Greenland with Kids
My 10-year-old son has always loved islands. Four years ago, for his annual one-on-one trip with me, he chose Easter Island. Palawan and the Maldives followed. This year he chose Greenland, by far the world’s largest island, and the Seychelles. We added a few stops in Asia and turned it into an around-the-world trip. It’s what summer vacation is for! Of all of our stops though, he was most looking forward to Greenland. He loved the idea of staying on sheep farms, fishing, and kayaking. I was excited to explore a destination that’s still largely untouristed. And I was looking forward to being offline for several days.
It turned out to be everything we wanted and more. Not only did my son get to fish for the first time, but he caught two arctic char and we ate one – the first time he’s provided dinner! Kayaking around icebergs was amazing. The sheep farms were gorgeous. All of our hikes led us from one stunning vista to another. And when we had ATVs in Igaliku, I let my son (highly supervised) drive for the first time – which he loved. Plus I thought about the outside world even less than when I was offline in Brazil last month. It just keeps getting easier and easier to unplug!
Getting To Greenland
Despite its location fairly close to North America – we’ve flown over Greenland a hundred times going to and from Europe – it’s not overly easy to get to. There are a handful of flights to/from Reykjavik Keflavík, but the majority of flights are via Copenhagen. Our destination was Narsarsuaq, in Southern Greenland, which has a flight a day in the summer from Copenhagen.
We flew from LA to Copenhagen via Frankfurt, met up with friends, went out to dinner, watched a World Cup game, spent the night, and then left our hotel (71 Nyhavn) at 9am for our 11:20am Air Greenland flight to Narsarsuaq.
Four hours into our flight the pilot came on to tell us that because of low visibility we couldn’t land in Narsarsuaq. Instead we would divert north to Kangerlussuaq. We landed and were given a hotel room for the night – conveniently right at the airport. Checking out things to do in Kangerlussuaq, we found a restaurant on a lake 5km from the hotel and decided to walk over. After a nice hike and an excellent dinner (at Restaurant Roklubben), we took a bus back to the hotel and went to sleep.
The next morning we were told that we wouldn’t be able to fly to Narsarsuaq until 7:50pm. So we booked an impromptu 4-hour glacier hiking tour with Greenland Outdoors. I was looking forward to it – making the most of an unexpected delay. But then Air Greenland paged us with the news that they were able to get us onto an 11:30am flight to Nuuk with a connection to Narsarsuaq. So we cancelled our glacier hike (thank you to Greenland Outdoors for being understanding!), flew to Nuuk, quickly connected to Narsarsuaq, and arrived at 3:45pm.
Day One – Sheep Farms
Follow closely! Our original itinerary had us staying our first night at Ilunnguujuk farm and guesthouse in Qassiarsuk (a short boat ride from Narsarsuaq), then riding horses a few kilometers to Sermilik Hostel at Tasiussaq sheep farm, where we would spend our second night, and then moving onto a hotel back in Narsarsuaq. However, it’s such a small community (there are 80 people in the greater Qassiarsuk area) that Ellen from Ilunnguujuk farm and Aviaja from Sermilik coordinated to shift our schedule and maintain our two nights on the sheep farms, cancelling the hotel. It worked out perfectly! When the Blue Ice Explorer boat dropped us in Qassiarsuk, we were picked up by Ellen’s son, we stopped by Ilunnguujuk farm and explored for an hour, and then were picked up by Aviaja from Tasiussaq and driven part-way to Sermilik, where she left us so we could hike the rest of the way to the farm. It was a stunning walk, with green hills and yellow flowers everywhere, sheep for company, and icebergs in the distance (at Sermilik Fjord).
And for future reference, there only seems to be one rule in South Greenland: don’t walk on the tall grasses that will be cut for winter sheep feed. You can pretty much go anywhere else you want – including though pastures currently occupied by sheep. Both Aviaja and Ellen warned us about the tall grass. Sheep farmers take sheep seriously.
We arrived at the farm and relaxed until dinner – a feast of Greenlandic lamb, halibut and potatoes at Aviaja’s house with seven Danish guests. The meal was excellent, with fun conversation (Aviaja and the Danes were all fluent in English). We then went to sleep in a small guesthouse down the hill from the main house.
Day Two – Kayaking and Horseback Riding
We woke up, walked up the hill to Aviaja’s for breakfast (bread, jam, meats, cheeses, cereal), and then met up with Alvaro, a Spaniard with Tasermiut South Greenland Expeditions, which has a kayaking base literally 50 meters from Aviaja and her family. Alvaro outfitted us in waterproof jackets, pants and boots, and we walked maybe 15 minutes down to the fjord, where we set out in kayaks, Alvaro in one and my son and I in a tandem.
