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Kangerlussuaq – the long fjord

Inspiration / Travel guides / Kangerlussuaq – the long fjord

A guide to experiences all year round in Kangerlussuaq

From the Greenland Ice Sheet, to the midnight suns delicate breeze to the dancing northern lights in autumn and winter with sled dogs and crackling snow. Kangerlussuaq is always beautiful and breathtaking.

On the far end of a 180-kilometer-long fjord, Greenland’s most trafficked airport Kangerlussuaq is located. It lies well protected in a wonderful scenery. Kangerlussuaq is Greenland’s busiest settlement. Little more than 500 citizens make sure that life in this epicenter of traffic in Greenland is going according to plan.

Almost every visitor to Greenland will pass through Kangerlussuaq. We recommend spending a night there, giving you time to experience the beautiful natural landscape and not the least the Ice Cap. In no other place in Greenland, the Ice Cap is as accessible as it is here. The ice can be reached in a few hours’ drive from the village, and you are even able to see it from the settlement.

However, Kangerlussuaq has much more to offer than an airport and the Grenland Ice sheet. Here you can find an incredible Arctic tundra with rich wildlife. The winter provides ideal conditions for dog sledding and witnessing northern lights.

There are things to explore in Kangerlussuaq all year round. Some experiences, like dog sledding and northern lights, depend on the season as they require snow and a dark, clear night sky. Other experiences can be enjoyed all year round. Summer tours are ideal for active travelers who like tying their hiking boots and setting out into the wild with a lunchbox in their backpack.

In this guide, you can read more about:

  • Traveling to Kangerlussuaq
  • The interesting history of the area
  • All the experiences
  • Places to stay
  • Places to eat
  • How to get there

 

Traveling to Kangerlussuaq

You can take non-stop Air Greenland flights from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Kangerlussuaq all year round. The flight takes 4½ hours, but due to the four-hour time difference, you will arrive almost at the same time that you left Copenhagen.

 

From Inuit culture to Greenlands largest airport

Inuit summer hunting ground
Kangerlussuaq is located far inland, contrary to many of the other towns and villages in Greenland. The area around it is known for its very stable and warm summers with a rich wildlife. The place has always offered ideal conditions for hunting during summer.

In fact, the fjord was used as a summer hunting ground by the Saqqaq culture approximately 4,000 years ago. Since then, the Dorset culture and Thule culture have used Kangerlussuaq as a hunting ground, as well. Today, these places belong to the UNESCO World Heritage.

The climate in Kangerlussuaq is continental, so winters can get very cold. Therefore, no traces of permanent settlements have been found here.

Visitors today enjoy the stable, warm summers. Fortunately, modern conveniences have made it possible to live in and visit Kangerlussuaq all year round.

 

Kangerlussuaq – formerly known as Sondre Stromfjord
If you look at older maps of Greenland, you will discover that Kangerlussuaq was once called by the Danish name Søndre Strømfjord. Kangerlussuaq is the Greenlandic name, meaning “the long fjord”. It refers to the 180-kilometer-long fjord on the far end of which the settlement is situated. It is possible to go by boat all the way from Kangerlussuaq and out to the coast. Many whalers and fishermen choose the waterway when transporting their catch home.

Photo by Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland

From American military base to settlement
From 1941 to 1992, Kangerlussuaq was home to the American military base Blue West-8, which was later renamed Sondrestrom Air Base. This Americanized name lent from the Danish name of the fjord, Søndre Strømfjord. During World War II, the American military base was essential to flights between North America and Europe. In 1960, the radar stations DYE-2 and DYE-3 were established on the Ice Cap as part of the American aircraft warning system DEW Line. It became the main task of the base to service these in connection with the Korean war and the cold war. At its most active times, 1,400 soldiers were stationed at the base. In 1992, the DEW stations on the Ice Cap were closed, and the Americans left Sondre Stromfjord.

