When you think of Greenland, you might see images of frozen tundra, northern lights, icebergs, and roaming snowy hills. From the name itself, Greenland is more than what it seems at first. More often than not, most people and tourists misunderstand the culture surrounding the largest island in the world. Uncover the secrets that lie beneath its ice sheets with these Greenland facts.
- Greenland has a total area of 836,330 square miles.
- With an estimated population of 56,480, Greenland is one of the world’s least densely populated places in the world.
- At least 80% of Greenland’s landmass is made up of an ice cap.
- In 1953, Greenland became a part of Denmark.
- Historians say that the first humans lived in Greenland around 2000-2500 BC.
- Greenland is the planet’s biggest island in terms of area.
- Most of the parts of Greenland are covered with glaciers, ice, and snow.
- Greenland is close to the East Coast of Canada.
- A submarine ridge connects Greenland to North America.
- Iceland is Greeland’s closest neighbor in Europe.
- Nuuk is Greenland’s capital with only a population of 18,000.
- The Inuit people make up 90% of Greenland’s population.
- The official language in Greenland is Greenlandic.
- Although Greenland has its official language, many of its citizens also speak English and Danish.
- Greenland uses DKK or Danish Krone as its official currency.
- Greenland isn’t really green, since most of the nation is covered in ice.
- About 2.5 million years ago, Greenland had more green than it did now.
- Greenland is both in the South and North parts of the Arctic Circle.
- The country may be part of Denmark but Greenland has its own domestic rules and government.
- Greenland experiences a yearly phenomenon where the sun does not set for more than a month.
Greenland got its name from an Icelandic murderer.
One of the least known Greenland facts is that it’s not really green. More confusingly, the country got its name from the Viking, Eric The Red. Exiled on the island in the 900’s, the Viking named it Greenland or “Land of the People,” hoping that its name would attract new settlers.
Greenland is home to the world's largest ice sheets.
Next to Antarctica, Greenland boasts the largest ice sheets of any country. This affects most of the world’s sea level and covers around 1.8 million sq km. In fact, ice sheets make up 80% of the island, while land only takes up 20% of its landmass. However, it’s worth noting that these small patches of land live up to the country’s name with lush greens.
Greenland was granted Home Rule.
Technically, Greenland is a part of the Kingdom of Denmark but it functions politically as an autonomous country. This means that they have more responsibilities and more power when it comes to decision making in the Greenlandic government.
Before this, they have been culturally and politically tied with Europe for a millennium. When Denmark held Greenland’s colonies, they became a part of it in 1953. Denmark has since provided the country more avenues to stand on its own.
You can find 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greenland.
This might come as a surprise but there are not only one but 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greenland. Sermeq Kujalle, one of the world’s most active glaciers can be found at Ilulissat Icefjord on the West Coast.
Similarly, a subarctic farming landscape at Kujataa highlights the cultural histories of Inuit farmers and Norse hunters who eventually did the development of the area. Lastly, the third on the list is an Inuit hunting ground at Aasivissuit, Nipisa.
There are no direct flights to Greenland.
This is one of the common Greenland facts you need to know if you want to go there. You can’t fly directly to the country from the US or any parts of the world. Instead, you must get connecting flights via Denmark and Iceland.
You can't find roads in Greenland.
Although films and movies may depict roads along the entirety of Greenland, it’s actually just a common misconception. You’d only find roads within the towns in Greenland, but the rest of the island’s expanse remain untouched by urbanization.
Greenland's main mode of transportation is boats.
Since the country is mostly ice sheets and water, the transportation in Greenland heavily centers on air traffic and boats. As a result, you’d find more heliports and airports than bus stops in the country. Another travel must-try is to explore Greenland via dog sleds and snowmobiles.
Greenland's land area is more than enough for its scarce population.
Despite how big it is, the Greenland population only averages 57,000 individuals. This population size resembles Aldershot in the UK or Port Orange in Florida. However, Greenland’s size is comparable to all the combined land sizes of France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and the UK.
Greenlandic words are common in the English language.
Language is a very versatile mode of communication, connecting people from all parts of the world. In act, some words such as igloo and kayaking traces back to Greenlandic origins.
Traditional food in Greenland comes from hunting.
One of the least known Greenland facts is that it has a rich wildlife. Although it’s mostly covered in ice sheets, many species such as reindeer, birds, and musk oxen, thrive in Greenland.
Due to this biodiversity, local communities take part in whaling, sealing, and hunting for their culture and food. If you are a foodie who loves to try unique dishes, Greenland might just be your next big trip!
Greenland's national dish is soup.
