Ilulissat – the place with the famous Ice Fjord
Ilulissat – the city of icebergs – is situated right next to its impressive neighbor, the world-famous Ice Fjord. It became part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 2004.
Welcome to Ilulissat
Ilulissat is Greenland’s most famous town, and when you get here, you will understand why. This thriving town is located at Ilulissat Ice Fjord, the first place in Greenland to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A lot has been written about Ilulissat over the years and understandably. The area has been inhabited for 4,000 years due to the unique fishing and hunting opportunities created by the impressive Ilulissat Ice Fjord. The Ice Fjord is the focal point for your stay in the town, but also general life here. Not only is it unbelievably beautiful, but you find wide-ranging wildlife with lots of fish, seals, birds, and whales. And let’s not forget about the sled dogs!
The icebergs in the fjord are visible from almost anywhere in the town. They come all the way from the glacier Sermeq Kujalleq. Sermeq Kujalleq is the largest glacier in the northern hemisphere and at the same time, one of the fastest glaciers in the world. With its speed of 130 feet a day it is Greenland’s fastest glacier.
There are more than 4.500 inhabitants in Ilulissat, which makes it Greenland’s third largest town. And then there are the sled dogs. Word has it, that there is a sled dog for each and every person in Ilulissat – today, however, this is not quite true anymore. But there still are about 2.500 sled dogs in the area.
If you get the opportunity to visit Ilulissat, look forward to meet a friendly and forthcoming community, where old traditions live side by side with modern society.
Ilulissat is very special
Can you imagine how it was for the early residents who came to the Sermermiut area at Ilulissat Ice Fjord 4,000 years ago? Were they equally captivated by the beauty of the area, or was it more the thought of food and, thereby, survival going through their heads? Whatever motives, the place has always been popular and rightly so.
Even when approaching Ilulissat, you will understand that this is something very special. As you fly north along the coast from Kangerlussuaq, you fly above the Disco Bay, and, eventually, you will see more and more and larger icebergs in the water (a piece of advice: try to get a seat on the right side of the airplane as you board Air Greenland’s Dash-8 aircraft in Kangerlussuaq).
The Ice Fjord is a fantastic sight, and if you look towards the head of the fjord, you might see Kangia Glacier, the most productive glacier in the Northern Hemisphere.
Excursions all year round in Ilulissat
Ilulissat and its surroundings invite you to many lovely excursions.
You can get to see whales, settlements, icebergs and calving glaciers on boat trips. Hiking tours take you to the Ice Fjord and abandoned settlements in wonderful mountains. You can also jump on a helicopter and get really close to the Greenland Ice Sheet and the edge of the glacier with an incredible view. If you dream about staying overnight very comfortably and close to nature, we highly recommend you the popular Glacier Lodge Eqi and the newly built, luxury Ilimanaq Lodge south of the Ice Fjord.
Read more about World of Greenland.
Ilulissat Ice Fjord
It is an incredibly beautiful experience to see Ilulissat Ice Fjord, and when you are here, you owe it to yourself to experience the Ice Fjord in every imaginable way. You have traveled a long way to experience this UNESCO World Heritage Site, so make the most of it while you are here.
Head out to the abandoned settlement of Sermermiut and see Nakkaavik (where, in the old days, older people would jump off the cliff in times of hunger) and see the icebergs from the shore. Walk around the town and observe the huge icebergs at the mouth of the fjord. Go on a boat trip to the mouth of the fjord and experience the huge icebergs up close. Do it again at night and experience the ice which now shines in the most beautiful golden hues under the midnight sun.
Ilulissat Ice Fjord is pure magic, and it is constantly changing. Ice comes, and ice goes, but you can always be sure that there are a lot of large icebergs that are stranded at the mouth of the fjord. The fact that they are sitting on a sandbank at the mouth of the fjord makes it safe for the boats to sail relatively close to the icebergs.
However, Ilulissat is a lot much more than ice, which you will hear several times a day as the dogs howl towards the sky.
There are 2,500 sled dogs in Ilulissat, and the dog sled culture is cherished here. And it’s not just that it is cherished; it’s a necessity. The dog sleds are used by the many fishermen who, in winter, ride out on the ice fjord to fish and load their dog sleds with large halibut. It is a practical means of transportation, as it has been for over a thousand years, but fortunately, it is also possible for you to go on dog sledding trips when the fishermen are not working on the fjord.
