DUBLIN: Greenland is not the first country most in the Gulf would think of visiting, but it’s one of the most striking places on the planet, and a country that has become increasingly accessible in recent years. The least densely populated nation in the world — two-thirds of it is covered by an ice sheet — this is a land with jaw-dropping scenery: epic mountain ranges, sheer ice walls, whales, and, of course, the otherworldly spectacle of the Northern Lights.
The only part of Greenland accessible to travellers is the east coast. The capital, Nuuk, is usually the first port of call and there are direct flights there from both Reykjavik and Copenhagen. Nuuk itself is a charming fishing town, with plenty to see. Head first to Nuuk Tourist Office, housed in a charming wooden structure built in 1922. It can provide a host of information about Nuuk and Greenland in general, and it’s a great place to plan out an itinerary. Just outside of town lies Ukkusissat, a mountain more than 2,500 feet high that looms over the capital. Best to get a local guide who will bring you to the summit, which offers spectacular views of the city and the surrounding coast. Back in Nuuk, head for the Greenland National Museum and Archives, which provide a compelling look at the history of Greenland and its people. Close by is the Nuuk Art Museum, which offers a cultural entry point to the country’s heritage. For most travellers, Nuuk is just a starting point, with the real highlights located further north. There’s a local ferry which goes up and down the east coast on a daily basis. It’s the most cost-effective way of getting around and most travellers base their journey around the ferry timetable.
One of Greenland’s highlights is undoubtedly Ilulissat, a picturesque fishing village about two days (yes, days… it’s a big country) by ferry from Nuuk. The jewel in the crown of this region is the mammoth Sermeq Kujalleq, the world’s largest glacier, which creates 46 cubic kilometers of icebergs annually (the iceberg that sunk the Titanic came from this glacier). A world heritage site, you can hike from the town to the glacier, and there are few more awe-inspiring views than the one that greets you as you trek through the tundra and the glacier reveals itself. Five kilometers wide and 65 kilometers long, it pushes icebergs out into the sea, and the views overlooking it are truly spectacular. Take a seat and watch nature do its thing, as whales breech in the bay below and the ice cracks and grinds. It’s hard to overstate how inspiring the view is, and how lucky visitors feel. The whole area is a UNESCO world heritage site and is worth the flight price alone.
There are more dogs than humans in Greenland and there are few things cuter than a group of Arctic puppies. These are working dogs and while some are perfectly friendly, caution is advised when getting that Instagram picture. Get the ferry from Ilulissat north through Disko Bay, which offers the most spectacular views of icebergs, and head to Aasiaat, a beautiful coastal town dotted with colorful wooden houses overlooking the sea. There is plenty to do, from kayaking and whale-watching to fishing and sailing. The sea dominates every aspect of life here, and there are numerous opportunities to interact with the locals. For many of them the burgeoning number of tourists is both a blessing and a curse — as they try to balance catering for visitors while holding onto their way of life. Aasiaat manages to do both and is a wonderful way to experience what life is really like for Greenlanders.
Another issue right now is the one of independence from Denmark, which many locals want to see happen by 2021, the 300th anniversary of Danish colonial rule. The country’s 40,000 inhabitants are divided on the matter, with some nervous about what life would be like without Danish subsidies. Whatever happens, Greenland is wonderfully welcoming to visitors, with the locals happy to show you their country. The best time to go is late summer to early autumn, when there are about 12 hours of sunlight and the winter snows have yet to move in. If you are dead set on seeing the Northern Lights, then September and October are the best months to go.