Ilulissat Greenland – Icebergs are Born at Ilulissat Fjord

Written By: The Planet D

It was the first day that we’d be able to get on the water in Greenland but Dave and I were torn. We had to make a decision at 7:00 pm the night before our landing in Ilulissat Greenland to see the specatular Ilulissat Icejford.

The expedition team had planned a sunrise walk staring at 5:00 am. We’d be hiking through the Arctic Tundra to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ilulissat Icefjord; home to the most active calving glacier on earth.

We love kayaking, but there was no way we were going to miss that. This is the place where most of the Icebergs in the Northern hemisphere are formed.

Ilulissat Greenland

Ilulissat Glacier - town of Ilulissat, Greenland
The Colourful town of Ilulissat

Ilulissat is located on the Western side of Greenland. It’s the third largest settlement in the country with a population 4500.

There are easily just as many sled dogs living in Ilulissat. We walked through the morning mist in silence.

It was 5:00 am and the town was still sleeping, but once we hit the edge of the village and entered sled dog city, it was another story.

Thousands of Greenland Huskies chained to their spot barked as we passed.

Sled Dog City

Ilulissat Glacier Greenland dog camp
Dog Camp on the outside of town

It was heartbreaking to see them stuck to their five foot radius running around in circles while their puppies roamed free.

Sled dogs are used during the winter for hunting and transportation, but during the summer months, they are banished to the outskirts of town with nothing to do but watch tourists pass to view the towns most popular attraction.

But, that’s a whole other article that warrants my attention, today, we’re talking about ice.

Arctic Tundra

Ilulissat Glacier Greenland UNESCO World Heritage
UNESCO World Heritage site of Ilulissat Fjord

Once we were on the tundra and had entered the boundary of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the barks faded away and quiet set in once again.

The town of Ilulissat has built a boardwalk through the field to protect the vegetation.

The tundra flora is delicate and easily disturbed.

Conditions this far north are difficult for anything to survive and humans have a tendency to disrupt nearly everything in nature. Sticking to the trail, helps to keep things in order.

What surprised us most was all the colour on the ground. We didn’t expect Greenland to be so colourful.

I expected dark black rocks possibly covered in some dark black moss, but this field was filled with beautiful colours of orange, yellow, red and brown.

We were in Greenland during the autumn months and the vegetation of moss and shrubs were showing off their best fall colours.

Ilulissat Greenland tundra
The colours of the Arctic Tundra

We were told that they flower in the Spring creating an entirely different colourful landscape and we made a note to come back up here one day in the Spring.

In Ilulissat, we were above the tree line and nothing we saw grew over a foot.

The soil seemed almost springy with moss, but we know that there is only a few inches of nutrients before hitting the rocky ground underneath.

Surrounded by hills on either side, we walked through a long valley that reminded us of parts of the Tongariro crossing in New Zealand.

It could have been middle earth, but instead we were at the top of the world.

Icebergs and Glaciers

After about 15-minutes of walking, it hit us – one of the most spectacular views on earth. Jutting up from the sea was an enormous iceberg (larger than an 10 story apartment building).

It’s beautiful blue white jagged edges towered over the long flat field of colourful moss.

The contrast was stunning. I could have stood looking at that view for hours. It truly was unlike anything we had ever seen.

Jakobshavn Isbræ Glacier

Ilulissat Glacier Greenland flag
The Greenlandic Flag sits motionless on a Glacial Background

Ilulissat is home to the Jakobshavn Isbræ glacier, it moves at a rate of 20–35 m (66–115 ft) per day creating some 35-billion tonnes of icebergs every year.

The glacier flows from Greenland’s polar icecap and ends at  the Ilulissat Icefjord where giant chunks of ice break off from the glacier (known as calving) and fall into the sea.

The bay becomes cluttered with ice. Some icebergs are so large, like the one we witnessed, that they sit on the bottom of the bay and are trapped until some of their ice is melted off allowing them to drift north through the Arctic Ocean.

It can take years for a large iceberg to break free.

They have have a short window to melt before winter freezes them in and then they will possibly roll a few times before they finally work their way out to sea.

An iceberg rolling is so dangerous that you are not allowed to go anywhere near the coast.

Icebergs are only 10% above the water.

