Basic facts Greenland Svensk version Start

Greenland - " Land of the people"

If you look for something unusual to visit, Greenland is the rigth place to go! Here you will find untouched nature, good trekking possibilities, the magnificient icecap, icebergs, whales, muskoxen, seals etc. The icecap on Greenland is up to 3 000 meters thick!

Greenland offers adventures of ice and snow, as no where on earth!

History in brief

Early history

It is likely that the first Greenlanders migrated from Ellesmere Island in northern Canada some 5 000 years ago. This culture is known as Independence I, named after Independence Fjord in Peary Land, northern Greenland. 

The Indenpendence II culture inhabited northern Greenland from about 3 400 to 2 600 years ago.

The Saqqaq culture came from Canada to West Greenland about 3 800 years ago. About 2 500 years ago the climate turned colder and the Saqqaq culture mysteriously disappeared.

The Dorset culture, which probably was derived from the Saqqaq or Independence II culture, or a combination of them, was more technologically advanced and lived in more communal societies.

Evidence of the Thule culture has been found from western Alaska all the way east to Greenland, indicating that eastward migration was rapid and spread all over Greenland in less than 150 years, absorbing or supplanting all other cultures. It was the Thule culture that developed the kayak, the harpoon and the dogsled.

A climatic shift in the 12th century forced the Thule to migrate southward and it fragmented into a number of subcultures. The modern-day Greenlandic Inuit, known as the Inussuk culture, have descended from the Thule, according to archaeological evidences.

The Norse period

In the 960:s after Christ Erik The Red, a fiery Norwegian, was exiled from his home in Norway. He went to Iceland, where he married a woman called Thordhildur. Eric was later banned three years also from Iceland. In 982 he headed west and discovered a fertile land with fjords and green valleys. Eric was so impressed by the land's resources so he named it "The Green Land" when he spoke about it after his return to Iceland.

In 986 he set out from Iceland at the head of 25 ships, with 500 men and women on board, heading for Greenland. Only 14 ships reached their destination.

The Norse founded Brattahlid and the two hamlets of Vesterbygden and Oesterbygden. Around the year 1 000 after Christ the population was approximately 3 000, living in 3 - 400 farms. This small community survived for 500 years. Why they disappeared is still a great mystery.

The Danish colonisation

In 1605, the Danish King Christian IV sent an expedition to Greenland and claimed it for Denmark. The first renewed attempt at permanent European colonisation, however, came in 1721 when the Danish granted Hans Egede permission to establish a trading post and lutheran mission. 

His first mission, on the island of Håbets Ö, established what Denmark considered colonial rigths to Greenland. The mission was relocated to the present site of Nuuk (formerly Godthåb) in 1728.

Five years later, a  Moravian mission was also set up in Godthåb. Both were successful at converting the native Greenlanders to Christianity. 

By 1776, Denmark decided to play its hand with Greenland and impose  a trade monopoly, administrated by the Royal Greenland Trade Department. It remained until 1950.

Recent history

Although Denmark had officially claimed Greenland in the 1600s, the issue of Dansih sovereignty over the island was dredged up by Norway in 1924 claiming that the discovery of East Greenland by Icelanders prior to the Danish-Norwegian union entitled them to it, especially since the issue hadn´t been broached at the time of confederation. The matter was taken before the international court in The Hauge in the early 1930s, which resulted in the granting of Danish sovereignty over the entire island.

In 1940, Adolf Hitler occupied Denmark and, in early 1941, before the US had officially entered the war, the US military moved into Greenland and set up bases at Söndre Strömfjord and Narsarsuaq. Narsarsuaq was closed in 1958 and Söndre Strömfjord in 1992. They both are now Greenlands two international airports.

In 1953, Greenland became a county of Denmark and Greenlanders acquire full Dansish citizenship. On May 1, 1979 the county council was replaced by the Landsting (Parliament) and the Landstyre (Home Rule government), but Greenland also retained two representatives in the Danish parliament. 

Geography and Geology

With an area of 2 166 086 sq kilometers and a coastline of 44 087 kilometers, Greenland is the world´s largest island. Greenland is more than 2.5 times larger than the worlds second largest island New Guinea and 52 times the size of mainland Denmark. 

