There is a lot to be said for harsh weather destinations being great photography destinations. Greenland is no exception to that rule. The country is incredibly photogenic and the number of photo locations are not only countless, but most still remain undiscovered. If your goal as a photographer is to visit a place where you can make wildly beautiful images that are unique, Greenland is the type of place that can facilitate that.
That said, Greenland is far from an easy place to explore. The limited infrastructure is a challenge. And many of the truly wonderous photo locations are actually totally inaccessible without a true expedition. Greenland might be stunningly beautiful, but it is work. As a photographer, you’re going to have to put in the work to make photos here. But, it will be worth it.
The Kangerlussuaq area in itself is strange.
This wasn’t an established Greenlandic settlement until the Americans established a base here during the second world war. And despite the fact that the country’s main airport (for now – more on that later) is here, there isn’t much of a community here. The town is only about 500 people strong, and many locals are starting to feel like that number is about to shrink even more.
For now, the country’s main airport is in Kangerlussuaq. And in large part, that’s what drives tourists here. It’s the only place in Greenland that large planes can land. As such, almost all major flights from Copenhagen come here first. Then, people are transferred onto smaller aircraft like Dash-8s to get to destinations like Nuuk and Sisisumuit. And because of the airport hub, many cruise and expedition ships make this the port.
However, Nuuk is in the process of building a new airport terminal and expanding their runway. By 2024 the main airport hub will be in Nuuk – which is the capital of Greenland. Many locals feel like when that happens, the number of tourists will shrink down here.
Still, the airport isn’t the only reason to come to Kangerlussuaq. And though it might not be as enticing as the history-ridden settlements on the coast, there is a strange charm to this place. It feels like a distant world outpost. I guess in large part because that’s what it is. And for photographers, there are things to photograph here.
Best time to Visit Kangerlussuaq
I’d say ideally mid-September is the best time for photographers. The foliage in the area goes bright orange and red. It’s stunning. There is still full access to all the photo locations, and it’s dark enough at night to get northern lights photographs.
It really depends on what you want to do and see. If you’re just hoping to see the Ice Cap, you just need 1 full day. However, if you’re looking to explore a bit deeper, give yourself 3 full days to explore the area.
Photo Opportunities in Kangerlussuaq
For those of us who prefer to capture our wildlife with lenses, we find it a bit sad that this is a hunting region. People flock from around the world for the sport of chasing a muskox or caribou.
But, there is a reason so many come here to hunt: there are a lot of animals.
Though on my visits, I’ve never gotten close enough for a great photo of anything, I have seen: muskox, caribou, arctic hare, and fox. The birdlife is also pretty impressive.
However, if you do want to photograph these animals you will have to work for them. Though you’ll see them often in the distance, they rarely come close. And, most of the wildlife is extremely skittish. I would love to come back to this area on a dedicated wildlife photography expedition.
I think especially in the winter when the caribou and muskox come down, and the arctic fox and hare blend in with nature, it could be fantastic for photography. However, the cost of such a trip would be significant as I’m sure you’d need to hire a snowmobile and guide.
This is a great hike near town, and a really good place for photography. In fact, I don’t think you need to go all the way to the top. You can find good photo locations all the way up the trail. In my opinion, the best photo spot is actually about ⅓ of the way up the hill. You have a really nice view of the fjord, a couple lakes, and a summer cabin.
From the top of the hike, you have a view way off to the ice cap as well. However, it can be quite windy at the top.
To get to Sugarloaf, it’s about a 7km walk from the airport. It’s on the road to the ice cap and signed by the tourist signposts in town. To make your trip easier, you can try to hire a local to drive you the 7km to the trailhead. It cuts down the total hike to about 3km up the mountain, and then 10km back to town.
If you’re feeling intrepid, there’s an off-the-beaten trail hike you can do from the peak to get back to town.
Looking back at town, there’s a smaller peak. You can walk down the steep slope of sugarloaf mountain and along the ridge to get there. The views from up there are great, and you have a perfect photo of Kangerlussuaq and the fjord behind it. From there, you then hike down the front, and back towards the summer cabin and the road back to town.
A word of warning, though. There is an area at the bottom of Sugarloaf near the summer cabin that is staked off. This area has apparently not been cleared of mines and ordinance left behind by the Americans when they were based in the area. Locals don’t seem to take it too seriously, but you should. Do not enter this area.
