Travel Greenland on a shoestring budget

Amasa our l

Amasa our fisher friend.

“Greenland isn’t the cheapest country to visit, but don’t let that stop you”, writes guest blogger Frederik Hoelge who travelled to Ilulissat, Kangerlussaq and Nuuk. Between the ice and the whales, the country offers some of the most amazing nature you will probably ever see. Here are six tips on how to experience more and spend less.

1. Skip the hotel

Ilulissat harbour

The hostel is Ilulissat is not far away from the harbour

If you are anything like me you are going to Greenland to see whales, icebergs and all the other stuff in the nature. You are not going to stay in your hotel room, so don’t get one. If you are hardcore, bring a tent and live for free in the wild. I am not, so instead I went for the hostels. They have double rooms (bunk beds!). They aren’t fancy at all, but you get a decent place to sleep and a fantastic place to meet other travellers who will love to share their best tips about Greenland.

I slept in the hostels in both Ilulissat and Kangerlussuaq and they were fine. They aren’t super cheap but they are affordable at around 500 kroner for a double room.

2. Eat at home

The day's catch. They also caught fresh fish.

The day’s catch. They also caught fresh fish.

Another advantage of living in a hostel is access to a kitchen. So get the knives out and prepare your own food. The price of eating out in Greenland ranges from fair enough to very expensive, but unless you go for one of the gourmet options like Nipisa in Nuuk it probably won’t be particular memorable.

Food in Greenland can be quite expensive especially if you crave for vegetables or beef steaks. So skip those and go to ‘Brættet’ in the morning.Brættet is where local hunters and fishermen sell their goods and everything will be fresh and cheap. If you go late everything will be sold out though and the selection will vary from day-to-day.

Another possibility is to go to the harbour and buy fish directly from the boats. People we met at the hostel got very cheap cod and even free redfish. Finally you must eat a lot of lumpfish roe. It is so inexpensive during the Spring season that the sour cream will be more expensive than the roe.

3. Get a map

Garnet Rock

Garnet Rock

Organised trips in Greenland are expensive as there are only a few operators. The easiest way to save on tours is to arrange them yourself. Ilulissat have some very well marked trekking routes in the U.N. World Heritage Site. They are easy to walk along without a guide. We enjoyed them immensely for the views of the ice and the flora in the fells. I would recommend buying a book about Greenland so you can read about whatever you find interesting. Bring your own sandwich and a thermos of tea and some snacks for the walk.

In Kangerlussuaq, which will be your main point of entry to Greenland if you arrive by plane from Copenhagen, the interesting areas aren’t quite as well-marked. My girlfriend and I met a friendly guy in the hostel who lent us his map. We figured out a nice route and saved 600 kroner each on the hike to Garnet Rock looking for the semi precious garnets and musk oxen. We neither found gems or oxen on this trip but found plenty of tracks and bones from the animals. We were told that the paid trip to see oxen guarantees a sighting but most likely you will only see them from very far away.

4. Rent a bike

bike trip

Wreck in Kangerlussuaq

Also in Kangerlussuaq we wanted to see the Russell glacier which was another 600 kroner excursion. Instead we rented bikes and rode 25 kilometers on the most bumpy road I have ever ridden. It was a long trip, but we didn’t have any other plans for the day. To be fair we kind of hated it during the ride, but now it is one of our best stories from our Greenland adventure and the landscape is amazing during the ride. Bike rental was 100 kroner each.

View from bike trip

View from bike trip

5. Talk to the Greenlanders

Amasa our local fisherman

Our local fisher friend Amasa

During our layover in Kangerlussuaq we chatted with one of the flight attendants who gave us great advice. Bring toll free cigarettes. In Greenland, cigarettes are very expensive, yet a lot of people smoke. Our flight attendant told us of some colleagues who had used a carton of cigarettes to pay for a dog sled ride. We used our cigarettes in the harbour in Ilulissat, where we bought ourselves a fantastic trip to the sea with Amasa a local fisherman. By showing a (genuine) interest in his work and asking if he had time he invited us for a two-hour tour to the ice fiord and the Disko Bay if we paid for gas.

It was really interesting to hear about his life in Disko Bay. We heard about how he experienced global warming first hand, and stories about life as a small fisherman in one of Greenland’s boom businesses, halibut fishing. He asked for around 120 kroner for gas, we paid him 200 kroner and a half a carton of cigarettes because he gave us a great experience. It was much more personal than if we had gone with a tour boat.

6. When not to save

Russell glacier Greenland

Sometimes you have to spend money. This is Russell glacier.

