Greenland cruises

Cruising in Greenland is best done aboard a small ship, which enables you to sail through narrow channels and visit smaller beaches and communities. Usually departing from Iceland, cruises will only rarely come into port, with shore excursions instead organised with Zodiac boats and even helicopter flights.

You’ll be accompanied by expert crew and specialist guides as you explore key destinations such as the Ilulissat Icefjord and Disko Bay, Scoresby Sound and the UNESCO-protected Arctic farming community of Kujataa. And when not on land, you’ll spend much of your time on deck, eyes peeled and binoculars at the ready for sightings of polar bears, whales and seals along the coast.

Our Greenland cruise guide provides reliable first-hand advice from our responsible cruise partners who use small ships voyage to this remote, fragile and awe-inspiring land at the top of the world.

Are cruise ships allowed in Greenland?

Small ship cruises are welcomed in Greenland, as this kind of trip is relatively low-impact on the environment, and when they dock, passengers will typically visit locally owned businesses. Unlike Antarctica, there are no restrictions on ship sizes or capacity in the Arctic (something we think should be kept under review as tourism here increases), however it is rare that more than one ship will be in a port at any one time.

Cruising is the best way to get around Greenland, a vast island nation with very few roads. Smaller ships can access areas such as narrow fjords and harbours that larger vessels cannot. And because there are fewer people onboard, there is less hanging around every morning waiting for everyone to be organised so excursions to begin. Carbon emissions per passenger tend to be lower on a larger vessel, however our Greenland cruise partners use the latest in low-emissions engines. Food onboard is usually sourced pre-departure rather than in-country, because Greenlandic shops carry limited stock which must be prioritised for local people.

And of course, tiny Greenlandic towns such as Ilulissat could be completely swamped by huge numbers of cruise ship passengers coming ashore. There is a very obvious need for tourism in this region to be kept at sustainable levels, so when you have a maximum of 250 passengers aboard a ship (and usually far fewer), shore excursions are much more tolerable for those communities.

Where do cruise ships dock in Greenland?


The most popular port for Greenland cruise ships is Ilulissat on the west coast, where you can see immense icebergs floating slowly down the fjord to Disko Bay. It’s likely that the iceberg that sank the Titanic originated from here.


Ittoqqortoormiit, directly opposite Ilulissat on the east coast, is the largest settlement in Scoresby Sound, with 500 or so inhabitants. On shore excursions here you might drop in at the post office to buy stamps for your postcards home, and take a look at the racks of seal and musk ox skins drying in the sunshine. Subsistence hunting is a way of life for many Greenlandic Inuit communities, with the meat used for food and the skins used in clothing and furnishings to sell.


Uummannaq (“heart-like”) is so-named because of the red heart-shaped mountain that soars above this Inuit town on the west coast, just to the north of Ilulissat. The views coming into harbour are lovely, with dozens of colourful little houses dotting the coastline.

… or not at all

Many cruises in Greenland do not dock at all. Instead, they’ll stay at sea, following the coast, and every day they will dispatch their passengers in small groups to land on beaches in small rigid-hulled inflatable boats (AKA RIBs or Zodiacs). Depending on the Greenland cruise you take, there may also be the option to explore by sea kayaks or take to the skies aboard the ship’s helicopter.

When they do dock, only one cruise ship arrives in a community each day, so there is little risk of overtourism in Greenland at present. “When I was there,” says Alex Morris from our Greenland cruise specialists Exodus Travels, “we only saw one other ship the entire nine days.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Greenland or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

How do Greenland cruises work?

Departure points & Greenland cruise itineraries

Most trips depart from Iceland, which lies 1,200km to the east. Cruises to Greenland and Iceland will frequently take in other parts of the Arctic region too, such as Spitsbergen in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Some Greenland cruises also originate from Canada, taking in a section of the historic Northwest Passage.

Daily schedules are kept deliberately flexible, and it’s not uncommon to get a knock on your cabin door in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been sighted from deck. Don’t worry, if you want a good night’s sleep you can always leave your Do Not Disturb sign out.

Greenland and Iceland cruises

If you’re interested in admiring two of the world’s most striking landscapes on the same trip then you’re in luck, as the volcanic majesty of Iceland and the vast glaciers and icebergs of Greenland are close together. You could fly to Iceland and spend a week or so exploring the island either on a self-guided trip by car, or as part of a guided small group tour, before you join a cruise for Greenland. Or you might opt for a Greenland and Iceland cruise that before it departs sails around Iceland’s mountainous Vestfjords in the northeast.

How far in advance should I book a Greenland cruise?

For Greenland summer tours (July and August) you should book at least six months, ideally as many as 12, before departure to get the best choice of cabins. Summer is the most popular time to go but there are cruises sailing from March to September, as some ships can break through the ice. Cruises range from nine days to three weeks long.

If you have the flexibility, it can make sense to book much closer to the departure date, as you may be able to get a deal on unsold places, however there are no guarantees that space will be available on the trip you want. You also need to keep in mind that flights to your departure port are likely to be less expensive the further out you book.

Onboard entertainment & amenities

Greenland expedition cruises put the focus on the experiences, landscapes and wildlife, so life onboard will be comfortable, but rarely luxurious. Rather than karaoke nights and climbing walls, the entertainment comes courtesy of lectures and discussions led by experts in subjects such as Arctic geology and wildlife, or photography.

That being said, modern purpose-built vessels are equipped with a wide range of amenities, from saunas and gyms to a choice of restaurants.

Accessibility on cruise ships

While getting around on the ship itself is not difficult, daily excursions usually involve climbing into an inflatable Zodiac boat down a steep gangway, while landings can mean climbing into ankle-deep water (wellies are definitely needed, and may even be provided on some ships). So you will want to be in reasonable fitness and quite steady on your feet.

Fellow passengers

One of the many advantages of opting for a small ship cruise in Greenland is that you won’t be surrounded by too many other people. Our tours have a maximum of 250 passengers aboard, and usually far fewer. It doesn’t take at all long to recognise faces, get to know people and make a few friends, while it’s also easier to speak with crew members and the onboard specialists that accompany the best Greenland cruises.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ken Mathiasen] [Intro: Hubert Neufeld] [Where do cruise ships dock?: Visit Greenland] [Greenland and Iceland cruises: Visit Greenland]