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Iceland vs Greenland: What is the difference between Greenland and Iceland?

Struggling with the choice of Iceland vs Greenland? If you’re finding it difficult to decide between Iceland and Greenland as your number one place to visit this year, you’re in the right place. Read on…

Both Greenland and Iceland rank among the most beautiful countries in the world. Whichever location you choose, you can expect incredible culture, stunning sights, and fantastic history. Despite both being part of the Nordic landscape, the two spaces are very different.

Greenland is a massive country, though not all of it is suitable for human inhabitation, thanks to huge amounts of ice. Iceland, on the other hand, has a lot more greenery to enjoy, but it’s quite a lot smaller than many other Nordic locations.

Today, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about visiting Iceland or Greenland. We’ll even include a few insights on what it’s like to live in each destination.

So, let’s dive in.

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Iceland vs Greenland: The initial differences

Let’s start with the basics.

Greenland and Iceland are both a part of the “Nordic” region, though they’re not always classified as being Scandinavian countries.

Both destinations are an excellent place to visit if you’re interested in seeing the Northern Lights, hearing about Viking culture, or just exploring some incredible outdoor environments.

Greenland has a population of around 56,000 people, covering around 2.166 million square km. Alternatively, Iceland covers around 103,000 square km (much less than Greenland), but it has around 365,000 residents — almost eight times the number of Greenland.

The reason for this is only a small portion of Greenland is actually suitable for human life. The excessive amounts of ice and snow make it impossible to live in some parts of the region.

Iceland is also an independent country, whereas Greenland is a self-governing entity owned by Denmark — something which often means Greenland can be counted in a map of Scandinavia.

Iceland is very European feeling place, with lots of Viking heritage and unique folklore to explore. Greenland, on the other hand, is home to a lot of Inuit people and indigenous groups.

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Greenland vs Iceland: What to expect from Greenland

Greenland is a unique place for anyone in search of an unforgettable environment. Currently, it’s the world’s largest non-continental island, but it’s also one of the countries with the smallest populations.

Limited accessibility to Greenland and a remote location make it feel like you’re exploring a secret world if you ever have a chance to visit.

Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, is probably the first place to start your adventure if you’re looking for a realistic experience of Greenland culture. The small town is home to a growing number of bespoke shops, amazing restaurants, and compelling architecture.

The capital city is also close to various nearby mountains suitable for hiking.

Greenland is definitely a place for people who want to see dramatic landscapes and explore unique environments. You’ll need to be reasonably comfortable with the cold if you’re planning on taking a hike — as the weather can be extremely cold.

Greenland’s third-largest city, Ilulissat, is also home to the incredible Jakobshavn glacier. For winter landscapes and unforgettable adventures, Greenland is definitely the place to be.

We’d recommend planning ahead of you’re going to visit here, as many places won’t take MasterCard transactions, and there are only two banks in the Nuuk capital city.

The weather is also extremely temperamental, so waterproof boots and plenty of layers are a good idea to keep yourself warm and protected.

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Iceland or Greenland? What to do in Greenland

Exploring a Nordic region like Greenland requires plenty of endurance and a thirst for adventure. This probably isn’t the location for you if you’re looking for a relaxing vacation in the sun. Instead, you should be visiting Greenland for its amazing sights and beautiful hiking spots.

Perhaps the most popular hiking experience starts with an adventure to the World Heritage Jakobshavn glacier — mentioned above. This is the largest glacier of its kind outside of Antarctica, with a 55-kilometre length.

Surprisingly, it only takes around 40 minutes of hiking to reach the glacier from the center of Ilulissat. You can even follow a helpful trail laid out for you.

Another excellent way to explore some of the icy fjords of Greenland is to take a cruise among the icebergs. There are plenty of companies to help you do this, and some locations even offer flights over the fjords from time to time.

If you are planning on visiting Greenland, it’s probably best to do so during the summer months. If you’re lucky, you might even encounter the Midnight Sun — a common experience among Scandinavian countries.

The Midnight sun means between June and August, the sun doesn’t set. You can essentially keep walking and hiking for as long as you like.

Fans of culture and art, rather than outdoor adventures, should consider visiting Nuuk’s art scene. There’s a compelling art walk created by the Nuuk art museum, where you can stroll through creations from a range of amazing local artists.

