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Greenland's Thule and Vikings - More Than Ancient History

3 min read

Greenland is well-known for landscapes you won't see anywhere else in the world, but visitors are also wowed by the richness of its history. The preservation of historical sites and artifacts, as well as the country's culture, give visitors a unique opportunity to experience Greenland from past to present on their arctic cruise.

Greenland ice - Photo credit: Erkun Photography


How Travelers Are Exploring Greenland's History Today

At least six different Inuit cultures have survived over several centuries. As the last people to migrate to Greenland in the 9th century, the Thule people exerted great influence over the culture that many of today's residents still practice.

Adding to its allure, Greenland's historical past even includes a bit of mystery: the entire Norse population disappeared from the area around 1500 AD for reasons largely unexplained.

Greenland kayak artifacts in a museum in Nuuk

Pieces of each era in Greenland's history have survived in a number of ways. Norse ruins still stand and are open to visitors in South Greenland and at Nuuk. Various Inuit tools and knives, although modernized a bit, are still part of Greenland's culture. And many original age-old tools such as the qajaq, a sea kayak used in Greenland, and the dogsled, continue to be used by residents of Greenland today.

Read Explore Greenland: Where Should I Visit & Why?

Visitors also have the opportunity to experience East Greenland's tightly clustered communities. These homes are either tented summertime homes of fur or skin, or homes made of stone, sod, or wood – and are often strikingly similar to homes built by the land's original inhabitants.

Thanks to the incredible preservation of Greenland's history, travelers can experience an authenticity seldom found in other regions of the world.

exploring hike greenland

Photo credit: Chris King

Natural Gifts Found Only in Greenland

Greenland is not so alluring solely for its history of cultural encounters and shifts; there are spectacular, breathtaking landscapes found nowhere else. The nation is made up of hundreds of small islands, the centerpiece of which is the largest island in the world.

One of nature's most well-known gifts to the region is the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis. This wondrous show of dancing lights actually occurs all year round in Greenland, but can't be seen in summer months because of the midnight sun. If you are traveling from August to April, though, you can experience Greenland's northern lights from any corner of the country.

You can experience the best Greenland has to offer in under two weeks vacation time.Photo credit: Yukun Shih

For a millennia, the northern lights have been revered and even feared by Greenland's natives. For centuries, the Inuit of Eastern Greenland passed the meaning of the dancing night sky down to their children. These lights were the spirits of children who had died at birth, they said; the continually shifting streamers of colored light were their souls dancing round and round the night sky.

Explore Greenland's Diverse Regions

While Greenland's east coast offers some of the most vivid aurora borealis on the planet, the west coast is a fantastic location for hiking, trekking, and viewing wildlife. Home to the Illulisat Icefjord, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, west Greenland offers an adventure-packed experience that might include orienteering in the midnight sun, riding a dogsled or taking part in a local traditional coffee gathering called kaffemik.

ilulissat icefjord - photo credit RVK

Explore Greenland's rugged, less-traveled side via the eastern coastline, rather than the more frequently traveled western coastline. Noted for being one of the most isolated areas in the world, northeastern Greenland could be considered the country's ultimate adventure. Exploring the eastern coast includes experiences such as navigation through “iceberg alley”, visiting with its most northerly residents in Ittoqqortoormiit, and traveling to the southern tip, historically known for being the area that received the first European settlers.

Regardless of which area of the country you choose to explore, Greenland is one of the only countries in the world where you can connect with such a wide variety and combination of historical and natural gifts. As you speak with local residents, partake in their customs and traditions, enjoy the works of talented artists and experience their way of life, you'll pick up on the influence of their Thule and Viking ancestry.

Intrigued? You can learn more about Greenland in these expert and traveler stories on the blog.

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