Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Visiting Southern Greenland, a Land of Vikings and Icebergs

As we begin making our initial descent, I get my first glimpse of the world’s largest island. The largely glacier-covered landmass can only be reached from two locations: Iceland and Denmark. I chose Denmark, and my journey began with a transatlantic flight from the U.S. to Amsterdam included a connection in Copenhagen. After overnighting in the Danish city, I was off for an adventure in the southern fjords of Greenland, where glaciers calve, the land is indeed green, and Vikings once dwelled.

Our plane drops in over a mountain and descends quickly to a remote runway that was once a military base created by the United States leading up to their entry into World War II. The airport at Narsarsuaq is the starting point for our journey.

Qaqortoq
Qaqortoq/Photo Courtesy of Sentinel Photography Image used with permission by copyright holder

After gathering our baggage, we await for a shift in weather that will allow us the opportunity to cross the Tunulliarfik Fjord via rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) to the opposite side and the community of Qassiarsuk.

Upon arriving in Qassiarsuk, we are greeted by an ominous statue standing vigil looking over the land towards the sea. The statue is that of Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, and marks the importance that the region played in the westward expansion of Vikings.

Our guide greets us as we load our gear into a small SUV and we begin the drive over the mountain to a small family farm near the shore of Sermilik Fjord. We spend the next few days residing in a small, remote hostel built by the outfitter located on the sheep farm in Tasiusaq. Power is supplied by a generator and is only turned on for a few hours a day. Our guide prepares us a meal of musk ox and pasta before we retire for the night.

Over the next two days, we hike the area overlooking the fjord and kayak along its shores. There are a no indigenous trees to this part of Greenland and the vegetation is limited to small ground cover and tiny bushes. Despite its name, the island is predominately covered in ice; only a narrow portion of its coastal area supports vegetation, allowing human existence to flourish in this otherwise barren expanse.

hiking in greenland
Photo Courtesy of Sentinel Photography Image used with permission by copyright holder

To assess our group’s kayaking skills, we spend an afternoon kayaking along the small bay near Tasiusaq. Here, we are floating among ice giants that have broken away from the Eqaloruutsit Glacier. This constant flow of ice keeps the fjord relatively blocked, but our kayaks easily navigate the congested waterway.

The following day, we pack accordingly and set out for an overnight excursion on the fjord. It is raining and, in addition to our base layers, we adorn paddling jackets and pogies (paddling mitts) to protect ourselves from the cold precipitation. In addition to our personal effects that we have packed carefully into waterproof bags, we have also loaded both the front and rear cargo areas of kayaks with group gear including tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, cooking gear, and food.

We navigate our way through the iceberg field to a remote rocky beach where we set up camp in the rain before having a hot dinner in the group shelter. The sky is overcast and we retire early after a long day in the cockpit.

After breakfast the following morning, we break camp and reload the kayaks before taking a hike to the top of ridge, where we get our first glimpse of the glacier that has spawned all of the icebergs that we have glided among over the past few days. This glacier is one of many that creates the ice sheet that covers most of Greenland year round. The area around the base of the glacier is littered with ice that will ultimately make their way into the bay that we have kayaked through in previous days.

kayaking in greenland
Photo Courtesy of Sentinel Photography Image used with permission by copyright holder

We slowly navigate our way back across the fjord. We gather our gear from the hostel and are transported back to Qassiarsuk where we spend the night at the Leif Ericsson Hostel and experience a “taste of Greenland” tapas-style meal. Our guide only tells us what each course is after we have sample the traditional food, which includes local fish, caribou, seal, and whale.

We awake the next morning to find that a small expedition cruise ship has arrived in the fjord. The passengers aboard the ship are here to visit the former site of Erik the Red’s settlement of Brattahlid (present-day Qassiarsuk), which was settled over a thousand years ago. While once the home of indigenous people and Viking settlers, Qassiarsuk is now a sheep farming community that is rich in archaeological history. Among this small community sits the ruins of Viking longhouses, a church, and reconstructed replicas that mimic what once dotted the landscape.

This is just one of many Viking settlements that cover the southern landscape. While there are some overland trails that connect some of the different regions, fjords and open waterways prevent easy navigation. However, if you want to get from one place to another with any expedience, that can only be accomplished via boat. We utilize Blue Ice Explorer, a service that transports us to Qassiarsuk, Narsaq, Qaqortoq, Igaliku, and a few spots in between.

narsaq, greenland
Narsaq/Photo Courtesy of Sentinel Photography Image used with permission by copyright holder

From the ship, we spot other Viking settlements. Aside from the gentle hum of the boat’s engine, one could easily be transported back a millennium, as the landscape has changed very little. These views are what some of the early Norse settlers must have experienced when they first navigated these waters. We are allowed to come ashore at Hvalsey (near Qaqortoq), which is home to the best preserved Norse ruins in southern Greenland, specifically Hvalsey Church.

Departing Greenland is about as logistically challenging as getting to the island itself. On our final day, we hiked 90 minutes to the boat dock before taking the boat two hours back down the fjord to Narsarsuaq, where we arrived just over a week ago. Our boat captain navigates the iceberg field and even stops and collects a small chunk of floating ice, chips off pieces of the small iceberg into cups, and pours each of us a martini that is thousands of years in the making. This is our final toast before we return to the airport for our flight back to Denmark.

