Ilulissat, Greenland

The town with more sled dogs than people.

Ilulissat is not the easiest place to get to but it’s worth it for the airport approach alone.

The three hour flight from Reykjavik was on a perfect, sunny day. After an hour the plane flies over the desolate, snowy peaks of east Greenland and much of the remaining time over the deserted ice cap. When West Greenland hits, it’s almost immediately the spectacular view of the Ilulissat Icefjord, the uneven mountains and the icebergs floating in the Disko Bay. It’s a memorable welcome.

Ilulissat is a town of 5,000 people and 6,000 sled dogs (the howls can be heard across town into the evening). It’s perched overlooking the Disko Bay a few miles from the ice cap and is a typically colourful Greenlandic town. Like other settlements across the country, it’s entirely cut off from any neighbouring towns and your travel options are sledding, flying or sailing.

I had two trips to Ilulissat either side of my visit to Kangerlussuaq and saw a variety of the unpredictable Greenland weather. A sunny entrance and exit, cloudy and threatening grey skies and heavy snow with plummeting temperatures.

The town is big by Greenlandic standards and in the heavy snow it took me the best part of half an hour to walk from the hotel to the town centre. Heading in the other direction leads to a small set of steep steps, over a small hill and to the most breath-taking view I have ever seen.

Icebergs the size of towns, the noise of calving and the Ilulissat Icefjord, the most active in the northern hemisphere. It’s a landscape which can change by the hour as the icebergs break up and move on. It is incredible scenery.

Ilulissat is exactly the Greenland I expected and hoped to see. It’s very different from Kangerlussuaq (and both seem to be very different from Nuuk).



It’s difficult to get across in photos just how massive the icebergs in the Disko Bay are. Many of these are well over 100m high and could comfortably fit a town on them. The noise from the calving is explosive and can set off a tsunami across the bay in no time at all.


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