Ilulissat. Tourist Mecca of Greenland

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If you ever want to hide from the endless hustle and bustle of big cities and see the place on the face of the Earth, where the flow of time has completely stopped, where the beauty and greatness of nature pushes all the problems to the background, then you should know that this spot is called Ilulissat, and it lies beyond Arctic Circle in Greenland.

General Information

Ilulissat is a city inhabited by about 5000 people, and this is the third largest settlement in Greenland. In order to fly here, you need to take an internal flight with a transfer in Kangerlussuaq. As for me, the transfer looks very funny: you need to get out of the small 37-seat plane, go to the terminal, go out and board the same plane you left 10 minutes ago. This is called “technical stop”, and it is done to refuel the aircraft, because due to its size it cannot fly for long distances.

Ilulissat is located 350 km to the north of the Arctic Circle. Its name is translated from Greenlandic as “iceberg”. And indeed, there are a lot of icebergs here, and that is why tourists from all over the world come here. Originally, the city is called Jakobshavn. It was founded in 1741 by the Danish merchant Jacob Severin. However, as in the case of Nuuk, long before the official “discovery” this place was inhabited for many thousand years by the Greenlandic tribes.


The city itself is very compact, and it is not difficult to get used to it. For a fairly long stay here (7 days) we have chosen not the hotel, but the Icefiord apartments. First, we could prepare our own food making our stay cheaper. Second, our housing was located in the heart of the city. It significantly saved time to get to different excursions, and it was easy to start your route from the city center.

The choice of accommodation in Ilulissat is represented by 5-6 locations, so there is plenty to choose from. There is even one hostel and b&b. This suggests that the tourist sector in this city is developing, and given the overall expensiveness of this country, there is the possibility of relatively cheap accommodation here. Even the capital of Greenland, Nuuk, has no such choice of accommodation.

At the Ilulissat airport the hotel offered us a free transfer, and we safely got to the doors of our apartments. First, we went to the office of the largest travel agency, World of Greenland, which has the best selection of excursions. Please note that in Greenland if you pay with your credit card, you will be charged an additional fee from 0.5% to 4% depending on the type of your card. Therefore, it is best to stock up in advance on the Danish crowns at the Copenhagen airport.


All excursions in Ilulissat are divided by two seasons: summer and winter. Summer excursions start exactly according to the calendar from May 1 to August 31. During this season you will not be able to go dogsledding, skiing or winter fishing. Similarly, in winter you will not be able to sail close to icebergs in the Disco Bay, because all the coastal waters will be frozen dead.

There are universal excursions for both seasons, but their number is quite small. These include a helicopter tour to the Kangia Glacier and a small boat trip to the settlements around Ilulissat.

We were very lucky, because due to the extremely harsh winter, which was characterized by heavy snowfalls and severe frosts, at the time of our arrival, at the end of April, winter excursions were still available. Therefore, we managed to go dogsledding, as well as to take helicopter and boat rides to the icebergs.

In Kiev I had in advance written to the representatives of this tour operator, and to the last they did not know which excursions would be available at the time of our arrival. Moreover, at the beginning of the year they had assured me that the dogsledding season would close at the end of February, and at the end of April we would not have any chance to go dogsledding. As it turned out, in Greenland all activities are 100% dependent on weather conditions. And only the weather has the right to decide whether you get access to a particular excursion. This information is for you to understand that sometimes, even having signed up and received confirmation from a tour operator, you can miss out on an excursion, and vice versa. A trip to Greenland is very much like a lottery ticket.

There are a couple of other tour operators other than World of Greenland, but at the time of our arrival all of them as one were closed until June 1. So we did not even have a choice where to go.

Having decided on excursions, we went to explore the city.

Supermarkets in Ilulissat

As usual, according to our tradition, first we went to the supermarket closest to our apartments. As it turned out, the situation with food here is much worse than in Nuuk. On the shelves there were no vegetables, fruit and eggs. Later we asked our guide how often food is brought to the city, and he replied that the ferry with the goods came quite seldom – in winter once a month, and in summer just a little more frequently. There are 4 supermarkets in the city, but the situation is the same everywhere. There are a lot of meat and no vegetables at all. I made a separate video at the local store, where we often bought food. Pay special attention to the incredibly delicious carrot and orange jam, which you can buy not only in Greenland, but also in Denmark. A very unusual combination of tastes makes it an excellent dessert.

