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Greenland's Northern Lights and Outdoor Adventures

Greenland isn't just ice, whales, and seals -- though they are the main reasons for coming here. You come here to enjoy the Northern Lights, outdoor adventure and sports, and access to unique Inuit handicrafts and customs.

It's almost a country, but not quite yet. Ignored by the rest of the world for too long, Greenland is slowly making its way to being an independent nation, but still needs help from its legal parent, Denmark, before standing on its own feet. There are about 114,000 of those feet, since the entire population of the huge island (three times the size of Texas) is just 57,000. Think about it: How many towns that size have their own airline, brewery, or even nightclub?

Greenland is run by what is called the Home Rule Government, with autonomy in many fields, but not in foreign affairs or defense. So you still use Danish currency (the kroner) and citizens here carry Danish passports. The latest move in self-government began only on June 21st of 2009, when Greenland got control of its police, criminal justice, and natural resources. Complete independence may come only when reports of oil, some 50 billion barrels of it, are proved true, skeptics say.

Greenland isn't just ice, whales, and seals, either, though I think those are the main reasons for coming here. In addition to the magnificent icebergs and glaciers, you come here to enjoy the Northern Lights, outdoor adventure and sports, and access to unique Inuit handicrafts and customs.


The average high temperature in August in Nuuk is 49°F, low 38°F, in December it is high 23°F, low 10°F so you'll need warm clothing. (Some locals were running around in T-shirts when I was there this summer.)


Although Nuuk is the capital of Greenland and its largest town (about 17,000 people), it isn't as close to the massive ice fjords as its closest competitor for attention, Ilulissat. The town (Nuuk means "the headland") is close, however, to the Godthaab Fjord, one of the world's largest fjord complexes. But Nuuk has a lot going for it. A local beauty salon advertises itself as an "ecological hairdresser," even.

Highlights here are the tapestries in the very modern Nuuk City Hall. Designed by local artist Hans Lynges, there are 12 scenes depicting the founding of Nuuk by Hans Egede back in 1728. I liked the tapestry depicting a newspaper editor stopping by to catch up on the latest news from the colony's fledgling staff.

Another two attractions are the old colonial part of town and the Greenland National Museum .In the latter are some amazingly preserved mummies from about 500 years ago.

You can buy original Greenlandic handicrafts here, especially beadwork, figures carved in wood and soapstone. Carving in bone and soapstone goes back more than 2,000 years, they say. You can also get purses, wallets and such made from sealskin, but you often have to order in advance. I did see a cute pair of fur-lined moccasins at 200 DKr (about US$40).


In winter, consider fishing tours in wooden boats, in spring take boat trips to the fjords, in summer maybe try a whale safari. You can also take helicopter flights, arranged through Nuuk Tourism.


Hunting and fishing are the big opportunities here, the latter offering cod, halibut, catfish and more in the fjord, or char in the rivers. You can hike long distances here, but not, perhaps to the end of the fjord, about 100 miles from Nuuk. In winter, ski at Mount Malene near the airport or try cross-country skiing elsewhere.

Lodging & Dining

You might like to stay in the town's best hotel, the Hans Egede (tel. 011/299 324222;, which has its own gourmet-class restaurant, the Sarfalik. There, I dined happily on char, shrimp and halibut, while looking out over the city scenery. They also have another restaurant, A Hereford Beefstouw, which is, of course, a steakhouse. The hotel itself is clean and comfortable, with individual room heating controls.

Try Greenland Brewhouse beer, made with ultra-clean and chalk-free Greenlandic water. Because of its northerly location, Greenland has no wineries, so your wine is likely to be Italian or Chilean.

Home Visits

Nuuk has a marvelous program of home visits, one of which I joined. An enterprising retired couple welcomed us into their home (remember to remove your shoes before entering) and served us coffee and cake while our guide interpreted the conversation. A retired carpenter and his wife raised a large family (a photo showed 26 in the camera's view) and have lived in this public housing complex for over 25 years, visiting Copenhagen at least once. Their apartment has six rooms and the living room was crammed with a nice collection of porcelain (some of it Royal Copenhagen) and paintings, as well as a big-screen TV (there's only one station here), a neat hi-fi and other evidences of modern life. Such visits can be arranged through Nuuk Tourism (tel. 011-299/32-2700;

Getting Here

The island's international airport is a former U.S. base at Kangerlussuaq, with flights coming here from Copenhagen and Reykjavik. All change here for Nuuk and Ilulissat and other smaller airports, on Air Greenland's Dash turbo props.

North Americans wanting to visit Greenland, lying off North America's northeastern coast, have to fly either to Reykjavik in Iceland or Copenhagen in Denmark to catch a plane for Greenland. In the latter case, that can mean crossing the Atlantic four times to get to Greenland and back home. I suggest Reykjavik as the better opportunity, cutting off at least three hours each way during that trip and not quite crossing the Atlantic on two legs of the journey. Unless you plan on seeing Copenhagen or other places in Europe, anyhow. Greenland is decidedly not Europe, having decided to leave the European Community (as a ward of Denmark) long ago.


For fairly comprehensive information on Greenland, visit the website of the Greenland Tourism and Business Council at

For Nuuk, the place to go is Nuuk Tourism, tel. 011-299/32-2700; If you want the expert point of view of a Minnesota-born officer there, ask for Grace Nielsen.

Contact Air Greenland at