Greenland: East vs. West

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

East and West Greenland are very different in terms of climate, wildlife, habitation, and geology. This means visiting them yields different experiences.

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Greenland

How West Greenland stacks up against East Greenland

East and West Greenland are very different in terms of climate, wildlife, habitation, and geology. Naturally, this means visiting them yields equally different experiences.

West Greenland is characterized by its beautiful landscapes and relatively abundant, brightly colored settlements. It does not, however, have a great deal of wildlife compared to East Greenland due to its higher human populations and hunting practices.

This is why our guides overwhelmingly advise traveling to East Greenland if a combination of landscapes and wildlife is what you’re looking for – and most of our guests are.

What gives East Greenland its edge

In East Greenland, the wildlife-centered expedition situation is better than in the west. We visit two core areas in this region: Scoresby Sund and Northeast Greenland National Park.

Scoresby Sund is the largest fjord system on the planet. An extension of the Greenland Sea, it stretches 110 km (68 miles) into the mainland, branching into a massive tree-like network of mountain-fringed waterways that reach 350 km (216 miles) inland. This is one of the best places in the Arctic to see the northern lights (aurora borealis) as well as local wildlife.

Northern Lights across Rypefjord, Scoresby Sund © Tobias Brehm - Oceanwide Expeditions

Northeast Greenland National Park, on the other hand, is not only the world’s largest national park but also the ninth largest protected area on Earth. It is also bigger than most countries, covering an impressive 972,000 square km (375,300 square miles). This region offers among the best geological formations in the Arctic as well as a slightly larger possibility of viewing polar bears.

Spotlight on Scoresby Sund

Scoresby Sund is a great destination for anyone who wants the ideal fjord experience. This location allows you to see spectacular waterways and towering mountains, while also giving you a good chance to spot some of the local wildlife: Arctic hares, Arctic foxes, and musk oxen are fairly common, while certain species of whale, seal, and seabird are also possible.

One of the only settlements for hundreds of miles, Ittoqqortoormiit, is located on the northern shores of Scoresby Sund. Ittoqqortoormiit is a traditional Greenlandic settlement where you can still see polar bear skins hanging on house porches. The landscape, culture, and chance to witness great Arctic wildlife give this area the obvious edge over West Greenland.

Ittoqqortoormiit © Alexander Kassler - Oceanwide Expeditions

Accessibility to Scoresby Sund is fairly simple no matter which vessel you book. If you choose to sail on our three-mast schooner, Rembrandt van Rijn, you will fly to either Longyearbyen or Constable Pynt and embark from there. But if you book on one of our motor vessels, such as Hondius, you will fly to Akureyri, Iceland, an interesting town to visit before or after your trip.

Northeast Greenland National Park

In the vast wilderness of NE Greenland, you can see landscapes that rival even the jaw-dropping beauty of South Georgia. As mentioned, the geological formations here are stunning, and even if you’re not lucky enough to spot a polar bear during your visit, you will see a number of other wonderful Arctic animals.

Large populations of musk oxen, walruses, and seals (bearded, ringed, hooded, harp) live in Greenland’s northeast region, along with Arctic hares, Arctic foxes, collared lemmings, stoats, and even Arctic wolves. Narwhals, belugas, and rare polar birdlife are also sometimes seen, in addition to many of the species you can view around Scoresby Sund.

Musk oxen in Northeast Greenland © Erwin Vermeulen - Oceanwide Expeditions

Accessibility for NE Greenland National Park, however, is more strictly controlled than for Scoresby Sund, and we have to apply for separate permits to operate here. When we can visit this incredible Arctic park, our motor-vessel voyages set out from Longyearbyen and disembark in Akureyri, and our Rembrandt voyages embark from Constable Pynt.

Embarking on your own Greenland adventure

In summary, your chances for seeing Arctic wildlife are far better in East Greenland than in West Greenland owing to the comparatively lower human populations in the east. According to our guides, the scenery and feeling of true wilderness is simply more dramatic in East Greenland.

To find out more about dates, rates, activities, landings, points of entry, and much more, check out our long list of Greenland trips scheduled for the upcoming Arctic season.

Main photo by Alexander Kassler

Related cruises

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