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Introducing Greenland

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'When you've seen the world there's always Greenland' goes the old travellers' saying. But why wait till then? Greenland is not a cheap destination, but few places combine such magnificent scenery, such clarity of light and such raw power of nature. Vast swaths of beautiful, unfenced wilderness give adventurers unique freedom to wander at will, whether on foot, by ski or by dogsled. With virtually no roads, transportation is expensive, but splurging on helicopter and boat rides is worth every penny. These whisk you over truly magnificent mountainscapes and glaciers or through some of the planet's most spectacular fjords. Greenland also offers world-beating but charmingly uncommercialised opportunities for sea kayaking, rock climbing and salmon fishing.

The world's biggest noncontinental island has the world's sparsest population. Nonetheless, scattered mainly along Greenland's west coast are dozens of photogenic little villages of colourfully painted wooden cottages, plus a few small towns as well as the capital, Nuuk Town (Godthåb). In the south there's an appealing sprinkling of emerald-lawned sheep farms.

Culturally, the unique blend of Inuit and Danish blood has produced a Greenlandic society all of its own. This sometimes discordant mix of ancient and modern combines seal hunting and dogsledding with Carlsberg and kaffemiks. While it has many underlying social problems, Greenland suffers negligible crime, and sensitive visitors with a passionate but unaggressive interest in local ideas will find a fascinatingly rich culture beneath the thick façade of Greenlandic taciturnity.

With an ever-improving network of tourist offices, and comfortable if unflashy mini-hotels and hostels, Greenland is no longer the sole reserve of plutocratic cruise-ship passengers. However you travel, it's wise to schedule a wide safety margin for unpredictable weather. Leave ample time in each destination to unwind, soak up the midnight sun, watch icebergs explode or be dazzled by the magic of the aurora borealis.

Getting there in greenland

Technically it would be possible to reach Siorapaluk, the northernmost settlement in Greenland, from Canada's Ellesmere Island - either overland across the ice, as Inuit outlaw Qitdlaq did in the 1860s - or by kayak, like Jon Turk in the 1990s. Either will be an epic adventure - read Jon Turk's book Cold Oceans before you decide to attempt it. Otherwise, unless you're on a cruise, command your own boat or have sledded in from the North Pole, the only practical way to Greenland is by air. Most options are from Copenhagen (Denmark), but in summer there are limited connections from Iceland plus a handful of charter flights from Canada and Germany - at least, in some years.


• Sea

• Entering the destination

• Air


There are no ferries to Greenland. Royal Arctic Line cargo ships run roughly once a week from Aalborg (Denmark), but will not accept passengers. Yachtsmen should not underestimate the severity of weather conditions. Keep a careful eye on current DMI ice reports ( Imray ( sells Arctic Pilot charts (NP11 for Greenland's east coast, NP12 for the west coast) and the Faroe, Iceland and Greenland pilotage publication.


Cruises are inevitably expensive, but - when you consider Greenland's often awkward and pricey travel connections - they don't necessarily cost much more than equivalent land-based tours. Prices vary enormously according to comfort levels and the number of stops. Be aware that ice conditions can force disappointing route changes.

Entering Greenland

Arrival in Greenland is remarkably low key. Passports aren't stamped, and you might not even notice that you've passed through customs at all. Before you do so, use the on-arrival duty-free shop to stock up on relatively cheap booze. It will make great presents even if you don't drink yourself.

From Denmark

Year-round Air Greenland flies from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq four times weekly and to Narsarsuaq weekly. In summer there are two extra services on both routes. Either cost Dkr3607 one way (around €485). Standard return fares cost double. However, various discounts are available for unchangeable advance-purchase returns and for families travelling together. Booking six months ahead can net a considerable discount. It's well worth signing up online for Air Greenland's email bulletins; these sometimes alert you to discounts of up to 70%.

Travelling from Copenhagen to Nuuk involves a change, and costs Dkr4285 via Kangerlussuaq and Dkr4955 via Narsarsuaq.

Getting to Denmark

Kastrup Airport( is 9km from the centre of Copenhagen. Trains run every 20 minutes to the central station (approximately €3, 13 minutes). Copenhagen is globally well connected, notably by airline SAS (, part of the Star Alliance, and throughout Europe by budget airline Maersk (7010 7474; UK-based EasyJet ( flies to Copenhagen from London Stansted, Bristol, Newcastle and Berlin. Curiously, Norwegian airline Wideroe ( has a booking engine which covers several other airlines (including Maersk and SAS) and can sometimes give better prices out of Copenhagen than the airlines themselves.

