Greenland's capital, Nuuk, is often forgotten by travellers who are keen to explore the territory's famous glaciers and ice fields. While it's true that Nuuk is home to long apartment blocks and industrial buildings, it is currently experiencing a revival, with gourmet restaurants, fashion boutiques and edgy architecture springing up around the city.
From contemporary, northern lights–inspired edifices, to haute cuisine prepared using natural local ingredients, Nuuk is quickly shedding its old image and transforming into an up-and-coming Nordic cultural capital.
Admire avant garde architecture
Amidst the traditional Scandinavian gable-roofed houses of downtown Nuuk stand several newly-built glass-walled constructions that give the city a fresh new look. The Katuaq Cultural Centre is Nuuk's architectural highlight. Its exterior is sheathed by a floating, undulating screen of golden wood: the screen acts as an architectural metaphor for the northern lights, while the massive form of the building is reminiscent of the icy mountains of Greenland.
The new edifice that houses the Self Rule Government is another futuristic building covered in glass and steel. Besides its architecturally innovative facade, the parliament house also houses a number of artworks. Free guided tours are available when the parliament is not in session.
Do an art walk
Urban regeneration is making the city over, with street art and sculptures adorning Nuuk’s outdoor canvasses and creative spaces. Admire the work of Greenlandic and international artists on an art walk created by the Nuuk Kuntsmuseum. Many of the art pieces were inspired by Greenlandic legends and myths, and some of the most impressive works include the Kaassassuk sculpture in front of the parliament house, and the mural of a woman with a polar bear on apartment block 10. Download the art walk guide in PDF or podcast from the museum website.
Take in the city’s best views
Climb up to the lookout at the colonial harbour where a statue of Hans Egede stands. He was the first Danish missionary to land and settle here at this harbour in 1721. From the lookout, the whole city spreads picturesquely before you: from the Lutheran Nuuk Cathedral to the striking Home Rule Government building, backdropped by the mountain peaks that surround the city.
Further down the shoreline from the colonial harbour is the quiet residential area of Myggedalen, or Mosquito Valley. There isn’t much to see here in terms of tourist sites, but it’s definitely the most scenic spot in Nuuk. Climb up to any rock mount to get a view of the colourful waterfront Scandinavian houses. In summer, this is the best spot to catch the midnight sun set over the water.
Shop at local boutiques
Greenland used to export only fish but they’ve expanded into the fashion industry in recent years thanks to forward-thinking designers. Local brands like Qiviut and Nuuk Couture now ship their products to Denmark, and they plan to expand to the rest of Europe in the near future.
Owner and founder of Qiviut, Anita Høegh, was one of the first few who discovered the best way to spin the long coat of the musk ox, a large bison-like animal, into wool. Today, she’s grown the business into one of the world’s largest musk ox wool producers. This fibre is incredibly warm and soft, and the best part is that it’s 100% approved for export, unlike polar bear and seal products.
Another great local brand is Nuuk Couture, a Greenland-inspired fashion line created by local designer Louise Lynge Hansen. Hansen always dreamed of launching her own line, and finally pushed herself to do it after overcoming cancer. Visit her boutique 3900 FUTURE (Aqqusinersuaq 1-3) for apparel with Inuit patterns and northern lights designs.
Go beer tasting
Beer lovers can take a tour of Godthaab Bryghus and chug some of its best brews. The island’s oldest and largest brewery has been creating some of the most popular beers in Greenland since 2006. Jörg-Erich Sennhenn, the lead brewmaster at Godthaab, will take you on a journey from the start to the end of the beer-making process. At various stages, you’ll get to taste each of the five different beers they produce: including the Godthaab Classic Bâja and the sweet Pullartat champagne beer.
Try haute cuisine, Greenland style
Greenland’s culinary landscape has changed dramatically since the arrival of several gourmet restaurants in Nuuk.
Sarfalik is one good example, serving New Nordic cuisine using Greenland’s natural produce. The fine-dining restaurant’s tasting menu lets you sample the best on offer, from musk-ox tartare to roasted halibut. Katuaq, the Cultural Centre’s main dining venue, also serves new Greenlandic fare at wallet-friendlier prices. For a taste of Nuuk’s freshest produce, order the seafood platter, which promises a hefty portion of shrimps, snow crab, mussels and smoked scallops.
With the fjords as its backdrop, Inuk Hostels adds a new spin on traditional Inuit dishes, such as mini musk ox burgers.
Experience Arctic nightlife
Despite Nuuk's small scale, there’s no shortage of character-filled bars in town. The pedestrianised Imaneq St is flanked by drinking holes where locals convene: archetypal pub Takuss is decorated with antique skis and kayaks, while Kristinemut is a cosy and intimate bar that resembles a wooden log cabin. The biggest bar in town is probably Daddy’s, a traditional Irish pub with pool tables and a raving scene on weekend nights. Skyline Bar on the top level of Hotel Hans Egede has the best view in Nuuk.
Make it happen
Nuuk is located on the southwestern coast of Greenland, and is accessible only by air. Air Greenland flies from Copenhagen, Denmark (6 hours) and Keflavik, Iceland (3 hours) direct to Nuuk. The airport is 4km from town; bus number 3 runs from the airport to the city centre every hour and costs 15 DKK one way.
The most upscale hotel in town is Hotel Hans Egede, a slick business hotel in the very centre of Nuuk, just steps away from several restaurants and bars.