With a multi-layered culture and fascinating history, the following 10 facts about Greenland might surprise you and unleash a desire to explore this exciting island for yourself:
1. As an island, it’s huge!
The world’s biggest island by area that isn’t a continent, the total area of Greenland is 2.16 million square kilometers (836,330 square miles) and that includes the many minor offshore islands. As much as 80% of the landmass is covered by an ice cap. While those areas of the island not covered in ice may be a minority, they still make up an area of land the size of Sweden.
Greenland is also one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
2. It wasn’t called Greenland for nothing!
Predominantly covered in ice, snow and glaciers, Greenland is anything but green, but do you know why it was given its name? Erik the Red, an exiled Icelandic murderer, called the island Greenland in the hope that it might attract settlers. But science has proved that more than 2.5 million years ago, the island was much greener than it is today.
3. An autonomous country
Despite the fact that Greenland is geographically a part of the North American continent, it is in fact, an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. Having been politically and culturally associated with Europe for at least a thousand years, Denmark has held colonies in Greenland since 1721. It wasn’t until 1953 that it was made a part of Denmark and the country went on to grant it Greenland Home Rule in 1979. In 2009, expanded Self Rule was inaugurated and more decision-making power and responsibilities were transferred to the Greenlandic government. Nowadays, under the new structure, Greenland is able to take on more of the responsibilities currently held by Denmark.
4. A history dating back 4,500 years
Historians widely believe that it was around 2500 BCE when humans first arrive in Greenland. When the first group of migrants died out, they were followed by other migrant groups from North America. Way back at the beginning of the 10th century, Icelandic Norsemen settled in uninhabited parts of southern Greenland. They are said to have all but disappeared by the late 15th century. In the 13th century, the Inuit migrated to Greenland from Asia. Most Inuit Greenlanders today are directly descended from them and continue to practice their ancient traditions.
5. The Inuit
With around 88% of the entire population of Greenland comprised of Inuit or mixed Danish and Inuit, the 12% remaining are of European descent, mainly Danish. While the term “Eskimos” is commonly used to refer to Inuit Greenlanders, it’s not a term they appreciate. They much prefer to be called Inuit or Kalaallit, meaning Greenlander in their native Inuit language of Kalaallisut.
Inuits living in Greenland identify strongly with Inuits in other parts of the world, such as Canada and Alaska, and share some language similarities, too.
6. A nation of multilinguists
With most inhabitants of Greenland speaking Greenlandic and Danish, both languages have been used in public affairs ever since home rule was established in 1979. Nowadays, Greenland’s younger population is taught both languages in school, along with English.
With a long and interesting history, the Greenlandic language is closely related to the Inuit languages in Canada, like Inuktitut, and the words Kayak and Igloo, while Greenlandic in origin, are used frequently in other languages.
7. The road less traveled
It might be hard to believe, but while Greenland does have roads within its towns, there are no roads or railway lines to connect one settlement with another. Instead, Greenlandic people travel by plane, boat, helicopter, snowmobile or dogsled. Boats are by far the most popular mode of transport.
8. The whaling and fishing industry
Greenland imports the majority of its food. But fish and seafood are very much homegrown and the fishing industry is a major one for the island. Other animals such as whales and seals are hunted there, with each administrative area being awarded a certain quota to prevent overfishing. The blue whale, however, is a protected species and cannot be fished. Whale and seal meat are not permitted to be exported and must only be eaten locally.
9. Fun and vibrancy in every nook of Nuuk!
The biggest, most vibrant and exciting town on the island, Nuuk is home to around a quarter of Greenland’s population and is a great place to visit and spend time in. With museums, trendy eateries and cafes, and fashionable boutiques aplenty, Nuuk might be small but it packs a real punch when it comes to entertaining tourists.
A great place to start your trip, the National Museum of Greenland will give you a fantastic introduction to the country. The Katuaq Cultural House and Nuuk art museum are also worth a visit. With a backdrop of stunningly rugged mountains, Nuuk sits at the entrance to a huge and sprawling network of fjords, meaning that it’s a great destination for accessing the fjords for day trips and exploring the surrounding nature.
10. The land of eternal sunshine
Every year without fail, from May 25 to July 25 the sun simply refuses to set! Staying visible day after day and night after night, the Midnight Sun is an astounding natural phenomenon that begs to be seen and experienced. On June 21 in Greenland, it’s the Summer Solstice and a national holiday. You’ll find locals spending time outdoors and in the sunshine.
Still want to learn more about this unique and incredible country? The best way to discover all there is to know about a country like Greenland is to simply pack your bags and head there. While you’ll be armed with the above facts to help you navigate this huge island, you’ll discover plenty more while you’re there... we’re sure!