If exploring polar regions strikes your fancy, Greenland should top your bucket list! To help plan your Greenland adventure, use this Nuuk travel guide to find the 25 top things to do in Nuuk, Greenland, including the best sites to see, places to eat, stay and shop as well as day trips around Nuuk.
Having been fortunate to revel at penguins in Antarctica, walk with polar bears near Churchill, Canada, and have heart melting polar bear cub encounters as well as extraordinary northern lights in Baffin Island, we now embrace the magic of the landscapes, people and history in the polar regions.
While we explored Greenland for two weeks on an expedition ship, the Quark Ultramarine, you can also opt to fly between Nuuk, Sisimuit and Iliussat.
Fun Facts about Nuuk, Greenland
Although Nuuk is Greenland’s largest city, with ~19,000 residents, it is still very quaint compared to most cities. By comparison, Reykjavik, Iceland, has ~136,000 residents.
FUN FACT: Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, is the northernmost capital city in the world, located at 64.1466° North latitude. Although Nuuk is located at 64.1743 ° North latitude, Greenland actually falls under the Danish realm and is not an independent sovereign state.
33% of the Greenlandic population resides in Nuuk.
Despite its portrayal in the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it’s a relatively modern town with interesting architecture, particularly the Cultural Center.
TOP TIP: I highly recommend watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty before venturing to Greenland and Iceland.
And, not to worry, there are more than two rental cars in the town, contrary to the movie depicting only a blue and red one.
While we previously avoided cold destinations, now that we have the appropriate cold weather gear, we embrace chillier locales.
The good news is if you are visiting during the summer months, Greenland temperatures are relatively mild (40-45° F/4-8° C). Conversely, winter time can be quite frigid with temperatures ranging from 0-19° F / -7 to -18° C. Given this, summer is definitely the best time to visit Nuuk, Greenland.
TOP TIP: Since Greenland lacks humidity, using lip balm and hand salve generously and drinking copious amounts of water is KEY! I love Living Earth Naturals eco-friendly peppermint eucalyptus lip balm that is packaged in a paper container and the peppermint eucalyptus lotion bar that comes in a metal tin. I discovered this sustainable brand at the Made Fair in Missoula, Montana, and adore all her products and the fact that she doesn’t use palm oil!
Best Things to Do in Nuuk, Greenland
Since there are many interesting things to do in Nuuk, I’ve included the top 25 highlights for a one day Nuuk itinerary with details and inspirational imagery below.
TOP TIP: To help plan your Nuuk visit, download the Colourful Nuuk App to find the best sightseeing spots, restaurants, places to shop and events.
#1 Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaaterqarfialu (Greenland National Museum & Archives)
As you would expect, the Greenland National Museum is packed with rare artifacts dating back to 2400BC, including the Dorset and Thule cultures. Although it’s a relatively small museum, you can spend quite a bit of time immersing in Greenland’s deep history. Learn about how the earliest cultures hunted (on land, ice and sea), farmed and lived by seeing their tools, sleds, kayaks and canoes.
The museum’s crown jewels are the mummified bodies of four Qilakitsoq people (including a six-month old child) buried around 1475 outside of the Qilakitsoq settlement near Uummannaq. Discovered in 1972, the incredibly well-preserved bodies were fully dressed and wrapped in fur, equipped for the long journey to the land of the dead.
The exhibit is simply breathtaking and well worth the price of admission on its own. It’s one of the top Nuuk tourist attractions for good reason.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE INUIT OUTFITS
- Inuit jackets typically have two layers. An inner layer made from bird skin covered by an outer layer made from seal skin.
- Inuit pants are typically made from seal or reindeer skin.
- Inuit boots are called Kamiks. The interior layer is reindeer skin while the exterior layer is seal skin.
This Umiak (canoe) dates from the 1400s. Constructed from driftwood, it’s tied together by seal skin or whale baleen, and then covered in seal skin. These were used for whaling and moving people between settlements.
#2 Cooper’s Workshop
After visiting the main museum, head next door to the Cooper’s Workshop.
Operated until the 1940s, the Cooper’s Workshop repaired barrels that were used for Greenland to send whale blubber and cod liver to Denmark in exchange for commodities like butter, flour and sugar. You’ll also gain an appreciation for the tools they used to keep these important barrels operational.
#3 Sedna, Goddess of the Sea
Stroll ~5 minutes from the museum and you’ll arrive at a sculpture in the water known as Sedna, Goddess of the Sea, in the Inuit culture.
TOP TIP: This is a nice place to capture a picture of the statue with the colorful Nuuk buildings on the waterfront behind.