Another cheap way to reach Copenhagen is by using Ryanair ( low-cost flights from London Stansted to Malmö Sturup Airport ( Malmö is in Sweden, but it's easily accessed from Copenhagen via the remarkable 16km Øresund tunnel-bridge link. Connecting Flybus 737 (€15, 45 minutes) takes you directly to Copenhagen central train station. Malmo Aviation ( has seasonal bargain flights from Malmö to Glasgow, Nice and Stockholm.

Sleeping in Copenhagen

Many passengers will be effectively forced to spend the night in Copenhagen. In the airport complex itself is a Hilton hotel (3250 1501; fax 3252 8528; If they bed down tidily, ultra-budget travellers with next-day flight tickets are permitted to sleep till 7am in the seating area opposite the airport's main left-luggage office (between terminals 2 and 3).

In Copenhagen city a great room-finding service is available at Use-It (3373 0620;; 13 Rådhusstraede; 9am-7pm mid-Jun-mid-Sep, 11am-4pm Mon-Thu & 11am-2pm Fri rest of yr), which also offers free Internet. The tourist information office (7022 2442;; 4A Vesterbrogade; 9am-4pm Mon-Fri & 9am-2pm Sat Sep-Apr, 9am-6pm Mon-Sat May-Jun, 9am-8pm Mon-Sat & 10am-6pm Sun Jul-Aug) can also help. It charges Dkr60 per booking but is conveniently close to the train station (facing the entrance to Tivoli) and also has an airport desk (3231 2447; terminal 3; 6am-midnight).

From Iceland

Twice weekly from mid-June till early September, Air Iceland fly into Narsarsuaq (South Greenland) from Reykjavík (Iceland). Paperless tickets can be booked online, though the website can be somewhat temperamental - if you don't get a confirmation message on the Step 5 page, don't panic. Send an email, and Air Iceland can organise the booking manually. The flights cost Ikr30, 000 (around €340) each way, but if you book well ahead and stay less than a month it's possible to get half-price bonus fares. If you wait till June to book a summer trip, there may not be any space left whatsoever, though those prepared to gamble can occasionally find last-minute bargains. Air Iceland also flies from Reykjavík to Kulusuk, and from Reykjavík to Nerlerit Inaat (Constable Point) once or twice weekly all year. The fare to Nerlerit Inaat is Ikr30, 000 one way. From Kulusuk only, it's possible to continue to the rest of Greenland, but only at considerable expense. The summer flights to Kulusuk allow you to make a token day return to Greenland, a possibility offered by many tourist agencies in Iceland.

Air Iceland flights leave from Reykjavík City Airport (code RKV; 569 4100), which is a walkable 1.5km from BSI, Reykjavík's bus terminal, or Ikr500 by taxi. From central Reykjavík or the youth hostel take bus No 5.

Don't confuse Reykjavík City Airport with Keflavik (Reykjavík International) Airport(code KEF;, where virtually all of Iceland's other international flights arrive. That's some 50km to the west. Bus transfers from Keflavik to BSI cost Ikr1100; they depart around 25 minutes after each plane arrives, even late at night.

Getting to Iceland

Generally, the cheapest way to reach Iceland is to fly from London Stansted to Keflavik on low-cost airline Iceland Express(550 0600;, which has one-way fares as low as UK₤68, taxes included. Reaching Stansted from the rest of Europe is easy with a wide variety of low-cost airlines, whose fares are often cheaper than the train from central London. Iceland Express also has fares from Copenhagen to Keflavik for around €100. Iceland's national carrier, Icelandair (, has much more comprehensive connections to 16 European cities and five American destinations (Minneapolis-St Paul, New York, Boston, Baltimore-Washington and Orlando). It can prove cost-effective to fly transatlantic on Icelandair, using its Iceland stopover as an opportunity to visit Greenland. Icelandair's London-Keflavik fares have fallen considerably to compete with Iceland Express.

Sleeping in Reykjavík

Reykjavík Tourist Information Centre (590 1500; www.visitReykjaví; Adalstraeti 2; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat & 10am-2pm Sun mid-Sep-May, 8.30am-7pm daily Jun-mid-Sep) has a free booking service and an extremely comprehensive accommodation listing on its website. The airport bus from Keflavik will, on request, continue past several town-centre hotels to terminate at the superbly friendly and eco-aware City Youth Hostel (553 8110;; Sundlaugavegur 34).

