How to Get to and Around Greenland by Plane and Boat

Directional signs at Kangerlussuaq Airport, Greenland

Jessie Brinkman Evans / Getty Images

Located between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans and geographically considered part of North America, Greenland is the world's largest island. It's an autonomous region that is technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark. The country is not that far from the U.S. and Canada — at one point, only 10 miles of open ocean separate remote northern Greenland from equally remote Ellesmere Island, Canada. But for travelers anxious to explore Greenland, there are only a couple of ways to get there, and very few of them go through North America.

For commercial travel, Greenland is accessible only by plane or cruise ship, and only from a few places. There are practical reasons for these limits, and there's also a concerted effort by the government of Greenland to keep travel at a sustainable level— hence the limited options for getting there. Read on for a guide on how to get to Greenland and how to get around this large island.

Getting to Greenland by Plane

Despite Greenland's growing popularity with U.S. travelers, the island can only be reached by plane from two destinations in Europe: Copenhagen, Denmark and Reykjavik, Iceland. For travelers from the US or Canada, that means you must first travel to one of those two departure cities. There are more frequent options from Reykjavik. As Greenland's tourism infrastructure continues to evolve, more flight routes may appear but for the time being, Copenhagen and Reykjavik are the only options.

Flights From Reykjavik

IcelandAir offers direct flights from Reykjavik City Airport (RKV) to:

  • Nuuk Airport (GOH): The capital and largest city of Greenland and home to a third of its population, Nuuk is a common stepping-off point for tours of Greenland. Nuuk is in southwest Greenland, where most of the country's settlements are located.

Connecting flights from Nuuk are offered to:

  • Ilulissat Airport (JAV): With a population of around 5,000 and a position as one of Greenland's northernmost permanent settlements, Ilulissat's biggest industry is tourism. Incoming travelers head out on glacier tours, dogsled rides, and other adventures in the frozen tundra.
  • Narsarsuaq Airport (UAK): Southern Greenland's only international airport serves tiny Narsarsuaq, which has fewer than 150 inhabitants. But it's a hub for eco-tourism, with wildlife tours, glacier treks, and excursions to the nearby Greenland Ice Sheet.
  • Kulusuk Airport (KUS): Set on an island in eastern Greenland, the airport serves Kulusuk, another small settlement that's largely tourism-dependent. Visitors come here for a taste of Greenland's native culture, as well as mountaineering and wildlife-watching excursions.

Air Greenland also flies from Reykjavik City Airport and larger Reykjavik-Keflavik (KEF). There are direct flights to Nuuk, and connecting flights to the airports listed, above, except for Kulusuk. Additionally, Air Greenland has direct flights from Reykjavik to the following commercial airports in Greenland:

  • Kangerlussuaq Airport (SFJ): The largest airport in Greenland, Kangerlussuaq is the site of a former U.S. Naval base. Today, it's the main air transportation hub in Greenland, as well as a portal for wildlife and adventure tours.
  • Sisimiut Airport (JHS): This airport serves Greenland's second-largest town, Sisimiut, which is a hub for the fishing industry, as well as a port for international cargo. Sisimiut is increasingly dependent on tourism, and heli-skiing and heli-hiking tours depart from the airport.

Flights From Copenhagen

Air Greenland is the only airline that flies from Copenhagen to Greenland. It offers non-stop flights to Nuuk, Narsarsuaq, Kangerlussuaq, and Sisimiut, and connecting flights to the airports shown above, except for Kulusuk.

Getting to Greenland by Boat

There are no passenger ferries to Greenland from any other country. That said, many travelers do arrive to Greenland by boat on commercial cruise liners that originate in Canada, the U.S., Iceland, Norway, and other northern European destinations. Most of these cruise itineraries are of the long and expensive variety and many are with expedition cruise lines that are typically more costly than traditional "big ship" lines.

Some itineraries only cruise the coast of Greenland without actually going ashore. These are usually expedition ships that take passengers on excursions in Zodiac vessels to watch wildlife and get close to icebergs and glaciers.

Other itineraries stop at different ports in Greenland and may end with passengers disembarking at Kangerlussuaq for their flight home. These itineraries would allow visitors to extend their stay in Greenland and visit the country independently or as part of an organized tour.

Travel Within Greenland

Once travelers arrive to Greenland they're faced with another challenge, how to get around. There are no roads connecting one settlement to the other. Even Nuuk, the capital, is geographically isolated from the rest of the island's settlements. The only exception is a 3-mile (5-kilometer) gravel road between Kangilinnguit and the now abandoned former cryolite mining town of Ivittuu. So within Greenland, travelers have the following options for getting from place to place:

  • By air, on connector/commuter flights operated by IcelandAir and Air Greenland
  • By helicopter, on private flights or tours
  • By sea, on local/regional ferries
  • By cruise ship, on an itinerary that originates in Greenland
  • By snowmobile or dogsled, for shorter distances

These logistical transportation challenges are a big part of the reason that so many travelers to Greenland rely on tour companies, which book flights and other transfers, tours, and accommodations — it's just easier to leave the planning to someone else.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How long does it take to get to Greenland?

    Flights from Reykjavik to Nuuk or Kangerlussuaq take about 3.5 hours. The flight from Copenhagen to Nuuk or Kangerlussuaq takes about 4.5 hours. On a cruise ship, you'll need at least one day to cross the Denmark Strait from Iceland to Greenland.

  • What's the least expensive way to get to Greenland?

    here's not really a low-cost way to get to Greenland. Though there are seasonal fluctuations in price, travelers should expect to spend between $600-$800 for a round-trip flight from Reykjavik or Copenhagen.

  • What's the most expensive way to get to Greenland?

    The most expensive way to get to Greenland is on an expedition cruise, which can cost from $5,000 to $25,000 or more, depending on the itinerary.

  • How do I get around Greenland?

    There are virtually no roads or railways in Greenland, in part because the coastal fjords would require ferry service to connect a road network. The only ways to get from place to place on the island are via commuter plane flights, passenger ferries, helicopters, snowmobiles, or dogsleds.