Imagine sitting atop a hill in near perfect silence. There’s a faint howl of sleddogs in the distance. In front is a bay full of icebergs, some the size of towns. To the side is an icefjord with millions of years worth of ice coming from one of the world’s most active glaciers. The silence is occasionally broken by the sound of explosions, as gigantic blocks of ice break up and crash into each other. And imagine watching all of this under the beautiful, perpetual glow of the Midnight Sun.
Ilullisat is a truly wonderful place. The Arctic region is one of the greatest wonders of nature and Ilullisat showcases it perfectly. There’s snowy peaks and the polar night during the winter, beautiful green hills and the Midnight Sun during the summer. There’s huskies, massive icebergs, an icefjord, wonderful people, the Aurora Borealis, and a feeling of near-perfect isolation in amongst breathtaking scenery that few places can match.
I spent a few days in Ilulissat towards the end of winter in 2016 and returned during the summer of 2017. On my first trip it was wonderfully quiet, with seemingly few visitors and few locals out and about as the temperature hovered around -10C. In contrast, the few hotels in the town were fully booked weeks in advance of my summer trip and I resorted to a cosy Airbnb. Under the Midnight Sun there were people out at all hours, working, playing football, out for a walk. And the town took on an entirely different feel.
It was more touristy in the summer, without a doubt. The walk out towards the icefjord showed that, as did the boat trip out amongst the icebergs. And I fully expect Ilulissat will continue to get busier as more people realise what a gem of a place it is, and how wonderful Greenland is to explore. More people will result in more hotels, more restaurants, more tourist tour type places. In other words, if you’re looking to visit before the boom then visit soon.
I digress slightly. My trip to Ilulissat during the summer was to experience Greenland living up to its name, without the metre-deep snow I trudged through on my previous trip. It was to wander out along the icefjord under perpetual daylight for hours to see areas I hadn’t seen before. It was to take a trip out amongst the icebergs with a beautiful blue sky offsetting the brilliant white of the ice.
The weather for the days I was there was fantastic which meant a great opportunity to see the Midnight Sun. Heading out a little before the turn of the day, I walked along the coast to a high-up spot overlooking the town, the Disko Bay, and the icefjord. It was blissfully quiet. Even the mosquitoes were taking a break at this time and with no breeze, with the sleddogs mostly asleep, it meant a couple of hours of wonderful silence with one of the best views in the world.
The Midnight Sun carries a bit of mystery, and it does take a bit of getting used to. At this time of year the sun edged towards the horizon, creating an extended golden hour, and this lit up the icebergs beautifully. But, still, it never set. The only small disturbance was the faint hum of an engine from a boat sailing out towards the icebergs on a Midnight Sun tour.
My remaining time in Ilulissat was taken up with days wandering out beyond the town into far more remote areas than I had been before, almost as isolated as the parts of Mongolia and Qaanaaq I visited.
As much as it is an isolated town, Ilulissat does cater for visitors looking for a break from the cold, or the mosquitoes. There’s Cafe Iluliaq for a snack, the Inuit Cafe for something entirely difference (a mix of Indian and Chinese food), Mamartut for some utterly delicious indulgence, or the Icefjord Hotel for a bar and some tasty set menu or buffet food. There’s also a nightclub – or at least I saw the door and sign for a nightclub – but I can’t comment any further on that one.
Ilulissat is one of my favourite places I have ever visited and will likely remain as one. It’s nature at its absolute finest in any season and has some of the most inspiring scenery I’ve ever seen. It’s a great hub in Greenland to explore other regions – with flights to Upernavik, Qaanaaq, Sisimiut, Nuuk, and Kangerlussuaq. So while it can be hard to get to (the only international flight is from Iceland) from within Greenland it’s easy, making it a “must see”.
I’ll finish up with one of my favourite pictures I’ve ever taken from one of my favourite moments in my 35 years. It’s the Midnight Sun over the icebergs of the Disko Bay, taken with a backdrop of blissful silence in one of the most peaceful, tranquil, scenic spots on which I have been lucky enough to set foot.