22 Things Greenland is Known and Famous For

You’re not alone if you’ve recently added Greenland to your travel bucket list. This mysterious island has tempted travelers for centuries, and with modern transport, it’s never been easier to visit.

But the question remains: what is Greenland famous for? 

Greenland glaciers

Greenland is famous for its glaciers and indigenous Inuit people. The world’s largest island, Greenland is also known for its Viking and modern history, its remote location, and amazing local wildlife. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Let’s find out just 22 things Greenland is famous for, starting with its capital city, Nuuk!

1. Nuuk

Nuuk, Greenland

Greenland is famous for its capital city, Nuuk. A third of the nation’s population lives there, and it’s the beating economic and cultural heart of the country. 

Nuuk was ‘founded’ in 1728 by a Danish-Norwegian priest, Hans Egede. But people have lived in and around Nuuk for some 2200 years, as it was once home to the Paleo-Eskimo people of Saqqaq culture. 

These days, it’s about as close to a buzzing metropolis as you can get on the island. You won’t find a Mcdonald’s, a subway, or even many roads, but you will find fascinating museums such as the Greenland National Museum and Archives.

People often visit Nuuk to see the Northern Lights, go on hiking tours and explore Greenlandic culture. 

Fun facts: Nuuk also has another name, “Godthåb”, which in Danish means “Good Hope”. And, another linguistic fact for you: “Nuuk” roughly translates to “cape” in Greenlandic, so you’ll find it in a lot of other villages and towns’ names on the island!

2. Being hard to reach

Aerial view of Greenland

Greenland is famous for being notoriously remote and hard to get reach. Want proof? Well, if you’re planning a visit to Greenland, you’ll almost certainly have to include some stopovers. Flights to Greenland only depart from Iceland or Denmark.

And that’s not all.

Greenland is largely covered in ice or rocky terrain, and spends a large chunk of the year under snow. As such, road maintenance would be too much of a nightmare for local authorities that they are far and few between. The most accepted and easiest mode of transport in Greenland is by boat or via dog sleds!

3. ‘Belonging’ to Denmark

Greenland flag in a village

Now, the word ‘belonging’ might not be the best way to describe the relationship between Denmark and Greenland, but it’s the best I’ve got without a longer explanation.

Greenland was once owned by Norway and Denmark as various colonies, but many were lost by the Norwegians to the Danes in 1814. It was then totally under Danish control and in 1953 it was made part of Denmark. In 1979, the Danes granted home rule to Greenland who now has its own parliament and limited self-government.

Succinctly put, Greenland now has the status of a Danish Dependent Territory, and receives financial support from Denmark.

These days, most Greenlanders speak Danish as well as Greenlandic (more on that later), and the Greenland flag, like the Danish, is red and white. The currency in Greenland is the same as Denmark’s, the Danish Krone.

4. Being trilingual

Greenlandic girl

Greenland is famous for its official language, Greenlandic. In 2009, the government of Greenland made its indigenous language the official language of the country, replacing Danish.

An estimated 85-90% of the country speaks one of three main dialects of Greenlandic, which can be broken down thus: Kalaallisut (West-Greenlandic, which has the most speakers; around 44,000), Tunumiit (East-Greenlandic, 3,000 speakers) and Inuktun (North-Greenlandic, 800 speakers).

However, Danish hasn’t been totally abandoned. Danish and English remain compulsory lessons in schools, and many students are offered German or French on top of that!

5. Glaciers and ice sheets

Glacier in Greenland

Greenland is famous for being…how do I put this…not very green. At all, actually. In fact, most people in Greenland still have to import Christmas trees if they don’t want to use plastic ones.

Greenland was named by Erik the Red (more on him later) and his naming was basically a PR stunt. He believed that by naming it “Greenland” he would attract more Scandinavian settlers.

As you probably know, however, Greenland is basically just ice. In fact, 80% of the land mass is covered in ice – making it the second-largest ice sheet in the world after Antarctica. And if you’re thinking of traversing it, think again: the ice sheet is roughly 2,900 km (1,800 miles) long.

You can however visit the rapidly melting ice sheet and several glaciers in Greenland, mostly by boat, air, or in a few cases, on foot. Read more about that here.

6. Greenlanders love sports

Skiing in Greenland

Greenland is famous for being keen sports enthusiasts, and some of the sports they love most may surprise you. For instance, arguably the most beloved sport in Greenland is soccer – despite the fact that FIFA won’t allow them to join due to the country’s inability to grow grass for standard pitches (!).

Not that a silly thing like grass puts Greenlanders off. They play on artificial grass pitches and hold a national competition, the Greenlandic Football Championship, annually.

And despite the terrain not being made for other traditional sports that require grass, like golf, there are golf courses there. Skiing, handball, fishing, rock climbing and hiking are all actively played sports in Greenland, but traditional Arctic sports are also still very popular.