In the winter, you can try short one-hour dog sled trips, or you may want to try longer trips, which last several days. On these longer trips, you almost get to experience life as it has been lived for centuries, though with some modern conveniences, so it’s not a survival trip, but an adventure trip.
When hiking in Greenland, expect that paths often are slightly uneven and not always marked consistently. However, there are some fine paths in Ilulissat and some well-marked routes along the Ice Fjord. We recommend two hikes: a short version and a longer day trip that you can walk on your own. It is also possible to join a guided tour with World of Greenland, where en experienced tour guide provides you with interesting information at the same time.
Easy hike to the abandoned settlement Sermermiut
This short walk is relatively easy and takes about 30 to 45 minutes by foot from the center of the town. You leave Ilulissat and walk to an incredibly beautiful place by the Ice Fjord, where there in the old days lay the settlement “Sermermiut”. The company of a tour guide can be of advantage, because they will be able to tell you more about the area and the settlement. But this hike is also suited for walking alone in the daytime or in the evening. Pack your backpack, take some lunch, your camera and maybe a good book and enjoy the amazing view. There is a footbridge all the way down to the Fjord. However, if you come here during the winter, it can be hard to find. When you get to the actual Fjord, walk up to get an even better view over the entire Ice Fjord. The last part of the route is not suited for people with difficulties to walk.
The long daytrip along the Ice Fjord
This is a day-long hike for people in an average physical condition. Start to follow the green route down to the settlement by the Ice Fjord. Continue on the blue route from here. Put water and food in your backpack. Remember warm clothing as well as sitting mats and everything else you need for a day “in the mountains”. The hike is relatively easy. The last part leads through a gorge, though, where you need to pass many stones. You have the choice to walk higher up instead of crossing the gorge. In that way, you’ll get a great view as a bonus. We recommend this tour to people that are used to hiking on uneven ground, are in average physical condition and a little experienced in hiking in the mountain areas.
Read more about Ilulissat.
Discover cultural experiences in Ilulissat
Culturally, Ilulissat is an exciting and very cultural town. It was here that the world-famous polar explorer Knud Rasmussen was born and grew up. At Knud Rasmussen’s childhood home, you can visit the town’s museum, and it is definitely worth a visit. Knud Rasmussen was born here in 1879. Right opposite his birthplace, you find the Zion Church, one of the most photographed churches in Greenland; a selfie in front of this brown wooden church with the large icebergs in the background is a favorite instamoment. You will also find an exciting art museum in Ilulissat.
When you visit Ilulissat you can take the guided tour ”Cultural and historical walk through Ilulissat”. This walk will introduce you to the town and its history. You’ll get some insight into all the sights, which you might oversee when walking by yourself. You will also get some insight into Greenlandic culture and history, while you will have the opportunity to ask the tour guide about anything on your way.
This museum is definitely worth a visit! The Danish arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen grew up in the house that today accommodates the museum. He was born in Ilulissat in 1879. The visit takes about an hour and you can choose to spend even more time with all the interesting exhibits.
Zion church and service
The church is situated right next to the museum. It is open on weekdays, and on Sundays you’ll get the chance to take part in a service, where people sing from the strength of their lungs. If you’re lucky, perhaps you can witness a christening, confirmation or a wedding.
Ilulissat Museum of Art
Another wonderful place to visit is the small local art museum. It has a large exhibition with the artworks of the Danish artist Emanuel A. Petersen. In the summer, they often show exhibitions with young Greenlandic artists. The house alone is a beautiful place with a special atmosphere – you can feel the time go back hundreds of years in here.
The lovely and busy harbor
A harbor is a central place in all towns in Greenland, and Ilulissat is no exception. From early morning, there is a buzz of life. Up the hill from the harbor, you will find the local fish market, the place where you can buy the catch of the hunters and fishers.
Spend some time in the harbor. Sit down, relax and get the feeling of the fishermen’s busy life. They get ready to sail out on the sea, come back with the catch of the day or sit and work with their long lines. Down here, it is lively all year round. In the harbor, there is a small and cozy booth, where you can get anything from fishing gear to hunting equipment. And coffee, of course.
