Nuuk is the largest city and the capital of Greenland, but by no means does that entail that this is a large place to visit. Far from it, this tiny capital is, in fact, one of the smallest capital cities in the world, with a population of just 17,000 residents by the best of estimates. While big city lovers might not find a huge array of attractions, restaurants or hotels to occupy them, part of Nuuk’s real charm inherently lies in this local, peaceful and quaint vibe that is hard to find, and that has been lost, elsewhere in the world.
Despite its small stature in comparison to the rest of the world, Nuuk is big in Greenland, being the site of government, museums and being the cultural and culinary heartland of this vast and icy island. For a small place, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that are definitely many more things to in Nuuk than you would anticipate. Aside from being home to the bulk of Greenland’s museums, Nuuk is found in a beautiful location, surrounded by one of the densest collections of fjords in the world. Greenland’s arctic wilderness is found just outside the city too, and there are many opportunities to explore this unique outdoor environment from the capital.
Here’s our guide to visiting the capital of Greenland, to help you to plan your trip to a city that is growing in popularity with tourists, and to help you to understand just what exactly, are the best things to do in Nuuk.
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How to Travel to Nuuk
Nuuk is found on the west coast of Greenland, in the southern region of what is the largest island in the world. Despite being Greenland’s main city, Nuuk isn’t exactly well connected in terms of transport infrastructure, which is a demonstration of the remote isolation and the extreme weather that this arctic location results in.
There is an international airport in Nuuk, however, there are only connections to Reykjavik in Iceland from here. The most popular flight route into the city is via the larger international airport, found north of Nuuk in the small town of Kangerlussuaq, a place which was originally constructed as a US air force base and subsequently has retained an airstrip large enough to land large passenger jets. There are regular flights to Kangerlussuaq from both Iceland and Denmark, and then regular connections onwards to Nuuk.
Nuuk’s airport is well connected domestically by Air Greenland and their small fleet of turboprop aircraft, so once you have arrived in the capital, it’s easy enough to catch a flight to elsewhere on the island. Domestic air travel is the quickest form of transport, as due to the vast nature of the wilderness that encompasses Greenland, there are very few road connections, even to the capital city.
Nuuk’s harbor also means that it is becoming ever more popular as a stop on Arctic cruises, particularly in the warmer summer months when there is much less ice to navigate. There are also ferry connections to other towns along the west coast of Greenland.
Best Time to Visit Nuuk
Nuuk is best visited during the warmer summer months, as the rest of the year, given the city’s unusually northern location and proximity to the Arctic, there will inevitably be extremely cold and long days of darkness. Remember, however, that even though it might be summer, temperatures are rarely better than warm, while at the same time, the sun rarely sets.
This perpetual sunlight during summer is in much contrast to the almost perpetual darkness during winter, creating an extreme seasonal cycle that many people may find to be an intriguing enough reason to visit the city on its own.
Things to do in Nuuk
For such a small capital in one of the most remote locations in the world, there are a surprising array of things to in Nuuk. From historic and cultural exhibitions in the local museums to the natural splendor and intense nature of the fjords and wilderness, a trip to Nuuk is an experience on living at the edge of the world.
The Greenland National Museum
Any trip to Nuuk should begin with a walk around the country’s National Museum. This extraordinary museum covers the entire history of human habitation of Greenland. Telling an incredible story of hardship in one of the harshest environments of the world. Alongside the failures and successes of different groups that have lived here, from early stone age hunter-gatherers to Vikings, Inuit, and Danish settlers.
It’s a real journey through thousands of years of Greenlandic history and culture, and a revealing insight into the turbulent and extreme ways of life that have been borne out of the isolation and fierce weather in the Arctic.
Nuuk Art Museum
Nuuk Art Museum is located in a former church in the heart of the Greenlandic capital. It’s a great look at local culture and artwork, with exhibitions that really highlight the wealth of artistic talent that is found on the island, both through past years and in a more modern sense.
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Katuaq Cultural Centre
If you are still interested in learning more about the unique artistic and cultural scenes in Greenland’s capital after visiting the two museums above, then one of the best things to do in Nuuk is to visit the Katuaq Cultural Centre. This is a wonderful space where exhibitions and performances are held, from international film festivals to music concerts. There is always something unique and interesting on show at Katuaq.
Whale Watching is one of the most popular tourist activities during the warmer summer months when these incredible marine mammals will be found out in the ocean and even in the fjords near to the city. It’s an unmissable activity when visiting Nuuk in the right season.
