In Greenland, a former Danish territory, the climate is arctic along the north-central coasts (zone 1 on the map), where the temperatures of the warmest months are around freezing (0 °C or 32 °F) and subarctic on the south-central coasts (zone 2 on the map), where the average temperatures in the summer months are above freezing, but still below 10 °C (50 °F). It goes without saying that the largest settlements are located in this area that has a relatively milder climate. Finally, there is the vast inland area (zone 3 on the map), where the temperature remains around or below freezing even in the summer months.
Greenland is a very large island and is very extended in latitude, in fact, the southern tip is located at the same latitude as Oslo (Norway), while the northernmost tip is the land closest to the North Pole, which is about 700 kilometres (400 miles) away.
Much of the island is covered by an ice sheet, called Inlandsis, which formed over the millennia and is up to 3,000 meters (10,000 ft) thick in the interior. The ice sheet is not stationary, but moves slowly, sliding towards the sea by gravity. The ice flows to the sea through the fjords, giving birth to icebergs which then drift away in the sea.
In the center and north, the coldest month is typically February, and sometimes even March; March is usually as cold as January or even colder. This happens because at these latitude, in winter the sun never rises, and even when it rises above the horizon in March, it initially remains very low and fails to warm the soil, also because the latter is covered with snow and therefore it reflects most of the solar rays. It goes without saying that in April, in the center and north, temperatures are still very low, that is, many degrees below freezing.
Greenland is a windy island. The winds that descend from the perennial ice cap and then reach the fjords and the sea are called katabatic. In addition, there are the cold winds that come directly from the North Pole. Strong winds blowing with very cold temperatures are dangerous for human beings if they are not properly equipped, and can lead to frostbite. There are also the southern and westerly winds, which blow especially along the southern coast, and are due to the clash between polar and mild air masses, the latter carried along the Atlantic Ocean by the Gulf Stream. There are, however, also sheltered bays and fjords where the wind blows more rarely.
Precipitation in Greenland is usually scarce but quite frequent, in fact it mainly occurs in the form of light snow in the central and northern areas, while it is more abundant along the coasts located south of the Arctic Circle, but also at high altitudes on the ice sheet, where it always occurs in the form of snow. Precipitation is most abundant on the coast of the far south-east, where it even exceeds 2,000 millimeters (80 inches) per year.
The amount of sunshine is not very good, at least along the coasts, but in spring and summer, the sun can come out, also because of the long days, so it can be useful to bring sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses for the vast snow-covered areas.
During the long winter, nights can be illuminated by the spectacular northern lights (aurora borealis).

Aurora borealis

The coasts

Along the coasts, at least in the center and south, the winter temperatures are not so low. However, the summer on the coasts is very cool, if not cold. In fact, the sea remains cold both because of the latitude and because it continually receives ice from the interior. The main towns are located on the west coast because in the east coast, a cold current carries floating ice on the sea, at least in winter, and down to a quite low latitude. The cities are often located in sheltered bays, but it's enough to go offshore to find a cold wind, and temperatures a few degrees above freezing even in summer.
Now, let's have a look at the climate of some coastal towns and settlements.
In the remote research station of Nord, located at a latitude of 81 degrees north, on the north-eastern coast, the average temperature ranges from -30 °C (-22 °F) in March to 3.5 °C (38.5 °F) in July. During winter, the temperature can plunge to -50 °C (-58 °F), while in summer it reaches at most 13/14 °C (55/57 °F). The average daily temperature exceeds freezing only in July and August, while in June it is around 0 °C (32 °F). We are in the arctic climate region, where it can snow even in summer.
In Qaanaaq (Thule), the second most northerly town in the world, located on the north-west coast, at a distance of just 1,300 km (800 mi) from the North Pole, the average temperature ranges from -25 °C (-13 °F) in February to 5 °C (41 °F) in July; the coldest record is -43 °C (-45 °F) and the highest is 20 °C (68 °F). In return, the area in which this city is located is not very windy. Precipitation amounts to only 120 millimeters (4.7 inches) per year. Sometimes the temperature can drop below freezing even in summer. Here, the polar night is long and runs from late October to mid-February, although for a few weeks, in October and February, when the sun still doesn't go above the horizon, there's a glimmer of dawn around noon; on the other hand, the sun never sets for a very long time, from late April to late August.
Further south, in Upernavik, a town of a thousand inhabitants, located on the west coast and at a latitude of 72 degrees north, the average temperature ranges from -20 °C (-4 °F) in March to 5 °C (41 °F) in July and August. Precipitation amounts to 230 mm (9 in) per year.


