Although officially a Danish territory, Greenland bears very little semblance to its neighboring Denmark. It is almost entirely covered in ice and is said to be one of the least densely populated territories on the globe. The chilliness and the ice dominating these regions account for Greenland’s winters being very special and magical. This is why winter is possibly the perfect time to visit it.
Despite popular belief, Greenland is not a continent. It is actually the biggest island in the world and it stretches across an area of 2.166 million square kilometers. Regardless of the freezing Greenland temperatures, there is an abundance of wildlife and complex ecosystems which make it a great place for exploration and animal spotting.
Seemingly similar to its Southern counterpart Antarctica, Greenland actually has a long history of human settlements dating back to 2500 BC. Unlike Antarctica which has no indigenous population, around 80 percent of Greenland’s inhabitants are Greenlandic Inuit while the rest comprise Danes.
Greenland Winter Facts
With all those glaciers and snow-capped peaks and landscapes, it comes as no surprise that there are quite a few interesting winter facts about Greenland. In fact, there are some figures that may even rival Antarctica.
To begin with, the ice sheet in Greenland covers 1.7 million square kilometers. It is the second-largest body of ice in the world and accounts for 10 percent of the world’s fresh water. Not only is the ice sheet in Greenland one of the oldest in the world but some parts of it are even the thickest. At its highest point, the ice can reach the thickness of a whopping 3 kilometers.
The icebergs in Greenland are yet another fascinating aspect of it. Their shapes and sizes vary so much that they cast many different and captivating formations, usually so intricate that you can easily make up a face, an object, or an animal out of it. Many icebergs rise up to 100 meters above sea level. The old adage of seeing only the tip of the iceberg is absolutely applicable to Greenland because almost 90 percent of their mass is beneath the water level. As a matter of fact, it was the iceberg that began its journey from Greenland that sunk the Titanic in 1912.
Read more: Visiting the Blue Lagoon at Night
Average Winter Temperatures in Greenland
Depending on the season, temperatures in Greenland vary to a great extent. The climate is Arctic and it’s characterized by brief summers and long winters. Although temperatures tend to be a bit higher during summer and spring, they usually never go above 50°F.
Greenland winters can be fierce and the temperatures may drop to – 68°F, especially in the North of the island. Being surrounded by an open sea on every side, coastal parts might get windier than the inland, particularly during the winter. On the other hand, the humidity is very low here. For this reason, there is very little snowfall around the peninsulas which is where the majority of Greenlanders live. The most populated parts are South Greenland and West Greenland where the capital Nuuk is located. These ice-free areas typically have warmer temperatures and mild climate.
The coldest month in Greenland has to be February. The temperatures can plunge to -122°F, especially in the North and the East. Even the sturdiest locals don’t go out much during the winter and instead, they stack up with the supplies beforehand. They spend the majority of time indoors, cozying around the fire, recounting folktales, or simply cooking seafood delicacies unique to their cuisine.
How Long does Winter Last in Greenland?
The winter months cover the period between December throughout March. During these months the days are mostly dark, with only a couple of hours of daylight though sometimes there is no light at all. Greenland winter daylight hours usually never last for more than a couple of hours. In most cases, the dark reigns supreme during winter and the dawn doesn’t crack bit by bit until late January.
In December and January, the light might emerge on the horizon for an hour at best and in February it might last for two and a half hours. It isn’t until March that the sun starts to emerge, signifying the end of the polar nights. Though it might seem inconceivable that people can live in darkness for so long, Greenlanders are perfectly accustomed to it and have no problems with spending a few months without sunlight.
Read more: Summer in Antarctica
Winter Adventures in Greenland
Winter in Greenland is something special. Just admiring the icy landscapes is enough to make up for a perfect getaway into the peace and tranquility. Of course, winter adventures in Greenland don’t idly dwell on the vistas alone. There are so many interesting things to do that you will probably have a hard time deciding what to do first.
One of the most spectacular winter activities is definitely dog-sledding. Dogs have a special role in the lives of the locals in Greenland. The dogs and humans share a unique bond and those furry friends are so much more than pets to them. Dog culture has existed in Greenland for centuries and using dogs to pull the sleds is the most traditional way of transport in this part of the world, simply because there are no road networks as we know them. Still, it’s not just any breed that can perform these tasks.
