Excite Travel
Travel Home
Beaten Track
Facts at a GlanceEnvironmentEconomic Profile
Facts for the TravelerMoney & CostsWhen to Go

Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: Greenland (Grønland) or Kalaallit Nunaat (local name)

Area: 2,175,600 sq km (848,484 sq mi); estimated 341,600 sq km ice-free, 1,834,000 sq km ice-covered

Population: 56,000

Capital city: Nuuk (Godthåb) (pop. 14,000)

People: 87% Greenlander, 13% Danish and others

Language: Eskimo dialects, Danish, Greenlandic (an Inuit dialect)

Religion: Evangelical Lutheran, shamanism

Government: Self-governing Danish territory since 1979

Head of State: Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

Prime Minister: Jonathan Motzfeldt


Greenland is so far north that its residents are the first to see Old Nick fly across the rooftops each year. It's shaped like a witch's shoe lying on its side, with the back of the heel flush against the arctic polar cap, the tongue sloping down the Denmark Strait and the turned-up toes pointing into the Atlantic Ocean. Over three quarters of the country is unremittingly ice: that adds up to a little under three Texas's worth of ice or, in other words, a whole lotta scotch on the rocks. The sheer weight of all this ice has caused the middle of the country to sag, forming a concave basin which reaches a depth of 360m (1180ft) below sea level. Above the ground towering crystal columns of ice dot the landscape, glaciers calve monstrous icebergs into the sea, and fjords knit the shoreline. If the cosmic defrost button ever got pushed, the ice slush would be enough to turn coastal cities around the world into large urban swimming pools.

The peculiar geography of Greenland and its proximity to the North Pole results in a number of spectacular natural phenomena, but none more awesome than the aurora borealis and Fata Morgana effect. The aurora borealis' wafting curtains of coloured lights, most often a faint green or light rose colour, are caused by charged particles from the sun colliding with the earth's atmosphere. The lights are an ooh-ah spectacle but the Fata Morgana is a seriously trippy affair. Reflections of water, ice and snow, combined with temperature inversions, cause the illusion of solid, well defined features where there are none. Hence those early apocryphal tales of ships sailing on the ice, large cities in the middle of nowhere and green forests appearing on the horizon.

Most of the vegetation in Greenland is stunted but in late summer the lowland areas of the south are carpeted with wild flowers - chamomile, dandelion, harebell, and Arctic poppies - and wild berries. The harsh climate puts off all but the hardiest of animals but what the country lacks in numbers it makes up for in exotica. Above the ground you can see caribou, musk oxen, polar bears, lemmings, and (much-prized for their pelts) the Arctic white fox and blue-grey fox. In the water any number of whale species is likely to give you the fluke, from the Disney-cute orca, or killer whale, to the beautiful white beluga whale. The icy seas are also home to the narwhal with its unicorn tusk, and of course a whole passel of seals and walrus.

Greenland and Greenpeace are a surprisingly volatile mix. Greenpeace's anti-sealing and anti-whaling stance effectively destroyed Greenland's economic base, particularly in north Greenland where subsistence hunting represents 80% of the income. Since then, Greenpeace have recognised that Greenland is a different kettle of fish and (except in the case of endangered species) subsistence hunting is now accepted, but many Greenlanders still feel bitter about the organisation's intrusion into their traditional way of life.

Summer is a relative term in Greenland but basically it's that time between May and July when the thermometer busts a gut to climb over 20°C (68°F). This is minus the wind factor so it still means a warm jacket or pullover. This is midnight sun time when every day is, well, a day

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$945 million

GDP per head: US$16,100

Annual growth: 0.6%

Inflation: 1.2%

Major industries: fish processing (mainly shrimp), handicrafts, furs, small shipyards, tourism

Major trading partners: EU (esp. Denmark), Iceland, Japan, Norway, USA

Member of EU: no

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Citizens of Nordic countries require only an identification card; citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, the US and EU countries require a valid passport but no visa for a maximum stay of 90 days. Most other countries require a visa.

Health risks: Hypothermia, runny noses, Fata Morgana

Time: GMT/UTC plus two hours (three hours in summer)

Electricity: 220v, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
 Currency:Danish krone (Dkr)
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$4-6
  • Mid-range: US$6-10
  • Top-end: US$10 and upwards

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$20-35
  • Mid-range: US$35-125
  • Top-end hotel: US$125-230
  • Greenland is not the cheapest travel destination in the world but if you're prepared to stay at youth hostels or camping grounds and self-cater you could just about get away with surviving on US$40-50 a day. Upgrading to something with solid walls and private facilities and eating food that doesn't come from a can will see you shelling out nearly US$100 a day. If you're looking at full-on Inuit hospitality and luxury complete with mini-bars, TVs and European cuisine expect to drop over US$350 a day.

    Two banks operate throughout the country; Nuna bank and GrØnlandsbanken, which readily exchange travellers cheques for a commission of around US$5 and offer cash advances on Visa and Mastercard. Major credit cards are accepted in tourist resorts and restaurants and hotels. Larger towns now have ATMs that recognise all major foreign plastic.

    A service charge is normally included in the bill. Additional tipping is rare.

    When to Go

    If you think bone-chilling weather and long arctic nights when the sun don't shine is not for you, then aim to be there sometime during the summer months: mid-July to the first week in September. This is feel-good time for Greenlanders; the days are long, the tundra is a riot of wild flowers and red berries and there is a general feeling of wellbeing and contentment throughout the land. The trade off for these fabulous Arctic summers is mind-bending plagues of mosquitoes that sting all the way through late June to early August. If you stay on until October, you'll get a ringside seat for the aurora borealis, although the lights can appear as early as August. Just about all Greenlandic festivals and events occur in the summer months. Going in the harsh winter months between December, January and February is just not a good idea unless you're a scientist studying seasonal effects, or a masochist, or both.

     Back to topOn to Off the Beaten Track
    Powered by Lonely Planet

     • Activities & Events
     • Attractions
     • Destination Greenland
     • Getting There, Getting Around
     • History & Culture
     • Information Station
     • Off the Beaten Track
     • Recommended Reading

    © 2003 Lonely Planet Publications Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved Although we've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by any person resulting from information published on this site. We encourage you to verify any critical information with the relevant authorities before you travel. This includes information on visa requirements, health and safety, customs, and transportation.