 

”Street” and ”Road” are replaced by ”aqqutaa”
The fact that Kangerlussuaq is an old airport built by the Americans, is very evident in the architecture. Although it has been adapted through the years. Many of the old military buildings form a straight perpendicular line along the roads that still carry names testifying to the presence of the Americans. The words ‘street’ or ‘road’ have now been replaced by the Greenlandic word ‘aqqutaa’, though. The American influence has also provided the small village with a golf course on gravel and a cinema. The village is located on either side of the landing strip, and the citizens still refer to the “airport side” and the “base side”.

 

The Kellyville research facility
Until 2018, the Kellyville Kangerlussuaq research facility (a.k.a. the Sondrestrom Upper Atmospheric Research Facility) has been located near Kangerlussuaq Airport. It was jointly operated by Stanford Research Institute and the Danish Meteorological Institute. Here it functioned as a radar station, conducting research into the ionosphere with its radar measuring 32 meters across. The station had previously been placed in Los Angeles and Alaska, but has been located in Kangerlussuaq from 1983 to 2018.

 

Kangerlussuaq – modern settlement and gateway to Greenland
Today, the airport employs most of the people living in the settlement. Other functions can be found here too, including a school, a kindergarten, a home for young people, a post office, restaurants and the like. Right behind the airport, you can also find a well-assorted store selling everything from food to clothes.

Kangerlussuaq is a somewhat atypical Greenlandic settlement, as it has relatively few citizens but a lot of facilities, which one would normally only expect to find in larger towns. This is of course due to its past as an American airbase and the busy airport where a lot of people arrive and depart every day. Here, you might meet international actors, royalty, politicians, scientists as well as ordinary Greenlanders and tourists.

 

Extraordinary experiences

Due to the short flight distance and the experiences waiting for you almost right on the tarmac when the plane touches down, Kangerlussuaq is a very popular destination for mini-breaks in Greenland. Especially outside of the summer period, the short tours are ideal if you want to go dog sledding, see northern lights and experience the Ice Cap.

Actually, some of our most popular tours are the five-day tours to Kangerlussuaq. Many of our travelers, who have previously visited Greenland during summer, are particularly fond of experiencing Greenland with snow, going on a dog sled ride and, not the least, witnessing the magic of the Northern Lights.

 

“I’m extremely happy that I decided to go on this tour to Greenland. It gave me an unforgettable experience, which will probably be one of the best chapters in the story of my life. Not one day has passed where I haven’t praised this amazing tour to Greenland.”

– M. Akale, traveler on the tour ‘Winter days by the Ice Cap’.

Popular winter adventures

The two most popular winter experiences in Kangerlussuaq are dog sledding and watching northern lights. The area is ideal for both activities.

Kangerlussuaq is located north of the Arctic Circle, allowing for sled dogs to be kept here. And where you find sled dogs, you will also find dogsleds. If you find yourself here in winter, you should definitely try to go dog sledding. It is an incredible experience to ride a dogsled, and the experienced drivers ensure that you have a safe ride.

 

Dog sledding

Two or four-hour dogsled rides
It would be silly to miss out on this great experience, and to many people, it will often be enough just to try it. You can go on some wonderful short rides on a dogsled, giving you a sense of what it feels like to glide smoothly through the snow and ice. Powered by his dogs, the sled driver takes you across the thick ice on the fjord where you get to experience genuine Greenland.

 

Two-day sled trips incl. overnight stay
On a two-day sled trip from Kangerlussuaq, we will be driving on the fjord with snow-clad mountains on both sides. Later we will move out into the terrain and up into the mountains. We will usually spend the night in a hunting cabin, but in some instances, we may also have to sleep in a tent. We will enjoy the evening in the cabin, but also get outside and experience the amazing polar night. With a little luck, we might even see northern lights dancing above.

 

Dogsled trip from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut – three days
On the journey between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut you are in for an expedition-like experience that allows you to test your limits under controlled conditions. The trip lasts three days, and often you will be spending the nights in hunting cabins, but you may also have to sleep in a tent. It is not as cold as it may sound. During the trip, we will meet other sleds and snow scooters as well. They dash around between the town and the settlement. The sled trip begins in either Kangerlussuaq or in Sisimiut.