Greenland is the northernmost country in the world.

Although Greenland is vast, 1.8 million sq kilometers, that is all but 375 600 sq kilometers of the total area, lies beneath a sheet of ice up to 3 000 meters thick. This vast icesheet measures 2 500 kilometres from north to south and up to 1 000 kilomtres from east to west. It contains over four million cubic kilometers of ice! Around its edges, the icecap spills down in thousands of valley glaciers, which have sculpted the coast into deep fjords and dramatic landscapes.

While Iceland´s landscape is the world´s youngest and most dynamic, Greenland´s is the oldest yet discovered. Gneiss from Akilia Island, around 22 kilometers south of Nuuk, is reckoned to be 3.87 billion years old, the Earth itself is thought to be around 4.6 billion years old.

When the airport was constructed at Nuuk, the tarmac was blasted out of metmorphic rock that had been around for over three billion years.

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Flora and Fauna

Arctic vegetation is fairly limited and typically stunted. In sheltered areas around Qaqortoq and Narsarsuaq, there are stands of dwarf birch, alder, juniper and willow. In late summer, the lowland areas of the south are carpeted with the beautiful national flower. 

Other flowering plants that can be found on Greenland are chamomile, dandelion, harebell, buttercup, saxifrage, Arctic cotton, Arctic poppy etc

Due to harsh conditions, Greenlands fabulous Arctic wildlife is necessarily sparse and you may see larger land mammals only at Kangerlussuaq, where caribou and muskoxen are abundant.

Other mammal species include polar bears, lemmings, Arctic hares, Arctic wolves, Arctic foxes and different seals.

The muskoxens are concentrated around Kangerlussuaq, in South-West Greenland, and in the North-East Greenland National Park. Muskoxen resemble the American bison but their nearest relatives are actually the Rocky Mountain goat and the European chamois. 

Numerrous marine mammals inhabit Greenlandic waters. Among them are many species of whales. Common cetaceans include the pilot whale, fin whale, sei whale, mink whale, orca (killer whale) and humpback whale. Visitors see them regularly from coastal ferries or when joining whalewatching tours.

Over 100 other fish and shellfish species makes Greenlandic waters  to some of the world´s richest.

More than 50 bird species breed on or near the shores. Among them are cormorants, puffins, guillemots, murres, eider ducks, sea eagles, dovekies, buntings, skuas, kittiwakes, ptarmigans and swans. There are also four birds of prey; the snowy owl, sea eagle, peregrine falcon and gyrfalcon.

Population and People

Greenlands population currently stands at approximately 56 400. Of these, 88 % are Inuit or mixed Danish and Inuit. The remaining 12 % are of European extraction, mainly Danish. Most Greelanders live on the west coast.

The capital and largest city, Nuuk, has a population 14 300.

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My journey on Greenland

After several years of dreaming my trip to Greeland finally came through. When you like travelling there are always countries that are on "the waitinglist" to be visited on the right moment. 

My trip to Greenland started early July and ended early August, that will say I visited Greenland during four weeks, four marvelous weeks! 

There are few places in the world that can offer you so much untouched nature and fresh air as Greenland, the largest island in the world.

During my four weeks on Greenland I planned to trekk two weeks on South Greenland, visit the capital Nuuk for one week and the Kangerlussuaq area (Söndre Strömfjord), located above the Arctic Circle for one week.

Nuuk offered possibilities to see whales and Kangerlussuaq muskoxen spotting.

South Greenland

The first two weeks I spent on the southern part of the island. 

I arrived at Narsarsuaq International Airport, one of the two major international airports. 

Narsarsuaq is a former US Air Base built during the WWII. The Americans offered the Danes to take over the base when they closed their hospital on November 11, 1958. When the Danes refused the Norwegians offered the Americans USD 250 000 to take care of the equipment left. They later sold it for USD 1 000 000! The life in the small community is mainly concentrated around the airport. There are only about 160 inhabitants in the village. Few tourists stays in Narsarsuaq. The majority goes to other destinations.

