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|Introduction to Greenland
Greenland, and especially its northern regions of Ultima Thule, remains a land of fantastical and semi-mythical proportions, with aurora borealis, the vast tundra, glittering columns of ice, monstrous glaciers that calve icebergs into the sea and the proverbially tight-lipped Inuit.
Ever since 15th-century explorers returned from the distant north with wild and woolly tales of a remote region of brutish hairy pygmies, unicorns, mind-bending visions and citadels of ice, Ultima Thule has been the fantasy of all fantasies.
Poets from Virgil and Pytheas to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have celebrated it in verse; the Weimar Republic used it as a template for one of their mythic Nordic-Germanic societies; and big-haired '70s rock bands, with a penchant for heavy feedback and fuzzy guitar solos, have used it as a clarion call to youthful rebellion.
Full country name: Greenland (Grønland) or Kalaallit Nunaat (local name)
Area: 2.16 million sq km
Capital City: Nuuk (Godthab)
People: 87% Greenlander, 13% Danish and others
Language: Danish, English
Religion: Evangelical Lutheran, shamanism
Government: self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark
Head of State: High Commissioner Peter Lauriteen (representing Queen Margrethe II)
Head of Government: Prime Minister Hans Enoksen
GDP: US$1.1 billion
GDP per capita: US$20,000
Annual Growth: 0.6%
Major Industries: fish processing (mainly shrimp), handicrafts, furs, small shipyards, tourism
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Denmark), Iceland, Japan, Norway, USA
Member of EU: No
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Visas: Citizens of Nordic countries require only an identification card; citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, the US and EU countries require a valid passport but no visa for a maximum stay of 90 days. Most other countries require a visa as per the same regulations as Denmark.
Health risks: hypothermia
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2
Dialling Code: 299
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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The biggest event on the Greenlander calendar is the celebration that marks the end of the polar night. This usually takes place sometime in January or February. Come March the capital city, Nuuk, hosts an international snow-sculpture festival, while Uummannaq fjord provides one of the wackiest events for those of you who think golf is a proper game - The World Ice Golf Championships. You'll hear cries of 'Fjord!' instead of 'Fore!'.
In early April, Sisimiut kicks off what is billed as the world's toughest ski race, with three days of skiing in Arctic conditions. Around Easter, villages north of the Arctic Circle hold dogsled races, and the Festival of Art and Music takes place in Qaqortoq in late June/early July, close to the time of the Nuuk Marathon. Every three to four years, Greenland hosts the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, a week-long forum for the discussion of cultural and social issues. Visitors are always welcomed into both the discussions and the exhibitions. The other large festival is Aasivik, a cultural and political forum that usually takes place mid-July and showcases traditional theatre, drum dances, folk music, and in recent years, Greenlandic rock music.
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|Best time to Visit
If you think bone-chilling weather and long arctic nights when the sun don't shine is not for you, then aim to be there sometime during the summer months: mid-July to the first week in September. This is feel-good time for Greenlanders; the days are long, the tundra is a riot of wild flowers and red berries and there is a general feeling of wellbeing and contentment throughout the land. The trade off for these fabulous Arctic summers is mind-bending plagues of mosquitoes that sting all the way through late June to early August. If you stay on until October, you'll get a ringside seat for the aurora borealis, although the lights can appear as early as August. Just about all Greenlandic festivals and events occur in the summer months. Going in the harsh winter months between December, January and February is just not a good idea unless you're a scientist studying seasonal effects, or a masochist, or both.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Danish Krone
Greenland is not the cheapest travel destination in the world but if you're prepared to stay at youth hostels or camping grounds and self-cater you could just about get away with surviving on US$40-50 a day. Upgrading to something with solid walls and private facilities and eating food that doesn't come from a can will see you shelling out nearly US$100 a day. If you're looking at full-on Inuit hospitality and luxury complete with mini-bars, TVs and European cuisine expect to drop over US$350 a day.
Two banks operate throughout the country; Nuna bank and GrØnlandsbanken, which readily exchange travellers cheques for a commission of around US$5 and offer cash advances on Visa and Mastercard. Major credit cards are accepted in tourist resorts and restaurants and hotels. Larger towns now have ATMs that recognise all major foreign plastic.
A service charge is normally included in the bill. Additional tipping is rare.
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Nuuk's real attraction lies in its proximity to any number of excellent day hikes into the hinterland and the fabulous views from the tops of the nearby mountains. Organised tours, boat trips and the rental of equipment is also easier from the capital.
Kolonihavnen is a pleasant exception to the Nuuk's somewhat harsh, apartment-dense, Lego-city look: it's a picturesque 18th-century fishing village in the heart of Nuuk and gives some idea of what the town looked like before the industrial harbour was built.
This is big 'berg country - no such thing as a dinky little ice cube in these here parts. Glaciers can migrate up to 30m (98ft) a day and calve more often than a herd of spring cows, with some of the little beauties weighing in at seven million tonnes.
The Disko Bay archipelago is an iceberg-studded expanse 300km (185mi) north of the Arctic Circle and during the summer its five major towns - Kangaatsiaq, Ilulissat, Qeqertarsuaq, Qasigiannguit, and Aasiaat - experience true arctic days and stunning midnight suns.
Ilulissat translates as 'the icebergs', an entirely fitting name for a town that gazes out on a mirrored sea crammed with icebergs and floes. Ilulissat still has a frontier feel; its scruffy, feisty spirit at odds with its status as one of Greenland's most popular tourist destinations.
The man who is famous for, among other things, uttering the words, 'Give me winter, give me dogs, and you can have the rest,' has a museum - the Knud Rasmussen Museum - named in his honour. Inside are exhibitions dealing with his Arctic expeditions, as well as Danish and Inuit artefacts.
In many ways Kulusuk is an unlikely focal point for travellers; it's a mere dot of an island, off the east coast of Greenland, but its international airport makes it easily accessible by air and frequent flights from Reykjavík make it ideal for day trips.
Kulusuk is the perfect introduction to Greenland; the tiny village clings to the rocky island above a glittering sea of icebergs with dramatic mountain peaks as a backdrop. Many of the residents still survive by hunting. Curiously enough, Kulusuk remains relatively immune to Western influence.
Qaqortoq, sitting at the tip of the peninsula in the south of Greenland, is a clean pleasant harbour town. Although only boasting 3500 people, it's considered to be the hub of the south and is worth visiting in summer when the place explodes with wildflowers.
Qaqortoq is mostly used as a convenient base for hiking treks: either one day hikes up 'Peter's Cairn', or around the edge of the Tasersuaq lake, or as a departure point for the three- to four-day treks to the neighbouring town of Igaliku.
You haven't even begun to know cold until you've been to Upernavik (population 1100), 800km (496mi) north of the Arctic Circle. The name translates in a rather droll manner as 'the spring place': the average summer temperature hovers around a rather chilly 5°C (45°F).
Bundle yourself up and get out to see the Old Town Museum, which is Greenland's oldest. The last visitor's book, lasting over 60 years, has been inscribed by many of the famous and infamous Arctic explorers. Exhibits include a qajaq ensemble complete with harpoon, throwing stick and bird skewer.
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