The dull thud of the icebergs mixes with the howls of the thousands of sled dogs in Ilulissat - a town in which nature never sleeps. Here you'll also find the world's biggest dogsled, a 4-star hotel and a wide range of excursions available.
By Steen Ulrik Johannesen & Svend Erik Nielsen
On the flight path on the approach to Ilulissat, the forthcoming Arctic adventure reveals itself. Colossal icebergs that have broken off from the Ice Sheet and have travelled around 40 kilometres through the icefjord, Kangia, float majestically in Disko Bay.
The town's three biggest hotels fetch their guests from the airport and drive them the 5 km into the town. The closest hotel is the 4-star Hotel Arctic, which is located about half-way into town, as is the town's fourth hotel, Hotel Avannaa - a price-friendly alternative. Although it can be difficult to tear yourself away from the magnificent view from your hotel room, the attractions of the town prove too enticing.
See Ilulissat from the land, on the water or in the air
All of Ilulissat's sights can be reached on foot, but during a stay it would be a shame to miss out on one of the organised trips by boat, helicopter or dogsled - depending on the season, of course. You can book a trip at the tourist offices.
The first inhabitants settled here 3,500-4,000 years ago, whilst the town itself was founded in 1741 by the missionary Poul Egede as Jacobshavn, named after the merchant Jacob Severin. Today the town has 4,800 inhabitants and almost as many sled dogs.
Museums crammed with historical Greenland
Ilulissat is also the birth place of well-known polar scientist Knud Rasmussen. He was born here 1879 and his childhood home has been turned into a museum, which is definitely worth a visit. The town's art museum contains a collection of paintings by Emanual A.Petersen, who depicts a life in North Greenland in the 1920's and 30's with kayaks, women's boats and schooners. Time flies when studying his paintings.
Icefjord on the UNESCO heritage list
The main attraction is the Icefjord, which has been admitted onto UNESCO's World Heritage List. An impression of Kangia from terra firma can be gleaned by walking the 1½-kilometre trip to Sermermiut, southwest of Ilulissat. This is the location of the original settlement with its view of the enormous icebergs floating past on their way out into open water. It is not permitted however to go right down to the actual Sermermiut settlement house ruins. A fine view of these can be had from the laid path, which goes from the old heliport on to Kællingkløften. Note also that it can be dangerous to stay on the beach by the settlement's old dungheap due to risk of tidal waves and iceberg trembles.
Hotels, restaurants and places to eat of the highest quality
Depending on how tiring the tour of the town has been, you don't have to go to bed hungry. The hotel restaurants make best use of the availability of the fresh local ingredients. At Hotel Arctic award-winning chefs are responsible for the creation of a gourmet dinner.
At Hotel Icefjord you can enjoy a glass of the hotel's homebrewed beer, whilst Hotel Hvide Falk is famous for its sumptuous buffet, which in addition to fish and shellfish, also has whale, musk ox and reindeer on the menu.
Food lovers will enjoy Restaurant Mamartut as well - its name means "Mmhh, delicious!" in Greenlandic, a name that is truly apt.The menu always offers a selection of Greenlandic dishes, such as reindeer chilli con carne with chocolate for lunch.
If you're looking for something a little more economical, Café Hong Kong, which lies close to the museum, serves good, Chinese-inspired food at reasonable prices. If you have the confidence to try your hand at cooking, then the so-called "Board" in the middle of the town is the place to buy fresh produce from fishermen and hunters.
In the afternoons, the cafés on the town's main street of Kussangajannguaq are highly recommended. Icy Cafe's coffee menu is impressive, and the atmosphere cosy and relaxed, just like Cafe Iluliag, which serves the town's best burgers. All of the town's café's also have outdoor seating.
Fresh Greenland halibut from the clean, deep-blue ice fjord
Fishing is Greenland's chief industry and the active harbour with Royal Greenland's large prawn and halibut fish production facility is something else. Disko Bay is characterised by fishing for Greenland halibut, and when the boats come in there's plenty of opportunity to have a closer look at the catch.
The harbour is also a port of call for coastal ships, scheduled services and is also the starting point for the boat trips that head south down to the Icefjord and north to the Eqi glacier. Meanwhile cruise ships have to stay put and send their passengers to the harbour by Zodiacs.
Midnight sailing in an unforgettable light
During the summer a midnight sailing trip with the sun still in the sky is an experience you won't forget in a hurry. During the trip the guides will provide an account of the history of the ice.
On such a trip, you must remember your camera, make sure the batteries are fully charged and that there's plenty of space on your memory card. No-one has ever run out of subjects to take pictures of in the kingdom of the icebergs - on the contrary, many visitors almost end up on a photographer's high and snap everything they see.
Ask if you can take a piece of the Ice Sheet back with you in a plastic bag. It's a unique experience to sit on the edge of your bed reflecting on the day's experiences, whilst the several thousand-year-old ice crackles as it melts in your drink.
Excursions from Ilulissat
During the summer there are also boat trips north to the delightful settlement of Oqaatsut (Rodebay), where some houses from the colonial period have been renovated and turned into a hostel and restaurant. You can then sail onwards and perhaps stay overnight in 'the hut town' of Eqi with a view of the glacier.
The 15 huts, of which sevaral have a bathroom, toilet and are solar heated, all have a fantastic panoramic view down to the fjord and the untiring calving glaciers, which can be heard day and night.
Ilulissat has the world's biggest dogsled in the car park at the airport. It serves as a reminder that this traditional form of transport continues to be of great importance during the winter in the Disko region. Snowmobiles haven't yet been able to replace dogsleds in Greenland.
Here you can get close to the local hunters, who offer tourists short or long trips by dogsled. You can really experience Greenland up close when sitting under a sealskin cover on the sled a few centimetres above the snow and feel the power of the dogs pulling the sled.
Fly to the Ice Sheet
During your visit to Ilulissat it's very difficult to get a feeling of the enormous area covered by Greenland's Ice Sheet and how extremely productive Kangia Icefjord is, although it helps to experience this fascinating scenery from a helicopter.
Excursions are organised from the airport with flights along the ice fjord with a stop at a viewpoint on the northern bank. The flight then continues along the edge of the glacier, from where the icebergs are calved down into the fjord and begin their journey out towards Disko Bay.
Some describe a visit to Ilulissat as an experience for life; others believe that the first visit triggers an addiction that tempts you to return again and again. Regardless of your personal opinion, you'll never forget a visit to the town by the Icefjord.
Tourist offices in Ilulissat can help organise all excursions in the area. Maps of the town are available free of charge, whilst you can buy a hiking map of the area around Ilulissat. If you're planning on going on a longer hike, it's recommended that you take a GPS navigation device and a satellite telephone with you.
How do I get to Ilulissat?
Air Greenland has daily flights to Ilulissat from the international airport in Kangerlussuaq. Air Iceland also provides weekly flights all year round from the capital of Iceland as well.
Some departures to Ilulissat include a stopover at other towns on the coast. If you wish to visit other towns on the coast from Ilulissat you can also sail to these destinations on Arctic Umiaq Line's passenger ships.
There are also cruise ships that call at Ilulissat for periods lasting up to several days. See more in the cruise section.
Local crossings in Disko Bay take place on Disko Line's ships.