Keflavik airport stays open all night, but Reykjavík City Airport does not.

From Canada

Great Canadian Travel (204 949 0199, toll free 0800 661 3830; operates a handful of summer charter flights between Canada and Greenland. In 2005 departures are 10 July and 17 July from Iqaluit (airport code YFB) on Nunavut's Baffin Island to Aasiaat (code JEG) on Disko Bay, with returns a week later (one way/return C$650/1440). In August 2004 there were three additional flights from Ottawa to Kangerlussuaq via Iqaluit. Flight-only tickets are sold only as a fallback for seats not filled by the company's tour groups.

From germany

In 2004 Troll Tours (82 92210;, in German) operated direct flights between Frankfurt and Kangerlussuaq (Greenland) for the bargain price of €699 return. Sadly, these were dropped in 2005 but may be restarted in future years. Check the website just in case.


Airports & airlines

Greenland's main international airports are at Kangerlussuaq (code SFJ) and Narsarsuaq (code UAK; 665266). Departure tax is paid when purchasing tickets.

The only scheduled airlines licensed to serve Greenland:

Air Greenland (code GL; Greenland 343434, Denmark 3231 4223; The national carrier.

Air Iceland (code NY; 570 3030;; hub Reykjavík)

SAS (code SK; Denmark 7010 2000, Greenland 841030, UK 0870-6072 7727, USA 800-221 2350;; hub Copenhagen) Not operating to Greenland at the time of writing, but plans future code-sharing with Air Greenland. 

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Money & costs in greenland

Contents • Costs • Money

There's no point denying it: travel in Greenland isn't cheap. The vast distances and severe lack of roads mean that travel costs can easily spiral. Depending on your budget, your best bet is to limit the number of locations you visit and save some money for boat, dogsled or snowmobile trips to 'get out on the land' and experience what it is that makes the area so special.

Exchanging money

Travellers cheques are a poor idea in Greenland. You'll pay a Dkr75 commission to change them, and even then that's usually only possible at Grønlandsbanken in Nuuk, Qaqortoq, Maniitsoq, Sisimiut and Ilulissat. Changing cash (euros, US dollars and other major currencies) is cheaper (Dkr30), and where there's no bank it's generally possible in post offices. Even in the smallest branches, confused clerks can eventually manage this after a flurry of telephone calls. Still, it's wise to carry plenty of krone with you.


With most common credit or debit cards you can withdraw money using ATMs at banks and a few bigger post offices. However, most are inside, and even hole-in-the-wall ATMs generally close between 6pm and 6am.

Credit cards

Major credit cards are accepted at better restaurants, hotels and shops, and at most tourist offices. Supermarkets and Pilersuisoq shops usually say that they take credit cards, and they can give cash back with purchases, but in smaller settlements the card-readers are frequently out of order, so you should have back-up cash.

Health & safety in greenland


• Before you go

• Dangers & annoyances

• In transit

• While you're there

Before you go
Prevention is key to staying healthy while abroad. A little planning before departure, particularly for pre-existing illnesses, will save trouble later. See your dentist before a long trip, carry a spare pair of contact lenses and glasses, and take your optical prescription with you. Bring medications in their original, clearly labelled containers. A signed and dated letter from your doctor describing your medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to have a doctor's letter documenting their medical necessity.


If you're an EU citizen or from Switzerland, Iceland, Norway or Liechtenstein, the European Health Insurance Card will cover you for emergency health care or in the case of accident while in European Economic Area (EEA) countries, which include Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Note that Greenland isn't part of the EEA but is covered by a separate reciprocal health-care agreement with the UK.

Citizens of other countries should find out if there is a reciprocal arrangement for free medical care between their country and the country visited. For travel to Arctic North America or Arctic Russia you should take out health insurance. If you do need health insurance, strongly consider a policy that covers you for the worst possible scenario, such as an accident requiring emergency evacuation. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures. The former option is generally preferable, as it doesn't require you to pay out of pocket in a foreign country.

Recommended vaccinations

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of their destination. Since most vaccines don't produce immunity until at least two weeks after they're given, visit a physician at least six weeks before departure.