Another 90% sits below and if one rolls, it creates a tsunami that will take out anything in it’s path. We stayed at a high vantage point to look at the bay.

When the icebergs do break free, they flow North with the current to the Arctic Ocean before joining the Atlantic Ocean and heading South.

Some icebergs don’t melt away until they are farther South than New York City.

It is believed that the iceberg that sank the Titanic most likely was born here.

Ilulissat Icefjord

Ilulissat Glacier Greenland - Ilulissat Lookout
The Ilulissat Lookout!

After about 1.5 km of walking on the boardwalk, we climbed a small hill overlooking the fjord.

There is a picnic table and park benches set up to make things more comfortable and we found ourselves staring at the view for well over an hour.

You could hear the glacier constantly calf in the distance and you could watch the ice change before your eyes. The one giant iceberg refused to budge as it stood proudly above all the rest.

We were still in the Arctic though and sitting for too long caused a chill in our bones.

The wind picked up as the sun ducked behind the clouds and it was time to go.

The entire night before, we worried that we may have made the wrong decision not to go kayaking, but after witnessing this beautiful scene, we knew we made the right choice.

Worth the Visit

Ilulissat Glacier Greenland fjord
Beauty at every turn in the Unesco World Heritage Sit of Ilulissat Fjord

There seems to be a new UNESCO World Heritage Site popping up at every turn.

We have visited some and wondered why they had been named so, but the Ilullisat Icefjord in Greenland is one of those places that truly deserves the honour. It is a spot that is shaping our world.

Researchers have been studying it for over 200 years and it is an important area to study the affects of Global Warming.

If you want to add an interesting World Heritage Site to your list, the Ilulissat Icefjord is probably the most unique one you will ever see. The town is worth visiting too.

It gives you insight into life in the Arctic.

There is no way to travel across Greenland on land. You must travel by ship, plane or possibly dogsled. This town’s harbour is filled with boats the way parking lots are filled with cars everywhere else.

It’s an interesting visit to see the museum and old church and to walk through the streets to see how different life is above the Arctic circle, but how it is surprisingly, just the same.

Bathing and Bubbly at the Top of the World
Arctic or Antarctica? How to Choose Your Polar Expedition

Ilulissat Glacier in Greenland
Ilulissat Glacier in Greenland

Quark Expeditions invited us to experience their Greenland Explorer Tour. All commentary is our own and we’ll be giving you an honest view of what it’s like to take a Quark Cruise. See what other Polar Expeditions they have to offer

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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38 thoughts on “Ilulissat Greenland – Icebergs are Born at Ilulissat Fjord”

  1. For those brave enough to visit Alaska in the winter, dog mushing is a must do activity. We welcome you to come with us as we eplore trails around Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park. Your tour will start with a visit to our kennel.

  2. Oh my gosh – stunning! How can you make Greenland look even better than it already does? I can’t wait to cross this UNESCO site off the list!

    • Thanks! Ah yes, I believe you’ve seen hundreds of UNESCO Sites right? You would love this. Definitely one of the more unique Heritage sites out there

  3. Wow…just WOW! You weren’t kidding that the icebergs here just absolutely dwarf the ones in Iceland. I love how striking the oranges and browns of the fall mosses are set against the blue icebergs. Greenland is very high on our list as we just absolutely have loved our time in Arctic Finland, Norway, Svalbard, and Sweden.

  4. Amazing! And doubly amazing because I JUST published an interview on one of my sites that featured the exact same town in Greenland!!!! It’s a pretty one.

  5. These images are beyond breathtaking! My eyes can hardly process these dramatic landscapes and I can’t imagine that the colours could more perfect than they are now! Beautiful and very inspiring!

  6. It must’ve been an incredible sight in person for the both of you! I have always thought Greenland to have a different kind of landscape, too. Your photos showcases the country well. It looks raw and dangerous, but oh-so beautiful. I especially like that lookout point.

    • Thanks Sherry, you described Greenland beautiful. I love “Raw and Dangerous” Everyone is coming up with such great descriptive words. While we were there, we all commented on how we kept running out of adjectives to describe it. It’s so awe-inspiring.

