this 10 day expedition might be the right way for you to experience Greenland.
On the other hand, if East Greenland’s massive Scoresbysund fjords, vibrant Northern Lights and possible arctic wildlife sightings in the immense wilderness of the Northeast Greenland National Park are more your speed, 14 days on the East Greenland: Northern Lights expedition will do it.
Greenland Explorer: Valleys and Fjords
Want to see and do it all? Visit all three regions for an in-depth, 15-day exploration on board Greenland Explorer: Valleys and Fjords. You’ll sail the coast and explore Greenland’s rich history, diverse ecology and dramatic scenery, all the while keeping an eye out for seabirds and Arctic wildlife. This will give you a chance to meet the locals, explore traditional Inuit settlements, visit Norse and Viking historic sites, and the experience Ilulissat Icefjord.
Want to know more about planning the perfect Greenland expedition for your interests, budget and schedule?
- Read Polar Travel Adviser Raakhe Kapila’s story on how Greenland changed her for the better
- See what it’s like to kayak Greenland’s bays and fjords in this first-hand account
- Download your free Greenland Destination Guide