Online resources

The WHO's publication International Travel and Health is revised annually and is available online at Other useful websites include (travel-health recommendations for every country, updated daily), (general travel advice), (advice on travel for the elderly) and (information on women's health and contraception).

Further reading

Health Advice for Travellers (currently called the 'T6' leaflet) is an annually updated leaflet by the Department of Health in the UK available free in post offices. It contains some general information, legally required and recommended vaccines for different countries, and reciprocal health agreements. Lonely Planet's Travel with Children includes advice on travel health for younger children. Other recommended references include Traveller's Health, by Dr Richard Dawood (Oxford University Press), and The Traveller's Good Health Guide, by Ted Lankester (Sheldon Press).

Dangers & annoyances

Theft in Greenland is rare, and violent crime mostly results from family feuds or broken relationships, both of which are highly unlikely to affect most short-term visitors. However, alcohol-fuelled fights, including volleys of beer bottles, are not uncommon in and around pubs, especially on pay-day Friday nights. Drunks can be scarily prone to inexplicable and violent mood swings, so be sensitive in bars and don't stay too late. Rampant sexually transmitted diseases (in 2002 gonorrhoea was more common than flu) should make you cautious about accepting the more intimate forms of Greenlandic hospitality.

Otherwise, most of the dangers found in Greenland come from nature. The perils are only severe if you're not properly prepared or if you ignore local advice. It's crucial to remember just how isolated you are. Twisting an ankle when hiking in the countryside could become a major catastrophe if nobody knows where you are: there's virtually no hope of anyone just wandering by. The conditions are extremely fickle, and you should be well prepared for cold and wet weather. Fog can descend suddenly, so while hiking you'd be wise to keep a stock of food and a survival bag in case you get caught and can't find your way back.

'If you don't fear the sea, you won't last a year in Greenland, ' say local fisherfolk. If people tell you that the sea is too rough to go out, believe them. Even if it means missing a key excursion, it's not wise to push a reluctant boatman to make an unsafe journey. Small boats are easily swamped in strong winds, and the seas are so cold that your chances of swimming even a short distance to shore would be tiny. Flotation suits give you a few extra minutes to contemplate death should your boat sink. Even if you do make it to land, the chances of being rescued before you become hypothermic are minimal. There is a lifeboat-style rescue service, but it comprises only four boats for all of Greenland. Even helicopter rescues can take several hours - as well as tens of thousands of dollars - to reach you.

Polar bears are very rare and they generally avoid humans. Where they are a hazard locals will advise you to carry a gun and might lend you one. If you're cornered by a bear when unarmed, try to keep your cool.

Be careful how you store food when camping, to avoid attracting foxes.

Major summer annoyances are clouds of mosquitoes, midges and mini-flies, which seek out eardrums, shoot up nostrils and make kamikaze attacks on eyeballs. They're at their worst in July, especially on wilderness hikes, when a head-net is virtually essential. Head-nets are widely sold for around Dkr40, some designs working best when worn over a baseball-style cap. Insects are curiously absent in sheep-farming areas, and fortunately few seem to come indoors. At night you'll rarely be bothered, and by mid-September most have disappeared.

In transit

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Blood clots may form in the legs during plane flights, chiefly because of prolonged immobility - the longer the flight, the greater the risk. The chief symptom of DVT is swelling or pain of the foot, ankle or calf, usually but not always on just one side. When a blood clot travels to the lungs, it may cause chest pain and breathing difficulties. Travellers with any of these symptoms should immediately seek medical attention.

To prevent the development of DVT on long flights you should walk about the cabin, contract leg muscles while sitting, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcohol and tobacco.

Jet lag & motion sickness

To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones), try drinking plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eating light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to nat- ural sunlight and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.

Antihistamines such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and meclizine (Antivert, Bonine) are usually the first choice for treating motion sickness. A herbal alternative is ginger.

While you're there

Availability & cost of health care

Good health care is readily available, and for minor, self-limiting illnesses pharmacists can dispense valuable advice and over-the-counter medication. They can also advise when more specialised help is required. The standard of dental care is usually good; however, it is sensible to have a dental checkup before a long trip.

In Greenland and Arctic Scandinavia health care is excellent. Many smaller settlements do not have a resident doctor, but local nursing stations are generally very well equipped and staffed with specially trained nurses qualified to deal with most problems. For serious illness or emergencies a medical evacuation is generally necessary and can be exorbitantly expensive. Make sure your insurance covers you for this.