7. Viking history

Islands in Greenland

Greenland is famous for its Viking history, which has confounded and confused archaeologists for many years. As we know, Vikings were by no means the first settlers of Greenland.

However, the popular story of the first Viking settler in Greenland is a good one. Erik the Red of Norway was banished to Iceland. He was then banished from Iceland after he was found guilty of murder! Following his exile, he sailed in search of a new place to live and ‘discovered’ Greenland, and decided to settle there.

According to the Sagas, Greenland was green and lush when Erik the Red arrived in 980 AD. At least, it was in the parts Erik visited! Unsurprisingly, quite a few Icelanders followed him back to Greenland where they settled.

One of the best-preserved legacies of Viking settlement in Greenland is the ruins of Hvalsey Church, which was probably built in the 14th century.

8. Disko Bay

Disko Bay in Greenland

Greenland is famous for Disko Bay, the largest of the nation’s bays. Don’t get your hopes up by the name – it has nothing to do with flared pants or The Bee Gees, but it is a truly spectacular place to explore for adventure-seekers.

Sermeq Kujalleq is the biggest glacier and ice stream outside of Antarctica, and it’s well worth seeing. Regular boat trips depart to take tourists around Disko Bay, and while there’s an absence of ’70s grooviness, it more than makes up for it with the extraordinary beauty and wildlife surrounding it.

The waters are home to lots of marine life, including humpback whales and orcas, and it’s common to see local fishermen and kayakers winding their way carefully around giant blocks of ice. Any trip to Greenland wouldn’t be complete without seeing the iconic Disko Bay.

9. Hunter-gatherer diets

Greenland fisherman

Greenland is famous for its approach to dining, which will take you back a few years. Thousands of years, actually, because many of its national dishes are what some fitness magazines would call “paleo-style”.

If you’ve no idea what that means, it basically entails a hunter-gatherer way of consuming food. There is little agriculture in Greenland due to the lack of grass, so many Inuit people still hunt, fish, or forage for food.

Vegans, vegetarians, or animal lovers in general may find it tricky to get behind Greenland’s idea of a great meal. The main national dish of Greenland, Suaasat, is a soup made from reindeer, whale, seal, or wild birds, with onions and potatoes.

While, to a Western palate at least, this might seem distasteful, it does have its benefits. The indigenous population of Greenland were found to be much less likely to die from heart disease compared to Danes or Americans, due to the high volume of omega-3 fats obtained from blubber.

10. Most Greenlanders have Facebook

Facebook app

Greenland is famous for being remote, but that doesn’t mean the population are behind the times. In fact, it’s estimated that 78.09% of Greenlanders have Facebook, both old and young.

In fact, social media in general is popular in Greenland. And with all that scenery, it’s easy to see why. Instagram is on the rise, with just under 13% of the population having an account.

And in case you’re wondering, almost 7% of Greenlanders use Pinterest and 7.23% have a Twitter account!

11. 21 June, Greenland’s National Day

Summertime in Greenland

Greenland is famous for its National Day, celebrated on 21 June. This is a day of nationwide celebration, where communities gather around to celebrate their country, culture and identity.

Greenland’s National Day has been celebrated since 1983. Most of all, this is a day of expressing Greenlandish-ness: including traditional food, dress and music. Greenlanders go all out with cheering and flag-waving, and there’s also a spectacular firework show you can attend in Nuuk!

12. Its largest exports are seafood

Fresh shrimp

Greenland is famous for exporting a lot of seafood – mostly shrimp (prawns) and halibut. Also, Greenland is known for selling minerals such as titanium, platinum and copper.

Statistically speaking, 90% of Greenland’s exports come from fish and seafood. Their biggest trade partners are Denmark, Russia, Taiwan and Japan. Despite the fact that Greenland is the 155th largest export economy in the world, they’re actually one of the world’s largest exporters of shrimp!

13. Being an American-European blend

World map

Greenland is a pretty unusual country in some respects. Firstly, it’s situated in North America, but politically speaking, it’s European. Although it is not part of the EU, having withdrawn in 1982, it has status as an “associated community”.

Despite the fact that most of Greenland is uninhabited, it is still a massive country (it would be the 12th largest in the world if it were independent). But being an American-European hybrid can cause issues – particularly with regard to time.

There are three timezones in operation in Greenland. Most of the country operates three hours behind GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), though the east and north-west have their own zones.

14. The U.S has tried to buy it twice

American dollars

Greenland is famous for its great strategic location, and the United States in particular has had its eyes set on it for quite some time.

The first time the US tried to purchase Greenland was in 1946. Then-President, Harry Truman, offered Copenhagen $100 million for it. The deal did not go through.

Then, as many will remember, Ex-President Trump had his sights set on it back in 2019 – but Danish Prime Minister Mette Fredriksen refused to even discuss the matter. America does have ties to Greenland beyond the geographical and fiscal, however: the U.S’ northernmost air base is in Greenland, 1524km from the North Pole.

