Experience the Northern Lights in Greenland

Greenland is a tough place where you will definitely get challenged by the nature - and particularly by the cold. But if you can stand that for a week or two, you won’t find any better place in the world to experience aurora borealis. Greenland’s location in the Arctic makes it the perfect place to go if you ever wish to see northern lights.

And that’s only one of many things that the world’s largest island has to offer - here’s a full travel guide to Greenland.

Greenland has one of the longest seasons when it comes to northern lights. From the end of August and until mid-April, northern lights are quite common, and the phenomenon looks much stronger in the sky than it does in the Faroe Islands and in Denmark. This is one the most mesmerizing view you will ever see in your life. So the prices vary through the winters, the period before Christmas is peak season.

Fire dragons gouging the northern skies, dancing wraiths and Viking gods fighting on Arctic nights. These are some of the interpretations given in the past to northern lights, a luminous phenomenon that can be observed during the winter months along a range that stretches across Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland and northern Norway, Finland and Russia.

The scientific explanation is more prosaic, but no less interesting: on reaching Earth, the electrically charged particles - protons, electrons, and helium nuclei - that make up the solar wind are diverted by the earth's magnetic field to the polar regions - there are also southern auroras in the Southern Hemisphere - where they collide with the upper layers of the atmosphere, emitting energy in the form of light, something similar to what happens in a fluorescent tube.

It was Galileo Galilei who baptized them as northern lights in 1619, borrowing the name of the Greek dawn goddess, Aurora, and Boreas, the north wind. The best time to see aurora borealis is from October to March, although in places like Greenland they are starting to appear in August. Contrary to popular belief, the highest concentration of aurora borealis is not at the poles, but in an oval band that surrounds them, more or less coinciding with the polar circles.

What to say; it’s amazing when the earth causes phenomena unlike anything else. Volcanos are the same kind of thing; it makes you feel small being in the presence of such a thing, and is amazing for being completely different than anything else you’ve ever seen.

Aurora Borealis (Northern lights) aren’t really all one thing either, since some forms look like broad paths of light in the sky, and other curling and moving streams, or even twisting curls of energy. It’s all slightly less amazing than the pictures because your eye can only see in black and white at that light level; it doesn’t look green at all. All the same it’s about as amazing as anything you could see.

Greenland northern lights tour

Best place to see northern lights in Greenland

The southern part of Greenland is the best place to experience it, and this is also where most of the towns are located. Greenland is sparsely populated and there isn’t much artificial light, which makes everything much better. If you spend a few weeks in Greenland during the autumn or winter, you’re almost guaranteed to see the northern lights in the sky. Staying in the capital city Nuuk is your best option.

Therefore, Greenland is absolutely ideal for experiencing this phenomenon. The major downside is that Greenland is incredibly cold - especially during the winter, and particularly at night - so you have to be a tough person to go there. Transportation might also be a lot different than what you are used to.

Kangerlussuaq, a settlement on Greenland's west coast with 300 clear skies a year and the island's only international airport, is one of the most likely places to see northern aurora. In Ilulissat, a village of 4,700 people lost at one end of Disco Bay, 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, is the Arctic hotel.

In addition to the rooms and suites in the main building, its five metal igloos are perfect spaces for those wishing to stay near the icy fjord of Ilulissat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site . Each igloo holds up to two people.

Best time to see northern lights in Greenland

It’s tough to say when you should go to Greenland. It can be devastatingly cold during the winter, but this is when you get the true Greenland experience, and it’s a time when northern lights are common. From mid-November to January, there are only 3 to 4 hours of daylight. The rest of the time is spent in complete darkness. Traveling by dog sled is also most common during the winter, so you will get that opportunity.

Go just before the winter starts in October or in February because the clouds are less during those days and you have really high chance of seeing the northern lights. Random snowfall is less and sky is clear and dark enough for you to see them clearly. It will be cold and temperature will be in the range of 0 to -20 most of the times.

If you go in the summer, and you visit a southern place like the capital Nuuk, it might not even be that cold. For all of these reasons, Nuuk is considered one of the best alternative holiday destinations in the world.

And you can see another phenomenon in most areas of Greenland during the summer: The midnight sun. Longer days also equal more opportunities, for example if you want to sail along the coast or if you want to go hiking in the mountains.

You should make the choice based on your own interests. Instead of advising a particular season, we will simply stick to this advice: Visit Greenland as soon as you can!

Transportation: Getting in and out of Greenland

Getting to Greenland isn’t quite as easy as getting elsewhere in the world. Your best option is flying in, but you need to search thoroughly for tickets. There are currently no direct passenger routes between Greenland and the United States. Most likely, you have to fly to Greenland from Europe. Air Greenland and Air Iceland are the only airlines flying all year around. SAS and other airlines might have seasonal or occasional routes.

The best option is to visit Denmark first, where you’ll find a bunch of regular routes. Both Copenhagen and Aalborg Airport have regular flights to Kangerlussuaq and Nuuk.

If you fly from Iceland, which often makes sense as a layover if you are coming in from North America, you will find regular flights to Ilulissat Airport.

However, flying is not the only option: Many ships are also going to and from Greenland. It doesn’t cost a lot to sail with these, but obviously it takes much longer. Still, it’s an opportunity to see the beautiful northern part of the Atlantic Ocean.

Once you have arrived in Greenland, traveling between the cities will also prove a challenge. Flights and boats are connecting most cities and towns with each other, because unfortunately you can’t just drive a car from one place to another - there are not many roads. That also makes intercity bus and train travel completely impossible.

There are, however, many ways of exploring the nature. We highly recommend you to join tours if you wish to do so. A popular transportation method among the locals is traveling by dog sled. This is especially common during the winter, and it’s a great experience for any traveler to try.
Kalyan Panja