Infectious diseases

Tick-borne encephalitis is spread by tick bites. It is a serious infection of the brain, and vaccination is advised for those in risk areas who are unable to avoid tick bites (such as campers, forestry workers and ramblers). Two doses of vaccine will give a year's protection; three doses up to three years.

Rabies is a viral infection of the brain and spinal cord that is almost always fatal. Rabid dogs and foxes are found in Arctic areas, and you should be very wary of any animal acting strangely. The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals; if an animal bites or scratches you, clean the wound with large amounts of soap and water and contact local health authorities immediately.

Although tuberculosis is increasingly common in Arctic communities the disease is only spread through prolonged close contact with an infected individual.

Traveller's diarrhoea

In most Arctic areas tap water is safe, but it's best to always check with a local. If you're unsure you should boil, filter or chemically disinfect (with iodine tablets) any water you drink. Eat fresh fruits or vegetables only if cooked or peeled; be wary of dairy products that might contain unpasteurized milk. Make sure meats are properly cooked, and avoid buffet-style meals. If a restaurant is full of locals the food is probably safe.

If you develop diarrhoea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably an oral rehydration solution such as dioralyte. A few loose stools don't require treatment, but if you start having more than four or five stools a day you should start taking an antibiotic (usually a quinoline drug) and an antidiarrhoeal agent (such as loperamide). If diarrhoea is bloody, persists for more than 72 hours or is accompanied by fever, shaking, chills or severe abdominal pain, you should seek medical attention.


Giardia is an intestinal parasite that lives in the faeces of humans and animals and is normally contracted through drinking water. It is one of the most common parasitic infections in humans in Arctic regions. Problems can start several weeks after you've been exposed to the parasite, and symptoms may sometimes remit for a few days and then return; this can go on for several weeks or even longer.

The earliest signs are a swelling of the stomach, followed by pale faeces, diarrhoea, frequent gas and possibly headache, nausea and depression. If you exhibit these symptoms you should visit a doctor for treatment.

Hypothermia & frostbite

Proper preparation will reduce the risks of getting hypothermia. Even on a warm day in the Arctic the weather can change rapidly. Take waterproof garments and warm layers, and inform others of your route.

Acute hypothermia follows a sudden drop of temperature over a short time. Chronic hypothermia is caused by a gradual loss of temperature over hours.

Hypothermia starts with shivering, loss of judgement and clumsiness. Unless rewarming occurs, the sufferer deteriorates into apathy, confusion and coma. Prevent further heat loss by seeking shelter, wearing warm, dry clothing, drinking hot, sweet drinks and sharing body warmth.

Frostbite is caused by freezing of and subsequent damage to bodily extremities. It is dependent on wind-chill, temperature and length of exposure. Frostbite starts as frostnip (white, numb areas of skin) from which complete recovery is expected with rewarming. As frostbite develops, the skin blisters and becomes black. Loss of damaged tissue eventually occurs. Wear adequate clothing, stay dry, keep well hydrated and ensure you have adequate calorie intake to prevent frostbite. Treatment involves rapid rewarming. Avoid refreezing and rubbing the affected areas.

Insect bites & stings

As the surface of the Arctic tundra melts it becomes waterlogged as the permafrost prevents water from draining. Couple this with the warmer temperatures of summer, and you've got a perfect breeding ground for insects. Arctic mosquitoes can be ferocious and can be the bane of your existence on a summer trip up north. Bring strong DEET-based insect repellent and a head-net, and wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.

Bees and wasps cause real problems only to those with a severe allergy (anaphylaxis). If you have such an allergy, carry EpiPen or similar adrenaline injections.

Travelling with children

All travellers with children should know how to treat minor ailments and when to seek medical treatment. Make sure the children are up to date with routine vaccinations, and discuss possible travel vaccines well before departure, as some vaccines are not suitable for children under a year old.

Remember to avoid contaminated food and water. If your child has vomiting or diarrhoea, lost fluid and salts must be replaced. It may be helpful to take rehydration powders for reconstituting with boiled water.

Children should be encouraged to avoid and mistrust any dogs or other mammals because of the risk of rabies and other diseases.

Sexual health

Condoms are widely available across the Arctic. When buying condoms, look for a European CE mark, which means they have been rigorously tested. Keep them in a cool, dry place or they may crack and perish.

Emergency contraception is most effective if taken within the next 24 hours after unprotected sex.

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