Having recently utilized one of the many online DNA services to ascertain my genetic origins, I can only speculate that the people who represent my Scandinavian roots perhaps once spent time here in the southern fjords. I leave Greenland with more questions than answers.

Get the Gear

While beautiful, Greenland can be an inhospitable environment. When planning a visit to the world’s largest island, one should pay careful attention to gear selection for optimal enjoyment. Here are a few of my favorite choices for a visit to the southern fjord region.

Mammut Meron HS Hooded Jacket – $525

Mammut Meron HS Hooded Jacket
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A good jacket is worth its weight in gold when facing extreme conditions. This GORE-TEX-strapped option can handle even the worst weather in high elevations.

See It

Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds Jacket – $400

Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds Jacket
Image used with permission by copyright holder

We also like this option from Helly Hansen. The waterproof, windproof material is complemented by a design that allows for comfortable mobility.

See It

Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody – $299

Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This down alternative piece is the lightest, most packable insulated jacket we have tested. Paired with a base layer and a storm-proof shell, this is the ultimate mid layer.

See It

Garmont Santiago Mid GTX – $190

Garmont Santiago Mid GTX
Image used with permission by copyright holder

We took these mid-sized hiking shoes with us to Greenland. The lightweight Vibram outsole is great for gripping wet, slippery terrain.

See It

Scarpa Neutron GTX – $170

Scarpa Neutron GTX
Image used with permission by copyright holder

For a low-cut option, go for the Scarpa Neutron GTX. The best part? It’s waterproof.

See It

Goal Zero Venture 70 Recharger – $150

Goal Zero Venture 70 Recharger
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Never miss that shot because you ran out of juice. The Venture 70 is ideal for keeping phones, camera batteries, and other tech powered for when you need them most, which is why it’s one of our top eco chargers.

See It

Editors' Recommendations

Clay Abney
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Clay Abney is a PR guru and freelance writer living in the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia, where he spends his…
Omni Amelia Island’s Fish to Fork is the culinary event of the year
The perfect trip for the foodie in your life
Fish to Fork Sprouting Project Lunch 2024

If you know Omni hotels, you know the individual character each one possesses. Unlike so many cookie-cutter hotel chains, each Omni location has its own personality, complete with local charm and flavor. Whether you're after a warm and cozy (albeit intense) gingerbread competition in Asheville, North Carolina, or a lavish culinary getaway with a group of incredibly talented chefs in beautiful Florida, Omni has you covered.

From May 9-12, Omni Amelia Island hosted its eighth annual Fish to Fork event - a weekend-long affair where guests enjoyed their stay alongside award-winning chefs, dined on beautiful, locally grown, locally caught lavish meals, enjoyed a deep-sea fishing excursion, partook in all of the wonderful amenities Omni Amelia Island has to offer, and were pulled into a heart-racing chef showdown at the end of the wonderful weekend.

Read more
The golf courses beginners should definitely check out
These are the best golf courses for beginners to learn the ropes and not feel bad about making a divot
An aerial view of a golf course.

Just because we love the game of golf doesn't mean we are any good at playing it ourselves. It is easy to scream at the TV about how bad that flop shot was from the comfort of your couch, even if you have never swung a club. Once you get a bit of practice in, so you don't leave a trail of divots in your wake, you won't be so nervous walking on the green. There's no need to have performance anxiety when playing on one of the best golf courses for beginners, so see which one you want to take a swing at.
Take a swing in Scottsdale

There's something in the water in Arizona. There's at least something in the grass, as Scottsdale, Arizona, has multiple courses for the beginner and beyond. See if you could hit all of these courses to bring your game up to par.
The Talking Stick Golf Club
The Talking Stick Golf Club has two gorgeous courses to pick from, both designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. For those who want a straightforward game without a lot of hassle, the Piipaash Course is the kind of smooth sailing that doesn't require a lot of experience. If you want to test your aim on a more challenging green, the O'odham Course offers stunning architecture along difficult holes.
The Blue Course at Wigwam Resort
If you want easier terrain, the Blue Course at the Wigwam Resort will tee up 18 holes of beauty for your eyes to feast on. Known as The Patriot Course, when players took their first swings there in 1965, golfers at any level will appreciate the 6,000 yards of play in the white sandy desert and fairways lined with trees.
The We-Ko-Pa Saguaro Course
If you want true mountain views with your putt, the We-Ko-Pa Saguaro Course, located in the Sonoran Desert, won't disappoint. Another Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore partnership in 2006, the course uses the full range of the landscape to get the most out of your 18-hole round.
The best golf courses for beginners elsewhere in the U.S.

Read more
You’ll soon be able to use Marriott points at these iconic resorts
Ocean and trees at Turtle Bay Resort

Turtle Bay Resort, O'ahu, Hawaii Turtle Bay Resort

Around the globe, there’s so much to explore. From the beaches of Kauai, Hawaii, to the jagged peaks of the Swiss Alps, adventure awaits. But that takes money, and no matter how badly you want to go, some destinations are out of reach. One way to go further for less is through hotel rewards programs like Marriott Bonvoy.

Read more