#4 Hans Egede Statue
Walking only three minutes uphill from Sedna will bring you to Hans Egede’s statue. From here, you can marvel at a dramatic 360-degree viewpoint, allowing you to appreciate the harbor, colorful town, and get a lay of the land for the rest of your Nuuk explorations.
Hans Egede, a Danish Norwegian missionary founded Nuuk in 1728. Understandably, differing points of view exist regarding how he colonized Greenland, which resulted in oppression of the Inuit traditions and culture and their conversion to Christianity.
I encourage you to read and learn more about him to form your own opinion.
#5 Nuuk Cathedral (Church of our Saviour)
Just below the Hans Egede statue is a charming cobblestone pathway that leads to the Nuuk Cathedral, a red, wooden Lutheran church building dating back to 1849.
In fact, most of the buildings near the National Museum are a vibrant red that pops nicely – particularly against the moody dark clouds lining the sky on the day of our visit.
Nuuk is a town full of juxtaposition. The area near the Church is like stepping back in time with stone fences and foundations dotting the landscapes between rich red buildings.
#6 GUX Nuuk
Be sure to stop by the local high school during your Nuuk explorations. This Nuuk high school has 500 students who attend for three years to obtain their secondary education.
#7 Hans Egede House
After visiting the Hans Egede statue, Nuuk Cathedral, and high school, walk three minutes to Hans Egede’s former home.
Hans Egede’s house, built in 1728, is the oldest structure in Greenland (other than Norse/Viking structures). The former home now hosts Greenlandic government receptions. If you are looking for historic things to do in Nuuk, this site is a must see.
#8 Katuaq Cultural Center
The cultural center hosts a number of events in its 550 person auditorium, including movies, performances, concerts and conferences.
FUN FACT: The larch wood screen is meant to be an ode to the Northern Lights while the undulating building itself emulates Greenland’s mountains
#9 Nuuk Center
In contrast to the historic buildings you’ve seen, check out the Nuuk Center next, which is a mixed-use mall and office space. Yep, a mall in Greenland! An 8-story office tower resides above the mall.
The mall houses a supermarket, eyewear, clothing, toys, a bookstore and electronics. I personally love perusing supermarkets and clothing stores when traveling to pick up interesting snacks or unique souvenirs.
FUN FACT: The Nuuk center, which opened in 2012, is Greenland’s first and only mall.
The Nuuk Center is the beginning (or end), depending on where you start, of Nuuk’s shopping district, which is also home to the Katuaq Cultural Center.
Shopping in Nuuk Greenland
TOP TIP: Since many shops close early on Saturdays, including the main bookstore, plan your Nuuk visit for a weekday if you can.
#10 Nuuk Souvenir Shopping Dooit Design
If you stop at only one shop in the central district, make sure it’s Dooit Design. An Arts and Crafts Gallery, the owner and designer, Dorit Olsen, has created a stunning variety of locally made glass items. Given my addiction to all things blue and polar bears, Jason surprised me with a striking small glass bowl with a polar bear paw print that appears to be floating amongst a sea of blue bubbles!
TOP TIP: Dooit Design will wrap your items to protect them for your travels home. Despite numerous flights home, our bowl arrived unscathed in our carry on luggage.
Best Places to Eat & Drink in Nuuk Greenland
You’ve likely worked up an appetite walking around and exploring, so I’ve got you covered with restaurants and cafes where you can recharge and enjoy a variety of cuisines, including Thai food.
Nuuk Greenland Restaurants
#11 Sarfalik Restaurant
Sarfalik is one of the poshest restaurants in Nuuk, offering a tasting menu featuring Greenlandic food.
Cafetuaq is a modern space featuring meat from local hunters and fishermen. I love that they are committed to sustainability and only offer biodegradable packaging and cutlery. If you are seeking more eco-friendly options, check out my 41 Sustainable Travel Essentials.
TOP TIP: If you are a brunch lover like I am, be sure to indulge in their Saturday brunch. While I’m not a meat eater, others rave about their Musk Ox hotdog, which people say tastes similar to sausage.
#13 Charoen Porn
Craving Thai food? Stop into Charoen Porn. They have Massaman curry, which is always one of my go to dishes if I don’t order pad see ew.
#14 Godthaab Bryghus
If you are a beer lover like my husband, you’ll definitely want to check out Godthaab Gryghus and partake in one of their tasty beers. They also have live music!
TOP TIP: Visit on a Friday to partake in a brewery tour.
#15 ArcTea – Boba Tea
Grab a refreshing Boba (bubble) tea to sip one while wandering around Nuuk at ArcTea.
FUN FACT: The bubbles/boba are made from tapioca.
