A solo eight-day trip to Greenland, featuring Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat
Eight days in Greenland in June isn't the most typical summer holiday out there. Especially when you're travelling alone, with just a small backpack for company. Let's take a step back. Why Greenland? There was a degree of arrogance to my choice, I'll admit that. I was initially planning to hit up Svalbard this summer, the why-would-you-go-there island above Norway where you're compelled by law to carry a gun to fend off polar bears. But the thing was, I knew people who had already been there (my social circle is as strange as me when it comes to travel).
But I didn't know anyone who had been to Greenland. I realised this when browsing the Lonely Planet website and seeing a write-up on the country from a clearly wild and unconventional travel writer. The photos were incredible; the remoteness overwhelmingly tempting. I researched flights, swore at the price of them, then booked a trip to Greenland for June anyway. It would be ten days of travel in total: six days in Ilulissat, a day in Kangerlussuaq (Greenland's main hub for air travel) on either side, and a day in Copenhagen on either side of that.
Having returned from my Greenland adventure earlier this week, I can say it was so very worth it. Ilulissat was a place to ponder on rocks overlooking icebergs, hike alone through incredible landscapes, kayak at midnight between the ice, and experience a landscape that was entirely alien to me. I read a lot, thought a lot, and relished the escape from everyday life. If you're looking for something similar, give Greenland a thought.
A key point I'll make: Kangerlussuaq is the main base for air travel connections, but that doesn't mean it's a place you want to stick around for a week (I didn't, yippee). I stayed in Kangerlussuaq one night either side of my trip, which included one full day there, and this was easily enough. The town itself, well, it's not really a town as such. You can tell it's an ex U.S. military base. It still feels like a military base today, especially during my trip when half the Danish army seemed to be visiting for a training week. There's a supermarket, a few places to eat, the airport... and that's about it.
Saying that, I would recommend doing what I did and booking the ice cap tour that World of Greenland - Arctic Circle offers. The bus trip is pretty incredible, and walking on the ice cap is a brilliant experience to take home. The portion of the Danish army in Kangerlussuaq joined me on my tour, which notably diminished my peace and time for spiritual contemplation, but I'm pretty sure this is an exception to the norm. They must have planes to fly, drills to battle through, and Denmark to defend, right?
There were one or two non-Danish-army people on the tour, and the tour was in Danish before being translated into English (for me, ahem). The guide was, in so many ways, brilliant (I'm yet to meet a Danish guide that isn't brilliant). I stuck out like a sore thumb being a non-Danish speaker, so at regular intervals he bellowed "where's Lucy", or "Lucy, can you hear ok?'. I'd say it was more special treatment than patronisation.
After my brief stay in Kangerlussuaq, I headed over the airport to get into a tiny plane to fly to Ilulissat (all without going through airport security: this, rather incredibly, is not a feature of internal flights). The seating is open, so as soon as you hear the bing of the announcement, head to the door to the gate so you're in for a chance of a window seat. I wasn't speedy enough for my Kangerlussuaq-Ilulissat flight (I fared much better on my return), but the glimpses I got of the view told me this adventure was going to be pretty damn incredible. And it was.
When you get to Ilulissat, wander through the town and get your bearings. Bask in your overwhelm (the icebergs! the colourful huts! holy shit, there's a Nike shop!) and then plan when you'll wander towards the wooden boardwalk to the ice fjord. If you miss this, it'd be very sad indeed. Allocate about an hour for a there-and-back wander from the centre, although you may well get caught up taking photos.
When I walked there on my first afternoon, I knew I'd be back another morning and evening to gawp at the light and try to further my credibility as amateur photographer. I don't know much, but I know the light down by the ice fjord is very beautiful.
Another way I entertained myself in Ilulissat was with a lot of hiking, especially on the blue and yellow hiking trails that are marked out. I'll be writing about this in more detail (look out for the link here).
After exerting yourself, you should really head over to Hotel Arctic for their buffet lunch. Bloody hell, that was good. I'm also very glad I made the transition from vegetarian to pescatarian-if-sustainably-sourced (and usually only when I'm in a restaurant, as my fish culinary skills are limited). Prawns, a great omelette type dish (avoiding the bacon lying on the top of the pan), rye bread, beetroot, all sorts of yum. The buffet was approximately 150DKK and runs from 12:00-14:00 (I went on a Monday, although I'm not sure of their schedule).
After only seeing Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat, I'm keen to return and see some of the towns further south and east. One such place would be Tasiilaq, a beautiful spot in the east - and greener than Ilulissat - which sounds spectacular for hiking.
In case you're curious about accommodation in Greenland, here's a run-down of what I didn't do first. I met a girl from Bergen, Norway who had just a tent with her (albeit in a humongous backpack, and she ended up opting for the youth hostel for her first night in Ilulissat). I also met a man with just a sleeping bag (he was about seventy, but clearly hardcore). I'm adventurous, but I was going for the under-a-roof approach for this trip.
In Kangerlussuaq, I stayed at Polar Lodge for DKK 785/night for a simple single room with shared bathroom. During my time in Ilulissat, I hopped around a bit. Firstly because I quite like doing this (and fear the consequences of being stuck somewhere I dislike for the duration of a trip). Also, because accommodation seems to get booked up pretty fast in Greenland. For my first three nights, I stayed at Icefiord Apartments (DKK 825/night), a great little cabin-type studio apartment that's owned by Hotel Icefiord, a bit further out of the centre of town. It was cosy, clean, and had a brilliant view of the water.
I then had one night of luxury at Hotel Arctic, dubbed by Alexander Armstrong in Land of the Midnight Sun as Hotel **** because of its overwhelming pride of its 4* status, where I spent most the night battling the heat: an unprecedented outcome for a night in Greenland. It was a great room with an incredible view of the icebergs, but shit was it stuffy. To get air to circulate I had to open the curtains, which gave the midnight sun a chance to make my body feel like it was midday. "Time to get up and go!", my body clock lovingly sang at 3am. A Superior Double was the only available option for the night on Booking.com, which set me back a hefty DKK 1825. Worth it for the kettle, tea bags, and hot chocolate powder on offer. And the view.
I had the same heat problem the next night (maybe Greenland has an exceptional love of central heating?) in IceCap Apartments: a wearier version of the Icefiord Apartments. This lodging choice - undoubtedly a downgrade, but still not bad - came with a shared kitchen and bathroom, which added a bit of a hostel feel to the experience. But, as with Hotel Icefiord Apartments, it did have a washing machine and dryer. Excellent news for my limited clothing that was rapidly becoming sweaty and unsociable. From the three options, I'd easily go with Icefiord Apartments or Hotel Arctic again.
So my introduction to Greenland is now complete. If this has piqued your interest, fear not: you can await a series of follow-up posts on topics that come to mind as possible themes of interest for fellow lovers of the Arctic Circle.