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Preview the natural wonders of Greenland on this virtual tour

10Best logo 10Best 2/23/2021 Lydia Schrandt, Special to USA TODAY 10Best
a bridge over a body of water: Wooden Bridge in Paamiut © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland Wooden Bridge in Paamiut

Welcome to Greenland

Greenland isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to, making it one of the world’s last true travel frontiers. The biggest non-continental island on the planet has the world’s sparsest population – and some of its most jaw-dropping scenery. See for yourself through these photos.

a group of people on a beach with a mountain in the background: Nuuk © Matthew Littlewood - Visit Greenland Nuuk

Nuuk, Capital of Greenland

Nuuk, Greenland’s capital and largest city, is home to around 18,000 people. While you’re in town, be sure to visit the Greenland National Museum, learn about Greenlandic independence at the parliament building and explore Inuit art at the Nuuk Art Museum.

a house with a colorful umbrella: A church bell and church in Paamiut © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland A church bell and church in Paamiut

Greenlandic architecture

One of the first things many visitors notice upon arrival in Greenland is the array of bright colors of the local architecture. When Hans Egede arrived in Greenland in 1721, he brought with him a new colonial style of building using wood from Scandinavia.

Buildings were originally painted based on use – yellow for hospitals, blue for fish factories, red for commercial houses and black for police stations. These days, buildings are still painted in bright colors, but owners don’t always stick to a color coding system.

a close up of a snow covered mountain: Deep river crevasse on the Greenland Ice Sheet © Paul Zizka - Visit Greenland Deep river crevasse on the Greenland Ice Sheet

Greenland Ice Sheet

More than 99 percent of the freshwater on the planet can be found in the two ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica. The Greenland Ice Sheet covers some 79 percent of the surface of Greenland – an area 14 times the size of England. At its thickest point, the ice is 10,500 feet deep.

Ilulissat soccer field © Lydia Schrandt Ilulissat soccer field

Ilulissat

Ilulissat is the iceberg capital of Greenland and a popular base for exploring the ice sheet. You can often hear the roar of icebergs breaking from the glacial face while strolling through town. A short hike brings visitors to the edge of the Ilulissat Glacier (also known as the Jakobshavn Glacier).

a boat parked on the side of a snow covered mountain: Ilulissat Icefjord Zodiacs © Lydia Schrandt Ilulissat Icefjord Zodiacs

Ilulissat Icefjord

A highlight of a stay in Ilulissat is the chance to get out on the water and explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ilulissat Icefjord. On Greenland’s west coast, the ice cap reaches the sea in what is one of the world’s fastest-moving and most active glaciers. It calves ice more than any other glacier outside Antarctica.

a harbor filled with water and a mountain in the background: Paamiut from above © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland Paamiut from above

Paamiut

The coast of Greenland is dotted with pretty harbor towns, like Paamiut in the southwest. Visitors to this community can often spot white-tailed eagles soaring above town. In winter, it’s a favorite destination for backcountry snow sports.

a sign on a grassy hill: Leif the Lucky statue in Qassiarsuk © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland Leif the Lucky statue in Qassiarsuk

Leif Eriksson

A millennia ago, Eric the Red and his group of Norsemen sailed into the bay where the modern town of Qassiarsuk is located. Many years later, his son Leif Eriksson would set sail into uncharted waters, reaching the shores of North America almost 500 years before Columbus. A statue of the explorer stands watch over the town of Qassiarsuk in Southern Greenland.

a person standing on top of a snow covered mountain: Parts of an old plane from the American air base in Narsarsuaq © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland Parts of an old plane from the American air base in Narsarsuaq

American history

The town of Narsarsuaq – population 160 – was founded as an American airbase in 1941. During World War II, the United States took over the defense of Greenland from Denmark, establishing two large air bases. Twice, once after the war and again in 2019, the U.S. government offered to buy Greenland. Both offers were rejected by the Danish government.

a sunset over a body of water: Ilulissat ice fjord in Greenland © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland Ilulissat ice fjord in Greenland

A sea of ice

One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of Greenland is from the water. Excursions along the coast often take visitors through seas of towering icebergs, like the one pictured here.

a herd of sheep grazing on a rocky hill: Three sheep looking at the photographer on the Inneruulalik farm © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland Three sheep looking at the photographer on the Inneruulalik farm

An agricultural heritage

Inuit and Norse cultures have created a unique farming society at the southern edge of the Greenland Ice Cap. This region, a UNESCO World Heritage site known as Kujataa Greenland, remains an important agricultural region where sheep farms and ice-filled fjords sit side by side.

a close up of a hillside next to a body of water: Innerulaalik sheep farm at sunset © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland Innerulaalik sheep farm at sunset

Innerulaalik Sheep Farm

At Innerulaalik Sheep Farm, visitors can experience firsthand what life is like at one of these farms near the Arctic Circle. The property includes two sheep barns, a workshop and a guesthouse. Guests can explore the property on an Icelandic horseback ride.

a field with a mountain in the background: A hiker at the Tasermiut fjord surrounded by mountains © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland A hiker at the Tasermiut fjord surrounded by mountains

Hiking in Greenland

Hiking in Greenland often means traversing remote landscapes, even if you’re just outside the capital city. Hiking options here range from relatively easy walks on well-trodden terrain to multi-day treks into the Greenlandic backcountry. Among the most famous treks is the Arctic Circle Trail, which runs for 99 miles between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut.