The Ice Cap
The big reason tourists will continue coming to Kangerlussuaq is due to its accessibility to the ice cap.
However, one should be warned that though the Ice Cap is close, to get great photos of it, you have to hike (guided) well onto the ice. The front of the Ice Cap is very dirty (naturally). If you want those scenes of blue water on ice, or canyons of ice, or just pure blue ice, you need to hire a guide to take you well onto it. The typical tours in town don’t get you this far.
On my visit to Kangerlussuaq, I didn’t make it onto the Ice Cap as I greatly underestimated how much of a journey it would be to get there. It’s decieving. From the brim above town, you can see the ice. It seems so easy to get there. It’s not.
We hired a private guide named Ewald to bring us to Russell Glacier. We were scouting for photo locations and heard that this could be a really cool spot. It is.
And though we didn’t go at sunset, we did manage to get a couple really cool photos. And maybe more than the photographs, the journey to get there is pretty awesome. 4x4s will take you through some wild terrain and you may spot Muskox and Caribou.
You can check out some of that terrain from the drone footage in the video below.
At the glacier itself, you are right at the toe. On a warm day, you might get lucky enough to capture a calving of the ice.
There is also a small hike you can do to a waterfall heavily-saturated with glacier-ground minerals. It can make for some interesting photographs.
The real win here is if you bring a drone. From the air, you can get some incredible perspectives of the towers of ice and crevasses that form at the end of the glacier. In fact, I think the best images of Russell Glacier are aerial. Don’t leave your drone at home.
To get here, you will need a local guide. We paid 700dkk per person for the trip.
Behind the Airport
You don’t have to go very far to get to a good photo spot in Kangerlussuaq. In fact, directly behind the airport there’s a steep hill and ridge. From the top of it, you have really good views either towards the Ice Cap, Sugarloaf, and the river system. Or, the other direction you have views towards the Fjord.
Be careful hiking up here, though. For one, it’s pretty steep and the terrain can be a bit slick. Secondly, there are often wild muskox up in this area. Keep your distance, they can be very aggressive.
And, if I’m being honest, Ferguson Lake isn’t always the best photo location. It’s a huge lake, and there’s not much in the way of foreground interest. Photos can feel a bit underwhelming here as there just isn’t enough to fill the frame.
That said, if you have the time it is still worth coming here. There are boats on the lake’s edge and some photogenic cabins as well. If it’s calm, the reflections here look spectacular. And, if there are Northern Lights this would be a great place to try to capture them.
There are a couple of ways to get to the lake. For one, you can walk. Although the hike to Ferguson Lake isn’t particularly pretty. You walk along the road the whole way. You can also hire a local to drive you out here (note: there are no taxis in Kangerlussuaq). The other way is to book a night’s dinner at the rowing club. If you do that, Albatross Tours will drive you out to dinner (where you can also take your photographs).
The Radar Towers
If you’re into abandoned architecture, Kangerlussuaq actually has a lot of good photo spots due to infrastructure left behind by the Americans. One of those things is the old radar dishes. Just outside of town, these dishes are very prominent.
We made an attempt to photograph the Northern Lights here, and though there was a big showing, it was a bit cloudy. This is a really cool photo location either for the Aurora Borealis or just astrophotography. There is a bit of light pollution from town, but it’s not that bad.
It’s an easy 45 minute walk from the airport to get here.
Where to Stay in Kangerlussuaq:
A big recommendation I have for Kangerlussuaq is to book your accommodation early. Though it seems like there’s lots of places to stay, they can often be booked up due to the schedule of the cruise ships and expeditions.
- Hotel Kangerlussuaq is right in the airport. It’s definitely over-priced. Rooms start at about 200 Euros a night and aren’t exactly great. But, it does have the fastest internet in Greenland, and the cafeteria downstairs serves pretty good food at a decent price.
- Polar Lodge: Operated by Albatross, this is right next to the airport, and is decent value.
- Old Camp: About 2km down the fjord from the airport – and also run by Albatross – Old camp is a good option. It’s better value, and though the rooms leave a bit to be desired, it definitely works. Rooms start at about 120 Euros a night.
- Kangerlussuaq Youth Hostel: We stayed here for a couple nights and thought it was good value. They have both dorms and private rooms. They have a huge common area with tables, a kitchen, ping pong table, and TV. The only downsides are that it’s a bit of a walk (or local bus ride) from the airport and food. And, though free wifi was advertised, there wasn’t any wifi available when we visited.