Cafés in Ilulissat

The choice of cafes is quite good – there are about 5 of them, but they are all united by one common factor – incredibly high prices. Due to the fact that we ate mostly at home, we went to cafes only to find out about the choice of dishes. We liked Inuit café that has very good reviews on different portals. Once after an excursion we decided to eat there. The menu had a large selection of dishes from seal meat and local fish. We could even try a steak from the whale’s meat. However, due to the fact that we do not eat meat, and a whale is a mammal like a cow or a horse – there was even a clarifying picture on the bar counter – we ordered a quite simple dish of rice and shrimp, one salad for two and two cups of coffee. This homely meal cost us 80 USD, and afterwards we decided to come here only for coffee, which, by the way, was one of the most delicious in Ilulissat.

Santa Claus Mail

Several northern countries are fighting for the right to be the “homeland” of the arctic Santa Claus, and Greenland keeps up with Finland and Sweden. Here, according to numerous statements, there is the official residence of Santa Claus, and an integral feature of the bearded man is, of course, a huge sleigh and a mailbox 5 meters high. The only trouble is that in Ilulissat there are no deer, which are the driving force of the huge sleigh. But, apparently, Greenlanders and Danes are not particularly upset, because instead of horned cloven-hoofed animals, you can safely harness to the sleigh lots of Greenland Huskies living in abundance here.

Ilulissat Port

Apart from the airport, the city has the maritime line due to a small port. In summer it is from here that pleasure boats depart to the Disco Bay, along with lots of fishing boats and private hunting boats. Even small cruise ships can moor off the coast of the Ilulissat port.

At the beginning of May, the whole port was still covered in ice, and we decided to go down and look closer at the life of local fishermen and hunters.

Having come to the water, we saw a rather unpleasant picture. Everywhere on the ice there were dead gutted fish that smelled awfully. But what struck me the most was the carcasses of seals scattered in the snow. Mostly there were chopped fins, and sometimes there were raw skins frozen in the ice. The gulls circled like vultures over all these dead animals and fought for a more desirable piece. Despite the universal ban on the capture of seals and whales, in Greenland this trade is still the main means of survival. According to some reports, for industrial purposes Greenland capturers about 170 whales a year for internal consumption.


Two kilometers to the west of Ilulissat there is the site of the ancient Inuit settlement of Sermermiut, which now is under protection of UNESCO. There, for as long as 4000 years, Eskimo tribes lived. From the valley there is an incredible view of the cluster of icebergs that drift along the Ilulissat Fjord.

The beginning of the way is marked on the map, and, in fact, it is impossible to get lost here, because all the time you will need to walk along the wooden paved path. However, in winter the valley is covered by such layer of snow that you cannot see any signs and hints of the path. Therefore, we walked blindly through the snow, sometimes sinking up to our knees. In the settlement, we saw nothing but snow, but icebergs in the distance rouse our enthusiasm, and we decided to reach them through the small mountain ledges that were partially covered with snow.

In summer this would not have caused any problems, but in winter we had to choose our path carefully. Having climbed almost to the edge of the fjord, we were impressed by what we saw. We have never been so close to icebergs.

Ilulissat Fjord

The Ilulissat Fjord is considered one of the best spots in Greenland for observing icebergs. Its location close to the Kangia Glacier all year round allows you to see huge drifting ice blocks that, going round the fjord, pass through the Disco Bay into the open sea. Since 2004 the Ilulissat Fjord has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and since then many tourists come here just to see the slow grandeur of the ice giants with their own eyes.

Having reached almost the extreme point of the cape protruding into the sea, we saw that to our left lay the famous valley of icebergs entirely consisting of large and small pieces of ice. And right before us there appeared the most famous icebergs of Greenland, about which we had heard a lot. A very impressive sight, especially if you add loud silence interrupted only by a lonely cry of seagulls flying over the water. On this end of the earth, while watching the majestic ice, you get an understanding of how small and insignificant your own worries and fears are. And how much time in life we spend on unnecessary fuss.

The other day we walked along the path that led to the other side of Sermermiut and went to the city on its west side. The landscape changes very much depending on the weather. So during this hike the icebergs appeared before us from a completely different point of view. In summer you can go much further along the blue path that will lead you to the eastern entrance of the city, but in winter it is very dangerous to go on such a hike, as snow covers all the landmarks and strong wind literally blows you off into the abyss over the sea.

Ilulissat has fully justified its title of the “pearl” of the western coast of Greenland. No matter for how many days you come, there is always something to see and do in any weather regardless of the season. And we continue to explore the largest island on the planet, stay with us!

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