Ilulissat: The Ultimate City Guide

Given that this ‘city’ is much more of a small town, Ilulissat is the sort of place which you could go your entire life without hearing about. While this is completely understandable, it is also a little bit of a travesty.

The third largest town in Greenland may only be home to around 3500 people, but it is the sort of place that you’ll find yourself dreaming about until long after you’ve left.

Here’s how to make a visit to Ilulissat as easy and as amazing as possible.

WHEN TO GO

If you are on a budget, then you really cannot go passed the summer months of May-August. A lot of hostels in Greenland are only open in the high season – meaning that outside of these months budget accommodation is very limited.

Furthermore, transport in Greenland is very expensive due to the lack of roads between cities and towns. The coastal ferry is a good summer option (though still expensive), but if you are on a budget (and seriously adventurous) you could spend a good few weeks kayaking along the west coast of Greenland, stopping at towns and settlements along the way.

greenland-ilulissat-kayaking-disko-bay

HOW TO GET THERE

The options for arriving to Ilulissat are rather limited, but provided you can first get yourself to Reykjavik or Copenhagen, getting to Ilulissat doesn’t have to be a Mission: Impossible kinda situation.

From Reykjavik, Air Iceland – the domestic airline of Iceland – flies directly to Ilulissat twice weekly during February through April and also in September. In June, July and August flights run almost daily. There are no direct flights from October to January. These flights have the benefit of being direct and a quick 3hr trip, but for the convenience, expect to pay a premium. These flights can go for anything from €588 to €700!

From Copenhagen, Air Greenland flies to Ilulissat via Kangerlussuaq at least four times per week, even during the winter months. These flights are slightly cheaper than those departing from Reykjavik (but are still by no means cheap) and a one way flight going for 3200 DKK (approx $625) is not unheard of. However, as these flights are not direct and Greenlandic weather is crazily unpredictable, these flights come with a much higher risk of flight delays.

If you are desperate to save money and have no time constraints, it can sometimes (not always) prove cheaper to fly from Reykjavik to Nuuk and then catch a domestic flight from Nuuk to Ilulissat – however, once again, catching multiple flights does increase your chances of delays, which is something I learned the hard way!

air-greenland-kangerlussuaq-ilulissat

WHERE TO STAY 

Budget: Ilulissat Youth Hostel

The Ilulissat youth hostel is the cheapest accommodation in Ilulissat, but it comes with a few small conditions. Firstly, it is only open during the high season – between June 1st and August 31st. Furthermore, it is very basic and you will be required to bring your own sleeping bag and linens. However, at only $48/night, you will not find anything more affordable.

Click here for more information.

Mid-Range: Paa and Jannik B&B

This little B&B is run by a wonderful couple – Paa and Jannik. Located an easy walk from the city centre and to the UNESCO site of the Ilulissat Icefjorden, this B&B is a great mid range option for anyone visiting Ilulissat outside of high season. Rooms start at $125/night.

Click here for more information.

Luxury: Hotel Arctic

If you have a little extra moolah at your disposal and are visiting Ilulissat between May 1st and September 30th, a night or two in the Hotel Arctic would be an absolutely amazing experience. During these months a few metal igloos overlooking a beautiful section of the Disko Bay are open for business! The Hotel Arctic is the most northerly 4* hotel in the world, and though the hotel itself is lovely, these igloos are what really make the place stand out.

Click here for more information and here to read about my own igloo experience.

One of these other-wordly little igloos!
One of these other-wordly little igloos!

HOW TO GET AROUND

A mixture of on foot and taxi travel is your best bet in Ilulissat. The city is not enormous so it is very walkable, however, if the weather is less than ideal or if you are looking to go from one side of the city to the other (eg. from the Hotel Arctic to the Icefjorden) a taxi may well be a better option.

Cabs aren’t disgustingly expensive in Ilulissat, but they are pretty similarly priced to those in Reykjavik and in London, so don’t be expecting a total bargain!

WHAT TO SEE

Ilulissat Icefjorden

The Ilulissat Icefjorden is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and by god it is worthy of such a listing. This incredible icefjord is full of enormous, majestic and utterly breathtaking icebergs. The ever moving and continually changing landscape means that there will always be something new to see, photograph and marvel at.

As an added bonus, there are three easily accessible hiking trails along the icefjord! Just make sure you let someone know which trail you plan to hike (red, yellow or blue) and what time you expect to be back by. Accidents can happen in such a frosty place, and traffic along these hiking trails is often very sparse.

greenland-ilulissat-icefjord-disko-bay

Church of Zion

This little black church may not be big or fancy or all that extravagant, but it also isn’t the kinda church one sees every day. The Church of Zion is perched at a particularly beautiful part of the Icefjord, and right next to it is a little swing set just asking to be photographed at sunset.

greenland-ilulissat-zion-church

Sledge Dogs

There is a road (Elisabeth Thomsen’ip Aqq) which for some magical reason is home to a huge number of Greenlandic dogs. These doggos (a breed similar to huskies) are working puppers! They are built for braving the cold and pulling sleds between settlements. The baby pups are able to roam free for the first few months of life, and are super fluffy and cuddly. You can touch and pick up the little ones (provided they don’t have a protective mumma nearby) but you should avoid touching the adults – they are working dogs and are not used to being petted.

