South Greenland

Overview

Introduction

The island's agricultural center will appeal most to visitors seeking outdoor activities, from hiking to serious rock climbing. Field ice (floating sheets of ice—not to be confused with icebergs) drift in this area in spring and summer, and they occasionally impede vessels that carry supplies to the villages.

Igaliku—This tiny village (known in ancient times as Gardar), shielded by the mountains and blessed with good soil, is in a sheep-raising and vegetable-growing area. It was the main religious center for the Vikings in Greenland, and you can still see the ruins of their cathedral, which was built in the 1100s. Hvalsey Church, one of Greenland's best Viking ruins, is five hours away from Igaliku by boat. 305 mi/490 km southeast of Nuuk.

Nanortalik—This town of 1,500 offers well-kept gardens and scenic views of the surrounding granite mountains. The water around Nanortalik is good for kayaking, and hunters returning in their kayaks with their catch are a year-round sight. In May and June, visitors can witness the feverish activity caused by migrating hooded seals. A good number of the townsfolk move to old hunting grounds in the skerries (small rocky reefs or islands), where they live in tents and mud huts while hunting the seals. Attractions within the town include a churchyard from the colonial period (built in 1916) and a museum (housed in old buildings once used by the Royal Greenland Trade Department). Greenland's largest wooded area lies six hours on foot from the nearby settlement of Tasiusaq. Nanortalik is 350 mi/565 km southeast of Nuuk.

Narsaq—Set against a mountain backdrop, this village offers several attractions, including a museum (equipment and products from famous local printer and publisher Frederik Hoegh); the home of Henrik Lund (a priest and poet who wrote the national anthem); the Krystal Palace (a workshop specializing in modeling local stones); and Narsaq Foto (where John Rasmussen tells the story of life in South Greenland through photography). At Kayak Harbor, you'll see some old kayaks, icebergs and hunters returning with seals. At the nearby mountain of Kvanefjeld, you can hunt for tuttupit (gemstones), and uranium deposits have also been found in the area. Narsaq is 295 mi/475 km southeast of Nuuk.

Narsarsuaq—This airport, which was founded in 1941 as a U.S. air base—personnel departed shortly after World War II—is the gateway to the beautiful Skov and Eiriks fjords and one of the Greenland airports reached by international flights. We highly recommend the area: It's refreshing to walk through the town and its non-ice-covered surroundings of plains, dry riverbeds and wildflowers against a backdrop of glaciers and rugged, barren mountains (nearby Mount Igdlerfik can be climbed in the summer).

Just a half-hour away by boat is Qassiarsuk (Brattahlid), a village that occupies the site of the Viking settlement founded by Eric the Red in the 900s. The ruins of Viking houses and a reconstructed church can be visited. Other trips from Narsarsuaq include a boat excursion down the Qooroq Fjord to Qooqqut Sermiat Glacier (a half-day boat trip) and a hike to Kiagtuut Sermiat Glacier (a six- to eight-hour trip). Narsarsuaq has one big hotel and a youth hostel. 300 mi/480 km southeast of Nuuk.

Qaqortoq (Julianehab)—With its multicolored houses perched on a mountainside overlooking icebergs, Qaqortoq rates as one of the most beautiful towns on the island (with very friendly people). Several old buildings sit around the square, which boasts the only fountain in Greenland. The Cooper's Shop dates from 1781. A museum displays Inuit utensils and Viking artifacts. Behind the museum, there's an exact copy of a turf house from the beginning of the 1900s. The town tannery processes skins and furs and sells high-quality fur coats and hats around the world: Tours of the tannery can be arranged. Other interesting sites include the Culture House (art exhibits) and the old church (a beautiful red wood building).

One popular excursion from Qaqortoq is the boat ride to Hvalsey Church, the most famous and best-preserved Viking ruin in Greenland. On the nearby island of Uunartoq, you can hike to several hot-spring pools—at 95 F/35 C, they are suitable for a dip. Lounging in the warm water while icebergs crash about in the nearby inlet is a rather bizarre experience—but one you won't forget. Qaqortoq is 300 mi/485 km southeast of Nuuk.

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