Greenland is an arctic country located between Europe and North America that's famous for being more icy than it is green. Home to glaciers, the world's second-largest ice sheet, and polar bears, many people visit Greenland to experience the beauty of the arctic tundra and the natural phenomena of the northern lights. Greenland's weather varies by region and by season, so the temperature and climate you'll encounter depends on where and when you go. However, despite the large amounts of snow on the ground, Greenland is very dry and sees very little precipitation throughout the year.
Popular Areas in Greenland
Visitors head to the northwestern part of this island nation for iceberg adventures, dog sledding, and optimal viewing of the midnight sun, which is best seen during the summer months. The vast section of Greenland stretches from Qaanaaq way up north to Upernavik on the coast down to Ilulissat in the Disko Bay. Temperatures are bitter cold in January, even in Ilulissat, which averages a low of 2 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees below 0 Celsius) to start the year. But by July, high temperatures reach above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) in most destinations.
Destination Arctic Circle
Adventure lovers will embrace Sisimiut, Greenland's second-largest city, and Kangerlussuaq, which is home to the only road to the Greenland Ice Sheet. The area sees extremes, dropping well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees below 0 Celsius) in January but jumping above 50 F (0 C) in July. The Northern Lights are best viewed here in the winter.
Greenland's largest city is its capital, Nuuk, which anchors the southwest of the island. Southern communities such as Paamiut offer small-town getaways and snowy adventures in the winter. The relatively mild temperatures year-round, including an average high of 24 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees below 0 Celsius) in January, make the capital a good destination any time.
The southern tip of the island gives Greenland its color, with lush green pastures and mountains surrounding cities such as Qaqortoq, Nanortalik, and Narsarsuaq, which as the northernmost of the region's major destinations sees temperatures nearing 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) in July and only gets down to 12 F (11 below 0 C) in January. Climbing and kayaking, not to mention the green valleys, make summer a good time to visit South Greenland.
Tasiilaq, Kulusuk, and Ittoqqortoomiit offer year-round adventures including kayaking, hiking, dog sledding, and Ice Cap expeditions. This remote region of Greenland is close to Iceland but also offers winter expeditions across the Ice Sheet to the west side of the island, and temperatures in the southern part of the region are mild.
Summer in Greenland
With the midnight sun at its peak and the humidity at its lowest, summers in Greenland are warmer than you might expect. This is the best time to experience the country's natural beauty with activities like cycling, hiking, or kayaking.
What to pack: During the day, you should be comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt and some long pants. With the sun up at all hours of the night, temperatures won't drop too severely, but it wouldn't hurt to pack some extra layers in case it does get chilly. July and August see the most rainfall, so some rain gear is essential.
Fall in Greenland
In the fall, temperatures are just starting to drop in Greenland and the days grow noticeably shorter as they pass by. However, the cooler weather will reveal the warm tones of the autumn foliage, which makes this an especially photogenic time to visit.
What to pack: The temperature is cooling down, but it's not quite freezing yet. It's best to dress in layers, so pack a warm jacket, a couple of sweaters, a mix of long and short-sleeved shirts, and long pants.
Winter in Greenland
Winter is the most extreme time to visit Greenland, especially compounded with the darkness of the long polar nights, and temperatures drop well below freezing and stay there.
What to pack: Be sure to pack snow-ready and water-resistant gear if you plan to partake in any winter activities, as well as a variety of sweaters, thermal underwear, and accessories like a hat, scarf, and a warm pair of gloves.
Spring in Greenland
The transition from winter to summer can feel very quick in Greenland when temperatures hop back up to above the freezing point. As the days grow longer and the snow melts, this is a great time to watch Greenland come back to life.
What to pack: The weather is warming but gets cold at night, so make sure to pack warm layers and your snow gear. With the melting snow, the ground can be wet during the day and turn icy at night, so be sure to bring waterproof boots with a good grip.
The Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights
Because of Greenland's location right on the Arctic Circle, it's possible to experience perpetual nighttime in winter and perpetual daylight in summer. To fully experience the midnight sun, you'll need to visit between late April and late August. In winter, it is the opposite phenomenon. As the earth tilts away from the sun, Greenlanders experience long polar nights until the sun makes its return in the spring.
With plenty of land above the Arctic Circle, Greenland is also one of the best places to experience the aurora borealis phenomenon. You can see the lights, which are caused by solar winds, almost anywhere in Greenland from September through March. September is the best time to visit if you'd like to avoid colder temperatures, but December provides the best possible viewing conditions since this is when the skies in Greenland are at their darkest.
Climate Change in Greenland
In Greenland, the effects of climate change are active and visible, and Greenlanders' attitudes toward the climate shift is complicated. Although the melting ice entices tourism and other industries who have opportunities to benefit from warmer weather in Greenland, it also endangers wildlife and is potentially driving hungry polar bears further south and in closer proximity to populated areas.