Inuit Graves

Hidden along the hiking trail to Sermermiut, a visit to the Inuit Graves is not just a worthwhile detour – it is one that will give you a whole new appreciation for Inuit culture.

Ilulissat Museum

For those looking to learn more about polar exploration – a visit to the Ilulissat museum (also known as the Knad Rasmussen Museum) – is an absolute must. This quaint museum displays stories about the expeditions of Knad Rasmussen, Inuit culture and the stunning landscapes that shape this polar land.

Click here for more information.

WHAT TO DO

Hiking

The hiking trails in and around Ilulissat are nothing short of perfection. There are trails suited to almost every fitness level and the paths are fairly easy to follow.

Click here for more information about hiking in Ilulissat. For a map of the hiking trails – click here.

ilulissat-icefjord-greenland

Kayaking

In the summer months, the ice melts and the west coast of Greenland (and specifically – the Disko Bay) opens up to kayakers. PGI Greenland run single and multi day trips for anyone wanting to see Greenland from a different perspective. This was one of my favourite experiences during my travels through Greenland – I would recommend it to anyone and everyone visiting Ilulissat.

Click here for more information.

greenland-ilulissat-kayaking-disko-bay

Dog Sledding

Only do-able in the winter months – dog sledding is more than just an adventure activity. For many native Greenlanders, dog sleds are a primary mode of transport during the harsh arctic winters! These amazing sledge dogs help locals travel, transport and hunt. It is pretty damn amazing!

For those wanting a taste of a dog sledding adventure, Ilulissat is a great place to do so. Check out World of Greenland for information about sledding trips.

Aurora Hunting

Minimal light pollution, clear skies and northern locale all combine to make Ilulissat an amazing place to spot the Northern Lights. Set up your camera near the Church of Zion and wait for the Aurora to show herself!

Whale Watching

During the warmer months, the Disko Bay is home to a seriously impressive number of whales. Despite Greenlandic people still eating and hunting whale in modern times – these majestic mammals are far from overfished. Inuit hunters only hunt and kill what they need to survive, meaning that populations of whales around Greenland are stable. As a result, there are still plenty of whales left in these waters, and if you are lucky, you may even get to spot a few!

ilulissat-whale-greenland-humback-disko-bay

Snowmobiling

Another winter-only activity. Snowmobiling is an activity for the adventurous, the thrill seekers and those looking to really feel the harsh Arctic wind!

Check out IceCap Tours for information about snowmobiling tours.

WHERE TO EAT

Marmartut

Marmartut is a lovely little restaurant serving some truly wonderful examples of Greenlandic cuisine. Using only the freshest of local produce – think halibut, whale, seal, reindeer or musk ox. The restaurant itself is quaintly decorated with traditional Greenlandic garb – polar bear fur and all! The heaters work wonderfully, the service is superb and the food is the best you’ll find in Ilulissat.

Click here for more information.

Restaurant Ulo

Located within the Hotel Arctic, Restaurant Ulo is another shining example of Greenlandic cuisine. Much like Marmartut, Ulo only uses the freshest of ingredients, and due to the unpredictable nature of the surrounding waters, the menu is ever-changing. What is on offer is completely affected by what local fisherman have been able to catch on that particular day.

Is the food unpredictable? Yes. Despite this, is it totally delicious? Also yes.

Click here for more information.

WHERE TO AVOID

Literally nowhere. Ilulissat is as close to perfect as a place can get.

EASY DAY TRIPS

Oqaatsut

This small settlement lies about a 90 minute boat ride from Ilulissat. Home to around 30 residents and at least 50 doggos, this settlement is seriously gorgeous. Colourful homes litter the rocky landscape beside a stunningly iceberg filled bay.

Get in contact with World of Greenland to organise a trip.

ilulissat-icefjord-greenland-oqaatsut

EQI Glacier

I personally did not actually make it EQI. Bad weather and some rapidly imposing ice meant that hours of sailing towards the glacier were thwarted with only a very short distance to go! However, sailing from Ilulissat to EQI means sailing through the Disko Bay – and believe me, that is worth the trip all on its own.

Once again – World of Greenland can make it happen.

ilulissat-greenland-disko-bay

WHAT TO PHOTOGRAPH

Other than absolutely everything?

Make sure you always have your camera ready when around baby doggos – you never know when they will swarm you and believe me, you won’t want to miss getting a picture of the experience!

Photo courtesy of Shachaf Gidron
Photo courtesy of Shachaf Gidron

LASTLY

Get your butt to Greenland, and do it soon!

The country is becoming more and more accessible as each day goes by – which may make travel easier, but will also encourage more people to visit.

Part of the magic of Greenland is how remote it is and how few other travellers make their way there. Get there before the rest of the world catches on.

Posted by

20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

15 thoughts on “Ilulissat: The Ultimate City Guide

  1. I’be heard so much about Iceland, but not too much about Greenand. The towns look so charming and the kayaking photo is spectacular. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I would love to go to Greenland but it seems very pricey!! But so much to see and do and I would love to see it before the influx of tourists! Glad you had such a great experience there!

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