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Top Destinations for 2016: Greenland


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Greenland is often incorrectly regarded as an impossible destination for tourists – over 75%of its land is covered in a permanent ice sheet, and its population is the least dense in the world. These facts tend to sound daunting to potential visitors, but if you have the money and the interest Greenland is a must-see for anyone looking for adventure.

Although physically part of North America, Greenland is politically European and part of the Danish Kingdom. This blend of influences and Greenland’s unique location make its culture truly unlike any other destination.

Its stunning natural sites, such as its fjords and glaciers, set it apart from other countries and its blend of European influence with otherwise untouched indigenous culture make for a fascinating way of life. These defining traits make it an up-and-coming traveller hot spot.

People are catching on to Greenland’s appeal so much now that its capital, Nuuk, was chosen as the site of the 2016 Arctic Winter Games this past March. It’s a true sports hub and a perfect destination for tourists interested in climbing, skiing, or hiking.

Where to go

You’re likely to start your journey in Greenland either at Narsarsuaq or Kangerlussuaq – these are the only two airports in the country able to accept large airliners. Both are small settlements with rich cultures, and you should take advantage all they have to offer before continuing your journey. Narsarsuaq is home to Arboretum Groenlandicum, a thriving and diverse botanical garden, and Kangerlussauq has Greenland’s most diverse wildlife – just check out the wild muskoxen for proof.

Ilulissat Icefjord in the west is another must-see. The fjord was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 and has served as an important site for scientists studying climate change. The fjord offers an unusual visual of where glacier ice enters the ocean and is one of Greenland’s most popular stops for visitors.

Ilulissat Icefjord

Just north of Ilulissat you’ll find the Glacier Lodge Eqi if you’re hoping to have an overnight stay at the Eqi glacier. Enjoy the boat ride to see the structure itself, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike around the area.

Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, is also home to the Greenland National Museum, which has a valuable collection of Inuit history and materials dating back 4,500 years. Perhaps the museum’s most famous display is that of the Qilakitsoq mummies, found in a tomb from AD 1475.

At the southern tip of the country lies the island of Uunartoq, home to Greenland’s sole outdoor natural spa. A trip to the island requires travel from Nanortalik or Qaqortoq, but the journey is well worth it. Once you arrive, take a dip in the warm but comfortable hot springs and chat with the locals.

What to do

Go whale watching

Greenland’s fascinating on-land biodiversity is perhaps only challenged by its variety of in-sea species. Tourists can hope to see seals along the southern shore, but the real treasure of Greenland’s surrounding ocean are whales; nine key species are commonly found in the area around the end of the summer, and whale watching makes for a popular way to access them peacefully. Certain whales favour certain areas of the coast, and boat drivers are skilled in locating the best places to watch from afar.

Have a taste test

Greenland’s obscure location and mix of cultures have led to an interesting blend in gastronomy as well. Its national dish, suaasat, is a prime example of this – it’s a soup generally made of seal, whale, or reindeer.  Truly brave tourists can sample the Greenland shark; it is considered a rare delicacy because of the meal’s complicated preparation.

If unusual meat isn’t your thing, Greenland natives also rely on plants like crowberries and seaweed as supplements to their meals. Wash your dinner down with homebrewed alcohol, a popular choice for natives looking to work around previously strict alcohol laws.

Try out dog sledding

Dog sledding allows not only for a chance to test out an age-old practice in Siberia and North America, but it also gives tourists the opportunity to see other wildlife in Greenland. You’ll truly feel as though you’re one with nature as you ride through the snow via the same form of transportation used 5,000 years ago. Greenland is also home to a yearly dog sledding contest called Avannaata Qimussersua, if you’re more interested in being a bystander to the excitement than an active participant...!

Explore Hvalsey Church in Qaqortoq

Thought to have been built in the 1300s, Hvalsey Church is on-site at the former home of Norwegian Viking, Erik the Red. A look at the ruins of the area gives clear reason as to why it is sometimes referred to as Greenland’s own “Pompeii” – the church and its surrounding stones, despite their age, are remarkably well preserved. They offer a rare glimpse into a now-closed chapter of Greenland’s history.

See the Northern Lights

While you’re in Qaqortoq (although visible throughout the country), experience the Aurora Borealis in all its glory. Known as “Arsarnerit” in Greenland, Inuit legend says the lights come out when dead spirits play ball with a walrus skull, although science points to fast visible collisions of sun particles with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. The lights are visible all through the winter – during the summer Greenland’s sky is illuminated by the midnight sun.

Visit Disko Bay

Disko Bay is one of Greenland’s most popular tourist attractions and home to Ilulissat. There’s far more to see than just the fjord, however. Take a boat ride around the area – tours can be arranged in blocks of multiple days or weeks. Enjoy the natural beauty of the region along with the colourful houses in town, traditionally painted in such a way that different buildings were identifiable based on appearance alone.

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