Ilulissat with the ice fjord in the background

Ilulissat is a city in Western Greenland.

Located in the Disco Bay just by the icefjord, from which it has gotten its name, Ilulissat has one of the most beautiful settings for a great Greenlandic experience.


Ilulissat is situated at the mouth of the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, which was included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The town is located next to the sea filled with icebergs from the most active glacier in the world, Sermeq Kujalleq. Excavations in the valley where Ilulissat is, show that people have inhabited the area for thousands of years, and it was once the largest town in Greenland. The town is also known for having almost the same number of sled dogs as people, currently the town is home to 4600 people and nearly 3500 sled dogs.

Get in

By plane

Ilulissat Airport (IATA: JAV) is located about 3 km (2 miles) from the center of town. Passenger service (as of 2010) is provided by Air Greenland and Air Iceland. Air Greenland, has flights north to Qaanaaq and Uummannaq (via Qaarsut) and south to Aasiaat, Qasigiannguit, Kangerlussuaq and Nuuk. Air Iceland has flights twice weekly into Ilulissat from Reykjavík, Iceland (not to be confused with the international airport at Keflavik) in July and August.

By boat

Arctic Umiaq Line sails to Ilulissat from South and West Greenland if the waters are safe.

Disko Line sails around Disco Bay for other destinations.

Over land

The Disco Bay has not been frozen enough for dogsleding in more than 10 years, so only one trip (apr. 2007) has been made from Uummannaq, and that was via the inland ice.

Get around

You can walk around, or get a cab, if you're going to or from the airport, which is located a bit out of town. However, most hotels will pick up and drop off guests at the airport. The Hotel Arctic, which is furthest from the center of town, offers regular van service to the city center (although it's only a 20 minute walk should you prefer to go on foot.)

Watch for dogsled yield signs. Dogs are kept in many places around town, and sleds have right-of-way. They are fast and quiet, with dogs fanning out in front each on individual ropes. Pedestrians and vehicles both must beware.


Beware of Dogsled

The main attraction is the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 35 kilometers from the city is a glacier constantly delivering icebergs into the fjord. The speed of the glacier has increased from 22 meters/day in 2002 to now (2007) 35 meters/day as a result of global warming. The fjord is 500 meters deep, so the iceberg floats to Ilulissat where they hit a barrier, as the fjord is only 250 meters deep at the mouth to the Disko Bay. So here the icebergs get stuck until enough ice has melted so the iceberg can pass the barrier. As 8/9 of an iceberg is below sea level you'll see a lot of icebergs 20 to 30 meters high. The fjord can only be reached by foot or boat (or by helicopter). It's a fairly easy walk from the city and after 1-2 kilometers' you'll see the icebergs - an impressive sight. You may take a 3-4 hours boat trip from the harbour - also a recommended tour.


There are two museums in Ilulissat. The first is the Ilulissat Museum; which features exhibitions showcasing the life and expeditions of the explorer Knud Rasmussen. The second is the Inuit Art Museum; which features many different paintings from Greenland, Faroese and Denmark, with the most notable by Emanuel A. Peterson.


The sea surrounding Ilulissat is full of icebergs, mainly because of the proximity of the town to the most active glacier in the world. The giant icebergs and be admired from shore or in local boats. These massive icebergs slowly drift out of the mouth of the fjord on their journey to the Atlantic.


If you walk south from the camping ground you will reach the coast at the mouth of the icefjord. West of Kællingeklippen you will be high above the water, but walking around to the east side you can climb all the way down to the water and sit and watch the nature in all its magnificence.

No winter or spring trip would be complete without a dogsled ride. Tours from one hour to ten days can be arranged with tour companies in town. Each sled will hold one or two passengers, not including the driver who will sometimes run alongside, sometimes ride on the back, and sometimes jump on to sit in front of you.


Attending a kaffemik (coffee gathering) is the best way to meet some of the locals, and they will be happy to invite you to one. Ilulissat and the surrounding settlements are all great places to score an invite to one of these, and the local tourist offices can help you attend one of these local social traditions.


The Ilulissat region is a great area to explore at sea, you can travel to either the nearby settlements or sea the fjord and all of the icebergs in it. Travelers can also sail to Disko Island and see the majority of Disko Bay on the journey.

Dog sledding

Lyngmarks Glacier on Disko Island is the only place in Greenland where travelers can dog sled in the summer. Many local hunters will take tourist along with them on their dog sleds. The best way to arrange this is through the local tourist offices in Ilulissat.


There are many good hiking trails in and around Ilulissat. Travelers can hike through the mountains and around the lakes in the valley to the site where traces of the first humans in Greenland over 4500 years ago have been found.

Arctic palerfik

The Arctic palerfik is the ceremonial last dog sled trip in Iluissat. It’s a terrific site to witness for many travelers.

Arctic midnight orienteering

In the summer, Arctic midnight orienteering competitions are held in the midnight sun. This is an official Arctic championship and an unofficial Greenlandic championship held annually.




Ilulissat is the place in Greenland with most accommodations/hotels, but due to the increased popularity, it is recommended to make reservations in advance.

Stay safe

In the summer time long trousers, long sleeves, a hat and a mosquito-net is a must.

In the summer 2007 a polar bear was located some kilometers north of town. This was a major event as it was first time in 20 years a polar bear was seen in the area. In fact many of the local inhabitants surrounded the bear and it was soon decided that the bear was a threat. Consequently, the luckless bear was shot.

Go next

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