Greenland’s Suaasat is a meat soup with seal, seabird, whale, or reindeer as its broth and protein. These native species are cooked in bay leaves, aromatic ingredients, and onions to create the iconic dish.
Greenland experiences warm summers.
For a country with a lot of ice in it, the island’s southern part experiences fairly warm summers. During this time, temperatures can rise to 68°F or more. Usually, tourists consider summer as the best time to enjoy the outdoors and see more of what Greenland has to offer.
There are many hot springs in Greenland.
Along with its wonderful landscapes, Greenland is home to naturally-occurring hot springs that you can visit. You can find most of these hot springs in Uunartoq Island if you plan on visiting someday.
Greenland is rich in history.
Historians discovered that the first humans who lived in Greenland died of unknown reasons. Nonetheless, several groups from North America settled in the land not long after. In the 10th century, Norsemen from Iceland settled in the uninhabited southern part of the country but disappeared in the late 15th century.
Finally, the Inuits from Asia came to Greenland in the 13th century, with lasting Inuit bloodlines in the country to this day.
It's impolite to call Greenland citizens Eskimos.
It’s best to address the people as Kalaallit or Inuit which means Greenlander. In the present day, 88% of the population of Greenland come from Inuit and Danish or pure Inuit descent. The rest of the 12% are either Danish or European. This is definitely one of the Greenland facts you should always remember.
Fishing and whaling are regulated in Greenland.
Although fishing is a major industry in the country, they cannot export fish, whales, seals, and other popular catches from Greenland. Locally, the government also prohibits the hunting of social species such as blue whales.
As a general rule of thumb, seal and whale meat cannot be sold internationally, and can only be consumed locally.
Greenland has a vibrant capital.
Housing almost a quarter of the population in Greenland, Nuuk also has a reputation for its funky and vibrant vibe. Of all the places in Greenlannd, Nuuk counts as the cosmopolitan and the biggest town on the island which also features hip cafes, fashion boutiques, and museums.
Museums are a must in any Greenland itinerary.
More than the facade and the little information that we know, Greenland has a lot to offer. If you happen to visit the country soon, be sure to drop by its museums. For you to get an introduction and hopefully a better understanding of the country, do not miss the Katuaq Cultural House, Nuuk Art Museum, and the National Museum of Greenland.
Greenland considers the Summer Solstice a national holiday.
Every 21st of July, Greenland celebrates the Summer Solstice or the longest day of the year. Basically a national holiday, locals enjoy this time to bask in the sun and spend quality time with family and friends over BBQ.
The Midnight Sun is a once in a lifetime experience in Greenland.
There’s a yearly phenomenon in Greenland where the moon does not show and the sun is bright from May 25 – July 25. That’s 2 month’s worth of sunshine and bright days! It’s a pretty cool and natural phenomenon that you should experience at least in your life. This is definitely one of the Greenland facts you’d want to see yourself.
Qaqortoq in Greenland has been home to many for 4,300 years.
In the Southern part of Greenland lies Qaqortoq, which is the largest town in the area. It has served as home to Inuits and Greenlanders for around 4,300 years already. If you want to get a glimpse of its culture and history, the Qaqortoq Museum features various art collections from the Norse, Dorset, and Thule cultures.
Greenland has the best Norse ruins.
Hvalsey Church may be a Christian church, but it’s actually one of the best-preserved Norse ruins in the country. Interestingly, the latest record of a Norse wedding held there dates back to 1408.
Golf lovers will enjoy Greenland.
Greenland holds its yearly Ice Golf World Championships in mid-March at Uummannaq. First held in 1999, the event has become an annual celebration of the country. Usually, the championship lasts for 2 days, set on ice and in snowfields between icebergs.
Greenland's Coat of Arms is symbolic.
The Coat of Arms is a hereditary symbol tracing back to medieval Europe that establishes a country’s identity in battle. Greenland’s coat has a blue shield with a polar bear in it.
The blue shield represents the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans while the polar bear symbolizes the fauna that thrives in the country.
Ice sheets in Greenland are melting through the years.
According to a study by Nature Climate Change, the ice sheets in Northeast Greenland lose at least 10 billion tons of ice every year since 2003. To date, around 530 billion metric tons have been lost, which is twice more than the average loss in a year.
Greenland has no more than 3,000 registered cars.
Since there are not a lot of roads connecting the cities of Greenland due to fjords in between, cars aren’t a popular choice in the country. Instead, most of the people living there have boats or helicopters to allow them to travel from one place to another.
Norwegians were led in Greenland by a Viking.
