With an average population of less than just 500 permanent residents, Kangerlussuaq is a small town in a vast wilderness. But that’s Greenland, a vast area on the edge of the world that’s sparsely inhabited but beautiful and wild. Kangerlussuaq then is a microcosm of everything Greenland is.
Most people visiting Greenland will inevitably pass through Kangerlussuaq, as this is the site of one of the only international airports in the region, but although it may seem unassuming and isolated, it’s worth staying to experience the intense natural scenery found just on the town’s doorstep. Within reach of Kangerlussuaq are some of Greenland’s most extensive ice caps, an unusual world of extreme weather and unreal landscapes that are impossible to experience anywhere else in the world.
There are vast highland areas seemingly devoid of life, and huge empty spaces that will enthrall any visitor. The nearby fjords are equally spectacular, and there are endless opportunities to explore by snowmobile, hiking or even on dog sleds for an authentic Greenland trip.
To help you decide what to do in this remote part of the world, and how to get there, here’s our guide to Kangerlussuaq. Greenland.
Where is Kangerlussuaq?
Kangerlussuaq is located on the western coastline of Greenland, in the southern portion of this huge island that lies where the Arctic Circle begins in the northern hemisphere. The small town is found on the edge of the Kangerlussuaq Fjord, that eventually stretches far out towards the ocean after running its course. Kangerlussuaq is surrounded by glaciers and ice, and there are few other towns to be found in such a breathtaking natural setting.
Things to do in Kangerlussuaq
A trip to Kangerlussuaq will, of course, revolve around exploring the excellent outdoors that surrounds the town, as there are plenty of opportunities for hiking or snow-related activities depending on the season you are traveling in. Kangerlussuaq itself is very small, so don’t expect a huge amount of things to do here, but get out and about and it will certainly be a trip to remember.
Visit the Greenland Ice Cap
The Greenland Ice Cap is one of the world’s largest sheets of ice, and it covers 80% of the vast interior of the island. Kangerlussuaq is the best place in Greenland to access the sheet, or at least a small portion of this massive natural sight, overland, as there is a durable road that leads from the town and out into the ice. It is just a few kilometers away and can easily be reached, offering visitors a unique look at a natural phenomenon that can only be found in this far northern part of the world. The really adventurous can even jump on an overnight tour that takes you out to the ice to camp, surrounded by dark skies and surreal landscapes.
During our visit we opted to take a tour with Albatross Arctic Circle that visits Point 660. This option required us to leave from Kangerlussuaq in a giant tundra buggy, the road is very rough, making stops at various lookouts before reaching the edge of the moraine. It’s not possible to get right to the ice in a vehicle anymore, so we had to hike in before reaching the ice. Once there, we were able to walk on the ice and explore the area. It’s one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done, being able to stand on such a massive sheet of ice.
The Russell Glacier
The Russell Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers within reach of Kangerlussuaq. It formed from the Greenland Ice Cap, and it slowly moves each year, shifting and straining under the humongous weight of the ice that it’s made from. The glacier is an otherworldly scene, where a huge, striking, tall wall of ice rises from the ground and high into the sky.
People that come to Kangerlussuaq to hike the Arctic Circle Trail will often take a tour to the Russel Glacier and then get off to wild camp before starting their hike back to town and continuing along the trek.
View the Northern Lights
Greenland is one of the best places in the world to experience the Northern Lights, and Kangerlussuaq itself is no exception. This natural light show, where the night sky lights up in a blaze of greens, blues, and purples, can be seen from the town itself, although you can also venture into the surrounding areas too, in order to see it in a more isolated location. The Northern Lights are best seen during the darker months when the days are shorter. Visit after summer, either in or autumn, or indeed, in winter, to really maximize your chances of seeing this once in a lifetime, natural show.
One of the very few places to visit in the town itself is the Kangerlussuaq Museum. This small museum is actually found in the airport, as it tells the story of the town’s original construction and use as an airbase by the American military. As well as this intriguing look at the modern history of Kangerlussuaq, the museum tells the story of the Inuit people who have used the region as hunting grounds for centuries, and it’s an intriguing look at both the indigenous and recent history of this wilderness.