If you ever get a chance to kayak with icebergs, do it! I went with my daughter in Antarctica several years ago, but we simply kayaked around several large icebergs. This time there were hundreds of icebergs around us. We reached out and touched the small ones. We navigated through the medium ones. And we stayed a fair distance from the larger bergs – they can roll or collapse anytime and it would be dangerous to be too close should anything happen. We loved every minute of the 2+ hours of kayaking, and Alvaro was an excellent guide, telling us all about the area and the types of ice as we went. Highly recommended!
After a quick lunch, we packed up and were met by horse guide Lukas, an assistant wrangler, and four Icelandic ponies – actually Greenlandic versions of Icelandic ponies, to the best of my knowledge. Even though the horses are stable, and my son has ridden for years, Lukas didn’t feel comfortable sending my son off on his own. So Lukas walked the 8km from Tasiussaq to Ilunnguujuk farm, holding onto the lead rope of my son’s horse. I rode, and the assistant rode his horse and led Lukas’ horse.
I’m glad we did the ride, since it added a fun, adventurous element to the trip, but it was work! We both felt it for a few hours after we dismounted.
At Ilunnguujuk farm/hostel (the first sheep farm in South Greenland by the way) we were shown to our room down the hill from the main house. Our view, looking out over the water, with icebergs passing by, was gorgeous. The house had multiple rooms with a central kitchen, bathroom, shower and living room. There was only one other person staying there that night – a French PhD student who had been at the hostel for two weeks working on her thesis. What a perfect place to escape the world and concentrate!
For dinner we walked up to Ellen’s house where she had prepared for us lamb, potatoes and salad featuring angelica, a local plant. Everything was excellent.
Day Three – Boats and Hiking
We woke up and walked into town. Qassiarsuk was Erik the Red’s home, and it’s where his son Leif Eriksson departed in 1000 AD on his way to becoming the first European to arrive in North America – 492 years before Christopher Columbus. We then walked back to the farm, made sandwiches for lunch, set up a ping pong game on the picnic table (it worked surprisingly well, other than a few awkward bounces from the uneven boards), and packed. Ellen’s son drove us back to pier at noon.
The town of Igaliku was our next destination. It’s on the water, but it’s hours away from Qassiarsuk – if you take a boat the entire way. The much faster option is to sail roughly 45 minutes up to Itilleq and then hike 4km (50 minutes) to Igaliku – so that’s what we did. The nice thing about all of these hikes is that we didn’t need to carry our luggage. This time the Igaliku Country Hotel picked up our bags and transported them ahead of us.
The hike from Itilleq to Igaliku, along the King’s Road, was as beautiful as everywhere else we had been. Sheep? Check. Green hills with yellow flowers? Yep. Lakes, fjords and icebergs? Of course. We actually ran part of the way to catch the end of the World Cup final – only to arrive and find that there was no television for guests. Disappointing, but part of being unplugged, I suppose. So we checked into our perfect little cabin, read, sketched, and played a lot of frisbee before dinner. And for the record, Igaliku is stunning – our favorite place that we visited in South Greenland. It’s tiny, but perfectly set out along Igalikup Kargerlua (Einarsfjord), with a village church, Nordic ruins, and a couple dozen brightly-painted houses. And lots of flowers.
Dinner at the hotel, just a two-minute walk from our cabin, was an assortment of Greenlandic tapas and paella.
Day Four – Fishing and Driving
Day four was fun. Last year in Argentina I met a Danish/Greenlandic girl named Lykke who just happened to be in Igaliku at the same time as us, and she and her family invited us to spend the day with them. We met up with Lykke, her husband and two daughters in the morning and initially explored the village – finally getting to the ruins, church and village store that we had seen from our cabin but hadn’t yet walked to. Then we rented ATVs (three for the six of us) and borrowed fishing rods from Malene, a woman in the village, and we set out for Itilleq. It’s much faster to drive than to hike!
Our destination was a fishing spot where Lykke and her family had had luck before. We parked, my son got a quick lesson in casting, and we started fishing. Half an hour later we had caught four large arctic char – with my son responsible for bringing two of them in. He was thrilled – probably his trip highlight. I loved the scene, overlooking a fjord with icebergs. We even saw (and heard) a large one collapse in front of us.
But we weren’t done. We drove the ATVs partway back to Igaliku, turned left onto an unmarked road, and headed to a stream where we relaxed and had a snack (we had brought a loaf of Oroweat Organic wheat bread from home with us, and took cheese and reindeer salami from the hotel to fashion into on-the-go sandwiches). We also did a lot of rock hopping, and we looked for fish. Apparently they swim upstream and rest along the way, and locals can reach in and simply grab them. We didn’t see any fish, but we already had three more than we needed, so no worries.
