Our selection of the best things to do in Ilulissat will help you make the most of your time in this breathtaking part of the world
Ilulissat is the Greenland of glossy brochures. Smatterings of multi-coloured houses, iceberg-strewn waters, majestic sled dogs and gigantic glinting glaciers all contribute to the region’s raw photogenic appeal. It is quite simply one of the most spectacular environments on Earth.
The colourful town is fringed by some of the planet’s most magnificent scenery. It is this unfenced wilderness that provides the perfect backdrop for the myriad outdoor activities available in Ilulissat.
Below, I list the best things to do in Ilulissat, each providing a unique perspective of one of the planet’s most magical locations.
Best things to do in Ilulissat
1. Iceberg sightseeing
Ilulissat is a Greenlandic word for ‘icebergs’ and sees an astronomical 35 billion tonnes (46km3) of ice make its way through Disko Bay every year. The combination of a huge ice sheet and fast moving glacial calving into a fjord covered by icebergs is a phenomenon that only occurs in Greenland and Antarctica.
Unsurprisingly, the most popular thing to do in Ilulissat is iceberg sightseeing, usually on one of the many boats that ply Disko Bay. The best option is to join a midnight sun iceberg sightseeing tour.
The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that only occurs in the summer months in locations either north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle. During these periods, the sun remains visible at local midnight.
Read our guide on midnight sun iceberg sightseeing for more information.
2. Eqi Glacier boat tour
The gigantic Eqi Glacier in Greenland sits around 430km north of the Arctic Circle and around 1,600km south of the North Pole. Positioned around 80km north of Ilulissat, it takes at least three hours to reach Eqi by boat.
Known as the calving glacier, Eqi is five kilometres wide where it meets the sea and can be up to 250m at its highest. It may not be the biggest in the area, but the glacier is one of the most active in Greenland.
Read our guide on Eqi Glacier boat tour for more information.
3. Hiking around the Icefjord
Hiking around Ilulissat is the quickest and easiest way to get close to the immense icefjord that fringes the town. There are four main hiking trails in Ilulissat, all of which showcase a different side of the icefjord.
The trails all converge at the Old Heliport where there is an information board and map. It is a 15-20 minute walk from the centre of Ilulissat. Read our detailed guide on hiking around Ilulissat for more information.
4. Whale watching
Chances are, you may have already seen whales on one of the above excursions. I was lucky enough to watch three humpbacks play in a small bay for over an hour during one of my hikes near Sermermiut.
I saw humpback whales while hiking around Ilulissat
If you haven’t had the pleasure or simply want a longer, closer a look at the magnificent creatures, then a whale watching boat trip is a good option. Sightings in the summer months are highly likely as skippers stay in contact with the fishing vessels out at sea who share information on sightings.
Fifteen whale species visit the waters around Greenland and humpback whales (up to 18m long and weighing up to 30 tons) are by far the most popular of the cetaceans. Minke and fin whales also make regular appearances.
The Inuit have been using kayaks around the waters of Ilulissat for thousands of years, albeit without some of the luxuries of modern vessels. Iceberg sightseeing from water level offers a unique approach to exploring the icefjord and Disko Bay. Whale sightings are a real possibility.
Tours run throughout the day and in the late evening for combining a kayak trip with a midnight sun experience. Dry suits are provided for all kayakers and excursions last around two hours.
6. Meet the sled dogs
Around 1,800 sled dogs live in Ilulissat. During the summer months, with no snow around, they have little to do but laze around their kennels. During the long winter they are put to work by fishermen hauling their catch, usually Greenland halibut, from the icefjord back to town.
Sled dogs are easily spotted around Ilulissat
Sled dogs are easy to spot and even easier to hear in Ilulissat, but adult dogs should never be approached. They are secured for good reason; they’re working dogs and not necessarily friendly to strangers.
However, it is possible to meet selected sled dogs and take part in their feeding and upkeep, along with watching and participating in short demonstrations of sledding. Expert handlers will let you know which ones can be approached for cuddles!
In winter, extended dog sledding excursions are also available.
7. Oqaatsut Village
Located on a small peninsula around 21km north of Ilulissat is the traffic-free and picturesque village of Oqaatsut, which has been inhabited since the 1700s. Today, just 42 people reside there, making it the 8th smallest village in Greenland.
The village is home to one small grocery store, a restaurant, a hotel and a church that doubles as a schoolhouse. There are several ways to visit. One option is to follow the waymarked-hiking trail between Ilulissat and Oqaatsut for a half-day hike combined with a water taxi home.
Most choose to take a boat trip in both directions across to the village, staying for lunch and a walk around the village. Visits can also be combined with kayaking and/or overnight trips.
8. Sightseeing by air
Finally, for those looking for a bird’s eye view, there are helicopter and five-seater plane flights available. Flights last between one and two hours and take in sweeps of the icefjord and Jacobshavn Glacier.
Longer flights also incorporate routes over the mountains east of Ilulissat, the inland ice cap and the striking blue lakes that are formed within the ice sheet. Helicopter flights in Ilulissat are supplied by Air Greenland and the plane flights by Air Zafari. Both can be booked via World of Greenland.
Things to do in Ilulissat: the essentials
What: Exploring the best things to do in Ilulissat, Greenland.
Where: Ilulissat is slowly beginning to meet accommodation demand with a growing selection of options. My visit during the peak month of July was a last-minute decision so most of the hotels were fully booked. With few options left, I stayed at Ilulissat Apartment, a basic self-catering apartment 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of town.
Other popular but more expensive hotels include Hotel Hvide Falk, Hotel Arctic and Hotel Icefiord. There is also a growing number of Airbnb options available throughout town. Click here to get a discount on your first stay.
When: The best time to visit Ilulissat is from mid-June to mid-September when the weather is ideal for most activities including all boat tours, whale watching, hiking, kayaking and witnessing the famed midnight sun. It’s also the busiest time of season with hotels and lodges selling out fast so it’s best to book ahead.
How: All of the above excursions can be booked with World of Greenland at their main offices in the centre of Ilulissat. Tours meet outside the main office where minibuses transport customers either to the wharf where boats depart or directly to the excursion. After a tour, minibuses can return customers to the office or to main hotels around town.
I flew to Kangerlussuaq from London via Copenhagen in Denmark. From there I booked an internal flight to Ilulissat with Air Greenland who essentially have a monopoly on domestic flights in Greenland. Book via Skyscanner.
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Guidebooks on Greenland are hard to come by, but if you’re planning on doing any trekking beyond Ilulissat then we recommend the Cicerone Guide to Trekking in Greenland