Ilulissat, Greenland

Photo: by Jens Bludau (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: by Jens Bludau (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Everyone around you seems to be in holiday mode. They’re thinking about family visits for Hanukkah, food for Thanksgiving, and gifts for Christmas. But your thoughts are already in the new year. No, not on your New Year’s Eve plans. Though you should give those some thought, too. You’re already thinking about your 2014 travel plans. And you’re dreaming big.

Is Greenland big enough? It’s the largest island in the world that isn’t also a continent. Three quarters of the Danish-ruled country is covered with ice. Glaciers, whales, and walruses are regular sights. And depending on when you visit, you can either see the northern lights or the midnight sun. Epic enough?

Though only two time zones away from the East Coast of the United States, there’s no direct route to Greenland. Fly Air Greenland from Copenhagen to Nuuk, the capital, or, in the summer months, fly Air Iceland from Reykjavik to Ilulissat. Ilulissat, on the western coast, is 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It’s located near the Jakobshavn Glacier, one of the largest and most active glaciers in the world. The glacier meets the sea at the Ilulissat Icefjord, making it easy to see–and hear–the glacier calving. The only sound that might distract you from the breaking ice is the barking of the sled dogs. In the warmer months–warmer being a relative term in Greenland–the town’s kennels are full of huskies that spend the rest of the year running across the snow. There are nearly as many dogs as people in Greenland’s third largest settlement.

Photo: Hotel Arctic
Photo: Hotel Arctic

You can see both the fjord and the dogs from Hotel Arctic. The red hotel overlooks Disko Bay, the sheer cliffs, and the floating icebergs. Rooms have heated bathroom floors (you’ll appreciate them all year here), huge picture windows (ditto), and Greenlandic artwork. Or follow the wooden bridge to the waterfront and sleep in an igloo. Yes, your very own igloo. Only this one isn’t made of ice. It’s a modern igloo made of aluminum, and it has electricity. Take the hotel’s shuttle into town to visit the Ilulissat Art Museum, the black Zion Church, and the drank nettle where blubber was boiled. Hike through the Sermermiut Valley. Granite mountains are on one side; the icebergs of Kangia Fjord are on the other. Shop for a sealskin coat or crafts made of fur and bones, if you’re daring enough to attempt to get them through customs back home. And return to the hotel for dinner at Restaurant Ulo, one of Ilulissat’s best restaurants. A stingray amuse-bouche might be followed by a whole roasted head of halibut, braised musk, or slightly salted lamb heart.

In the morning, bundle up and head out on the water. Sail through the bay to Disko Island. Seals pop up in the water alongside the boat. Or kayak between the icebergs that look so much bigger up close. Just don’t get too close–breaking icebergs tend to create tsunami-like waves. And then imagine how you’d ever be able to top this in 2015.

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