Ilulissat (Photo:Vadim Petrakov/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Ilulissat

Ilulissat means "iceberg" in Greenlandic. One look and it's obvious where the town got its name. On a clear day, the landscape is truly surreal. Hundreds of icebergs surround Ilulissat. They vary in shape from flat-topped hunks to jagged mountain peaks and in size from small doghouses to mega-cruise ships and larger. And that's just the part above the surface!

About Ilulissat


Pro

Stunningly beautiful icebergs from Jakobshavn Glacier surround this off the beaten path destination

Con

Do not try to make friends with the local sled dogs -- they are bred to work, not socialize and are not friendly

Bottom Line

You might visit to see the icebergs, but Ilulissat offers much more including shopping, history and art


Find a Cruise to Ilulissat



The icebergs originate from the Jakobshavn Glacier, called Sermeq Kujalleq in Greenlandic. It is the most active glacier in the world outside Antarctica. The bergs collect at the mouth of the fjord just outside the harbor.

All this ice has recently put Greenland in the news and on travelers' radar screen with concerns about global warming. The country is officially part of Denmark, though it has been self-governed since 1979. It's the largest island on earth and would stretch from New York City to Denver if tilted on its side. Roughly 85 percent of the land is covered by the polar icecap. The coastal areas, where towns like Ilulissat are located, are free of snow in summer, making exploration by cruise ship a hassle-free way to go. Beginning in 2007, this far off-the-beaten-path destination has become accessible with Hurtigruten's new ship, the Fram, spending entire summers cruising Greenland itineraries.

Ilulissat, the hub of the west coast Disko Bay region, is the country's third largest town, boasting a population of roughly 4,500 people and at least as many sled dogs. Located about 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle, it is the most accessible place to see both massive icebergs and the polar icecap. For this reason, tourism here is on the rise. The town offers a variety of hotel accommodations and half a dozen tour operators.

No roads lead to Ilulissat. Access is by air or local ferry service. Visiting cruise ships include Hurtigruten's Fram, which calls once a week in summer, and the icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov. The midnight sun shines here from late May through July. Having daylight 24/7 is a boon for sightseeing and for navigating through a sea full of icebergs.

Where You're Docked

Ships anchor outside the main harbor where there's a good chance of being right next to an iceberg. The inner harbor is filled with small fishing boats, and your ship's tenders or Zodiacs must travel at slower-than-normal speeds while taking passengers ashore. From the dock, it's a fairly short climb up the wooden stairs to reach town.

Good to Know

The sled dogs. They may look like pets, but these dogs are used to pull sleds in Greenland and are bred to work, not to be your best friend. You'll see them by the dozen, snoozing in front of practically every house. By law, they have to be tied up. Even so, if you get too close, they growl and snap at you. Beware of the really cute puppies. They can run free until they are five months old, and they may or may not be the friendly type.

Mosquitoes. Don't let all that ice fool you. Mosquitoes thrive in Greenland, particularly in July and August. Bring your bug spray and keep covered up.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The official currency is the Danish krone (DKK), about 5.5 to the U.S. dollar. Check www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for current rates. There is an ATM at the Bank of Greenland, open weekdays 6 a.m. - 6 p.m. Good news: Many restaurants and shops take Visa and Mastercard. Bad news: Most add a 5-percent service fee for credit card purchases. It's a good idea to carry some cash. Euros are generally okay. U.S. dollars are rarely accepted.

Language

Greenlandic, an Inuit dialect, and Danish are the official languages. Some children learn English in school, and resident Danes usually speak English. Don't count on being understood if you stop someone on the road. Go to one of the souvenir shops instead. Greenlandic is said to be one of the hardest languages to learn. You can practice by saying "kutaa" (KO'-daa) for "hello."

Shopping

"Tupilaks" are funny little carvings of weird looking characters, usually made from caribou antler, soapstone, driftwood, walrus tusk or bone. They were once used like hex dolls to cast evil spells. Now, they are said to ward off evil spirits, and they definitely create good fortune for their makers. If you're tempted to buy one, remember it's illegal to bring home artifacts made of certain marine mammals. Be sure to ask if you will need a CITES permit for customs.