Greenland Winter Adventure in Ilulissat

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Greenland Winter Adventure in Ilulissat

This last April, our team member Unnur Silfá went on a Greenland winter holiday to Ilulissat. Here she recaps her adventure which included dogsledding and iceberg sightseeing. Based on her experience, we have created a new Greenland winter tour which is available to our guests.

Coming from Iceland, and having been raised in the cold North, I have always been inclined to seek out warmer temperatures during my holidays. That all changed last spring, when I was offered the opportunity to visit Ilulissat in Greenland – in April! As I have been truly fascinated with Greenland since childhood, a fascination that only grew stronger after my visit to South Greenland in 2009, I knew I had to jump at this chance.

So on April 1st, 2017, I climbed into the small Air Iceland Connect airplane with a backpack filled with all my warmest clothes, and took off for the adventure of a lifetime. 

Greenland sled dog - Photo by Unnur Silfá The colourful Greenland houses - Photo by Unnur Silfá

 Arrival in Ilulissat

As soon as we approached Ilulissat and I looked outside my window, I knew this was something special. Ice and snow covered the whole region, so beautifully white that it almost hurts your eyes to look at it. As we evacuated the airplane I was pleasantly surprised that the -21°C did not feel as harsh as -5°C can feel in Iceland. There was little to no wind chill to be detected, as it is so often in Iceland. Granted, I was extremely lucky with the weather which was cold but amazingly still my entire trip.

After checking into my hotel room at the beautiful Hotel Arctic, I headed out on my first adventure. After meeting up with one of our local partners I joined a group walking tour to the Sermermiut Settlement. For 4000 years, Inuit cultures lived in the settlement and in 2004 UNESCO named this a World Heritage site. The walk to the settlement is easy as there is a wooden walkway to protect the area. During the tour the guide gave us plenty of information about the settlement and its history. Before returning to our starting point we also visited the viewpoint at Nakkaavik. Here we could enjoy gorgeous views of the icebergs and get warm with hot tea or coffee.

Although walking and being active helped fight off the cold climate, the discovery of the heated flooring in my bathroom at Hotel Arctic was a welcome surprise when I returned to my room! After a delicious dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, the perfect ending to the day was sitting outside watching the sled dogs howl goodnight.

Sermermiut hike - Photo by Unnur Silfá Sled dogs at Hotel Arctic - Photo by Unnur Silfá

Dogsledding tour

On my second day it was time for the main adventure of my trip, a 5 hour dog sledding tour! In the morning I was picked up by a local guide who transported me to the kennels. There he introduced me to a local musher who would be my travel partner for the day. His English was limited, as is my Danish, so we happily agreed to work with some primitive sign language and facial expressions throughout the day. 

On the tour was also a family from Australia. However, the tour felt very much like a private experience. Due to the different ability of the sled dogs and the weight of the passengers, the sleds will go at different speeds. I really only met up with my new Australian friends during the rest stops which was about once every hour or so. Outside of the rest stops I hardly saw another person and it really did feel like I was at the end of the earth with my musher. I could not help but feel like I was on an fantastical adventure in this amazing landscape.

Our destination was the viewpoint at Nalluarsuk, which offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes I have ever witnessed. Here I stood silently with my musher, in the truly untouched nature, as we both marveled at the extreme beauty in front of us. Although we never said a word, I believe that we also shared a certain sadness – knowing that if us humans do not learn to treat our planet better, this will one day all disappear. It was without a doubt one of the most touching moments I have ever experienced with a total stranger 🙂

Afterwards, we headed back to Ilulissat on what was to be an adrenaline filled ride. As opposed to the ride to Nalluarsuk, the way back was mostly downhill. Butterflies filled my stomach and made me shriek with excitement as we rushed down the hills, much to the amusement of my musher.

Make no mistake – sitting still on a dog sled for 5 hours, in -24°C temperatures, is more than a “chilly” experience. I highly recommend taking advantage of the seal-skin clothing which can be rented with the tour operator. Without it I probably would have turned into a popsicle! 

My dogsledding musher - Photo by Unnur Silfá Greenland winter view at Nalluarsuk - Photo by Unnur Silfá

City walk and Iceberg boat tour

On my third day in Ilulissat, it was time to learn more about Ilulissat. In the morning I joined a guided group walking tour of the town. Our guide was a young, fun and informative guy. He not only told us interesting facts about the area but also included personal details. It was a nice “spice” to the tour to hear personal stories, such as how he experienced winters as a child. I loved the colorful houses of the town and learning more about how life goes on in this small town during the winter time.

After my city walk, I headed to my final adventure of this Greenland winter holiday: an Iceberg boat tour. This is one of the most popular activities in Ilulissat, so of course I had to try it! The Ilulissat icebergs are massive, over 100 meters in length and with a height of over 100 meters over the waters surface. Sailing among these giants was the perfect way to say goodbye to this beautiful region of Greenland, although it was incredibly cold!

The next morning, with the Arctic sun shining on Ilulissat, I headed to the airport for my flight back home. As the wheels lifted from the runway, I could not help but feel the overwhelming sensation that this would not be my last Greenland winter holiday.

Icefjord boat tour - Photo by Unnur Silfá Learning more about the icefjord - Photo by Unnur Silfá

Things that surprised me:

One of the first things I noticed was that the local inhabitants hang their laundry out to dry, even in winter! This is probably one of the oddest sights I’ve ever seen, but there must be something about this that works so I won’t question the validity of it! 🙂

Because of the extreme cold, cars are left running as much as possible. For example, while going on the Sermermiut walk our minibus was left running for 2 hours. This may seem impractical to those of us who live in warmer climates, but in this cold climate this is the way of life. 

As someone who is a fan of Asian cooking, I was pleasantly surprised to see the abundance of Thai food such as curries on offer in Ilulissat. There is even an Asian restaurant called “Hong Kong Café” in this small town! I did of course try the local cuisine, and would encourage everyone to do so, but there’s not a lot that beats a nice hot curry on a cold day 🙂

My previous experience of Greenland was that everything was terribly expensive. So I was surprised to see that in Ilulissat, most things were similarly priced as they are in Iceland. Eating out and buying groceries did not break the bank.

The church in Ilulissat - Photo by Unnur Silfá Kayaks waiting for summer - Photo by Unnur Silfá

Good to know:

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Ilulissat. However, the ATM is not open 24-hours so if you prefer to use cash I would recommend withdrawing Danish Krona (DKK) before arriving in Greenland.

Although I was lucky enough to have still weather, with little wind chill, it was still brutally cold at times. Warm under layers such as long johns and woolen socks are essential here. Couple  these with warm outer layers and a thick coat. In the case of Ilulissat, I found that it was better to pack too much and not use it rather than to pack to little and be cold. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the Greenlandic dogs are not pets. Visitors should admire them from a distance, but do no attempt to pet or feed them. 

If you plan on buying beer or alcoholic drinks at the supermarket, keep in mind that the selling hours are restricted. You can not buy alcohol after 6 pm on weekdays, 1 pm on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays.

Would you like to experience a Greenland winter holiday? Click here to learn more about our Greenland winter adventure tour.

Unnur Silfá Eyfells
Posted in October 2017