Then it was back to Igaliku where, instead of returning the ATVs immediately, we let the kids get a little driving experience. My son sat in front of me, I gave him a quick lesson on the clutch and shifting, and we set off around the village. He did awesome, fully controlling the acceleration, braking and steering. Come to Greenland and teach your kids to drive! Please don’t blame me though if Igaliku is overrun next year with 10-year-olds just wanting to drive in circles around the village…
Then more frisbee and reading, and at 6:30pm we met back up with Lykke and her family for dinner. Greenland being Greenland, they had given away three of our fish to friends and neighbors. But they cooked the fourth – the second fish caught by my son, and the largest of the day. There was more than enough for all six of us, complemented by rice, potatoes and curry, and it was amazing! So fun to be eating what my son caught, and probably the freshest fish we’ve ever had. Then Danish pancakes for dessert, and off to bed.
Day Five – Icebergs
After a second night at the Igaliku Country Hotel, we packed, had breakfast at 8am, and then set off for the 4km walk back to Itilleq. It had been raining when we woke up, but it stopped just in time for the walk. The hotel transported our bags.
At 9:30am our boat pulled up and we headed to Narsarsuaq, arriving roughly 45 minutes later. We dropped off our luggage with Blue Ice Explorer and immediately left on the same boat for a fjord cruise. We had already been up and down the fjords many times of course, and seen hundreds of icebergs, so my son was decidedly negative on spending another two hours on a boat seeing more the same. I thought it was fun though. We headed through the Qooroq Ice Fjord and got close to far larger icebergs than we had seen before, including some that were stunning shades of dark blue. We went as far as the sea ice would let us and got a great view of the glacier (still several kilometers away), stopped and had drinks with ice fished from the fjord, and then headed back the way we came. I’d highly recommend this – but maybe not for kids who are already tired of icebergs and boats! My son took a few pictures, but otherwise would have been happy to skip it.
We came back to Narsarsuaq, had lunch at the aptly-named Blue Ice Café, checked in for our Air Greenland fight, and flew to Copenhagen.
Even in summer you need to be prepared for anything. Think layers. Bring warm jackets, fleeces, gloves, hats and rain gear. We wore almost everything we brought – except jeans. We lived in our hiking pants. Oh, and bring the small shampoo bottles from your Copenhagen hotel. We had showers everywhere, but there wasn’t always shampoo.
Pack in backpacks or small duffels. Large rolling suitcases don’t work well on rocky roads and sheep farms! We had two small rolling Patagonia duffels that worked out perfectly – easily carriable when they couldn’t be rolled.
When to Go
The sheep farms are primarily about sheep of course, and they’re not open to visitors until the lambing season is over – roughly mid-June. July through September is the best weather, although you never know what you’ll get. We were told that we had cooler temperatures than normal for mid-July.
The yellow flowers that we saw everywhere are typical through late July, when they are replaced by taller pink/red flowers.
Summary and Finance
We both loved Greenland. It’s unspoiled. There are very few tourists. If you’re looking for a place to unplug, enjoy nature, and live simply for a few days or a few weeks, it would be hard to find a more perfect destination. There was technically cell coverage some of the time, and we could have opted to purchase internet access at our hotels, so unplugging wasn’t strictly required. But it made it much more enjoyable! As I’m typing this I haven’t had internet in over five days. And honestly, I’m in no hurry to log back on.
Greenland is very much a backpacking/camping destination. If you’re high-maintenance, it’s not for you. But it’s easy, organized backpacking/camping. The hostels, sheep farms and cabins where we stayed all had showers. The sheep farms, the lodge in Igaliku, and Blue Ice Explorer worked together to coordinate our schedule and move our bags.
You can book virtually everything we did piecemeal, but it’s easiest to go through Blue Ice Explorer and have them arrange it all.
- Air Greenland flights Copenhagen-Narsarsuaq round-trip:$1,650 total (one adult and one child)
- Blue Ice Explorer transfer Narsarsuaq-Qassiarsuk: $30 per person
- One night Sermilik Hostel with breakfast and lunch: $150 for two people (dinner is extra)
- One night Ilunnguujuk farm with meals: $140 for two people
- Horseback transfer: $62 per horse
- Blue Ice Explorer transfer from Qassiarsuk to Itilleq: $60 per person
- Two nights Igaliku Country Hotel (cabin) w/ luggage transfer, 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 dinner: $650 for two people
- ATV rental: $78 for four hours
- Blue Ice Explorer transfer Itilleq-Narsarsuaq: $60 per person
- Fjord cruise: $90 per person
Greenland isn’t a budget destination. It’s Scandinavia, and more importantly, it’s remote. Virtually everything is shipped or flown in. But it’s well worth visiting if you want extraordinarily family-friendly, safe, untouristed adventure in a stunning setting. Go before everyone else does! Just stay off the sheep grass.