Glaciers are masses of snow, as well as ice, snow, rock, and other sediments that have been compressed into giant ice formations, many of them formed in the last ice age. These massive bodies of mostly ice shift under their own weight, traveling ever so slowly towards the ocean. The majesty of these spectacles of nature can overpower a traveler who sees one for the first time.
What you'll experience on a Greenland glacier tour will be determined by when and where you travel in Greenland, which is the world's largest island. The Greenland Ice Sheet, sometimes referred to as a single ice cap or glacier, covers about 80 percent of Greenland, making it the largest ice mass in the northern hemisphere and the second only to the Antarctic ice mass. It's estimated that there are 226 glaciers along the coast of Greenland. Some are more accessible than others. Kangerlussuaq is the largest glacier on the east coast of the Greenland Ice Sheet which many access via a 25-km dirt road. Some glaciers are reachable from cities and settlements such as Nuuk, the capital, and Ilulissat if traveling in a helicopter. Of course, some glaciers are best visited by ship. And many visitors experience Narsarsuaq by visiting on foot during organized hikes.
The three largest glaciers in Greenland, which account for about 12% of the island's entire ice sheet, are Jakobshavn Glacier, Kangerlussuaq, and Helheim.
Glacier calving at Equip Sermia Glacier at Disko Bay, Greenland. Photo: Quark Expeditions
Jakobshavn Glacier, which is frequently referred to in travel itineraries as Ilulissat Glacier, is found in West Greenland, accessed usually from the town of Ilulissat. Understanding that icebergs are chunks of ice that break off glaciers when they meet the sea, Jakobshavn Glacier reportedly produces about 10% of all icebergs in Greenland. The icebergs guests will see in Ilulissat Icefjord in Disco Bay are the largest to be found in the Arctic, highlighting one of the most stunning images of what you'll experience on a Greenland glacier tour.
Zodiac cruises into the fjords along the coast of Greenland are also part of what you'll experience during a Greenland glacier tour. These sturdy inflatables transport guests from the ship into the bays and also to the shore—often giving travelers stunning close-up views of glaciers and icebergs. Learning from polar experts who are on the ship is another highlight of what you can expect on a Greenland glacier tour. These polar experts, including glaciologists, polar historians, wildlife experts, and biologists, present various polar-related subjects throughout the journey.
What you'll experience on the Greenland glacier tour
A Quark Expeditions ship nears Alpefjord, Northeast East Greenland National Park, the sight of glacier calving.
Photo: Quark Expeditions
Every Arctic voyage is different. And that means every Greenland glacier tour will likewise be different. Expeditions to the Arctic are guided by the weather, climate, ice, and location of wildlife.
The presence of thick ice in a particular stretch of water, for example, will determine what you'll experience on your Greenland glacier tour. That's what makes it a true expedition. The captain and Expedition Leader consult after reading meteorological and ice reports etc., and together decide how to maximize off-ship opportunities for you.
Trips ashore are made possible by Zodiacs that take small groups from your polar vessel to the shore, where you can experience glaciers as well as wildlife and other fascinating land formations. Guided hikes are geared to all levels of experience and ability. You'll have plenty of time to explore with a knowledgeable guide and take plenty of photographs as you learn about glaciers and other land and ice formations of Greenland.
What you'll experience on a Greenland glacier tour also depends on your interests. For instance, depending on the specific voyage you choose and the ship you're traveling on, you can choose to go paddling, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, or one of many other activities on offer. Quark Expeditions also offers helicopter flightseeing to guests, and of special interest is the Greenland Ice Sheet Experience, which is ideal for anyone who has a fascination for glaciers and other ice formations.
How to prepare for a Greenland glacier tour
For many first-time visitors to the Arctic, determining how to prepare for a Greenland glacier tour is made a whole lot easier by filtering judiciously through the masses of online content to identify the most authoritative sources, which are usually organizations and operators who have a proven track record in taking travelers on Greenland glacier tours. You can start by viewing this short “Discover Greenland” video in which Quark Expeditions guide Lauritz Schönfeld shares his passion for one of his favorite places in the world, Greenland – which is home to some of the best icebergs and glaciers in the world. Lauritz's passion for glaciers will provide inspiration for anyone wanting to know how to prepare for a Greenland glacier tour. You'll also want to do a bit of a deep dive into Greenland itself—but we've made this relatively easy for you. Just click on the link!
A mountain biker at Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Photo: Mads Pihl/VisitGreenland
Next, you want to choose a polar operator who, as mentioned above, has a history of hosting Greenland glacier tours. Quark Expeditions, as outlined in this video “Why Travel With Quark,” has been traveling to the Arctic since 1991. Quark Expeditions offers a variety of voyages that can incorporate a Greenland glacier tour. There are no fewer than five Greenland voyages for you to check out before deciding which one is the best for you—and which one matches your desire to experience a Greenland glacier tour.
Another crucial priority when it comes to preparing for a Greenland glacier tour is addressing the question: What do I need to pack? What gear should I bring? We've made that easy for you with our video, “What to Pack for Your Polar Expedition”.
Best time of the year to go on a Greenland glacier tour
In addition to wanting to see glaciers, perhaps you have other Greenland experiences on your wish list. For instance, if you're longing to witness the stunning Aurora Borealis (the magical Northern Lights), you'll want to read our guide “When to visit Greenland for the Northern Lights.”
In general, the best time of the year to go on a Greenland glacier tour would be during the months of July, August, September, and early October. That's when polar operators offer the best opportunities to truly explore the various regions of the Arctic.
Cruises to Greenland
Quark Expeditions currently offers five cruises to Greenland. Because Greenland has such diversity in terms of wildlife, landscapes, birds, and off-ship activities to suit all ages and levels of fitness, you have the good fortune of choosing which of the cruises to Greenland best meet your needs.
These five cruises to Greenland offer glaciers, icebergs, polar bears, muskoxen, Greenlandic villages, Viking settlements and Norse history, Indigenous culture, the Northern Lights, helicopter-supported adventures, relaxing outings, alpine kayaking, as well as gentle walks to admire the landscape. Some cruises to Greenland also incorporate other Arctic destinations, such as Iceland, Spitsbergen, and the Canadian High Arctic.
- Essential Greenland: Southern Coasts and Disko Bay
- Greenland Adventure: Explore by Sea, Land, and Air
- Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland, Spitsbergen
- Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland & East Greenland
- Best of the Western Arctic: Canada and Greenland.
All you have left to do is choose a Greenland glacier tour and you'll be on your way!