These husky-type dogs are the true companions of Greenlanders and they play a pivotal role in making their lives easier. Until recently, locals and hunters were reluctant to receive visitors on board the sleds but luckily, times have changed. Today, you can hop on the sleds and whizz through the icy deserts as you sit behind an experienced musher. This remarkable experience not only leaves you with some unforgettable memories but it also instills the sense of connectedness with nature, evoking an ancient bond between humans and dogs.
In case you prefer speedier transport, snowmobiles are just the right solution to move around and experience Greenland. The snowmobile tours usually incorporate a visit to the Oqaatsut, a small Greenlandic settlement outside Ilulissat. Along the way, you will have the chance to cross the frozen lake and soak up the splendid scenery. Another tour follows the trail around the backcountry of Ilulissat, leading into the untouched wilderness all the way up until the top of the mountain is reached. The mountain viewpoint offers spectacular vistas of Greenland’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, encompassing the Ilulissat Icefjord and Sermeq Kujalleq, the fastest-moving glacier in the northern hemisphere.
During the summer in Greenland, the meltwater sifts through the glaciers and creates amazing turquoise canyons that freeze in the winter. Although glacier hiking is available all year round and is not reserved solely for winter, the canyon hiking is an exclusively winter activity. The gorges wind through the endless ice, tightly nestled between crystalline ice walls. The majority of hiking tours start from Kangerlussuaq, a small town in western Greenland. From there, visitors can embark on an adventure to the giant Russel Glacier that will take them through the valley veins created by the retreating ice. On a similar note, you can go snowshoeing to the top of Lille Malene which offers a spectacular vista of the Nuuk Fjord.
A special bonus to the winter wonders is the incredible Aurora Borealis. This fascinating phenomenon is also visible in other parts of Scandinavia but still, Greenland has the highest likelihood of catching a glimpse of the celestial light show. During late fall throughout winter, the clear night skies get beautifully painted by strokes of colorful lights you can see from almost any place. This is particularly the case on the nights between September and April, provided that the sky is clear and without any clouds. Though the locals are accustomed to this extraordinary occurrence, first-time visitors to Greenland will surely find it mesmerizing. You can go on guided tours from Ilulissat, Sisimiut, or Kangerlussuaq that will lead you out in the wild where there are no artificial lights to impede the natural hues of the colorful spectacle.
In case you’re worried about the safety, all tours around Greenland are lead by experienced guides who know the paths like the palm of their hand. They will take care of the safety measures and will make sure that all visitors have a memorable time visiting the island.
Greenland Winter vs. Summer
Despite seemingly everlasting winters, Greenland has all four seasons and they are tremendously diverse. The two most distinct are definitely winter and summer, which is when the majority of tourists visit the island.
The most obvious difference between these two seasons is the day length. Unlike long polar nights in winter, summers in Greenland are characterized by perpetual sunlight. This phenomenon is also called the midnight sun and it refers to the period between late April to late August when the sun never actually sets. Although brief, summers are really intense and enjoyable.
The differences in weather become all the more perceivable, too. The temperatures in summer become higher and the air is noticeably warmer. Although the average temperatures don’t exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you will probably feel as if it were much warmer because of so little humidity in the air.
Going out and about in summer also offers some additional possibilities. As the snow melts and the climate shifts, the vegetation begins to bloom and Greenland really starts living up to its name. Trees, bushes, flowers, and shrubs are visible along the coastline and they paint the edges of the island in the most beautiful hues. This is the time when hiking and cycling become the activities of choice for many tourists. Visitors with a keen interest in outdoor activities can cycle to Russell Glacier or climb Ukkusissat with a stunning view of Nuuk.
As sailing is not an option during the windy and chilly winters, summers are a perfect time to sail the glorious fjords of Greenland. On top of that, kayaking and taking boat tours are also a fantastic way to sail along the ice-covered shores. Rental companies and tour operators are aplenty and they are available all over the country. These water activities will surely bring you closer to the stillness of nature that dominates Greenland as you slowly drift down the intricate web of icy crevices and mazzy islands.
The beauty of Greenland is something you have to see in order to believe. Not only is it perfectly untarnished by the presence of the modern and hectic way of life but it also hides unique natural splendors unlike anywhere else in the world.