Ilulissat is an extraordinary winter wonderland located about 300 km above the Arctic Circle in the Disko Bay on the western coast of Greenland, near the Ilulissat Icefjord (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) which is made up of a colossal collection of icebergs. A staggering 35 km³ of icebergs pass through here each year, breaking off (also known as “calving”) from the Sermeq Kujalleq. It produces more icebergs than any other glacier outside of Antarctica.
Sermeq Kujalleq is of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world and has been carefully studied for over 250 years. In fact, much of what we know today about climate change and icecap glaciology is thanks to this glacier.
Ilulissat is Greenland’s third largest city with a population of 5,000 people. Although this small number may be surprising, the fact that there are almost as many sled dogs as people is even more so! For this reason, tourists express a great interest in meeting and learning about these dogs, but keep in mind that these are not pets, they have been bred to work and as tempting as it may seem, you should not pet them.
This frosty gem is the perfect place to explore by kayak. Especially considering it is home to more than 15 species of whales in the summertime. So, why not join an excursion and keep an eye out for these friendly giants? And if kayaking is not enough to satisfy your curiosity, then there is always the option to take a flight tour. This way you can really appreciate the vastness of the ice cap.
Keep in mind that its location north of the Arctic Circle means that the weather is relatively cold, even during the summer, it averages around 6 and 7°C (43 - 45°F). On the plus side, this also means there will be constant daylight.
Greenland fun fact: according to Icelandic sagas, Erik the Red, was said to be exiled for manslaughter to Greenland. He chose a pleasant name “Greenland” in the hopes of attracting more settlers to join him.
A popular social tradition in Greenland is kaffemik, which literally means “via coffee”. Whether it’s a birth, a birthday or the first day of school, it is a way to celebrate these occasions. Kaffemik is a great way to meet local people and get to know more about their culture. Traditionally, the host will serve coffee and cake.
Another way to learn more about their culture is by visiting one of their 2 museums, the Ilulissat Museum and the Ilulissat Art Museum. The former is a local history museum featuring an exhibition on the Danish explorer, Knud Rasmussen. The latter showcases paintings by Greenlandic, Danish and Faroese artists.
If you want to venture further, Oqaatsut (formerly known as Rodebay) lies 20 km north of Ilulissat. It used to be a trading post for Dutch whalers in the 18th century. With less than 50 inhabitants, you can experience an authentic village culture.
Considering North Greenland is synonymous with glaciers, there is no such thing as seeing too many of these. The Eqi glacier is located 80 km north of Ilulissat and is a short boat-ride away. Reaching an impressive 200 m of height and up to 4 km wide, its calving is an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon that should not be missed.
As climate change shows no signs of slowing down, there is no denying the unavoidable effect it will have on an imposing ice structure like the Ilulissat Icefjord. It is no surprise that this fjord has acquired such an important status and people are flocking to visit it before it’s too late, so be sure to add it to your bucket list!
If you are interested in visiting any these magnificent places, take a look at our package add-ons when booking our Icefjord Midnight Marathon.