The biggest gateway to Greenland is called Kangerlussuaq. Only a few people stop over in this village, but it could easily be a destination in its own right.
There are many reasons why you should not just rush through Kangerlussuaq on your way to another destination. This comparatively small village of approximately 500 inhabitants was originally established by the Americans during World War 2 under the name Bluie West-8.
The airport played a major role as a stopover site for aircraft missions between America and Europe. The American influence on the village is still clear to see.
In addition, the entire area surrounding Kangerlussuaq is an El Dorado for nature lovers.
The Ice Cap and Point 660
The very stable weather in the region makes Kangerlussuaq ideal for an airport and a very attractive destination. Arctic Ice Tours is a tour operator that has guided tours daily. It is a fantastic experience and should be on everyone’s to-do list. It is also possible to go on an Ice Cap sightseeing tour by air.
Point 660 is a popular destination which is located at the end of the road to the Ice Cap, approx. 39km from the village of Kangerlussuaq. With its 51 kilometres from the harbour to the ice, it is Greenland’s longest road. In the summer this is a dusty road because the climate is very dry. However, there is plenty to look at on the way; special vegetation, flowers and animals. There are a couple of stops on the way to enjoy the spectacular landscape and the ice is an enormous backdrop for everything.
Point 660 indicates the altitude above sea level when the place was named. A guide leads you up the ice here. It is clear to see that the ice has retreated and left a barren, moraine area with interesting stones and minerals. The rough surface of the ice can be seen and you can cross several fast-running rivers. The view across the ice is fascinating and it reaches much, much further than the eye can see.
The Russell Glacier
Another popular excursion goes to the beautiful Russell Glacier. Transport is in customized bus-trucks. They have special suspension and are very high off the ground since the roads are very uneven and comparatively steep. However, you will feel very safe riding in one of these as the drivers are very experienced. The first stop is a wreck of an American fighter aircraft which crashed in 1968. There are several of these aircraft wrecks in the area around Kangerlussuaq. Fortunately, all the pilots were able to catapult out before the planes crashed.
There will be more photo stops on the way out to the glacier, particularly when a musk-ox or reindeer is spotted, which is always very popular. The Russell Glacier is a tremendous experience. The face of this active glacier often breaks off and pieces of ice can, therefore, be seen in the river. The vegetation around the glacier is rich and at the height of summer, there is an abundance of flowers in the area and there are also often Arctic hares.
The airport and seeing Kangerlussuaq from the air
Most people fly to Kangerlussuaq, but there is so much more to experience from the air in and around Kangerlussuaq. In the summer months, Air Zafari has a small aircraft you can hire to take you on sightseeing flights around the surroundings of the village. This provides a great opportunity to see musk-oxen, glacier lakes, the ice sheet and especially the incredibly beautiful and very diverse landscape around Kangerlussuaq.
The airport is also the base for rescue services, which are undertaken by a helicopter. Since this is rarely occupied with such tasks, there is an opportunity to fly on sightseeing trips with the helicopter in this beautiful landscape, where the helicopter lands either near or on the ice.
Accommodation in Kangerlussuaq
There are various forms of accommodation in Kangerlussuaq. The town’s hotel is at the airport. Polar Lodge, a hostel with a very good standard, is a stone’s throw from the airport. It has single rooms and common kitchen facilities, bathroom and toilet.
A functional hostel in Greenland
Polar Lodge offers overnight accommodation in Kangerlussuaq just a few minutes’ walk from the airport
For those who want to spend the night in Kangerlussuaq, either in transit or on a few days’ holiday, Polar Lodge is a cheaper alternative. The red-painted hostel is located in renovated barracks and it can easily be seen when you leave the airport.
It doesn’t look much from the outside; the only »decoration« consists of some old shell cases from WWII that are now used as ashtrays, since all of Polar Lodge is non-smoking.
Inside, it is nice and warm. A sofa group and a table with free magazines and books are the first things you meet. The hall is not wide, but the size of the rooms is OK for a hostel.
Like other hostels, there is no TV or minibar, but in return there is WiFi and a small writing desk.