 

Longer trips with a dogsled
Along with the coachman, you will experience Greenland’s harsh and fascinating nature where people and animals live in unison with the elements. During the trips, you are part of the team and will help cook, chop ice or collect snow for coffee, pack the sled and feed the dogs. At times, the trips can be quite challenging, and participants should be in good shape.

We generally do not recommend dog sledding to people with back problems.

You will not be able to find the longer dog sledding trips available for booking on our homepage. We tailor these tours with our partners according to your wishes.

 

 

Northern lights

Only few people are aware that northern lights do not appear everywhere in Greenland. In the far north, for instance, you will not see much of it. In other places, however, it is very visible.

In Kangerlussuaq, the northern lights are quite strong in winter and autumn, so keep an eye on the sky when traveling during these seasons. People travel very far – some all the way from Japan – to experience the northern lights in this particular place.

You can go on a special northern lights excursion where we will drive out into nature where no artificial lighting can disturb our view. Here, nature is free to amaze us with its spectacular light show. All you have to do is look up. On these excursions, the sight is enhanced by the guide telling stories about the phenomenon and the many Greenlandic myths that the northern lights have inspired over the years. You will also get served a delicious cup of “Greenlandic Coffee” on this occasion.

Ice fishing

The local excursion office lets you try ice fishing. You are driven to the harbor. From here you will walk onto the thick ice on the Kangerlussuaq fjord to find a good spot for ice fishing; drill holes in the ice and try your luck. Usually there are plenty of fish!

All-year adventures in Kangerlussuaq

The Greenland ice sheet

The Greenland ice sheet is located just 25 kilometers from Kangerlussuaq and is the best place in all of Greenland to get close to the Ice sheet. This has also been the point of departure or arrival for most of the expeditions across the Greenland Ice Sheet. However, you do not have to embark on an expedition in order to step onto the Ice sheet. As the distance will be too far to walk for most people, the local excursion office offers rides to the ice in large, cross-country vehicles. Towards the ice, you will pass a very varied landscape. To one side of the car, you will see lush, green swards and tiny, whirling sand tornados in the Arctic dessert to the other. Do not be alarmed by the word ‘tornado’ – the whirlwinds rarely become taller than a couple of meters. But they are there and make for a beautiful photograph. Generally, the surroundings are spectacular, and chances are that you may spot musk oxen, reindeer and maybe even ptarmigans and mountain hares.

Kangerlussuaq is the only place in Greenland, where you can drive to the Greenland Ice Sheet. More than 80% of Greenland are covered by ice. The ice sheet makes by far for most of that. Depending on the route you take, there are 25 to 37 kilometers from Kangerlussuaq to the Ice Sheet. Here you can get up on it and walk. Don’t miss out on this opportunity during your stay in Kangerlussuaq. It is known as a transit place, but also as a wonderful destination. You will find exciting experiences like pearls on a string.

 

Excursion to Point 660 at the Ice Cap – one of the most popular places in Greenland

Point 660 is a well-visited place by the ice where you actually can get up and walk on the ice. It is an incredible feeling standing there with your back to the edge, realizing that there is nothing ice on end in three directions. Even below you there is only ice. By the edge, the ice is obviously not that thick, but at the center of the Greenland Ice sheet, the thickness does actually count more than three kilometers. When you walk around on the ice, you cannot help but wonder how the Inuit survived in the Arctic for thousands of years without down jackets and electricity.

In summer (May-September), you can combine this excursion with a barbecue. We will take a break after visiting the Greenland Ice sheet and enjoy a great meal in an area of stunning beauty.

Excursion to the Russell Glacier

The Russell Glacier is a leg of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which towers in the landscape. With its 60-meter-tall vertical wall of ice, it is an impressive sight. The interesting route to the spectacular glacier goes through a partially off-road terrain. It is a beautiful drive sitting in a four-wheel driven vehicle or custom-built bus. You can get quite close to the glacier, but you cannot get onto the ice like at Point 660.

Standing there on the edge and viewing the colossal mass of ice twinkle in white, blue and green shades is nothing less but fantastic. You can spend hours letting your eyes wander all over the vertical, rugged ice wall with ridges made by melt water. Maybe you will also experience the loud crashes when pieces of ice break off. It is a sight and a sound that you will never forget.