Further to the south, in Ilulissat (or Jakobshavn in Danish), still on the west coast, and 300 kilometers (195 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, the day lasts 24 hours in June, nearly 24 hours in May and July, and 20 hours on average in August. On the contrary, in December and January, darkness reigns supreme; the sun begins to rise again in mid-January. By April, the days are long, even though the temperature is still below freezing. Here, the average temperature ranges from -14 °C (7 °F) in February to 8.5 °C (47.5 °F) in July. The thaw occurs during the month of May, while the temperature returns below freezing in late September or early October.
Here are the average temperatures of Ilulissat.
Ilulissat - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-17-18-17-13-3354-1-6-11-14
Max (°C)-10-10-9-449121050-4-8
Min (°F)1019273741393021127
Max (°F)141416253948545041322518

Precipitation is scarce, around 255 mm (10 in) per year, which means that snowfalls in the long winter are usually light, maybe of long duration but not abundant. Here is the average precipitation.
Ilulissat - Average precipitation

The amount of sunshine in Ilulissat is very low in winter, also because of the short duration of the days, while it's overall decent in summer, also because of the length of the days. In June, the sun shines on average for 10 hours a day, out of 24 hours of sunlight available. The sun in Ilulissat never sets from approximately May 21 to July 23.
Ilulissat - Sunshine

The sea near Ilulissat is always very cold; in winter, it sometimes freezes completely, while at other times it can be partially clear of ice, as usually happens in summer. In fact, Ilulissat is famous for the constant presence of icebergs along the coast, which come from the nearby fjord, and make it a tourist attraction.
Ilulissat - Sea temperature
Temp (°C)-1-1-1-101232110
Temp (°F)303030303234363736343432


The towns located not directly on the coast but within the fjords are colder in winter, but also a little warmer in summer. For example, in Kangerlussuaq (Sondrestrom), located south of Ilulissat, about 130 km (80 mi) away from the coast, the average temperature ranges from -20 °C (-4 °F) in February to 10 °C (50 °F) in July. Here, the lowest record of the last twenty years is a respectable -46 °C (-51 °F), while the highest is 23 °C (73 °F).


In Nuuk (Godthåb), the capital, located 500 km (300 mi) south of Ilulissat, the average temperature ranges from -8 °C (18 °F) in February to 7 °C (44.5 °F) in July. The lowest record is not so prohibitive, being -28 °C (-18 °F), while the highest is 22 °C (72 °F).
Nuuk - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-10-11-11-6-21441-3-6-9
Max (°C)-5-5-5-13710961-1-4
Min (°F)141212212834393934272116
Max (°F)232323303745504843343025

Precipitation in Nuuk is more abundant, around 750 mm (29.5 in) per year, with a maximum in summer. Here is the average precipitation.
Nuuk - Average precipitation

In Nuuk, the sun in summer is seen less often than in Ilulissat, as cloudy and rainy days are more frequent.
Nuuk - Sunshine

In Nuuk too, the sea is always very cold, but it freezes more rarely, although this can sometimes happen, in particular in February and March (remember that the sea, being salty, freezes at about -2 °C or or 28.5 °F).
Nuuk - Sea temperature
Temp (°C)000113443210
Temp (°F)323232343437393937363432

Continuing to the south, in Paamiut (formerly Frederikshab), the average temperature ranges from -7 °C (19 °F) in January to 7 °C (44.5 °F) in July; precipitation reaches 880 mm (34.5 in) per year, which means that during the long winter, a significant amount of snow accumulates.


Further south, in Ivittuut the average ranges from -7 °C (19 °F) in January to 9 °C (48 °F) in July. We are in the south-western area of Greenland, which is the warmest, at least in summer, as is also evidenced by the highest temperature in all of Greenland, as high as 30 °C (86 °F), which has been recorded here. The average daily temperature is around freezing in April (therefore, a month earlier than in Ilulissat), and it drops back to around freezing in the second half of October.
Ivittuut - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-11-11-8-403552-1-5-8
Max (°C)-4-3038121312840-2
Min (°F)121218253237414136302318
Max (°F)252732374654555446393228

Here, however, precipitation is abundant, since it reaches 1,260 mm (49.5 in) per year, with a maximum in autumn, but with frequent snowfall for many months a year, as well as rainfall in summer. Here is the average precipitation.
Ivittuut - Average precipitation

The remains of the Viking settlements are found in Southern Greenland, as well as in the Nuuk area. In these areas, as previously mentioned, the temperature exceeds freezing for a few months a year, and then, as today, the landscape becomes green in the summer months.