Narsarsuaq was the meeting point for a small group of Danes and Swedes early July, I was one of them. Our group, under the lead of a young danish, female guide, should spend two weeks together trekking among sheepfarmers on the southern part of Greenland.

After a couple of hours in Narsarsuaq we jumped on a small ship, bound for Qaqortoq (Julianehåb). The trip was marvelous and offered a lot of nice views over snowcovered mountains and deep blue fjords with a large number of icebergs.

In the late afternoon we arrived at Qaqortoq. It is the largest town on southern Greenland, but has only 3 500 inhabitants. The town was founded in 1775 as a trading post for the Danes. Some of the old buildings are well preserved. The modern houses are very colourful and the central part of the town is decorated with different sculptures.

From Qaqortoq the journey continued to Qanisartut by boat. During this trip I passed Hvalsöy. Here the Norse had one of their major churches, it is now one of the best preserved remainings from that period.

Qanisartut was the startingpoint for the trekk back to the Narsarsuaq area. Now almost two weeks of treeking was ahead me! During the trekk we should stay at sheepfarmers, in tents, in a container or in youth hostels. No fancy hotels are available here! But the nature is among the most beautiful in the world. We also were very lucky with the weather.

The first two nigths I stayed over at a sheepfarmer and treeked in the Vatnahverfi area. Here you find several lakes with nice fishing. The trekking possibilities are very good.

Next stop of the trekk was Söndre Igaliko, a village located at the Einars Fjord with only 5 -6 houses. Here I meet a nice, sheepfarming family. 

The couple, Andala and Sofiannguaq with their three children are trying to build up a infrastructure for tourists. You can rent their houses, they live approx. 5 kilometers inland, and if you are lucky you can visit dem in their new house. Sometimes they offer tourists to serve a superb greenlandic dinner with whale-, seal-, and sheepmeat as well as different kinds of dried fish. Thank you Sofiannguaq!

With support from Andala we crossed the Einars Fjord. From Iterdlaq we trekked to the Jespersen Glacier. It is a nice walk that takes 5-6 hours. At the glacier you are absolutely in the wilderness. This was my first contact with Greenlands icecap. The nigths are rather cold up here!

After a whole days walk along the sea from Iterdlaq, you arrive at Igaliko, which was the episcopal center for the norse, called Gardar during that period. Here are some interesting norse ruins to look at. Igaliko has approx. 40 inhabitants.

You need another boatride to come to Qassiarsuq (Brattahlid) which was the center of the Norse Greenlanders. Here you find more ruins from the norse period as well as new memorials or sculptures rembering about Eric the Red and Leif The Lucky. Let your imagine fly and try to see how the vikings lived here! 

The two weeks trekking ended with a walk to the sheepfarm at Nunataak, 10 kilometres from Qassiarsuq, where there is a small youth hostel. 

Nunataak is a nice place on earth. You can walk in the surroundings or to the icefjord close by. The icefjord is visible from Nunataak.

The last trekkingday was spent in Narsarsuaq, from here my trekkingfriends went back to Sweden or Denmark. 

From Narsarsuaq you can walk to the "Valley of Flowers" and continue to the icecap, or just hang around the village. In the village you can find different traces after the americans and the hospital, once located here. In the hospital one took care of wounded soldiers from Europe during WWII.

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From Narsarsuaq my trip continued to the capital Nuuk, with a marvelous flight over a part of the icecap. As it was a sunny day the views were fantastic and you got a good picture how the icecap looks like, few visitors have close contacts with it.

The capital Nuuk was founded by the danish missionary Hans Egede in 1728 as a mission and trading post, he called it Godthåb (Good Hope). Before him norse settlers lived here. They called the area Vesterbygd. Little is known about them and why they left. 

Today Nuuk is the smallest capital in the world with only 14 500 inhabitants. Modern Nuuk houses 24 % of Greenland´s population. It is a rather fascinating town with large, sometimes very ugly, houses as well as nicer, smaller private houses. I liked Nuuk and the lifestyle of the Greenlanders here. 

The surroundings offers some nice trekking possibilities, but you have to go out of town by bus or taxi. The best trekks are around, or up to the peak of Lille Malene (443 meters) and to the peaks of Store Malene (772 meters). The tourist office do not recommend the trekk to Store Malene as it can be rather dangerous on rainy days. Also the risc to get hit by falling stones, when treeking on lower parts of the mountain, is rather big.