”Brættet” – the local fish and meat market
This is the place, where you can buy freshly caught fish and meat, smoked food and berries – in short: the storeroom of nature. The local catchers and fishermen come here with the catch of the day. It is a small market, where they sell their produce in small and large portions. “Brættet”, the bord, is located right in the center and is usually open on weekdays from 9am to 5 pm and from 9am to 1pm in the weekend.
Local artists make beautiful craftwork and sell it. You can simply just walk in, when their workshop is open during the week and the locals sit and work here. The craft workshop is situated very centrally on the way to the harbor and not far from the “Brættet” and the local tourist office “World of Greenland”. Walk past the Bank of Greenland on your left hand side, and you’ll find the workshop on your left. There is a sign outside.
In the sewing room, there are many beautiful things made of seal skin and other local materials. They accept all kinds of usual credit cards, so you’ll soon be tempted. It is located centrally as well and not far from the craft workshop.
Local arts and crafts
There are many places to see and buy Greenlandic crafts, and the number of souvenir shops in Ilulissat is huge compared to all the other towns in Greenland. They sell exciting souvenirs and handicrafts, and you can get tupilaks made from bones and tusk, sealskin purses, and even locally inspired USB memory sticks. Start your visit at our daughter company, World of Greenland, and hear about all the possibilities of the area.
Eating out in Ilulissat
There is a number of restaurants and cafés in the town that offer very good food and often a fantastic view, as well. Many Greenlandic restaurants are inspired by international ways of cooking. The combination of local raw materials and international cuisine makes it a delicious and tasty experience to dine at a restaurant in Greenland. You will find, that some of Greenland’s best chefs are working right here in Ilulissat.
Spoil yourself with a Greenlandic buffet during your stay in Ilulissat. All the larger restaurants offer a Greenlandic buffet once a week. Book a table in advance, especially in the summer season. Greenlandic buffets consist of all kinds of Greenlandic specialties and dishes based on tasty, local ingredients.
Hotel Arctic is known for its high standards in cuisine. Many of their chefs have won gastronomic prices over the years. At Restaurant Ulo in Hotel Arctic you are guaranteed a culinary experience. Moreover, the less formal Brasserie Ferdinand is located in the hotel and offers simple café-style dishes with the same great view over the Fjord.
Everybody is welcome at Hotel Arctic, so do not hesitate to come along. The view is extraordinary and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. There is Greenlandic buffet on Mondays and BBQ on Saturdays. In the summer, the grill is often smoking on the hotel’s terrace. Hotel Arctic is placed just outside the town. You can see it from the town, it consists of a number of red buildings and you can easily walk there (20 minutes).
Read more about Hotel Arctic.
Restaurant Icefiord at Hotel Icefiord offers Greenlandic buffet on Thursdays. There are huge panorama windows with a view to the Ice Fjord. The restaurant is open all week and offers a dinner and lunch menu. You can also order your Thai take-away from the restaurant.
Read more about Hotel Icefiord.
Hotel Hvide Falk
Hotel Hvide Falk (White Hawk) is located in the center of the city with an amazing view. At Hotel Hvide Falk, you can try a Greenlandic buffet once every week. Here you get all the delicacies of the Greenlandic cuisine. Sometimes the buffet is a little Chinese-inspired with special cut vegetables in beautiful shapes.
Read more about Hotel Hvide falk.
This small and cozy restaurant is situated on the way down to the Ice Fjord in a little house. From the outside it looks like a private house. You can take a break here on your way home from the Ice Fjord. It is only 5 to 10 minutes walk away from the center. They offer high quality food with many specialties. All dishes are based on local ingredients and even herbs from the garden by the house. They offer Greenlandic buffets at the restaurant on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from June to September. Remember to book a table in advance.
Read more on Mamartuts homepage. (this page is in Danish)
Hong Kong Grill
In the summer, you can enjoy a simple meal on their terrace with an Ice Fjord view, the town museum and the beautiful Zion church. The food is simple and consists of Thai-inspired dishes. They don’t serve alcohol. The grill is only a few hundred feet away from the town center.
Other places to eat in Ilulissat
There are a number of small and cozy cafés in the center of Ilulissat. Here you can get traditional café-style snacks and food. Get your cup of coffee here and enjoy sitting outside in the summer.
Travel literature on Greenland
- Experience Kangia Ilulissat Icefjord – official guide to the World Heritage Site Ilulissat Icefjord – this book can be bought on på Greenlandtodays homepage.
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