Visit the Kangerlussuaq Airport Sign
The signpost at the Kangerlussuaq airport is one of the best known and most photographed landmarks in Greenland. It was setup by Scandinavian Airlines in 1954 in connection with their new polar route between Copenhagen and Los Angeles over Greenland, the world’s first scheduled air service over the Arctic. The sign was initially placed in front of the former, The Danish Hotel.
The purpose was to place Kangerlussuaq at the center of the world and display direction of travel and flights times to well-known travel destinations around the world. After the old hotel was closed down, the signpost was moved to its present location at the airport. Whether you’re staying in Kangerlussuaq or just passing through on a connection, be sure to step outside and grab a photo of this iconic landmark.
Kangerlussuaq Sightseeing Tour
This is the best way to familiarize yourself with everything Kangerlussuaq. On this tour you will hear fascinating stories about the early populations of Kangerlussuaq and fast forward to the settlement’s significance during World War II, the Korean and Cold Wars, and today.
Due to the unique roadway systems in Kangerlussuaq, the tour provides access to several landmarks, viewpoints, a visit to Kellyville and the old military base. The tour also takes you to experience a kennel where you can interact with and learn about the Greenlandic sled dogs. Ultimately providing you with greater insight into Greenlandic culture and the people’s way of adapting to life in the Arctic.
During summer, when the snow has melted, the surrounds of Kangerlussuaq give the perfect opportunity and conditions for long hikes through the wilderness, particularly when the sun never sets. As well as the unreal landscapes, there are plenty of chances to spot the local wildlife, even if life out here is few and far between.
Kangerlussuaq is also the place to start the 105 mile Arctic Circle Trail. A route that takes you through the Greenland wilderness, walking from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut on the coast. Hikers starting here use Kangerlussuaq as a base to stock up on provisions, maps and start the hike. Transportation to the official trailhead at Kellyville can be provided here, although it is also possible to walk from town along the road until you reach the trail head.
Take a Tundra Safari
Once complete frozen over in ice, Kangerlussuaq’s geological history dates back 2.8-2.7 million years. As such, it’s a unique environment to explore, home to a large variety of flora and fauna, including the unique musk oxen and reindeer. These kind of safaris take you into Greenland’s backcountry aboard a tundra buggy, outfitted to accommodate transport in the Arctic’s summer and winter terrain.
The ultimate goal is to find a group of musk oxen to observe, from a distance as they tend to be unpredictable, and to provide a true opportunity for you to experience the wilds of the Arctic. Time is also spent looking for other wildlife, like reindeer, Arctic fox and hare and leaning about the tundra vegetation.
Operating out of the Kangerlussuaq airport is the company Air Zafari. Booking a flight with them will give you some intense aerial perspectives of the area that surrounds Kangerlussuaq including the Arctic desert, massive fjords, glacial lakes with bright colors, hills, glaciers and the edge of the Greenland Ice Cap.
Flights are operated with modern, well maintained aircraft featuring extra large windows, making aerial photography possible from their planes. They operate their flightseeing tours in the lowest permissible altitude throughout most of the flight, giving you the best possible views of the surrounding landscapes and wildlife.
Dog Sledding around the Kangerlussuaq countryside is really an unmissable experience. It’s a beautiful way to see the icy surroundings of the town, but also an excellent way to experience the local culture and traditions, as this is a form of transport that has been utilized for centuries to make crossing this snowy landscape much more convenient.
If however, dog sledding is not for you, then jump on a snowmobile tour of the countryside instead. This is much more fast paced of course and you can cover a larger area of land than by dog sled, as well as giving yourself an adrenaline rush while you enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Where to Stay in Kangerlussuaq
As you may expect from such a small town, there are very limited accommodation options in Kangerlussuaq, so during the peak summer months, it’s imperative that you book ahead to guarantee yourself a place. The Polar Lodge and Hotel Kangerlussuaq are the two main hotels, while there are also two camping sites very close to the town which are perfect if you are looking for a budget option, or to enjoy the great outdoors.
We stayed in the Polar Lodge and used it as our base to not only explore the area around Kangerlussuaq but to prepare for our departure to hike the Arctic Circle Trail. The accommodation is simple but comfortable, built in a series of old containers that have been put together. Rooms are private with shared bathroom facilities and the lodge features a common area and kitchen to use. WIFI is available on a paid basis and worked well.
