For many visitors to Greenland, Ilulissat town is synonymous with Ilulissat Icefjord, which is one of the main reasons many people choose to visit Greenland. The culturally-rich town of Ilulissat, of approximately 4,900 people on the shores of Disko Bay in West Greenland, is Greenland's third largest city—although many refer to it as "Ilulissat town."
While it may the third largest town in Greenland, don't be surprised to see plenty of sled dogs in Ilulissat. No doubt you'll go home with plenty of dog sled photographs. But, of course, this isn't the only place you can see sled dogs when visiting Greenland.
But for many travelers, the famous Ilulissat Icefjord, on the outskirts of namesake largest town in the area, is the main draw.
Ilulissat Icefjord is nothing short of spectacular with its enormous, beautifully-sculpted massive icebergs. In 2004, Ilulissat Icefjord was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Area for its exceptional natural beauty and importance to glaciology, the study of glaciers. Glaciers, of course, give birth to the multitude of icebergs that astounds visitors who visit Greenland.
Where is Ilulissat, Greenland located?
Ilulissat town is situated on the west coast of Greenland—250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. It's in close proximity to Ilulissat Glacier (known in Greenlandic as Sermeq Kujalleq, meaning Southern Glacier), which is also referred to as Jakobshavn Glacier. It's on the shores of Disko Bay.
It's one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea. Considered by many experts as one of the world's fastest and loudest glaciers, it's said that Sermeq literally “hurls icebergs into the sea.”
Icebergs, of course, are formed when huge chunks of the glacier break off and crash dramatically into the Arctic waters creating thunderous noise that cracks through the air! And, consequently, this glacial ice-calving results in a fjord filled with small to massive icebergs.
Things to do in Ilulissat
Before we get into the specific details on the best way to see icebergs of Disko Bay—a truly impressive sight—there are plenty of other things to do in Ilulissat town itself. Ilulissat town is an excellent destination for visitors to immerse themselves in Greenlandic culture. Ilulissat, established in 1741, is the third-largest settlement (after the capital of Nuuk and the city of Sisimiut) and, as such, is home to many cultural sites.
Visiting the Ilulissat Museum and art galleries in the city center—which will provide a foundation in Greenlandic cultural traditions—is one of the popular tourist activities when visiting Ilulissat town.
Disko Bay, depending on the season you visit Greenland, is also known for whale watching.
Viewing the Northern Lights is also high on the list of visitors. Dog sledding, for those with time on their hands, is a traditional outdoor experience that's popular in Ilulissat, along with kayaking and hiking. Any guide to Ilulissat will likely include these must-do activities, many of which you can do in a few hours or in a day trip.
Many travelers take advantage of a visit to Ilullisat town to sample the local food. Finding a local restaurant where you can sit down to a veritable Greenlandic buffet can be one of the most memorable experiences on a trip to Greenland.
For people keen on ice and ice formations, it's the iceberg-viewing that mesmerizes many guests, especially those who've never seen these beautiful, naturally-carved ice sculptures up close. Some icebergs you'll see on a day trip outing have the height and blocky shapes of skyscrapers.
Others look like bridges, and some remind observers of medieval castles. And then there are what glaciologists call “bergy bits,” the smaller icebergs, as well as chunks of floating ice that experts called "growlers."
Learn more about ice formations in The Explorer's Guide to Icebergs: Bergy Bits, Growlers and More.
If you'd like to see both the Northern Lights and and icebergs, few nighttime images rival the vision of the multicolored Northern Lights dancing over sculpted icebergs in Ilulissat Icefjord. Of course, Ilulissat ice fjord is not the only place to see the Northern Lights when you visit Greenland.
How to plan a trip to Ilulissat, Greenland
How to plan a trip to Ilulissat, Greenland, depends on what you want to see and do in this Arctic region. Perhaps you want to focus on the coastal areas, or maybe you prefer lots of wildlife-watching which would require more than a day trip.
It's important to note there are plenty of wildlife and other nature wonders to experience when you visit Ilulissat town, which is accessible from the Ilulissat airport, close to Disko Bay. Of course, the adventures you experience near Ilulissat ice fjord located in western Greenlan, differ from the experiences you'd have if you visit Southern Greenland.
Similarly, East Greenland will offer a different set of experiences.
So, of course, it's helpful to use blogs like this as a guide to Ilulissat Icefjord when you visit Greenland.
The best way to get to Ilulissat, Greenland, is by ship, a polar vessel that's sturdy but small enough to navigate the fjords and waterways in this part of Greenland. After all, it's just a matter of reaching Ilulissat, Greenland, but how you navigate once you're there!
It's important that you choose an expedition team that has decades of experience in delivering successful polar expeditions. The words “experienced experts” should appear at the top of your list when assessing polar tour operators and other tour companies. Quark Expeditions, for instance, was the first polar operator to bring consumer travelers to the North Pole in 1991. Quark Expeditions also introduced the largest portfolio of helicopter-supported adventures in Greenland.
They were also the first in the expedition industry to launch a culinary adventure option specific to the Inuit food of Greenland and Nunavut. Of great importance, they have a proven track record of offering guests helicopter-supported adventures to remote parts of Greenland.