In the 10th century, Eric the Red was exiled to Greenland for murdering someone due to a dispute. As a result, he led the Norwegians into the country. By the end of the first millennium, both Icelanders and Norwegians came to settle in the country.
A Norse settler from Greenland first discovered North America.
Even before Christopher Colombus found South America, a Norse settler already discovered it 5 centuries prior. Leif Erikson was one of the earliest settlers in Greenland and historians believe that he already found it before anyone else could.
Greenland's temperature regularly fluctuates.
According to scientists who have been studying the country’s ice core, Greenland has changed many times in terms of temperature patterns for the past 100,000 years. This is a pressing issue as the Arctic has been warming up about twice as quickly as normal.
Pirates possibly drove away Greenland's earliest settlers.
One of the least known Greenland facts is that pirates have possibly roamed the country before. In the late 15th century, Norwegian settlers died out or moved out of the country. Though most experts believe that climate change was the reason, some also theorize that pirates may have driven Greenland’s former residents out.
Some evidence suggests that pirates may have found their way into Greenland from areas around the Basque country.
The US wants to purchase Greenland.
In 1946, the United States offered $100 million for Denmark to hand over Greenland to the US. Spearheaded by the Secretary of State James Byrnes, Denmark declined the offer. In today’s money, the offer was equivalent to around $1.3 billion.
Greenland women play a huge role in society.
The women in Greenland are just like any other women in the world – strong and empowered. Traditionally, women in Greenland hunt their own food and walk many kilometers with rucksacks and rifles on their backs. It’s also common to see female pilots in the area!
Many natural resources can be found in Greenland.
Underneath its icy exterior lies rich deposits of iron, ore, zinc, copper, oil, lead, gold, and other rare earth elements. This is why it’s called a high-income country with residents having an average salary of around $33,000.
President Trump has also expressed interest in buying Greenland.
A large part of the reason as to why the US President wants to get a hold of Greenland is because of its rich natural resources. However, Greenland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made it clear that the country might be open for business deals but it’s definitely not for sale.
The Thule Air Base in Greenland was approved in 1950.
The northernmost base of the United States Air Force is in the Thule Air Base of Greenland. It’s 1,524 km away from the North Pole and 1,207 km north of the Arctic Circle. It’s the northernmost installation of the US Air Force and it still stands today with at least 6000 USAF staff, civilian contractors, and personnel.
The Air Base expansion forced villages to move.
Between the year of 1951 to 1954, the Air Base in Greenland expanded. Because of this, at least 3 populations of villages were forced to move and make room for the base for at least 100 km away.
Greenland is home to many bird species.
Although most of the areas in the territory are ice sheets and water, Greenland also hosts large bird colonies. These birds come in a wide variety of endemic and unusual birds like puffins, kittiwakes, short-eared owls, ptarmigans, skuas, and many more.
Rubies from 2.9- 3.1 billion years ago were found in Greenland.
In 2017, rare ruby gems were unearthed and found in Greenland. Mother nature has hidden these gems for billions of years the ice.
Protestantism dominates Greenland.
At 64.2% of the population, most of the people in Greenland practice Protestantism, while another 27.4% believe in other sects of Christianity.
Greenland's traditional Inuit religion focuses on a Sea Goddess.
The traditional religion of the Inuits that inhabited Greenland since the 13th century focuses on making peace with a vengeful sea goddess. The Inuit believe that their hunting and fishing are influenced by their relationship with the goddess.
Seafood is popular in Greenland.
The diet in Greenland generally includes fish and sea mammals like shrimps, whales, and seals. Additionally, locals would also rely on game birds for food.
Greenland coffee comes in a unique blend.
Coffee is best enjoyed in the morning to give us the kick we need to start our day. In Greenland, their coffee concoctions include Grand Marnier and whiskey topped with whipped cream. However, the catch is that before you drink it, it must be lit at the bottom. Talk about one of the most interesting ways to drink your coffee in these Greenland facts!
Greenland was worth 1 billion dollars.
With all the offers made by the US Government, interest has sparked on how much Greenland would cost if it’s bought. In 1946, it was worth $1 million or $1 billion in today’s money. In 2019, the estimates fall around $200 million to $1.7 trillion with a haggling price of $42.6 billion.
You can see the northern lights in Greenland.
Winter in Greenland comes dark and long, but it has its perks. When winter rolls around, you can see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. Starting from September to mid-April, the lights dance above your heads when the sky is clear. Since there is little to no light pollution in the country, you can see the extremely vivid lights. How’s that for one of the most amazing Greenland facts today?
Gunnbjørn Mountain is Greenland's highest point.