a close up of a rock wall: Rock carvings art in Qaqortoq as a part of "Stone and Man" by Aka Høegh © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland Rock carvings art in Qaqortoq as a part of "Stone and Man" by Aka Høegh

Local art

Qaqortoq, the largest town in South Greenland, is known for its art, thanks in large part to the efforts of Greenlandic artist Aka Høegh. In the 1990s, Høegh created an art installation comprising some 40 sculptures around the city. Many of them were carved directly into the rock faces, like this piece depicting migrating whales.

a large body of water with a mountain in the background: People stand-up paddleboarding in the Nuuk Fjord © Aningaaq R Carlsen - Visit Greenland People stand-up paddleboarding in the Nuuk Fjord

Watersports

When you think of the icy waters of Greenland, watersports might not be the first things that come to mind. But these waters attract enthusiasts from around the globe who come to kayak, stand-up paddleboard and even scuba dive. Since water temperatures vary little throughout the year – they stay just above freezing – it’s possible to dive year-round.

a body of water with a mountain in the background: Qilertiki dominates the view in Aappilattoq in South Greenland © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland Qilertiki dominates the view in Aappilattoq in South Greenland

The Southern Fjords

The southernmost fjords in Greenland feature granite spires, rock faces and picturesque villages, like the tiny town of Aappilattoq. The community of around 100 residents sits along Prince Christian Sound, considered among the most stunning fjord systems on earth.

a group of people in front of a crowd: Head pulling © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland Head pulling

Arctic Winter Games

Every two years, athletes from around Greenland meet in the capital to compete in the Arctic Winter Games. Traditional Inuit games, known as the Arctic sports, make up a bulk of the competition. Events include high kicking, arm wrestling and head pulling (pictured).

an old barn in a field: Tjodhilde's church - a reconstruction of church from the norse presence in Greenland 1,000 years ago © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland Tjodhilde's church - a reconstruction of church from the norse presence in Greenland 1,000 years ago

Tjodhilde's Church

Erik the Red was the first European to step foot in Greenland. His wife Tjodhilde helped establish the first Christian church on the North American continent and eventually converted her then-pagan husband. Visitors can see recreations of Tjodhilde’s Church and Erik the Red’s longhouse, built from turf and timber, near the town of Qassiarsuk.

a person swimming in a body of water: Greenlandic kayaker from Sisimiut © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland Greenlandic kayaker from Sisimiut

Kayaking

The kayak originated in the Arctic region and was brought to Greenland by the first immigrants some 4,000 years ago. It quickly became an important hunting tool and remains a cultural symbol. Children often learn to kayak at a young age, and experienced kayakers can perform some pretty impressive rolls.

a group of people standing on top of a snow covered mountain: Dog sledding under remote peaks in the Tasiilaq part of East Greenland © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland Dog sledding under remote peaks in the Tasiilaq part of East Greenland

Dog sledding

While kayaks are a popular mode of transportation on the water, on land, it’s the dog sled that has helped Greenlanders traverse the snowy landscape for thousands of years. These days, it’s also a popular leisure activity for both locals and tourists. Greenlandic sled dogs are bred under strict regulations. If a dog is taken out of the area, it’s not permitted to return.

East Greenland bone carving © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland East Greenland bone carving

The Greenlandic Tupilak

The Tupilak, a figure carved from tooth, bone or stone, was originally used as a talisman to protect the owner against attack or enact revenge against an enemy. The term ‘tupilak’ refers to the soul or spirit of an ancestor.

The carved figure, imbued with a spirit, was tossed to sea so that it could hunt down and kill an enemy. If that enemy was stronger in witchcraft, he could always send the tupilak back to kill its creator. These days, sculptors create the figures as works of art.

Sisimiut Museum © Lydia Schrandt Sisimiut Museum

Sisimiut

The town of Sisimiut lies north of the Arctic Circle and is the second largest town in Greenland with 5,600 people. It's a popular stop for cruise ships plying the western shores of Greenland, and it’s also a base for backcountry adventure, from fly fishing for Arctic char to cross-country skiing.

Hiker at Sermermiut Overlook © Paul Zizka - Visit Greenland Hiker at Sermermiut Overlook

Northern lights

The northern lights are visible in Greenland from September to April. The Space Weather Prediction Center offers forecasts for the lights, updated every 30 minutes. While you can see them in many places throughout Greenland, the community of Kangerlussuaq is the most popular, thanks in large part to its 300 clear nights a year.

a group of people standing next to a body of water: Uunartoq hot springs in South Greenland © Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland Uunartoq hot springs in South Greenland

Uunartoq hot springs

For relief from the chill of Arctic air in Greenland, head south to the country’s only heated outdoor spa. From the warming waters of Uunartoq hot springs, you’ll have a view of icebergs and mountain peaks. The heat that warms the spring isn’t actually volcanic but is caused by soil layers rubbing against each other.

a tent with a mountain in the background: Camp In Tasiilaq Fjord © Chris Brin Lee Jr. - Visit Greenland Camp In Tasiilaq Fjord

East Greenland

East Greenland sits a short flight away from Iceland, yet it feels like its own world. The mountainous terrain here attracts adventurers looking for longer expeditions into the rugged backcountry.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.

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