10 Interesting Facts You Didn't Know About Greenland

By: Freelance Contributor
View of Helicopter and Marina in Tasiilaq East Greenland. Getty Images / © 2011 Christine Zenino

You’re going to be hearing a lot about Greenland over the coming year; travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet has named the country #9 in their top 10 countries to see in 2016. And as the planet keeps getting warmer, a country that’s covered in ice and snow is going to see some changes. While Iceland seems to have had its fair share of publicity in recent years, few travelers know very much about the nearby country of Greenland at all. Consider this an education in Nordic culture; here are 10 interesting facts about Greenland:


10. Not a lot of Green

The colorful Inuit village of Ittoqqortoormiit, Scoresbysund, Greenland
Getty Images / Ragnar Th Sigurdsson photographer

In Viking legend, Greenland was described as a lush, green, fertile land. Today, however, ‘Whiteland’ would be a more accurate term since approximately 85 percent of the country is covered in ice and snow.

9. No Roads

Dog sledding in the vicinity of the town of Sisimiut, Western Greenland.
Getty Images / Martin Llado

Greenland is big, really big. But despite having a land size of over 2 million square kilometers there are no roads or railway systems. All travel between towns is done by plane, boat, helicopter, snowmobile, or dogsled (yes really.)

8. They’re Not Eskimos

Chris Christophersen / Getty Images

And they will be quite offended if you call them this. The proper name for an indigenous person from Greenland is Kalaallit. Which actually means ‘Greenlander’ in the native Inuit language Kalaallisut.

7. Full of Gems

Photo collection of half-precious stones and gem stones. Here shown: Red raw Ruby - real gem stone.
Getty Images / Kerstin Waurick

Literally. A large amount of gemstones like ruby and sapphire found in this country is surprising given that it’s such a barren place of ice and snow. Reportedly, gemstone mining could one day overtake fishing as the countries largest industry.


6. Not For Sale

Map of Greenland and Iceland
Getty Images / JeanUrsula

In 1946 the United States tried to purchase Greenland from Denmark but the European Kingdom refused to sell this island to the Americans.

5. Cool Capital

Anders Peter Photography / Shutterstock

The capital and largest city in Greenland is Nuuk, with a population of approximately 17,000 people. It’s home to the University of Greenland, an art museum, sports stadium, cultural center, the National Library of Greenland, and the country’s international airport.

4. No Cars

Colourful wooden houses located on a hillside leading to a small harbour create picturesque atmosphere in the remote settlement of Qaqortoq, Southern Greenland
Getty Images / TOMAS ZRNA

Well, there are some; an estimated 2,570 cars are owned in the entire country of Greenland. But given that there are no roads, the majority of these cars are located in the capital of Nuuk. The most popular form of owned transportation is a boat.

3. It’s Cold

Portrait of turist in Greenland.
Getty Images / David Trood

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise actually since we already told you the country was 85 percent covered in ice and snow. July is the only month when the temperature actually gets above the freezing point.

2. The Sun Never Sets

In a midwinter twilight, under a full moon, icebergs are visible at sea floating past colourful houses in Ilulissat, Greenland. Ilulissat lies 200 km north of the Arctic Circle in Qaasuitsup municipality, Western Greenland
Getty Images / Timothy Allen

Admittedly this only occurs in summer but it’s a pretty cool natural phenomenon. Know as the ‘midnight sun’ places north of the arctic circle do not see any darkness all summer. From late April to late August, the sun will rise and colors will change as the day goes on but the sun will still be visible throughout the entire day and night.


1. The Northern Lights

Aurora over Ikaasatsivaq Fjord near Tiniteqilaaq in East Greenland
Getty Images / Viktor Posnov

Though winters in Greenland may be long and dark, they do provide the opportunity to see the amazing Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis) in all their glory. From September to mid-April, you can see the lights on just about any night the sky is clear, and since there’s little light pollution here, the colors are extremely vivid.