After a couple days in Kangerlussuaq, we made our way to Sisimiut. In many ways, we started to say things like “oh, now we’re in Greenland.”
Sisimiut is very much the image of what you think of when you think of Greenland. Its colourful cabin-styled houses, its sled-dogs, and its wild coast; it’s absolutely beautiful. For me, it’s the most photogenic town I visited in Greenland. There’s just so much to photograph here. Honestly, I could have spent a week and not found myself short of subjects.
Photo Locations in Sisimiut
This was my favourite place in Sisimiut and I honestly felt like I barely scratched the surface of the photos one could find here. We came here at first because there were a couple icebergs that drifted into the harbour and we were trying to find ways to photograph them. Once out on the island, we actually found a couple of cool photo spots.
From the end of the island, you can photograph towards the north using the rocks as foreground for your images. Even without the iceberg in the frame, you have beautiful views of the table top peaks in the background.
Also, before reaching the end of the island, you have some really beautiful views back at town. There are often boats in the water that can make for nice foreground interest for your photographs.
We kept getting distracted by beautiful views. But I think you could probably get farther onto the island than we got, and I’m sure there would be many other photos to be made out there.
Although it’s called “the island” it’s connected to the mainland and an easy walk from town.
Around 10km as the crow flies from Sisimiut there’s a beautiful old abandoned village called Assaqutaq. Though it’s “abandoned” lots of its infrastructure remains maintained as it’s still used by locals on weekends, and for educational expeditions. Some of it is crumbling, and some still looks like it’s habitable.
It’s a great spot for photography and one of the potentially classic Greenland photo locations. In fact, I believe this is the type of place that can draw people from all over as tourists.
We barely scratched the photography surface of this place on our first visit. We were location scouting, and came here in the middle of the day. Still the photos work.
The only way here is by boat, or foot.
We opted for an option where we took a local water taxi out to the island that the abandoned village sits, and then hiked back to town. The hike is about 10km and runs along the imposing ridge and the coastline. The hike isn’t particularly techincal, but there are a couple sections that you do need to scramble, or slide down. It’s not “easy” hiking. The trail is marked with blue spray paint dotted on rocks. And though the trail isn’t very worn, it’s easy enough to follow due to the markings. It takes 3-6 hours to hike, depending on your fitness level.
You can, of course, opt to come here by taking a boat and having the boat also return you. We paid 300dkk per person for the 1 way journey. I’m not sure what the rate would have been had we asked the driver to wait for us for a couple hours while we explored.
There are 2 mountains that people hike here in Sisimuit. The most popular is Nasaasaaq Mountain. From the top, you get beautiful 360 degree views of the entire area. It is absolutely spectacular.
Personally, I thought that the views from the saddle just before the peak were the most photogenic. You can photograph town and surrounding islands. Or, you can photograph down at the lakes below. It’s beautiful. However, I’m not sure that it’s the best photo location. It’s one of those places that is great to experience with your eyes, but is difficult to capture the wonder of on camera.
The hike up here takes about 2-3 hours from town (3-5 hours round trip) – depending on your fitness level. There are two options to get to the saddle. A steep version that cuts straight up a creek. Or, an easier trail that meanders around the back and then up the ridge. We went up the easier version and down the steeper part. Either way you go, there’s a couple small technical parts where you do have to scramble a bit.
At the bottom of the trailhead for Nasaasaaq Mountain, there are some really beautiful lakes. They can be incredibly still and offer great reflections of the surrounding mountains and hills.
This is also a really good place to come for Northern Lights as you get unabated views of the night sky.
From town, it’s about an hour’s walk. You can catch a taxi as well. It’ll cost about 80dkk 1 way.
The old town of Sisimiut is extremely photogenic. When we first arrived in town and saw it we were awed. It’s such a cool place, and there are so many buildings that are worthy of a photograph. Moreover, if the northern lights kick off, it’s not too bright to attempt photos of the night sky.
We stayed right next to the best part of old town and managed to photograph northern lights here.
We didn’t, however try to make photographs at sunrise or sunset. I think there would be images at those times of day, though.
All over Sisimiut you’ll see sled dogs. There might be more dogs than people in Sisimiut. Though throughout the winter they’re put to work, in the summer there’s not much for the dogs to do. So, owners leave their dogs out in nature for the seasons where they’re not being used. You’ll find them in dog houses next to town, for one. There’s even a couple islands where owners leave their dogs for the summer to roam free. Locals jokingly call it sled dog Tenerife.