  7. What a riot of colors, never expected Greenland to be so beautiful and photogenic… I hope it will remain like this for ages to come…

    • I have a feeling it will last for a long time. Greenland is one of those places that is still very untouched. It’s going to take a while to pick up steam I think, but once it does, people will be flocking to it.

  8. Hello there!

    This is such a great post! I love the pictures you posted here. Nice shots! I hope to visit that place in the future.


    • Ah, nice way to describe it, they are somber and uplifting all at once. I wish I used that phrase. “Cradle of iceberg civilization” I like it, I may have to use it in the future.

  9. Superb photos and trip! I am so mesmerized by the things you have experienced in Greenland. Such a wonderful, wonderful place and sight to experience. (I’m a little envious.heheh)

    • Thank you very much. We were very lucky to be able to go there. It’s a place that has been on our list for several years. It didn’t disappoint.

  10. What a great experience. I have traveled to see glaciers and have seen many. I think this experience is unlike any other because of how to get to the destination, along with the uniqueness of Greenland. I loved your photos. Denali National Park has similar tundra like colors in the fall, which I enjoyed photographing last August. However, we did not see any glaciers up close in the park (we did on Kenai Peninsula). I hope to make it to Greenland someday!

    • Ah yes, I can imagine Denali being like that. We were there during the month of June, so I the resemblance didn’t come to mind, but I am sure that the landscape would be similar in the fall for sure. You are right when you say, it’s the experience of getting to the destination. It’s an adventure unto itself going that far North. It sounds like you love the polar regions, I’m sure you’ll get there soon.

  11. Those colors . . . wow! It must have made you feel so small seeing that glacier looming before you. As for the dogs, your description of them being tied up like that is upsetting. I hope you post more about them.

    • Hi Melissa, yes, we plan on writing about the dogs. I think it’s a subject that needs to be addressed. I need to do some more research though. It’s easy for all of us to judge when we don’t live there. I know that these dogs are essential and my instinct is to unchain them and give them a hug. But if they were all unchained, they’d be running crazy and mating and making a mess. I don’t want to say too much on it because that is another story, but it is a very good thing to debate and talk about. And yes, that iceberg in the bay literally took our breath away when we saw it. We thought we were looking at a mountain at first.

  12. I absolutely love these photos, they’re fantastic – although sad to read about the huskies at the beginning of the post. I’m still undecided as to whether or not I’d enjoy Greenland – I’m much more of a culture person than a nature lover – but it’s an interesting destination to read about as not many folks seem to venture up there.

    • I can understand being on the fence for sure, Greenland isn’t for everyone. I think you either have a love for polar regions or you don’t. We actually were amazed with the culture of Greenland. I think that Quark Expeditions does a great job making sure that their passengers meet with the locals and experience their unique way of life. The Inuit are quite fascinating. They’re hearty, strong and have deep traditions. We haven’t written about the culture yet, but hopefully we’ll be able to introduce people to the Inuit culture and give a glimpse into their daily life soon.

  13. Greenland has been on my mind ever since I took my first flight to NYC via Reykjavik and looked down to a bewildering mass of white and blue. Your photos are only adding fuel to the fire. Mesmerizing place – thank you so much for sharing. Good luck and long may you run!

    • Thank you. It’s so true, I love looking at the map on my screen and seeing what we’re passing over. A flight can be a bit of an adventure in itself on a clear day.

  14. For a moment, I felt I have gone back to my Geography lessons…Greenland is incredibly beautiful. I don’t think there is any match to it! I am awestruck!

    • Thanks (I think) I wanted this post to be a bit informative to accompany Dave’s gorgeous photos. It’s quite a unique place. The only other place we’ve been that matches it is Antarctica, but even then, the two places are quite different.

  15. That iceberg is enormous! And to think that’s only 10%!
    Those are some beautiful fall colors, but I’m really intrigued to see what it looks like with flowers in the Spring time. I think it would give it a completely different look and feel.

    • So true eh. We didn’t even see this large of icebergs in Antarctica, we were blown away by them. I’d love to see the colours in the Spring. It was so beautiful now, I can’t imagine how picturesque it would be with a different set of clours.

    • That’s awesome, Thanks Colby. I’m happy to hear that we could bump Greenland up on your list. You are going to love it. The photo opportunities are amazing!