If you are up for it, in good shape and a nature lover, head out towards Greenland the Ice Sheet on a hike or on a mountain bike in the summer. Pack your backpack and saddlebag with a tent and some food.

Explore the tundra

In many aspects, Kangerlussuaq is simply unique, and in terms of terrestrial wildlife, no other place in Western Greenland can compare. Especially musk oxen have a unique and interesting history in the area. Moreover, it is an impressive animal. On this trip through the beautiful tundra in a custom-built bus, the guide will tell you all about the musk oxen, how it came to Kangerlussuaq (believe or not; it flew here) and about the Arctic tundra. Musk oxen are free to roam about in the area. We cannot promise that you will get close to the animal. You might have to suffice with watching it from afar. The guide always brings binoculars to improve your chances of catching a look at these impressive animals or some of all the other wildlife in the area.

 

Guided excursion in and around the settlement

Joining a guided tour in a new place is always a great way to get familiar with it, and Kangerlussuaq is no exception to this rule. The settlement once was an American air base, but is now Greenland’s principal airport. On the guided tour through Kangerlussuaq, you will learn more about the interesting story starting in World War II, continuing via the Cold War to today’s international airport. The area around the village has Greenland’s longest network of roads, and we take some of these roads to see several interesting places and meet the astonishing Greenlandic nature.

The excursion will also take you to the harbor to see the fjord, past the earlier Kellyville research facility about 12 kilometers from the airport and of course around the former base area. A visit to the local kennels is also part of the excursion allowing you to get close to the Greenlandic sled dog. Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut are the two southernmost places on the west coast, where keeping sled dogs is permitted. Further south there simply is not enough snow throughout the year. This guided tour is an excellent opportunity to get an overview of the settlement and the surrounding area.

 

The local museum

Kangerlussuaq’s museum is home to a fine collection describing the area’s history as an airbase as well as the history of aviation in Greenland. It is impressive to see how a bunch of pioneers built a community on this plain, where the winters are ice cold and the summers warm and mild. We recommend you to use a spare hour or two at this museum.

 

Summer experiences

Kangerlussuaq is made for summer hiking – when the snow has melted and the green grass shoots up to our pleasure as well as to the joy of the many animals in the area. Whichever direction you choose, you are in for a great experience. Due to its state as former base area, you will find a lot of roads here compared to elsewhere in Greenland.

Hiking to Garnet Mountain

This is a wonderful all-day excursion. The local excursion office will drive you to the top of Tacan – the mountain south of Kangerlussuaq – from where you will enjoy a splendid view. Now the hiking begins, and we start by circling the Great Salt Lake. Most of the way, we will be descending, although we will obviously come across some hills that we ascend on.

After approximately 2½ to 3 hours of walking, we will arrive at Garnet Mountain. Now it is time to get out the hammer and chisel and begin searching for red garnets. In between the hammering, there will be time to eat our pre-packed lunch. Peregrine falcons breed near the mountain, so perhaps we are fortunate enough to hear and see them. We will often also spot musk oxen in the area.

We continue back alongside the beautiful Lake Ferguson where we are likely to see great northern divers who have nests along the lakeside. At the end of the lake, our group will be picked up by a car/bus that will take us back to Kangerlussuaq. You are obviously also able to do the hike on your own, but you might want to be driven some of the way – otherwise it will become a rather long all-day excursion.

 

Other hiking options

Kangerlussuaq offers many great hiking options of various lengths. Popular hiking destinations include the waterfall as well as the Sugar Loaf Mountain with an incredible view across the ice and the entire area. The Fossil Plain near the Old Camp and walking up into the Kitchen Mountain make for short but excellent hikes. Very active hikers can obviously fill their backpack, bring their tent and set out for several days and hike all the way to the ice.

 

Flightseeing

Get on board a sightseeing flight and view the rear area of Kangerlussuaq and the Greenland Ice Sheet from above. The flight goes up through the Sandy Valley towards the Russell and Leverett Glaciers. From there, you will fly across the Greenland Ice Sheet and around the Navigator’s Rock – a very distinctive rock surrounded by the Ice sheet. Here you can really see the force of the vast icy landscape pushing against the rock.

