9 things you didn’t know about Greenland

By Verified Expert

So, you’ve Googled “Greenland” and read the Wikipedia page. Hopefully you’ve also read our 21 Basic Facts about Greenland – an essential guide. But now you curious to scratch below the surface and discover the “real” Greenland. Here are 9 fun facts about the country that are not so well known.

1. More people own boats than cars in Greenland

There are no roads between towns or settlements in Greenland. The rugged landscape presents countless natural obstacles (think deep fjords, glaciers, jagged mountains, the Greenland Ice Sheet itself) so extending the road system beyond the outskirts makes no sense at all.

Snowy peaks in West Greenland seen from the air
Flying over snowy peaks in West Greenland. Would you like to build a road through thousands of kilometers of this?

To travel from place to place, people either fly, sail, or go by dogsled or snowmobile (during Winter in the North and East of the country only).  There are only 5,700 registered cars in Greenland (2019), all of which are contained within town limits. In comparison, it is estimated that there are more than 800 large boats and well over 5000 smaller ones that are involved just within the fishing industry.

2. The colors of the buildings used to have meaning

Traditionally, the Greenlanders used to live in tents made from skins during the Summer and peat houses during the Winter. However, with the arrival of the Danes, this began to change and now most “traditional” buildings from the Colonial era are brightly colored kit constructions that could have come straight out of an IKEA catalogue.

Traditional turf house in the centre of Uummannaq
This traditional turf house in the centre of Uummannaq was in use up until the 1980s

Aside from making the town/settlement more attractive, these colors were practical – serving to indicate the function of the building:

  • Red = commercial houses, churches, government buildings
  • Yellow = hospitals, health services
  • Green = telecommunications
  • Blue = fish factories
  • Black = police station
Colorful houses with impressive views of the mountains in Kulusuk in East Greenland
Colorful houses in Kulusuk have an amazing view of the impressive mountains of East Greenland

Many of the buildings in the smaller settlements of Greenland are still of this form, and even modern constructions in larger centers draw upon this influence. However, the original significance of the colors is now diluted as there are no restrictions as to what colors you can use in the construction. 

3. No dogs allowed

If you live north of the Arctic Circle or in East Greenland, the only type of dog you are allowed to own is a Greenlandic Sled Dog. These dogs have been used for thousands of years in the Arctic for transportation and hunting, and have been carefully bred for their hardiness, strength and stamina. The restrictions are in place to maintain the purity of the breed.

On the other hand, if you live below the Arctic Circle on the West Coast or in the South of Greenland, you can own whatever breed of dog you like. You can read more in our 7 fun facts about sled dogs in Greenland.

4. You already know 3 Greenlandic words

The longest word in the Greenlandic language
The longest word in the Greenlandic language

This is the longest word in the Greenlandic language. Looking at it, you may be thinking that there is no way you could possibly be familiar with any Greenlandic words – but you would be wrong! There are 3 words that we use in English that have their origins in Greenland:

  • Qajaq = kayak
  • Idglo = igloo
  • Annoraaq = anorak

Learn a little more about the Greenlandic language (Kalaallisut) in our 21 Basic Facts about Greenland and your first words and phrases with our Greenlandic minicourse!

5. You can see the Sun at midnight

North of the Arctic Circle, the Sun never sets in Summer. For a couple of months, it remains above the horizon 24 hours a day / 7 days per week in a phenomenon known (unsurprisingly) as the Midnight Sun. That’s 24 hours of daylight to explore the majestic beauty on a vacation to Greenland.

Couple enjoying the midnight sun in Ilulissat
Enjoying the midnight sun in Ilulissat

Even at latitudes further south, it never truly gets dark during Summer in Greenland.

Of course, the converse is also true. For a couple of months during Winter, the sun never rises if you are North of the Arctic Circle. It is more of a perpetual twilight in most places.

6. You can watch icebergs from a hot spring

Iceland is known as the place to go if you enjoy soaking in natural (or developed) hot pools. While Greenland is not a volcanic island, it does have a few thermal pools – the most famous being at Uunartoq in South Greenland. This remote location offers one of the most amazing views in the world – soaking in 38 Degree water while watching giant icebergs float past.

Couple enjoying a hot spring in South Greenland near Qaqortoq
Soaking in the Uunartoq hot spring in South Greenland near Qaqortoq. Amazing mountain and iceberg views

7. Greenlandic myths and legends are the scariest in the world

Every country has its own myths and legends. Some of them are quite scary. But Greenland takes this to a whole new level! If you’ve ever seen a Tupilak (one of the most popular souvenirs from Greenland), you are only just beginning to understand…

Illustrated guide to the mythical creatures, spirits and animals of Greenland

It gets much worse when talking about Ikusik, Qivittoq, and a whole host of others! Rather than relating the stories here, we highly recommend the beautifully illustrated book Bestiarium Groenlandica by Maria Bach Kreutzmann. Available in English, Greenlandic and Danish – it is sure to scare even the bravest person.

8. Greenland does everything BIG

Everybody knows that most of Greenland is covered in ice.  But did you know that :

A. Greenland is the largest island in the world that is not a continent

Australia, although almost 3 times the size of Greenland, doesn’t count – because it forms its own continent.

Size of Greenland compared with Australia
Size of Greenland compared with Australia (thetruesize.com)

B. Greenland has the second-largest ice sheet in the world

At 1.8 million square kilometers, it is significantly smaller than Antarctica (~14 million square kilometers) but will still have a massive impact on the world if climate change is not managed. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, it is thought that sea-levels around the world will rise by ~7 meters.

Ice sheet at Point 660 near Kangerlussuaq in Greenland
Looking out over the great Greenland Ice sheet at Point 660 near Kangerlussuaq

C. Greenland hosts the largest national park in the world 

Northeast Greenland National Park protects almost 1 million square kilometers – roughly ¼ of the country. It is the northernmost national park in the world and there are no permanent residents, unless you count the many musk ox, polar bears, walruses and other fauna that live there.  

Boat sailing among enormous icebergs at the mouth of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Ilulissat Icefjord
Local boat sailing amongst the enormous icebergs at the mouth of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Ilulissat Icefjord

D. Greenland is home to the most productive glacier in the Northern Hemisphere

Sermeq Kujalleq (also known as the Ilulissat Glacier or Jakobshavn glacier) calves more icebergs than any other north of the equator. Anyone who has visited the UNESCO World Heritage listed Ilulissat Icefjord can attest that the number of massive icebergs it produces is something you have to see for yourself to believe. Unfortunately, like most glaciers around the world, it is retreating.

9. You can only fly to Greenland from Denmark and Iceland

Although Greenland is part of the North American continent, there are no direct flights from there. The only way to fly into the country (unless you charter your own aircraft) is via Iceland or Denmark.

Schedules change depending on the time of year, so the best way to plan your flights is to either come to Greenland on a vacation package, or research possibilities on our how to get to Greenland page.

Try for a window seat every time you fly over Greenland

We look forward to seeing you soon!

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