Defying Expectations

One of Europe's northernmost attractions, Greenland resides just beyond the tourist radar—and well beyond what you'd expect.
By Josh Kucera
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Sea Kayaking in Eastern Greenald, Tasilaq
ARCTIC RECLINE: Eastern Greenland, near Tasilaq (Tyler Stableford/Getty.)
Getting to Greenland
Greenland Air opened a direct flight from Baltimore in 2007—but had to cancel the route less than a year after its inaugural flight. Until that route is reinstated returns, you can reach Greenland via Iceland Air , or on Greeland Air via Copenhagen. Contact Greenland's National Tourism Board for the most up-to-date information.

Arriving in Brattahlid, where Erik the Red established the first European outpost in the new world more than 1,000 years ago, it's easy to understand why he named his new home "Greenland." Thick grass and yellow wildflowers cover the verdant hills rising up above the fjord that Erik sailed through to arrive here, and it must have been a welcome sight; Erik had been exiled from Iceland, where the landscape is beautiful and dramatic, but rarely as lush as this.

Before I went, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from Greenland. Cold, maybe, and desolation. But I'm pretty sure it was not the desire to lie in the soft grass and soak up the sunshine.

Far from a barren wasteland, the country boasts dramatic fjords—many of them choked with luminescent blue icebergs—majestic mountains, and more green space than it gets credit for (even given its name). And while it's barely populated—about 56,000 people living on an island three times the size of Texas—Greenlanders have a unique culture that melds their Inuit heritage with elements of the Danish, who colonized them in the 18th century and who still exercise sovereignty over the island (though an election this November may establish a new relationship with Copenhagen, giving the local government more authority and hopefully independence).

Nominal crowds, incomparably pristine scenery, some of the cleanest air and vivid colors I've ever experienced—no wonder luminaries like Bill Gates and the founders of Google peg Greenland as one of their favorite vacation spots.

But, as you'd expect, rubbing shoulders with billionaires does come at a price—in this, quite literally. Getting there requires flying through Iceland or Denmark and will cost upwards of $2,000. And when you arrive it doesn't get any cheaper. Hotels of a Super 8 standard run around $200 a night, and getting from one place to another—either by boat or regularly scheduled helicopter flights (there are no intercity roads)—can cost from $100 for a short jaunt to more than $500 across the country. Beers in the diveyest bars cost $10 and dinner in the swankest restaurants—I mean, you've come all this way, why scrimp now?—run well into the triple digits per person.

Published: 15 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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