The flight continues through the Dessert Valley heading in the direction of Garnet Mountain where you have good chances of spotting musk oxen along the way. And then we return to Kangerlussuaq. The flight takes place in a comfortable twin-engined Partenavia with a capacity of five passengers with window seats for everyone and headphones with built-in noise reduction.

All-day hike on the Ice Cap

On this exciting excursion, you will follow the schedule of the four-hour excursion to Point 660 on the Greenland Ice sheet, but get an additional four hours to explore the actual Ice Cap. Only a few people go further than 200 meters on the Greenland Ice sheet, which is a shame as it is an incredible icy landscape that unfolds in there. You will be hiking among hills and valleys surrounded by crystal blue torrents, rivers, waterfalls and lakes – all made by melt water from the ice.

Equipped with crampons (spikes) and staffs, everyone can take this hike. The Ice sheet is not more challenging than regular hilly terrain. With several hundred meters of ancient ice underneath our feet, we will find a beautiful spot on the Greenland Ice sheet to eat our pre-packed lunch. Water is included… directly from a glacial lake!

 

Camp Ice Cap – two amazing days on the Ice sheet

The most adventurous travelers can experience summer nights in a tent on the Greenland Ice sheet. Walk in the footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen and other Arctic heroes and spend two days on the Ice Cap. Along with an experienced guide, we will walk out onto the Ice sheet, and after a light hike, we arrive at Camp Ice Cap.

After shedding the baggage at the camp, we will enjoy a cup of coffee and the total silence in the world of ice that surrounds us. We will settle for the night below the light skies in our warm sleeping bags. On the next day, we will be going on an adventure and experience interesting phenomena such as glacial rivers and lakes.

Read more about the ice sheet in Greenland.

 

 

The wildlife of Kangerlussuaq

Musk oxen

Kangerlussuaq is home to a rich wildlife. The most famous species are probably musk oxen and reindeer. The musk oxen in the area were actually moved here from North-Eastern Greenland in the 1960s. A total of 27 musk oxen were imported from North-Eastern Greenland. The project has been a staggering success.

The milder climate and the large pastures of the west have meant that, instead of giving birth to only one calf every second year, the average musk oxen now typically produce two calves per year. And the population is now one of the largest in the world, counting 10,000 to 25,000 animals.

You will not always be lucky to encounter musk oxen. But if luck is on your side and you spot them, however, remember to keep a safe distance of at least 30-40 meters. They may look peaceful but they are not to be taken lightly. If the oxen feel threatened, they will start to run. Despite weighing 300 to 500 kilos, they are very athletic and fast.

Reindeer

Rudolph is probably the most famous reindeer in the world. His cousins live a more withdrawn life near Kangerlussuaq, and they appear to be enjoying it fully. The reindeer are numerous in the area where a count in 2007 reached approximately 98,000 reindeer. Reindeer are Greenland’s only species of deer and the population varies from season to season. When there are too many animals, they overgraze, causing the population to dwindle. This is because it takes a long time for the Greenlandic flora to recover following such overgrazing. Consequently, the population is also regulated by hunting, in order to ensure reindeer and musk oxen can be hunted part of the year. And therefore, you will find many local delicacies made from these animals on menus in Greenland.

 

Other animals 

Greenland has a rich wildlife particularly when considering how cold it becomes part of the year. Arctic foxes, gerfalcons, eagles and ravens are some of the other animals you can be fortunate enough to come across in the Kangerlussuaq area.

 

Accommodation in Kangerlussuaq

Polar Lodge

Polar Lodge is centrally located, less than 100 meters from the airport buildings, near grocery shops and eateries. Behind Polar Lodge, the steep Mount Hassel rises. In colloquial speech, Mount Hassel is called the Kitchen Mountain, because many locals can view the mountain from their kitchen.

Polar Lodge has 13 double rooms and three single rooms with bathrooms and toilets placed in the corridor. The rooms are spacious and cozy. Polar Lodge has a nice dining and living room, where breakfast is served, as well as a modern kitchen where you can cook your own food. Wireless internet is available against payment. Moreover, Polar Lodge accommodates a souvenir shop.

