As you might expect of a country blanketed almost entirely in ice, Greenland can be a tricky place to get around. There are no roads or rail lines between communities here, so you’ll find that helicopters, small planes and ferries are your only options for getting from Point A to Point B (unless you want to join a local on a snowmobile or dog sled!).
Because getting around can be both inconvenient and expensive, many travelers choose to visit Greenland via cruise ship instead. Read on for a rundown of your best options for getting to and around this fascinating country.
Flying to and Around Greenland
There are no direct flights from North America to Greenland. Most travelers fly to Greenland from either Denmark or Iceland. Air Greenland offers year-round flights from Copenhagen to several cities in Greenland, with other services available on a seasonal basis. It’s about a four-hour trip between Denmark and Greenland’s west coast.
If you’d prefer to fly from Iceland, Air Greenland offers direct flights between Nuuk and Reykjavik (not available over the winter months). Air Iceland operates a variety of flights (some year-round, others seasonal) from Iceland to Nuuk, Ilulissat and Narsarsuaq on Greenland’s west coast, as well as to Kulusuk and Constable Point (Nerlerit Inaat) on the east coast. Note that Air Iceland is not the same as the better known Icelandair, and its flights depart from Reykjavik City Airport, not Keflavik (the more common gateway for international travelers). Flights between Iceland and Greenland are generally only two or three hours.
Flights to Greenland do not operate daily and tend to be quite expensive. Start looking for fares well in advance to keep an eye out for discounts. Booking a cruise or tour can make life easier, as charter flights are often included in the price.
Once you’ve reached Greenland, there’s only one real choice for flying between towns and cities. Air Greenland serves some 60 destinations with helicopters and planes in a variety of sizes. Keep in mind that smaller aircraft have tighter baggage restrictions, so check ahead. Greenland’s changeable climate can disrupt flights from time to time, particularly over the colder months.
Greenland Air Travel Resources:
Greenland by Ferry
Greenland’s ferries offer a scenic way to get between coastal communities as well as to meet locals. The Arctic Umiaq Line serves about a dozen cities along the west coast, ranging from Qaqortoq in the south to Ilulissat in the north. Prices are highest in peak season (June through August), but discounts are available for seniors age 65+ and children under 12.
There are two types of accommodation aboard the overnight ferry: cabins and couchettes. Cabins have private bathrooms as well as a table, chair, TV and wardrobe, and they hold up to four passengers. Couchettes are a step down in luxury, with shared bathroom facilities and up to eight berths per section. Many passengers bring sleeping bags; you can also buy a blanket.
Disko Line operates several ferries between Ilulissat, Qeqertarsuaq and other communities in the Disko Bay area. Discounted fares are available for seniors (63+) and children up to age 11. The line also offers packages including accommodations, breakfast and transfers.
Blue Ice Explorer serves the communities of southern Greenland such as Narsarsuaq, Itelleq, Qaqortoq and Narsaq. Many boat trips are scheduled to meet flights into Narsarsuaq from Copenhagen or Reykjavik, allowing you easily to transfer to another town after you land. The boats are small, carrying just six to 12 passengers each.
When booking any ferry, check timetables carefully. Many services do not run every day, and schedules vary depending on the time of year. Book in advance if you can, as trips do sell out. Arrive at the embarkation point early, but be prepared for delays or itinerary changes if weather or ice conditions warrant them.
There are currently no ferries to Greenland from other countries, nor is there a ferry along the east coast.
Greenland Ferry Resources:
Greenland by Cruise Ship
Because arranging your own transportation around Greenland can be difficult and expensive, many travelers choose to visit via cruise ship. If you’re not into crowds and big groups, don’t worry; this is not the type of place visited by massive mega-liners. Although a mass-market ship might make the occasional call as part of a transatlantic passage, most cruise lines offering dedicated Greenland itineraries operate small expedition or luxury ships.
Hurtigruten, Quark Expeditions, Silversea and Lindblad Expeditions all offer multiple Greenland itineraries, including a few to the remote east coast. These sailings tend to be on the longer side — anywhere from 10 to 24 nights — and may also include stops in Iceland or Svalbard (Norway‘s Arctic islands, where polar bear sightings are common). Their ships are small; Hurtigruten’s Fram is the largest with 256 passengers, while the other ships average 100 to 150. All employ expedition teams of naturalists, historians and other experts who share their local knowledge throughout the voyage.
Most Greenland cruises operate in the summer months, but even then, ice conditions can disrupt itineraries and lead to missed port calls. Bring your remedy of choice if you’re prone to seasickness, especially if your sailing includes a crossing from Iceland or Svalbard over to Greenland (or vice versa).
Greenland Cruise Resources:
Renting a Car in Greenland
Because there are no roads between towns in Greenland — and most of those towns are small enough to walk easily from one end to the other — a rental car is nearly useless here. That said, Sixt operates a couple of branches in Nuuk where you can rent a sedan or 4 x 4 vehicle. The minimum age ranges from 19 to 25, depending on the type of car you’re renting, and an International Driving Permit is not required unless your license is written in a non-Roman alphabet. Most vehicles have manual transmission.
In Greenland, cars drive on the right. Think twice before renting over the colder months, when roads can be snowy or icy.
Greenland Car Rental Resources:
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated on which side of the road cars drive in Greenland. It has been corrected.