Qaqortoq, Greenland

Photo: Greenland Travel (Qaqortoq) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
You expected snow and ice and more snow when you arrived. You’re in Greenland, for God’s sake. Instead you find blue water and blooming willowherbs. Cafés have decks with outdoor tables. Green pastures are filled with sheep and their wobbly legged lambs. While only traces of white can be seen on the mountains in the distance. Qaqortoq doesn’t have the permafrost landscape that you always envisioned covered all of Greenland. It actually looks more like the coast of Iceland or Norway in the summer.

Qaqortoq is in Kujalleq, the municipality that covers the southern tip of Greenland. The country’s fourth-largest town has mild, snowy winters, during which temperatures normally hover in the 20s. Summers are cool, but by no means uncomfortable. On a sunny day, it can hit 50 degrees. Hence the fertile valleys, the flower-filled plains, and the ice-free harbor you saw from the air as your flight from Keflavík descended into nearby Narsarsuaq. No wonder so many people are drinking Greenlandic draft beer outside in the sun.

This area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The Saqqaqs arrived 4,300 years ago. They were followed by the Dorsets, the Norses, the Thules, and eventually the Danes. The modern village of Julianehåb, later renamed Qaqortoq, was established in 1774 as the seal trade expanded. The Great Greenland Furhouse, a sealskin tannery, still processes furs and sells clothing in town. But tourism has taken over as the most important industry along the south coast of Greenland.

After stopping at the hillside Hotel Qaqortoq to drop off your luggage, you set out to explore the colonial center of town. Bright yellow, red, and blue houses line the streets. Mindebrønden, the oldest fountain in Greenland, is in the main square. The original blacksmith’s shop, one of the oldest buildings in town, is now the Qaqortoq Museum. Another old building, the wooden Church of Our Savior, was built a few years later. Plus boats, including the Arctic Umiaq Line, fill the harbor. Remember: Towns in Greenland are connected by air and sea instead of roads.

Outside of town, you’ll find Norse ruins. Hvalsey, a Viking church from 1408, is among the best-preserved ruins in the country. Hiking trails lead to Lake Tasersuaq, where you can rent a kayak. An uninhabited island is home to Greenland’s only hot springs. There are views of icebergs and mountain peaks from the bubbling water. Whale-watching and fishing (Arctic char this time of year) trips depart from the harbor. While restaurants offer local specialities, including reindeer, musk ox, and lamb. You might pass on the latter after your arrival earlier today, though.

You have plenty of time to explore, especially since the sun won’t set until 10:30 pm right now. But your first stop is one of those places with outdoor tables for a cold beer. Kasuutta to surprises in Greenland!

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