Check prices and book your stay > The Polar Lodge
Budget travelers may also want to consider the Kangerlussuaq Youth Hostel, for basic dormitories.
Restaurants in Kangerlussuaq
Like accommodation options, eating options within Kangerlussuaq are also very limited given the small size of the town. Restaurant Roklubben is the most visited and highest rated restaurant in Kangerlussuaq, although actually, it is found a few kilometers away on the beautifully scenic shores of a nearby lake.
It’s the perfect place to enjoy the views and to have a great meal, tinged with local flavors and ingredients. Restaurant Kangerlussuaq within the town is another great option to enjoy local meats and dishes.
There is also a large supermarket where you can purchase grocery items to cook your own meals at your lodging.
How to Travel to Kangerlussuaq
Despite having such a small population, Kangerlussuaq has traditionally acted as one of the main entrance points to Greenland, as its humble beginnings on the edge of Greenland can be attributed to the construction of a US Air Force base during the Cold War. Kangerlussuaq international airport has one of the largest runways in Greenland and consequently has fairly regular connections to Copenhagen in Denmark with Air Greenland, which is one of the few entry points to this remote island.
Air Greenland then have connections from Kangerlussuaq to most other destinations in Greenland, including the capital and largest city Nuuk as well to even more remote and sparsely populated settlements. While the majority of all international flights come from Copenhagen, Denmark, there is an increasing number of flights from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Kangerlussuaq airport. However, it is not possible to reach Greenland from any other place by air.
Although the vast and turbulent landscapes limit road travel, it is possible to travel to nearby areas on the few limited roads that exist, as well by other forms of local transport, however long distance travel is best done by domestic air flight, for ease and convenience. A spectacular way to arrive in Kangerlussuaq is also by ship, as there is an ever-increasing demand for cruise ship tours from Europe and the USA that then call in at the town after navigating the fjords in the summer months.
Best Time to Visit Kangerlussuaq
Due to its extreme location by the Arctic, Kangerlussuaq is a destination that is of course, very weather dependent. The best time to visit is during the relatively short summer season, which runs from June through to September.
Due to its northern position, Kangerlussuaq experiences very, very long hours of sunlight, including the strange midnight sun. This is an excellent time to see the outdoors, to hike in the highlands and to really see local life at its best when everyone is outside enjoying the light.
Spring can also be a lovely time to see Kangerlussuaq, and although the season is extremely short, it is very colorful, and you won’t become unstuck by the long hours of sunlight as much as in summer. Spring and Autumn can both be quieter and less expensive seasons, as most tourists will visit in summer.
Winter is the extreme polar opposite of the summer, with harsh weather and almost no sunlight at all for long periods of the season. This can be an unusual time to visit, and travel can be unpredictable due to the snow, ice and cold weather, but if you are looking to see the northern lights, or to enjoy some snowmobiling, or dog sledding, this is the ideal time to visit if you can cope with the prolonged absence of sunlight and cold.
Useful Tips for Travelers
- There are ATM’s located in the airport that stays open 24 hours.
- Opening hours of the shops vary but they tend to be open in the morning, closing a couple hours in the middle of the day and reopening again in the afternoon. This appeared to also be dependent on the flight schedules.
- Tours can be booked in advance online or when you show up. All of the tour operators in the area operate booking desks within the airport.
- If you have an extended layover in Kangerlussuaq and want to explore without excess luggage, there is a coin operated lockers area in the airport.
- Everything in Kangerlussuaq is within walking distance and very easy to find.
More on Greenland:
- Traveler’s Guide to Ilulissat, Greenland
- Traveler’s Guide to Sisimiut, Greenland
- Travel Guide to Nuuk Greenland
- Greenland Kayaking – An Adventure Like No Other
- Best Sleeping Bag for Cold Weather
- Best Travel Rain Jacket to Stay Dry on the Go
- Best Hiking Backpack for your Next Adventure
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Our visit to Kangerlussuaq was in partnership with Visit Greenland. All opinions, amazing adventures and impressions are 100% mine, as always.