Old Camp

Old Camp is a traditional and cozy hostel in Kangerlussuaq, located 2 kilometers away from the airport. Old Camp occupies the former military barrack units that have been turned into a classic hostel. The hostel has a TV room, common facilities, a souvenir shop, and you can also book excursions here. The rooms are nice and neat with toilets and showers in the corridor. Bedding and towels are included. Breakfast is served in the dining room every morning.

 

Hotel Kangerlussuaq

Located inside the airport building, Hotel Kangerlussuaq could not possibly be placed at a more central location. You just have to take your baggage from the conveyor belt and carry it to the reception. All rooms are spacious and overlook either the so-called Kitchen Mountain or the setlltment and its surroundings.

Hotel Kangerlussuaq has more than 150 beds in 70 rooms (single and double rooms as well as suites). The hotel also disposes of an annex with 40 rooms and 100 beds. Each year, more than 15,000 guests check in at Hotel Kangerlussuaq.

Book your accommodation well in advance

During peak seasons, often all rooms and beds are occupied, so we recommend booking well in advance. This applies to other places in Greenland too. The capacity is limited, so rooms are in great demand.

 

Places to eat in Kangerlussuaq

You eat well in Greenland, and Kangerlussuaq is no exception. With nature’s own larder right on the doorstep, tasty and fresh produce is highly accessible. This includes musk oxen, reindeer and seafood.

Restaurant Roklubben (Rowing Club)

Restaurant Roklubben serves great meals. Roklubben (the Rowing Club) is beautifully situated on Lake Ferguson, approximately 5 kilometers outside Kangerlussuaq. For several years, locals as well as tourists have dined here. The restaurant gives you a taste of the best the Greenlandic kitchen has to offer in a relaxed atmosphere.

The menu at Roklubben follows the seasons and always consists of fresh, local produce. In the shoulder season (1 February – 30 April and circa 20 September – 28 November), the restaurant only serves a daily special. During summer, you can also eat à la carte. A free bus will transport you from Kangerlussuaq to Roklubben and back again.

From 1 February to 30 November, a Greenlandic buffet is served on Wednesdays and Sundays. It is a lavish experience with more than 30 different dishes. Including: Shrimp, fish, home-smoked musk oxen and reindeer, mattak (whale blubber), scallops, roasted musk oxen and reindeer, cake and much, much more. Almost everything is made from local produce. The location in itself is worth a visit. The restaurant is situated on Lake Ferguson in a totally unspoiled area. Read reviews of Restaurant Roklubben on Trip Advisor.

Restaurants at the hotel

There are several places to eat at Hotel Kangerlussuaq.

The newly-opened restaurant at the hotel serves high-quality food, prepared by some of the most competent chefs in Greenland. They offer seasonal menus, widely using Greenlandic ingredients of best quality.

The hotel’s cafeteria is Greenland’s most visited cafeteria. It is a legend in the country and open every day from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Choose between some Greenlandic food, something healthy or perhaps a quick musk oxen burger with sides. The options are plentiful, but remember that it is no gourmet restaurant but a cafeteria.

The new Café Isikkivik on the first floor in the departure hall offers a wide range of food and drinks. The café is located behind the security area, so you can only use it when you leave Greenland.

 

Pizzeria and other fast-food restaurants

Right behind the airport, you will find a wonderful pizzeria, and on the base side of the airport, a fast-food restaurant is located. The opening hours are subject to change – depending on the season. We therefore recommend that you look into these upon your arrival.

At the reception of Hotel Kangerlussuaq (which is located in the airport building), a notice board advertises current events taking place in Kangerlussuaq. You will find a great mixture of both public and private notices.

"..Greenland for me was staggering in its beauty, size, remoteness and rawness.."

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Contact:

+45 33 13 10 11

agent@greenland-travel.com

Adresse:

Wilders Plads 13A, 1.

DK – 1403 København K

Åbningstider:

(Monday-Friday)

Business travel: 8:00-16:00

Private tours: 10.00-15.30

 

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