Standing 3,733 meters above sea level, the Gunnbjørn Mountain is also the highest point in the north Arctic Circle. Technically, locals call it a nunatak or a rocky peak that protrudes through glacial ice.
Cape Farewell is an important landmark in Greenland.
When you see Cape Farewell, it indicates that you are already in the country’s southernmost point. This cape lines the southern shores of Nunap Isua Archipelago and Egger Island.
Ice sheets in Greenland can reach over 3,000 meters thick.
Since most of the country is covered in ice caps, ice sheets could reach 3,500 meters at its thickest point. These ice sheets also hold at least 7% of all the reserves of freshwater on the planet.
Greenland has 3 time zones.
Greenland’s standard timezone follows GMT-3, which is 3 hours ahead of EST (Eastern Standard Time) in New York and 4 hours behind CET (Central European Time). Meanwhile, Ittoqqortoormiit follows EGST, which is 2 hours ahead of EST. Finally, Thule Air Base follows GMT-4 which is 1 hour behind EST.
There are three main Greenlandic dialects.
Greenlandic Kalaallisut has very close relations to the Inuit language in Alaska and Canada. Greenlandic language may vary depending on the location as main dialects are in the North, East, and West. The west dialect is where the Greenlandic orthography is based on.
Greenland has a difficult language.
Many terms in the Greenlandic language come from idioms, which makes it it’s fairly difficult to learn and translate. People in Greenland are fun-loving people so do not be offended if they laugh when you try to speak their local language. Some of the words that you can practice are qujanaq or thank you, immaqa or maybe, baj or bye, and aluu or hello.
Planning is not common in Greenland.
According to locals, many of their activities depend on the weather. This is why Greenlanders usually do not plan and just leave everything to a maybe. When you soon visit the country, be sure to take a lot of patience and understanding with you. Your planned itineraries can’t always be followed and things may go out of control.
Sermermiut is a popular destination in Greenland.
On the shores of Disco Bay, you can find Sermermiut. From the view in Ilulissat Icefjord to its close proximity to the town, Sermermiut is a highly accessible tourist destination.
Greenland has an impact crater.
In 2018, Greenland attracted so much attention because of an impact crater found under an ice sheet from the Hiawatha Glacier northwest of Greenland. The crater had an impact diameter of 1.5 km, depth of 320 m, and a total diameter of 31 km.
Based on the size of the crater, NASA scientists say that it may have caused significant environmental consequences – not only in the Northern Hemisphere but globally, too.
Greenland celebrates National Day.
Every 21st of June, Greenlandic Inuits celebrate their National Day. On this day, they traditionally play Nunarput or their National Anthem. Locals would also have a feast with cake, coffee, and buffets in many parts of the country. Some other festivities include flag parades and floats in town.
It’s definitely one of the must-know Greenland facts for those who’d like to visit the country.
There were once Greenlandic coins and banknotes.
Today, Greenland has the Danish Kroner as its currency. However, the country used to have its own money. Their coins and banknotes had the same value as that of Danish Kroners.
Unfortunately, its production officially stopped in the 1960s and moved back to Danish Kroner. Today, cash is largely used in the territory and you can only use bank cards and credit cards in stores located in major towns.
Aside from fishing, Greenland takes pride in its other trades.
When it comes to revenue, fishing remains on top of the industry. However, it’s not the only source of income in the country. Greenland also takes pride in its Block Grant from Denmark which includes tourism, handicrafts, service industries, mining, and many more. They also place a big emphasis on the growth of their mining and tourism industry.
Although tourism is booming, mass tourism is not yet a thing in Greenland.
As a tourist destination, Greenland has landed spots on National Geographic Traveler’s list as well as that of Lonely Planet’s. Despite the growth of attention in the country, the nature in Greenland is just so huge that you can still experience the peace and quiet.
Travelers usually come to Greenland to experience 5 things.
Aside from other personal agendas of the tourist, there are 5 common things that a tourist may want to experience in Greenland. On top of that is the Northern Lights, second comes the Ice and Ice Sheets, Whale Watching, Culture, and Dog Sledding. In tourism, this itinerary has been described as “The Big Arctic Five.”
People in Greenland do not have dogs as pets.
One of the least known Greenland facts is that they see dogs as working dogs and not as pets. Up to this day, dog sledding still functions as mode of hunting and transport above the Arctic Circle.
For centuries, Greenlandic dogs have only been seen as working animals, which still remains today. With that, dogs stay outside the houses all year round and adult dogs are not free to roam the area as they may have unpredictable wolf genes. Talk about one of the most interesting Greenland facts to end the list!