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Nuuk sits on the banks of one of the world’s largest system of fjords. This extensive collection of waterways is a beautiful place to explore by boat, with towering, snow-capped peaks and spectacular icebergs waiting around every twist and turn. As well taking boat trips out into the fjords, there are countless opportunities to explore by land, hiking along the ridges, climbing the tall mountains and really getting into the outdoor spirit that the locals love.
Viator offers a Small Group Boat Tour to the Fiords from Nuuk
Explore Greenland’s Wilderness
The city of Nuuk is just a small spot in the vast wilderness of Greenland. From Nuuk, it’s easy to head out into the surrounding country, where there are mountains, spectacular scenery, and even hardy wildlife to discover. The best time for hiking is in the summer, when trekking and camping is most definitely a favorite pastime for visitors and Greenlanders alike, while during the colder, icier months, you can explore the landscapes using dog sleds or snowmobiles.
The Hans Egede House
A visit to the Hans Egede House is one of the most historic things to do in Nuuk. This was the home of one of Nuuk’s first Danish settlers, Hans Egede, who built the house in 1728. It is the oldest surviving structure – not counting the ruins of previous Viking settlements – still standing in Greenland.
The Northern Lights
Of course, being so far north, Nuuk is an exceptional place to visit if you are looking for the opportunity to watch the Northern Lights. While in the depths of winter, it may be possible to see this beautiful light show from the city, it’s best to get out into the wilderness, away from any light pollution, to truly experience the Northern Lights.
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The Norse Ruins
Greenland has had a turbulent history that is much at the mercy of the extraordinary climatic conditions. Many groups of settlers have tried and failed to survive here, including many early Norse and Viking warriors and farmers that tried to establish permanent settlements in the west of the island. Many of the ruins of their farmsteads can be found around the fjords, testament to the trying nature of this harsh environment.
Where to Stay in Nuuk
Nuuk has the best range of accommodation in Greenland, but still, being such a remote and small city, this range isn’t exactly huge in comparison to the rest of the western world. A favorite amongst travelers looking for affordable, but clean and modern accommodation is the Greenland Escape, while those looking to splash out a little while on holiday in Nuuk may want to book into the Hotel Hans Egede, the largest and most famous hotel in the city, which is named for one of the first settlers. There are also a number of cheaper hostels available for budget travelers, and an increasing number of local apartments up for short terms rentals to visitors.
*** Book your stay today at the Hans Egede Hotel *** We stayed here!***
*** Book your stay today at the Hotel Nuuk Seamen’s Home
Read reviews and check prices for hotels in Nuuk, Greenland.
Fodd & Drink in Nuuk
Nuuk a growing culinary scene, where local ingredients with both Scandinavian and Inuit origins are fused with international influences across the city. There are many great Greenlandic dishes to try, much of which revolves around the scarce meats and vegetables that could be fished, hunted and grown in this harsh land.
Anything from whale and seal, to muskox or even Thai, Chinese and Italian can be found in Nuuk. There are even, of course, a few bars and craft beer breweries to enjoy in the evenings.
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More on Greenland:
Resources for Planning Your Trip to Greenland
Recommended Guide Books For Greenland:
- Greenland & The Arctic (Lonely Planet Travel Guides)
- Lonely Planet Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands
Greenland Map: Greenland Travel Map
TourRadar offers 8 multi-day trips through Greenland. Check out ==> Greenland Tours and Trips
Travel Insurance: We use Allianz travel insurance and have since our first trip to Mexico in 2003. They’ve been there for us on our adventures – and many friends and readers – multiple times over! If you want to book with Allianz Travel Insurance, simply use this link to get their travel insurance!
Search for Tours and Trips in Greenland we recommend:
- Iceland & Greenland Explorer– Start in Reykjavik and end in Copenhagen! With the ocean cruise tour Iceland & Greenland Explorer, you have a 12 day tour package taking you through Reykjavik, Iceland and 6 other destinations. Iceland & Greenland Explorer includes accommodation as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
- South Greenland Grand Adventure– Start and end in Narsarsuaq! With the polar tour South Greenland Grand Adventure – 8 Days, you have a 8 day tour package taking you through Narsarsuaq, Greenland and 5 other destinations in Greenland. South Greenland Grand Adventure – 8 Days is a small group tour that includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
- Arctic Highlights– Start in Longyearbyen and end in Reykjavik! With the polar tour Arctic Highlights, you have a 15 day tour package taking you through Longyearbyen, Svalbard and 3 other destinations. Arctic Highlights includes accommodation as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
- Pristine Greenland– Start in Reykjavik and end in Copenhagen! With the ocean cruise tour Pristine Greenland 13 Days, you have a 13 day tour package taking you through Reykjavik, Iceland and 5 other destinations.