Greenland is the largest island in the world, located in the north Atlantic Ocean. It has a long and storied history, dating back to when it was first inhabited by Indigenous people following the historic Ice Age. The most well-known to arrive in Greenland were the Saqqaq people, who first arrived on the island around 2,500 BC.
During the Viking era, Greenland was visited by Erik the Red upon his expulsion from Iceland. He arrived in Greenland in the late 900s, exploring the western and northern areas of the island before returning to Iceland to create a colony. Erik the Red’s arrival on Greenland was reportedly at the Tunulliarfik Fjord on the southern coast of the island. From that arrival point, his party ventured further north to explore the island in earnest.
Greenland offers polar adventurers the perfect combination of wildlife viewing and local Greenlandic culture. Photo: Acacia Johnson
People who descended from Norse cultures remained predominant across Greenland for approximately 500 years following Erik the Red’s arrival on the island. Things began to change around the year 1500 as fewer connections to Norse populations remained amongst the local population.
Beginning around the year 1600, Denmark sent adventurers to explore more of Greenland and established their claim over the island. To this day, Greenland is considered a sovereign state but remains affiliated with the Kingdom of Denmark.
Where is Greenland?
Greenland is situated on the cusp of the Arctic Circle, north of neighbouring Iceland, and directly east of the northern islands of Canada. Considered part of the North American continent, it is the third largest nation associated with the continent after the mainland nations of Canada and the United States.
With a population of approximately 56,000 people, much of Greenland remains uninhabited and unspoiled by human touch. This makes the island an attractive destination for wildlife to inhabit the ocean that surrounds Greenland. Whales, in particular, are quite fond of the tidal currents surrounding Greenland, including Narwhal whales are known o explore the Arctic Circle. As with any Arctic wildlife, sightings depend on various factors. No wildlife sighting is ever 100% guaranteed. Mother Nature marches to her own drum!
When is the best time to visit Greenland?
The best time to visit Greenland is during the summer, specifically from the period of June through September. During this time of year, the large ice sheets that cover the coasts of the island are thinner as a result of warmer temperatures. This makes it easier and safer for vessels to sail into the fjords and port towns of the island so adventurers can explore Greenland in detail.
In order to undertake this experience, you can book a passage on the summertime Under The Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland adventure. You’ll depart from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik and sail across the Arctic Circle towards the southeastern coast of Greenland. Along your journey, you’ll make stops in the port towns of Ittoqqortoormiit, Milne Land, and Ella Island that’s home to the illustrious Kong Oscar Fjord.
In addition to the local sights and experiences onshore, there's the chance of witnessing pods of whales that roam around the edges of the Arctic Circle. Your best opportunity to see these amazing mammals will be on Day 4 of the above-mentioned voyage on the journey between Iceland and Greenland.
How to visit Greenland
As an island, Greenland is only accessible by sea or by air. Luckily, you can experience both methods of travel to explore the island when you book the Essential Greenland: Southern Coasts and Disko Bay experience.
This is a 15 day journey that will take you across the north Atlantic around the southern shore of Greenland. You’ll have an opportunity to see whale as you approach the Denmark Strait that separates Greenland from Iceland so make sure you have your camera or video equipment ready to capture moments of the whales in their natural habitats.
Additionally, you can book special excursions as part of your adventure, including flightseeing and Heli-Landing adventures. On both excursions, you’ll depart from Ultramarine aboard your flight and have an opportunity to witness Greenland’s incredible beauty from the air.
Your Heli-Landing excursion will also take you to a pre-selected destination where you’ll land and explore some of the remote landmarks in Greenland.
When does whale watching season begin in Greenland?
Most whales like to hunt for food and nurse the health of their pods in relatively isolated waters. However, they prefer warmer areas where the water is less frigid and inhabited by different types of fish and smaller mammals that are natural sources of food for whales.
Some pods will even venture between the northern and southern Polar Regions at different times of the year due to seasonal changes in the ocean. When summer weather settles upon the northern hemisphere, whales can sometimes be seen frolicking in the sea near Greenland, Iceland, and other northern islands. Before winter arrives, they’ll swim south across the Atlantic until they reach the Southern Ocean near Antarctica to enjoy summer in the southern hemisphere.
If you’re an adventurer who loves to capture photos or videos of whales in their natural habitats, make sure you visit places like Greenland during the summer months when whale populations are at their peak. You’ll want to have excellent cameras and photography equipment to document the experience so you can cherish those memories for years to come.
What whale species can you see on Greenland whale watching tours?
You'll find more than a dozen species of whales inhabiting the extensive fjord system around Greenland. Among the most common whales you might spot on a whale watching tour are humpback whales, minke whales, fin whales, beluga whales, blue whales, and orcas.
Narwhal and bowhead whales also inhabit the surrounding waters.
Greenland whale watching
If you’d like to embark on an adventure that includes opportunities for whale watching in Greenland, you can book passage on any of Quark Expeditions’ Greenland adventures.
You can learn more about the types of whales you’ll see and where are the best locations to see them playing in the ocean by watching this introductory video about the curious behaviours of marine mammals.