Hvalsey Church

In the southern tip, near Cape Farewell (see Prins Christian Sund), the climate is almost oceanic, in fact the average temperature doesn't go below -4 °C (25 °F) in January and February, while it only reaches 6 °C (43 °F) in July and August. In return, precipitation is abundant, since it exceeds 2,200 mm (87 in) per year. Snowfalls are abundant, but also the summer rains. However, the temperature in the extreme south can exceed freezing, and it can rain, even in winter. The wind is frequent and often stormy. This area is occupied by fjords and mountainous islands, and it's virtually uninhabited.

As we mentioned, on the east coast, there's a cold marine current that carries ice floes on the sea. Another reason why there are fewer settlements is that the eastern coastline is more rugged. However, on this coast, at the 65th parallel, we find Tasiilaq (Ammassalik), where the average temperature ranges from -7 °C (19 °F) between January and March to 6 °C (43 °F) in July and August. Here, the average temperature exceeds freezing from June to September. The lowest recorded temperature is -26 °C (-15 °F) and the highest is 20 °C (68 °F). Precipitation, quite abundant, amounts to 850 mm (33.5 in), so there can be heavy snow accumulations here as well. In summer, there is a moderate amount of rainy days.

The Inlandsis

In the interior, covered by the ice cap, the temperature remains around freezing or below even in summer, and it decreases with altitude. In summer, it usually snows above 300 meters (1,000 feet) above sea level. The coldest areas are the central ones, where the ice cap is thicker.


For instance in the point called Eismitte, at the center of the island, about 3,000 meters (10,000 ft) above sea level, an expedition in 1930 installed a weather station, which recorded an average temperature ranging from -47 °C (-53 °F) in February to -12 °C (10 °F) in July. The lowest recorded temperature was -65 °C (-85 °F) and the highest was -3 °C (27 °F).
The hours of sunshine recorded in that short period show that the sun often shines in summer, also because of the long days, especially in June.
Eismitte - Sunshine

Summit Camp

In the more recent scientific station of Summit Camp, located near the highest point of the ice plateau, where the altitude reaches 3,200 meters (10,500 ft), the average temperature ranges from -42 °C (-44 °F) in January to -13 °C (9 °F) in July; the coldest record so far is -67 °C (-88.5 °F), while the highest has been 3.6 °C (38.5 °F). Here are the average temperatures.
Summit Camp - Average temperatures
Min (°C)-48-46-45-40-30-19-15-21-29-39-42-48
Max (°C)-36-38-32-29-19-11-11-14-22-28-28-36
Min (°F)-54-51-49-40-22-25-6-20-38-44-54
Max (°F)-33-36-26-20-212127-8-18-18-33

Summit Camp

In the eastern part of Greenland, there is also a mountain range, the Watkins Mountains, which exceed the altitude of the plateau, and reach their highest point in Gunnbjörn Fjeld, 3,694 meters (12,119 feet) high. This and the other mountain peaks are climbed preferably in July and August, when the weather conditions are usually better.

Best Time

The best time to visit Greenland is the summer, from June to August. In June, temperatures are a bit lower, and this could be a disadvantage for the coldest areas, but in return, it's possible to see the midnight sun in a wider area; moreover, rain and snow are a bit rarer. July is the warmest month, but rainfall starts to become a bit more frequent, at least on the south-west coast, and even more so in August. In the regions having an arctic climate, and in particular, along the northern coast, where what matters most is the temperature, you may prefer July and August, and especially July because it's the least cold.
Even in midsummer, you must be equipped for the freezing cold, if you plan to visit the inland plateau and the mountains; on the northern coast, the temperature is around freezing, so you will need to wear winter clothes. Otherwise, for the central and southern coastal towns, some heavy clothes are also recommended, a sweater and a jacket for the evening and for excursions (eg boat trips where you will be exposed to cold winds), and a raincoat for rainy days. Hiking boots with non-slip soles are also recommended because paved roads are a rarity, and you can easily end up in snow-covered areas. During the day, it can sometimes get warm, and therefore you must be ready to take off the heaviest clothes.

What to pack

In winter: it is necessary to bring clothing for extreme cold conditions, especially in the interior and the north, such as synthetic, thermal long underwear, a fleece, a down-filled parka with insulated hood, a wind jacket in Goretex, gloves, warm boots, a scarf, and fleece socks.

In summer: in the major cities, bring warm clothes, a jacket, a sweater, a shirt and a T-shirt for mild days; boots or hiking shoes, and a raincoat or umbrella. For the interior plateau region and the mountains, but also for offshore excursions: bring a fleece, a down jacket, a wind jacket, a hat, and gloves.