WHAT TO DO: FARM HOLIDAYS, UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES, SETTLEMENTS, AND HIKING
Narsarsuaq is a small airport town, which is the gateway to South Greenland. Narsarsuaq is an ideal base for hiking. You will find easy access to the Greenland Ice Sheet, Erik the Red’s historical Norse settlement, and other UNESCO World Heritage sites.
South Greenlanders don’t tend to laugh out loud when people bring up the old joke that Iceland is green, and Greenland is full of ice. It is here in South Greenland that Erik the Red arrived and named Greenland after the lushness you meet in the summer. It is Greenlands agricultural center, where you see sheep farms with green fields scattered around the landscape. These farms are located among ancient Inuit and Norse ruins, which today are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Narsarsuaq means ‘The Great Plains’. So what was more natural to the Americans than to make a runway here when, in 1941, they were looking for places to have a stopover on their way to Europe during WWII. The Americans later left the area, so now the runway acts as the gateway to South Greenland. From here there are flights to Copenhagen, Iceland, and Nuuk, and small helicopters transport you to the towns of South Greenland.
The Norse ruins in Qassiarsuk
Opposite Narsarsuaq, on the other side of the fjord, lies the sheep farming village of Qassiarsuk. This is where Erik the Red originally settled and named the place Brattahlid. Qassiarsuk is set in beautiful, green countryside with red dirt roads. The red dust swirls beautifully as the locals drive by on three-wheeled Hondas.
In Qassiarsuk, you can find the ruins and reconstructions of both Erik the Red’s farm and his wife Tjodhildur’s church. This is the first Christian church on the American continents, built 492 years before Columbus arrived in Central America. The church is small but bears witness to more than a thousand years of Christianity in the area.
In the year 2000, a large statue of Leif Eriksson was erected in Qassiarsuk as he was the one who brought the first priest to this place 1,000 years before.
Igaliku – an old Norse settlement
Igaliku is another village not far from Narsarsuaq. Here, too, in the former Norse settlement of Gardar, you will find ruins, including the diocesan seat of the Norse. In 2000, an ecumenical service was held to commemorate 1,000 years of Christianity in Greenland and Leif Erikssons discovery of the North American mainland.
The service was held by clergy from all over the world, and Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik were also present with the Danish royal ship Dannebrog. It was also in Igaliku that Greenlands then Foreign Minister Tuusi Motzfeldt welcomed his colleagues, Danish Per Stig Møller, and American Colin Powell, for a meeting.
However, it is probably not these events that make the most impact on you when you visit Igaliku. The tranquility, the surroundings, the high mountains – the place is as a haven for relaxation.
Access the Greenlandic Ice Sheet near Narsarsuaq
In Narsarsuaq, you will find two ways to experience the Greenland Ice Sheet. You can walk to a glacier, following the road through the Flower Valley and climb up the mountain. Alternatively, you can go on a boat trip and experience the nearby Qorooq Glacier from the sea. Both trips are exciting, and one does not exclude the other, as the experiences are vastly different. However, for the first option, you have to climb a rather steep hill for a while, so you have to be in good shape to go on this hike.
Hiking and other experiences in south Greenland
South Greenland is as designed for hiking, and there are a lot of good and exciting routes to take. You can use Narsarsuaq as your hub for your walks or take a tour of the nearby sheep farms.
It is also easy to find a good place to go fishing. You just have to go down to the harbor, but remember to buy a fishing license. You can also rent mountain bikes and sea kayaks at the tourist office.
Life in Narsarsuaq
Narsarsuaq is a settlement with 140 inhabitants, so when a flight arrives from Denmark, the population doubles. On busy days, when there is a full flight both to and from Copenhagen, the population triples for a few hours. There will be a crowd at the airport, and everything is buzzing with life. And, suddenly, a few hours later, the place will be deserted.
The vast majority of residents in the village are employed at the airport or the large hotel down the road. In fact, the hotel with its 93 rooms is one of the largest in Greenland.
If you want to experience a slightly larger town, Narsaq is only an hour of sailing away. Here you can wander around one of Greenlands most beautiful small towns. After another hour of sailing, you will be in Qaqortoq, the capital of South Greenland. In South Greenland, the towns are very close to each other in comparison to the towns further up the west coast.
The museum and the old depots in Narsarsuaq
The museum lies right next to the airport, and it has a fine exhibition about the local community through time. It is marked by the presence of the Americans, but also by the Norse people who lived in the area, many centuries ago. Built within the hill opposite the airport, you can find some old storage rooms that the Americans used for storage.