15. You can see the Northern Lights there

Northern Lights in Greenland

One of the main reasons people want to visit Greenland, beyond seeing the ice sheets and glaciers, is to see the Northern Lights, also called Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are visible all year round in Greenland, though the best time to view them is during winter.

The Greenlandic word for Northern Lights is “Arsarnerit”, meaning “those who play with a ball”. This goes back to old Inuit legends that say when the Northern Lights play across the sky, it is the projection of deceased souls playing with a walrus’ skull.

Superstitious Greenlanders will also forbid you from whistling at them – as it supposedly provokes the dead souls to take whistling, living souls to join them. As magnificent as the green, eerie lights are, you may want to limit yourself to awestruck silence out of respect for locals!

16. Having unreliable weather

Midnight sun in Greenland

I’m not much of a planner. Are you? If you are someone who likes to meticulously calculate where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing on vacation, I’ve got bad news for you: Greenland is famous for having spontaneous weather changes.

And we’re not talking about a quick drizzle or a short, sharp shower of snow either. No, we’re talking about the kind of weather that says “we don’t care if you planned a hike today, visibility is zero!”

One thing’s certain: there’s always a pinch of uncertainty involved in making plans when visiting Greenland. That said, you should almost always travel with a guide – it’s safest that way.

17. Canine companions

Dogs in Greenland

Most polls will tell you that people prefer dogs to cats. Wherever you stand on that debate, there’s no denying that dogs are both extremely useful and beloved in Greenland.

Dog sledding is by far the most used method of transport in Greenland that doesn’t involve water or the sky. The Greenland dog is genetically considered to be closest to the Siberian husky.

While they look cuddly, you should always ask permission before petting one. Dogs who have been trained to pull sleds are not always considered “pets” and you should therefore exercise caution before pouring your love onto one!

18. Lutheranism

Church in Greenland

Greenland is famous for being one of the most Christian nations in the world. More accurately, it ranks as the eighth-most Christian country, with 95.6% of inhabitants identifying as Christian.

Lutheranism or Protestantism is the most common form of Christianity practiced in Greenland. The Church of Greenland is associated with that of the Church of Denmark, which is also Protestant.

People who live in bigger towns or cities worship in churches, which can be found all over the country. Christmas is a particularly religious event, where most people attend church.

19. Oldest ongoing festive broadcast

Christmas in Greenland

Speaking of Christmas, here’s a fun fact. Greenland is famous for being home to the world’s oldest ongoing broadcast: “Christmas greetings to Greenland”. It started as a radio program in 1932, and went over to TV in 1982.

What is more, the program is actually a broadcast of friendship from Denmark. Denmark’s national TV station is in charge of producing and running the show, which includes festive music sung by Danes and Greenlanders.

20. Environmental issues

Whale in Greenland

Greenland is famous for being in the news regarding climate change and animal rights. Although both subjects are controversial, they are nonetheless of great interest for many people.

NASA scientists have studied Greenland’s glaciers and the rate at which they are melting using airships. It is believed by most scientists that they are melting due to climate change, increased global temperatures being the main culprit. NASA found that the larger a glacier is, the faster it melts.

Animal rights in Greenland has long been a controversial issue. Just as in Iceland and Denmark, whale hunting is not illegal. Some species have protected rights, such as narwhals, but these measures merely outlaw the selling of narwhal horns – narwhal meat is still sold in Greenland.

21. The world’s oldest vertebrate

Greenland shark
Caption: Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to Greenland’s animals. Did you know that Greenland is famous for being home to the world’s oldest vertebrates? Probably not, because they aren’t creatures most of us see very often.

The Greenland shark might not have been around since dinosaurs, but the ones still swimming in the surrounding ocean have been around for quite some time. As much as 400 years, actually.

Greenland sharks grow to be 5m long, The oldest specimen found and carbon dated was born between the years of 1501 and 1744, but her most likely date of birth was in the 17th century. Meaning, she was alive when the Mayflower arrived in the U.S from England! 

And if that wasn’t astonishing enough for you, here’s another fact about them: Apparently, they only become sexually active after 100 years (!).

22. Brightly colored villages

Houses in Greenland

As you may already know, Lego comes from Denmark. And as Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, it makes sense that some aspects of Danish culture are clearly apparent.

The most striking example, at least visually, has to be the brightly colored buildings dotted around Greenland. In my opinion, they look like they’re built out of Lego (though, they are in fact wooden).

The contrast between the vivid colors of the houses, churches and communal buildings and the snow makes for a beautiful sight. It certainly adds to Greenland’s charm and makes for some awesome pictures!

Greenland glacier

And there we have it! 22 things Greenland is known and famous for. Have you been to Greenland? Tell us about your trip in the comments below!

Interested in the Arctic? Also read about the things that Norway, Iceland and Finland are famous for!

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