9 reasons to visit Greenland
From exploring the world's largest national park to walking on glaciers, Greenland has plenty of convincing reasons to visit.
Greenland is an adventurer's paradise. From the rugged, polar desert in the north to glacial-carved fjords and sheep farms in the south, the country hosts more than its fair share of thrilling destinations. Between the nature, culture and action, voyagers looking to make the most of Greenland tourism will have no trouble. Take a look at the best nine things to do in the world's largest island:
1. Trek the prehistoric ice sheet
The Greendlandic Ice Sheet covers 80 percent of the country, dating back up to 10,000 years at its edges. In some places you can walk on this permanent historical monument - a remnant from the last ice age - where you'll see snowy mountains, frozen freshwater and an array of fauna. Fun facts: The ice's total area of 695,000 square miles equals 14 times the size of England, and the ice contains 10 percent of the world's reserves of fresh water.
2. See the most massive glacier outside of Antarctica
The iconic Ilulissat Icefjord is Greendland's biggest natural attraction and one of the northernmost UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the globe. The massive collection of icebergs that have calved from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, which is the biggest glacier in the Icefjord, presents a chilling natural gallery as well as a story of the planet's history. You can soak it in several different ways: by boat, helicopter or land. You can also sail to the gigantic iceberg, take an excursion on a helicopter at low altitude for stunning panoramas, or hike along trails edging the Icefjord.
3. Hop in bathtub-temperature hot springs
The Yin to the glaciers' Yang, Greenland's hot springs are perfect for thawing chilly limbs. Although the country is not known for these hot pools - or anything hot, for that matter - there are hundreds of them scattered through the landscape. The most popular are the Uunartoq hot springs in the island of Uunartoq (east Greenland) and Disko Island's hot springs, which are a short boat ride away from Illulissat. These natural "bathtubs" sit at a cozy 100 degrees Fahrenheit, though some get as hot as 140 degrees!
4. Witness the stunning Northern Lights
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are referred to as the "biggest light show on the earth." During the winter months, the dark sky glows with neon illuminations that make for an unprecedented natural phenomenon. For those taking a Greenland cruise to witness the lights, be sure to come between December and February when the nights are clearer than other times of year.
5. Visit the world's largest national park
Spanning 870 miles, Greenland National Park takes the title of the largest national park on earth. Its biggest draw is undoubtedly its abundance of flora and fauna. However, the park is fairly hard to access - no one lives in the region. Ittoqqortoormiit in Northeast Greenland is the gateway to the park itself, and you can take cruise expeditions there. Once here, you can gaze across crystal-clear water tucked between mountains moments before spotting giant walruses and the majestic polar bear. Greenland National Park is truly an Arctic paradise.
6. See mummies in the Greenland National Museum
As one of the first museums established in Greenland, the National Museum houses collections that stretch 4,500 years in history, from Danish artifacts to archaeology to preserved ruins. The Inuit Archaeological Collections are a big hit, as are the the Norse Collections, though the jewel is the four people buried in full dresses who lived in the year 1475. These are natural mummies, produced by freezing temperatures.
7. Get up close and personal with whales
Embark on a whale-watching tour. For animal lovers, this is an incredible experience, though you'll need the summer months to do it. Most fjords typically melt by May, so June and July are the best times to sail between the icebergs and spot whales. A good launching-off point is Narsaq, where the glaciers north of town leave the waters rich in minke whales, not to mention seals, salmon and trout.
8. Explore Viking sites
Walk through the vestiges of Erik the Red's 1,000-year-old Norse colonies in southern Greenland. Back then, the Viking explorer set sail from Iceland to venture across a land covered in ice, which he settled and named Greenland. Today, the oldest and best-preserved remnants in the country are Hvalsey Church, an abandoned Greenlandic settlement in Hvalsey. The church was the location of the last written record of the Greenlandic Norse: a wedding in 1408.
9. Experience Arctic wildlife on a sled
How often do you get to go mushing through the snow to spot reindeer, musk oxen and polar bear? Opt for a sled excursion January through April to see some breathtaking wildlife in the Arctic terrain, such as eagles, ptarmigan, lemmings and the rare Arctic wolf. The most common sightings of polar bears occur in northern and eastern Greenland, where the beast hunts from the sea ice.