On Saturdays, if you are lucky, you can watch weddings in "Our Saviours Church", built in 1849. Men and women comes dressed in the beuatiful and colourful nationaldresses. The men in black and white and the ladies in multicolours.

The most impressing to see when you are in Nuuk during summertime are humpbackwhales. There are great chanses to see them if you participate in an excursion arranged by the serviceminded Nuuk Tourism. I was not lucky to see whales on my first tour, on the second I saw several. Some very close to the ship.

Kangerlussuaq (Söndre Strömfjord)

The last week of my trip on Greenland I spent in the Kangerlussuaq-area with trekking, biking and muskoxen spotting.

Kangerlussuaq, with a population of approx. 450 inhabitants, is located just north of the Arctic Circle. The region has Greenland´s widest icefree zone (200 km) and is located at the head of third greatest fjord.

Prior to the US occupation of the area, in connection to WWII, there were no actual settlement here, but it was a prime carbou-hunting ground. On October 7, 1941 the americans founded an airbase here supporting the soldiers in Europe. On September 30, 1992 the americans closed the airbase and the Greenland Home Rule Governement took over. Today Kangerlussuaq is one of the two international airports on Greenland.

In Kangerlussuaq I trekked to the mountain Sugar Loaf, an easy 20 kilometre long return trekk. From the top of the mountain you have very nice views towards the icecap. If you are fit you can continue to the waterfall some kilometres further east. The waterfall is rather impressing. 

I also rented a mountainbike and biked up to the icecap, a tour of 50-60 kilometres depending how long tour you want to do. Be sure that you have a lot of pain in your but after this tour, if you not are an experinced biker. The road is in a very bad condition and there are some ups and downs a long the way to the icecap. You pass several lakes and if you are lucky you can meet caribou-hunters out here. Here you find real wildness!

I trekked in the area of Lake Ferguson as well, which gave me possibilities to see muskoxens. They are really impressing animals, but watch out they are aggressive if you come to close.

There are many more possibilities to trekk around in the region. Just buy a map, put on you trekkingshoes and walk away!

If you not are fit enough you can buy different tours from the KAngerlussuaq Tourist Office.

After almost a week in Kangerlussuaq it was time to go back home, regretfully. Four weeks were, according to my opinion, not enough to spend on Greenland, if you like wild nature.

My trip to Greeland was fantastic in all respects; fantastic nature, good trekking possibilities and very nice people. (With exception of the staff at Kangerlussuaq Tourism)

If you like nature visit Greenland, but bring quite a lot of money - it is expensive here!

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Söndre Igaliko

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Broad-leaf willow,
Greenlands national flower

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Sheepfarmer Päivi.
Söndre Igaliko 

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Norse ruins.

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Dead seal.

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The icefjord.

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Jespersen Glacier

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Söndre Igaliko

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Greelandic beauty.

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Smiling couple.

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Basic facts: 
Conventional longform: Kalaallit Nunaat

Capital/Population: Nuuk / 14 500
Area, total:
2 166 086 sq km
44 087 km

Lowest point: The Atlantic Ocean
Highest point: Gunnbjörn (3 700 m)
Largest rivers:
Largest lakes:
Natural resources:
Fish and fish products

Population:  57 695
Population/sq km:
Pop. growth rate:
0.04 %
Infant mortility rate: 
(deaths / 1 000 live births)
Life expectancy at birth (years):
Male / Female  67 / 74

Ethnic groups: Greenlanders 88 %, Danish and other 12 %
Religions:  Evangelical Lutheran and Inuit believs
 Greenlandic (East Inuit), Danish, English
Literacy; % pop. over 15 years:
Male / Female 99.9  / 99.9


Independence:  A part of Denmark
National holiday:
June 21

GNP/capita: 55 113 USD (DK)
Danish Krona (DKK)

Mobiltelephones: 57 300
36 000
Railways: 0 km
150 km (There are no roads between the towns/villages)

Source: CIA World Factbook 2012/02



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This page is updated 2012-08-18

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