How to travel to Greenland on a Budget
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It is no secret that Greenland is not a budget travel destination. However, there are ways to reduce the cost of travel to this intensely beautiful and remote Arctic nation. Read on to discover how to get the most bang for your buck when planning your trip to Greenland.
Traveling in the Arctic is not cheap. Iceland and the more northerly reaches of other Scandinavian countries are also quite expensive. But making the trip to Greenland is absolutely worth the money.
Basking in the Midnight Sun or the magical Northern Lights. Seeing icebergs, glaciers, colorful houses and Inuit culture. Dog sledding, skiing and snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sailing, whale watching, kayaking, and endless hiking trails await you if you make the journey. Here’s how to make it more affordable.
The tourism industry in Greenland is still developing. Currently, there are a limited number of accommodation options and tour operators so it is best to book as much as you can as early as possible. In particular, if you are thinking about visiting Ilulissat in July-August, we advise you book at least 6 months prior to ensure you get your first preferences.
A large part of the expense of visiting Greenland is contained within the cost of the airfares. By booking your flights early, you may be able to score a good deal. In particular, look for “Takuss” return airfares on Air Greenland flights. There are several restrictions (including a minimum stay of 7 days), but the tickets are much cheaper than their normal prices.
It is also important to note that the checked luggage restriction for both Air Greenland and Air Iceland Connect is 20kg. Make sure you stay under this limit as it is often strictly enforced and excess baggage fees are expensive.
Visit only one or two areas, maximum
Greenland is an enormous country. It is one third the size of the USA or Australia, and the size of the whole of Western Europe.
In addition, there are a limited number of domestic flights each day, so the idea of just hopping on a plane to get to the next place does not work the same in Greenland as it does in other places.
For these reasons, when planning your trip, you should limit yourself to just one or two areas. In particular, we recommend concentrating on just one area if your vacation is 7 days or less.
If you are planning to visit 2 or more areas, see if there is a way to make a round-trip. Although Kangerlussuaq is the main international airport, it is also possible to fly directly to Nuuk (from Iceland) all year round, and there are usually additional direct routes during the Summer from both Copenhagen and Iceland to Narsarsuaq and Ilulissat.
Some example itineraries:
- Reykjavik – Nuuk – Ilulissat – Reykjavik
- Copenhagen – Narsarsuaq – Nuuk – Ilulissat – Kangerlussuaq – Copenhagen
- Reykjavik – Kulusuk (Tasiilaq) – Nuuk – Ilulissat – Reykjavik
In each case, you arrive in Greenland at one location and depart from another. This saves significantly on airfares.
The best place to get an overview of flights into each major town is in the “How to get there” sections in each of the Ultimate Guides here on Guide to Greenland (direct links to each can be found in the footer of the webpage). However, you will need to dive into the details before finalizing your itinerary as some flights only operate a few days each week.
The Sarfaq Ittuk Passenger Ferry
If you plan to visit the South and West coasts of Greenland during April – January, the Sarfaq Ittuk passenger ferry is a great alternative to flying and also cheaper. It runs on a weekly schedule from Qaqortoq in the South to Ilulissat in the North (only as far as Sisimiut during the Winter), with very brief stops in more than 10 destinations along the way.
The entire journey one way takes about 4 days, but it is a lovely, relaxed way to experience Greenland and meet local people. We highly recommend it if you have the time.
Note that this is not a cruise ship but rather a local ferry, so stops are typically 15 -30 minutes in most ports. The exceptions are Sisimiut (2hrs), Qaqortoq (3hrs), Ilulissat (4 hrs) and Nuuk (13.5 hours northbound, 2 hours southbound). Only during a northbound stopover in Nuuk and perhaps in Ilulissat will you have enough time to book a day tour or do extensive exploring.
Think Beyond Hotels
Another major expense on your trip to Greenland will be accommodation. Almost all major towns in Greenland have at least one 3-star (or better) hotel, but there are other options that may end up being cheaper.
For super-thrifty and self-sufficient explorers, it is possible to pitch a tent for free almost anywhere in Greenland. Obviously, this is not going to appeal to most people, but it is an option.
The cheapest “real” accommodation is likely to be in a hostel. Many have both dorm rooms and private rooms available, are actually quite lovely inside with large common rooms, and the added advantage is that they provide a kitchen for guests to use (more on this below).
Another possibility is to stay in a guesthouse, B&B, or an apartment. The “Accommodation” section in each of our Ultimate Guides is a great place to find the different options, or you can try AirBnB as well.
Prepare your own meals
Almost all food has to be imported to Greenland, which makes eating more expensive than in most other countries.
The cheapest way to save money on food is to buy ingredients from the supermarket or market and prepare most meals yourself. To do so, you will also need to stay in an accommodation that provides a kitchen for guests to use. Alternatively, you could prepare very simple food for two meals and eat out for lunch or dinner.
A top tip if you would like a reasonably cheap hot meal for lunch (in particular) or dinner, is to check out the deli sections of the supermarkets in the larger towns. They often have things like ribs, chicken, hot chips, etc., but may have sold out by evening. The supermarkets (even in the small settlements) also usually have a good bakery section, where you can buy freshly baked bread and several different kinds of pastries.
We highly recommend that you try some local Greenlandic food while you are visiting, as it is quite different from what you find almost anywhere else in the world. Look for dishes that feature reindeer, musk ox, fish, prawns, seal or whale, as these meats are what have traditionally been (and continue to be) hunted here.
Most restaurants offer several dishes that feature Greenlandic ingredients or, if you have the opportunity, make sure you indulge in a Greenlandic Buffet. This will allow you to sample a whole range of different foods in the one meal. Check out the “Restaurants and Cafes” section of our Ultimate Guides for more information.
While Greenland does have internet, it will generally be much slower than you are used to and also very expensive. In addition, mobile phone coverage is limited to towns and settlements – so as soon as you head out to explore, you will lose reception.
Although some accommodation providers are now including WiFi access in their room prices, if you are staying somewhere that does not, do yourself a favor and unplug for the duration of your visit. Relax and enjoy being unreachable for a while. Just make sure you let your family and friends (and work colleagues) know that they will be unlikely to reach you while you are away.
Be selective with your excursions
While we all want to do as much as possible when we visit a new country, that may just break the bank on a trip to Greenland. There are plenty of things that you can do independently (see our Ultimate Travel Guides for ideas), but many of the key experiences can only be done with a guided tour.
We suggest thinking carefully about your “must-dos” for your visit to Greenland and make a prioritized list. Book as many of the tours as your budget allows, and then be prepared to explore on your own.
Book a vacation package
OK – while this is not necessarily the cheapest way to travel, if you want someone else to take care of all the arrangements and logistics for you and you want to just pay a fixed price and know there are no hidden extras – you should consider visiting Greenland on a vacation package.
There are holiday packages available to all parts of Greenland, and several also include flights from Iceland or Denmark. These are particularly convenient if you have limited time or are not used to traveling independently.
Come visit us in Greenland
While Greenland may not be the cheapest destination on the planet, it is one of the most spectacular (even if we say so ourselves). It is one of those “bucket list”, “once in a lifetime” experiences that are worth every penny you spend.
Just keep in mind all the cost-saving measures we’ve suggested here as you plan your trip, and we look forward to welcoming you to Greenland!