Thinking of Greenland probably conjures up images of the northern lights over frozen tundra, roaming polar bears, icebergs and Inuit culture.
We love this jewel of the north and hope you will too! This is a captivating country that people sometimes misunderstand. So we wanted to share some fun Greenland facts about the world’s largest island (hidden fact #1 right here) to spark your interest, or inspire you to make your dream trip a reality.
- For an off-the-beaten-path travel experience, browse these Greenland tour packages
Your introduction to Greenland
Before you're dazzled with fun facts about Greenland, let’s begin with a quick-fire bonus round of essential facts about this country:
- Greenland is located both north and south of the Arctic Circle.
- It's closest to Canada’s east coast and is connected to North America via a submarine ridge.
- Greenland's closest European neighbour is Iceland.
- The country is technically part of Denmark, but has home rule with its own domestic government.
- Greenland's capital is Nuuk, a small settlement of around 18,000 inhabitants.
- The locals are called Greenlanders, and 90% are Inuit. Their official language is Greenlandic.
- Greenlanders also speak Danish and English.
- The local currency is the Danish krone (DKK).
Fun fact #1: It was once green
If your first thought about Greenland was, ‘Why is it even called Green?’, well that is an excellent question. The majority of the land is covered in ice.
The name is said to have been given by Erik the Red, who settled there in the 900s after being exiled from Iceland for murder. Some say he gave that name as a kind of medieval marketing, hoping to get more settlers to join him.
Others believe temperatures were higher and the land greener at the time, leading many people to join him. There were about 280 farms in the two earliest main settlements.
Fun fact #2: Most of Greenland is covered by an ice cap
Greenland boasts one of the world's largest ice sheets, second only to Antarctica. It affects sea level and covers more than 1.8 million square kilometres. That is, a whopping 80% of the country. Which means there is an ice free area in Greenland!
Fun fact #3: It still has some green parts
While only 20% of the land isn’t covered by the Greenland ice sheet, the remaining land lives up to the country’s name. South Greenland is technically at a lower, warmer latitude than Iceland, but unlike Iceland it doesn't sit on the Gulf Stream. This means it doesn't benefit from the same temperate conditions.
- Head to Greenland in summer to make the most of whale watching opportunities
Fun fact #4: You could bathe in a hot spring here
Hot springs are often reminiscent of Iceland, but Greenland also offers a landscape full of these naturally-occurring bathing spots. On the island of Uunartoq, you’ll find the springs that are warm enough to soak in.
- If you like the sound of luxuriating in a hotspring, check out these relaxing spa tours in Iceland
Fun fact #5: It boasts 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites
Speaking of ice, one of Greenland’s 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites, is the Ilulissat Icefjord on the west coast. This is also where you'll find Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the most active glaciers in the world, making it the most visited site in Greenland.
The two other sites are Kujataa and the Aasivissuit to Nipisat region. Kujataa is a subarctic farming landscape which highlights the cultural histories of the Norse and Inuit hunters, and farmers who developed the area.
Aasivissuit – Nipisat, meanwhile, is an Inuit hunting ground found inside the Arctic Circle.
- Explore these landscapes for yourself on a Greenland ice cap tour or Greenland iceberg package
- Related: My Greenland – among the icebergs
Fun fact #6: You can only fly there from Iceland and Denmark
If you’ve been interested in visiting Greenland, you may have Googled some flights and realised that you can’t fly directly from either the USA or most of continental Europe – unlike what The Secret Life of Walter Mitty film shows us.
But don't worry, you can fly to one of Greenland’s many airports via Iceland and Denmark.
- Explore two fascinating nations in one trip on a tour of Greenland and Iceland
Fun fact #7: There are no roads
Some films would have us believe that there are roads on Greenland, when in reailty, there aren't. Although of course, there are some streets within the towns themselves there are no roads connecting towns and villages.
This means that transport in Greenland centres on boats and air traffic. In fact, there are airports and heliports across the country. Meanwhile, land travel is possible by snowmobile and dogsled.
Fun fact #8: It is extremely sparsely populated
The total population of Greenland is around 57,000 people. This is about the same size as Port Orange, Florida (US) or Aldershot (UK).
This small number of residents is particularly incredible when you think of the country's vast size, which is comparable to France, the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium combined. That's three times the size of the state of Texas!
- Learn more about the local communities on an Inuit culture tour of Greenland
Fun fact #9: Some popular words come from Greenlandic
Ever been "kayaking" or wanted to know what it's like to sleep in an "igloo"? These common terms, used in English, actually come from Greenlandic words.
Fun fact #10: Traditional food is heavily based on hunting
Greenland is rich in wildlife, including musk oxen and reindeer, along with various species of whale and birds.
The country's local communities still take part in sealing and whaling, and other forms of hunting for their culture and food.
If you're a meat-eater then you might like to sample some of unique dishes encountered here. For instance, local cuisine can include marine mammals, as well as birds and other game.
The national dish is "suaasat", a meat soup. It usually contains seal, whale, reindeer or seabird and is cooked with onions, bay leaves and other aromatic ingredients.
Fun fact #11: Summer temperatures are surprisingly high
During the summer months, in the southern part of Greenland, you'll find that temperatures can reach 20° C (68° F) or higher. This is perfect weather for sightseeing and enjoying the outdoors.
Greenland is home to rugged landscapes, traditional culture and plenty of hidden gems. Hopefully, these fun facts will have debunked what you thought you knew about this island. And maybe you've been inspired you to discover Greenland's secrets for yourself.
To begin planning your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Greenland, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one our dedicated travel consultants. We’re here to help you make the most of your time in this Nordic jewel!