Obviously there will be things you can’t avoid paying for. If you have special interests like ice fishing or hunting you will need equipment and possibly a guide and transportation.

We went to Greenland to go whale spotting and see the icebergs. We were lucky to spot some whales from land but we decided to pay for an organised trip anyway. Unfortunately our fisherman friend Amasa didn’t have the time to take us for a longer trip and looking for whales might take some time. Getting close to the humpback whales is amazing and we found it worth it to pay 1000 kroner for a four hour trip. Another expensive trip we paid for was a walk on the ice cap. Another 1000 kroner trip but it would have been completely impossible to do alone. Our guide Kim was amazing very professional and knew a lot about the ice cap as he have been working on the ice for more than 20 years. He knew exactly where to see the most interesting parts of the ice (that can be reached by foot). He also provided the equipment to walk safely on the ice.

View from bike trip

View from bike trip

Have a nice trip

However you travel, you will probably spend a lot of money going to Greenland, but do it and make sure you have the time to absorb this amazing country. It will be worth it.

Text and photos: Frederik Hoelge

Do you have any tips on travelling on a shoestring budget? 

22 thoughts on “Travel Greenland on a shoestring budget

  1. Very interesting blog here and some pretty good tips! I notice it was written in 2014 and it seems it got a little cheaper since then (I just returned from my trip!). At least with some hostels and most definitely the excursions. I’d also imagine there’s many more Air BnBs since then, too. And while not cheap in and of itself the excursions aren’t any more expensive than those in Iceland and the Southwest American national parks. I was pleasantly surprised about that. A 5 hour tour in the Kangerlussuaq area is only around 600 kroner. A 2 hour tour less than 300. Also a cool 2 hour fjord boat ride is only 600 krona, around Nuuk. Giving views you can really only see from a boat.

    Kangerlussuaq is actually pretty well marked if one especially follows the road. Which is actually really, really long (as Kangerlussuaq use to be a U.S. military air base. And the Germans also worked on the road post-war). There are breathtaking views from the road, including of mountain lakes, ice fields and glaciers. Easy access to walk to all. Also there’s an easily accessible mountain right near the airport, as there’s a road leading up to it. Gives epic views. And Nuuk is very easy to hike around too, including by the airport.

    Also, food (shops and cafes/restaurants) are not any more expensive than in Scandinavia, which is something I actually feared. After the expensive flights Greenland is actually quite doable, so long as one is use to also traveling to Scandinavia and other expensive countries.

    Once again an awesome blog, but just saying that things have maybe changed over the past few years. While most places in the world seem to have gotten more expensive Greenland seems to be getting cheaper. I do recommend booking excursions in advance though, even in the late summer/early autumn weeks. Or you may not be able to get a spot on the tour. I learned that the hard way with a lot of tours. Still, no regrets, as it was a memorable time!

  2. What an amazing and fascinating place to visit. I really didn’t know much about this but after reading this post I will surely visit one day. Thanks for sharing such an amazing post.

  3. Thanks for the blog – really informative! I was just wondering though, how did you get from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat? Flights seem extortionate and the passenger ferry from Sisimiut only stays in Iulissat for 4 hours. Thanks!

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  6. I should so start planning and saving for a trip to Greenland and Iceland (don’t know when it will happen though )! It looks so peacefully beautiful there.. Great tips, I hope I can make them into use someday! 🙂

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    • I personally think cigarettes should not be used to pay for anything, but that’s my own vendetta against cigarettes. But it worked for Frederik =) You could probably do the same with chocolate, and coke and alcohol… liquids are not so easy to bring along for trading!

    • There are plenty of vegetables available in many of the larger cities. Right now, because it is Halloween season they have delivered a whole carton of pumpkins to the grocery stores in Nuuk! In the smaller cities it’s not so plentiful nor so fresh, but still available as I understand it =)

        • Hmm…well on any normal day you can get a box of loose-leaf salad like rucola for about 25 DKK… which is about 5 US dollars…what I do is wait for the specials, because it makes a huge difference over here!

          However you pay less for other things – like seafood. Right now, wild trout is selling for about 12 US dollars per kilo in the market… delicious!

    • Ah Magwood it’s too bad, since there are so many great hiking opportunities I need you to tell me about. I plan on travelling South Greenland next summer – never really heard about it before I came here, but everyone raves on about how green it is. Mesh that with icebergs, the fells and viking ruins it sounds like a rather special hiking holiday. If I can save up the time and money to do it!

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