And just outside of town towards the mountains there’s a massive area of large dog houses that we started to call “dog town”. Here, there are hundreds of sled dogs. Most of the dogs are chained. But the puppies and young dogs are let to roam around. When you walk by here, you’ll likely find yourself surrounded by incredible cute sled dogs. They are extremely photogenic.
Best Time to Visit Sisiumuit
If you’re looking to do some hiking, you’ll want to come late August or early September. Any earlier and you’ll be dealing with a lot of midges – tiny flies that are extremely annoying. By the end of September, getting to photo locations by hiking can be difficult.
If you’re looking to do some dog sledding and getting the photos that come along with that, or northern lights, you’ll need to wait until February or March.
- Best time to Visit: Late August for hiking, or winter for dog sledding / aurora.
- Time Needed: 4 Full Days
- Where to Stay: The best deal/location in town is Hotel Soma. It’s right in the heart of old town and a close walk to the port. Hotel Sisismuit is not an ideal location – up towards dog city – but is slightly more upscale. There’s also a youth hostel up on the hill overlooking town.
Before visiting Greenland, the only place I really knew about was Nuuk. Greenlandic people jokingly call it “Little Copenhagen”, and Danish is definitely heard here more often than other places. Still, it’s definitely a Greenlandic city, and still has that really cool Greenlandic flare.
From a photography perspective, it’s a bit trickier than places like Sisimuit. And, it doesn’t help that we got rained out 3 of our 4 days here. Still, there is lots to photograph, and a couple classic locations.
Photo Locations in the Nuuk Area
The Classic Nuuk View
If you make your way up to Colonial Harbour you’ll see a big red church. That itself is a pretty decent photo location. However, if you go farther north along the coast from there you’ll eventually get to a spot that has that classic view down the coast towards the big mountain.
Admittedly, I didn’t get a photograph here due to the rain. However, I did photograph the opposite direction handheld while our for a wander.
Inuk Hostel Area
If you’re staying at Inuk Hostel, you’ll find a lot of really beautiful moody seascape photos right out your back door. There are simply stunning views towards the big mountain off in the distance.
Of course, due to the bad weather, I didn’t really get a photo here, either.
The Ice Fjord
Easily the best photo location in Nuuk is the fjord. Now, when people talk about Nuuk Fjord, they’re talking about the enormous fjord that Nuuk sits within. However, within that fjord there are many arms. One of those arms local tour companies refer to as “The Ice Fjord”. It is absolutely stunning.
To get there, you’ll need to hire a boat. Nuuk Water Taxi is the best option. It costs about 1500 per person round trip to the fjord. It’s worth the expense. The fjord is full of iceberg and the views are incredible.
A really great option available with Nuuk Water Taxi that photographers should definitely take the opportunity to do is to overnight in the fjord. There are really cozy “glamping” tents set up with unbelievable views and lots of hiking. If you get lucky, you can get northern lights – as we did.
There’s also lots of hiking around the area. So, if you can afford it, it might even be worth 2 or 3 nights.
Some Other Destinations…
Admittedly, as this was my first visit to Greenland, I didn’t get to see or photograph everything. Below I’ve added some of the other locations we heard about – or passed through quickly.
This page will be updated as we visit more of Greenland.
Want to get way away from things? This is a stop on the ferry between Sisimuit and Nuuk and is really cool. It’s a village of under 300 people, and I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot going on. Still, it is incredibly photogenic – and may be worth a stop for photographers looking to get way off the beaten path.
Somehow I skipped Ilulissat thus far. It looks to be one of the most photogenic places in all of Greenland. It will be a part of my 2024 Greenland photography workshop.
Ilulissat is famous for its iceberg-laden bay which is called “Disko Bay”. This is likely a must-not-miss photo location in Greenland
As I mentioned, I’ll fill the rest of this section in as I re-visit Greenland over the years. I have yet to spend any time in this region. The main hub, however, is Narsarsuaq.
Like Southern Greenland, I haven’t spent any time in the east either. I will update this if I make my way back.
The hub of activity in this area is Kulusuk and it’s home to beautiful mountains and lots of glaciers!
Join me in Greenland
I’ll be leading another one of my photography expeditions to Greenland in the late summer of 2024. It’s going to be an incredible adventure, and I’d love to have you join me. You can find all the information here.