What to Do in Nuuk Greenland
After refueling and enjoying some local cuisine, you can explore more of the interesting things to do in Nuuk, Greenland.
#16 Nuuk Art Museum
Peruse the traditional Greenlandic and modern art exhibitions and carvings at the Nuuk Art Museum. This is the largest public display of art anywhere in Greenland.
TOP TIP: Download the Nuuk Art Walk so that you can appreciate 19 paintings and installations as you venture around Nuuk. You can download it as a pdf map or a podcast.
#17 Nuuk Shotokan Karate Do
Nuuk Shotokan Karate Do is a cool building near the Nuuk Art Museum worth stopping by. While I’ve never taken karate, a number of friends and their kids have and really enjoy it. Given my passion for Asian architecture, I appreciate the torii gate flanking the entrance.
#18 Northern Lights in Nuuk
Depending on the time of year that you visit Nuuk, you might be lucky and get to experience the Northern Lights.
Your best chance of seeing Northern Lights is from mid-September to mid-April. Be aware that during the summer midnight sun, the skies never really get dark, so you won’t see Northern Lights.
TOP TIP: Download the Northern Light Aurora Forecast to get the KP index, which measures how strong solar flares are predicted to be.
Be sure to have hat, gloves, warm boots, and a well insulated jacket for enjoying and photographing the Northern Lights. We were mesmerized by the Northern Lights we witnessed when photographing polar bears on Baffin Island and can’t wait to see them again!
Things to Do Near Nuuk, Greenland
#19 Flightseeing in Nuuk
Seeing Greenland from the air is quite a treat. We had the chance to do this three times on our Greenland cruise aboard Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine and I can’t recommend the experience enough.
Beholding the beauty of mountains, fjords, waterfalls and icebergs from a bird’s eye perspective gives you a new appreciation for Greenland’s beauty. You can even land on the glacier!
FUN FACT: The Nuuk fjord system is the second largest in the world!
#20 Explore Nuuk’s fjords from the water
A wide variety of boat day tour options are offered in Nuuk. Opt for whatever strikes your fancy. You can fish for cod or redfish and visit a restaurant in the tiny village of Qooqqut to indulge in your bounty. Or, stand up paddleboard amongst icebergs, punctuated by the sounds of them calving. You can relax aboard a small boat and cruise past the Narsap Sermia glacier.
#21 Marvel at Humpback Whales in Nuuk Fjord
If you are visiting Nuuk from May to September, opt for a humpback whale watching tour in the Nuuk Fjord. We were very fortunate to see humpback whales while kayaking in Greenland in September. We’ve loved swimming with them in Tonga and seeing them in Antarctica too!
#22 Step back in time at an abandoned village
If you are enamored with the stories and patina surrounding abandoned places like I am, you might enjoy visiting Kangeq, a former whaling village abandoned in the 1970s. This is definitely a worthwhile Greenland day tour. I love visiting ghost towns wherever I go. Garnet Ghost Town in Montana and Bodie in California are two of my favorites.
INTERESTING FACT: The nearby Island of Hope is where Hans Egede resided before founding Nuuk.
#23 Visit a remote settlement
For me, the tiny Greenlandic villages are one of the highlights of any Greenlandic visit. Spend a day immersing in Kapisllit and learning about the hunting and fishing practices in this village with only 60 residents.
FUN FACT: This area is home to Greenland’s sole salmon spawning river!
#24 Ski in Nuuk
If you visit Nuuk in the spring or winter, you can ski at Sisorarfit and enjoy one of their two runs.
Where to Stay in Nuuk
#25 The Hotel Hans Egede is centrally located in Nuuk and a convenient place to base yourself while seeing all the Nuuk attractions, if you aren’t on a Greenland expedition ship like we were.
This is the largest hotel in the city and has the Sarfalik restaurant.
Nuuk Greenland Travel Logistics
Traveling to Nuuk, Greenland
Wondering how to get to Nuuk, Greenland? You can fly Air Greenland or Air Iceland from Reykjavik, Iceland, or Air Greenland from Denmark. If you are already in Greenland exploring other towns you can fly from Ilulissat, Sisimiut, Kangerlussuaq and other cities via Air Greenland.
Or, you can visit via an expedition ship like Quark’s Ultramarine, which is how we explored Nuuk.
Since Greenland is a Danish territory, the currency used is the Danish Krone (DKK).
Greenland uses 230V and 50 Hz electricity. For United States citizens, you’ll want to use the Type E plug adapter with two round prongs used throughout Europe.
I hope this Nuuk Travel Guide has spawned lots of ideas for how you can spend your time enjoying all the fabulous things to do in Nuuk Greenland.