Of course, you also want to visit Ilulissat with a polar tour operator or expedition company that offers plenty of off-ship activities to be enjoyed on a day trip or shore excursion, such as those near Disko Bay.
Zodiac cruises, for instance, enable gets to explore the ice and surrounding area of Ilulissat ice fjord. Zodiac boat trips with companies like Quark Expeditions always include an experienced polar guide who is knowledgeable about everything from humpback whales, hiking routes, nearby settlements, and who know how to identify an active glacier.
This video, Why Travel with Quark Expeditions, sums up why it's vital you choose the best polar operator when you investigate how to plan a trip to Ilulissat, Greenland. And, most certainly, you'll want to ensure you have all the proper equipment and gear for your trip to Greenland.
How to get to Ilulissat, Greenland
Quark Expeditions offers more than one Greenland itinerary that features Ilulissat in the voyage plan. Guests who join Essential Greenland: Southern Coasts and Disko Bay spend days 8 to 13 of their itinerary exploring West Greenland, which includes Ilulissat.
Guests get to observe enormous icebergs floating out to Disko Bay, and hike to the icefjord. Participants on this particular voyage also get to search for iconic Arctic wildlife such as whales, seals and seabirds. They can explore not one but two UNESCO sites on this Arctic adventure.
There are direct flights to Ilulissat, Greenland, from Reykjavik Iceland. Many visitors rely on Air Greenland Air Iceland Connect. If you're planning to visit Greenland with a reputable polar expedition company, such as Quark Expeditions, these flights, which are frequent during peak season, can be arranged for you—whether it's on Air Greenland, Air Iceland Connect or on a chartered flight. They'll also help you book tours that enable you to explore off-ship.
As with all travel destinations, it's important to plan ahead if you're traveling in the summer season which is also peak season in Ilulissat, Greenland.
For UNESCO World Heritage Site fans
History and culture are part of the mix when you visit Ilulissat Iceford. As mentioned above, there's also the Kujataa UNESCO World Heritage Site which is devoted to ancient Norse and Inuit farming methods. Just as many visitors long to experience activities like dog sledding in Ilillussat, Greenland, others will want visit to explore the ancient history.
Any guide to Ilulissat will give you lots of details on the many historical experiences available on a trip to Greenland.
Additionally, many tour companies will arrange visits to meet locals and experience traditional Inuit settlements for an immersive experience as you visit Greenland.
This guide to Ilulissat will help you achieve all of your travel goals on your voyage to Ilulissat.
Zodiac Boat Tours: Plan an intimate boat trip
Zodiac cruises in are a must for any polar visitor who wants to explore the area in a durable Zodiac boat. Typically, you'll be with seven or eight other guests and a drive- guide who's also a polar expert.
These Zodiac boat tours in and around Ilulissat Icefjord are also essential for getting guests off the ship and onto the land for hiking, day trips, photography walks, community visits, kayak adventures and other activities.
Guests who travel to Ilulissat Icefjord on Quark Expeditions' newest ship, Ultramarine, have access to a fleet of 20 quick-launching Zodiacs that enable guests to explore off ship in the land of the midnight sun, visit Disko Island, enjoy a day trip to a remote part of Ilulissat Icefjord, or see wildlife and ice formations when visiting Greenland.
Some travelers will want to visit Ilulissat, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic on the same trip. Those two destinations appeal to many Arctic travelers because of the breadth of the polar experiences this two-country combination offers.
For those eager adventurers, Quark Expeditions offers the Best of the Western Arctic: Canada and Greenland.
On the Best of the Western Arctic: Canada and Greenland itinerary, you'd fly to Toronto where you'd meet up with your group and together fly, by charter flight, to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where guests embark on their ship.
For Quark Expeditions' Essential Greenland: Southern Coasts and Disko Bay, you'd actually meet up in Reykjavik, Iceland, to board your polar vessel and then sail toward Greenland for your expedition of a lifetime.
Best time to visit Ilulissat, Greenland
If you're keen on visiting Greenland, especially Ilulissat Icefjord, you'll want to take into consideration the best weather and ice conditions that enable a ship to navigate the Arctic.
Longstanding polar operators like Quark Expeditions tend to visit this part of Greenland in the months of July to September, an ideal time to fulfill a lifetime dream of exploring Ilulissat, Greenland.
September is also the ideal time to see the Northern Lights, check out the hiking trails, and watch sled dogs chasing across the ice fjord in the land of the Midnight Sun. Air Greenland operates flights to Ilulissat, Greenland during this period as do many other airlines.
(Some past visitors have mused that there are almost the same number of sled dogs in Ilulissat as there are inhabitants!)
Connecting in advance with a respected polar expedition company long before you visit Greenland is the first step to ensure you get to see and do all the things you want in Ilulissat Greenland, from witnessing the Northern Lights, dog sledding, exploring Ilulissat ice fjord and Disko Bay, whale watching, day trips, seeing the ice formations on Zodiac boat trips, or seeing humpback whales in the ice fjords.
This guide to Ilulissat should help you see and do it all when you visit Greenland.