There are 16 rooms with six shared bathrooms and toilets of a good standard.
Throughout Polar Lodge the halls are decorated with pictures of Greenland’s nature and animal life, creating a cosy atmosphere.
Food in the hostel
Everyone has access to the small shared kitchen, where those who are spending more time here can cook a meal for themselves or just make a cup of tea.
Breakfast is taken in the dining room and the personnel make sure no-one leaves the table hungry.
In the background, there is a TV showing the news and outside you can follow the early departures and arrivals at the airport.
Opportunities in Kangerlussuaq
The office is also a souvenir shop with plenty of ideas for gifts. In addition to post cards, hiking maps, gifts and books, they also sells different excursions in the area. An excursion to the inland ice with an opportunity to see musk-oxen, a trip up to Russell Glacier or a tour of the town including the church and the museum in Kangerlussuaq, are just some of the excursions on the programme.
If you want to go hiking in the summer or take a dog-sled trip in the winter, you can also rent equipment, clothing and mountain bikes.
If you want more peaceful surroundings, Old Camp lies about two kilometres out with a view of the fjord itself. But Polar Lodge can definitely be recommended to those who prioritize spending money on experiences rather than on more luxurious accommodation.
Old Camp is a little further from the airport. It is a more modest hostel with a good camp atmosphere. Kangerlussuaq Vandrehjem is a hostel in the village. If you like fresh air, you can bring a tent and camp out in the fells. At a certain time of year, two-day trips are arranged, where you spend the night on the ice. This is a unique experience – particularly in spring and autumn with the Northern lights in the night sky.
Tours in Kangerlussuaq: Northern lights, dog sledding and skiing
In the winter months, January to April, Kangerlussuaq is covered in snow, providing an opportunity to take a dog sledding trip or to do some cross-country skiing.
At this time of year, the night sky is often illuminated by impressive Northern Lights. There are few places where it can be experienced as clearly as in Kangerlussuaq. On some nights, the sky is dominated by shades of green, violet and blue colours that pulse back and forth. If you have not experienced it before, you will hardly believe your own eyes. Especially the clear, frosty nights are indescribable. But dress warmly, it can be very cold.
Eating out in Kangerlussuaq
If you live in one of the hostels you can cook your own food. The village has a fine, little supermarket.
There is a cafeteria in the airport building that serves fast food as well as a dish of the day. It is particularly known for its musk-ox burgers. At the back of the cafeteria, there is a small restaurant. In the village, there is a combined pizzeria/Thai restaurant, which is also the village’s local bar. Four kilometres from the airport you find Kangerlussuaq’s best restaurant, Restaurant Roklubben, which serves good, high-quality food made from Greenlandic ingredients. The highlight is their magnificent Greenlandic buffet which is served every Sunday evening. Remember to book a table, because it is very popular.
American air base
- The Bluie West-8 Base was established by the Americans in 1941 as an important airport where aircraft flying on missions between America and Europe could stop to refuel. Later on, the base was renamed Sondrestrom Air Base and until 1992 it functioned as an American military base. In the past several years, the most important purpose of the base was to act as a supply base for the DEW chain’s four DYE stations (DYE 1, 2, 3 and 4) located out on the ice. These early warning stations were used during the Korean War and the Cold War to warn of aircraft on the way from Russia. The DYE stations have been closed down and the Americans shut down the base, but they come back to Kangerlussuaq airport each year to train in landing military aircraft on the ice. In addition, American researchers come each year to the village, primarily to investigate climate changes.
Kangerlussuaq as a civil airport
- Already in the 1970s, SAS had flights to Kangerlussuaq, but none of these flights had Kangerlussuaq as their final destination, because the base was off-limits and access required special permission. Passengers were flown onwards with the S-61 helicopters by Grønlandsfly, now Air Greenland. The large S-61 helicopters were later replaced by Dash 7 aircraft and these have in turn been replaced by Dash 8 aircraft which fly to a series of destinations around Greenland. Nowadays, there are also direct flights from Iceland in the summer.