If you’re keen for some time to yourself, you could consider visiting Ittoqqortoormiit, the most isolated town in Greenland, with only 450 residents. The town is packed full of things to do like kayaking, camping, dogsledding, and fishing.

Of course, it’s also worth making time to check out the Northern Lights when you’re in Greenland, as they can often be seen during the winter months — particularly in more isolated areas.

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Greenland or Iceland: What to expect from Iceland

Let’s switch our focus to Iceland now.

Iceland is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world for people in search of stunning sights and incredible outdoor experiences. If you’re looking for vast landscapes, dramatic waterfalls, and a range of outdoor experiences, Iceland is the place for you.

Though not always counted as part of the Scandinavian region, the environment is home to a similarly welcoming vibe for anyone who might want to visit. There are a host of things to do and see while you’re here, including the option to enjoy some local cuisine.

Iceland is pretty well-known for its fermented shark and unique Icelandic schnapps.

If you’re visiting Iceland for the first time, it makes sense to start with a trip to Reykjavik, a colorful capital packed full of warm hospitality and artistic architecture.

There’s a ton of quirky design to explore throughout Reykjavik, such as the Hallgrímskirkja church, to the unforgettable Harpa building. It’s also worth taking a quick trip to Akureyri when in Iceland if you’re a fan of galleries, exhibitions, and museums.

For visitors, Iceland isn’t the cheapest destination, but it’s definitely worth the money. Free Wi-Fi is everywhere, so it’s easy to stay connected, and it’s pretty convenient to get around from one town to another if you want to explore.

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Iceland is pretty well-known for its fermented shark.

Which is better, Greenland or Iceland? What to do in Iceland

One of the first things you should plan for in Iceland, is an encounter with the local wildlife. There are so many amazing animals throughout Iceland, from puffins to the iconic Icelandic horse.

You can arrange a tour of the great outdoors for a chance to see some wild mammals like rabbits and reindeer, as well as polar bears and the arctic fox.

Wildlife tours are extremely popular, and some even include the option to take an Icelandic horse for a ride in the countryside or to go whale watching. This is a great way to soak up some of the amazing landscape Iceland has to offer, which includes everything from beautiful mountains to stunning waterfalls.

Local tour guides offer opportunities to check out the landscape in a range of different ways. Around 11% of the country is covered in glaciers, so you can go ice climbing if you don’t mind getting a little cold. There’s also an opportunity to go and check out the world’s first geyser — the Geysir.

If you’re a fan of water, then you can take a dive between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates with some guidance from a local professional. The clear water in Silfra will give you a beautiful way to explore and meet some tropical fish.

If dramatic sights are more your thing, then plan a trip to one of Iceland’s volcanoes. There are tons of places where you can go hiking and check out geothermal pools. Just make sure the volcanos are safe before you go exploring, as some are still active.

While you’re planning your great outdoor adventure, make sure you make time for a stop to sit and watch the Northern Lights. Iceland isn’t the most reliable place to see the Northern Lights, but it is a good option — particularly if you’re visiting during the cooler months of winter.

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What’s the difference between Iceland and Greenland?

For vacation purposes, Greenland, and Iceland are two very different locations. Greenland is more about the snow and vast open spaces, where Iceland is a place of warm, welcoming beauty and cultural exploration.

Both locations are fantastic if you’re looking for an opportunity to soak up some new experiences.

Greenland is a little more expensive than Iceland for most visitors, and it’s quite a bit harder to get around if you want to go beyond the capital city. There aren’t any roads in Greenland, and most travel is only available via ship or by air.

Iceland is cheaper than Greenland (but still quite expensive). Fortunately, there are lots of options to get around, form hiring a horse, to car rental, public busses, domestic flights, and ferries.

Accommodation is also a lot more plentiful in Iceland. You can stay in an Airbnb, a hotel, or a frozen igloo, depending on the kind of holiday you’re looking for.

Iceland is also linked to a range of major North American and European cities via the Icelandair airline, so it’s a lot easier to actually get there in the first place. You’ll be able to travel from the airport in Keflavik to Reykjavik in about 40 minutes too.

While Greenland is pursuing plans to build new airports around the island, there’s currently only one option — the Kangerlussuag airport. This location comes with a runway just long enough to receive a larger jet aircraft, and it usually takes flights from Copenhagen (Demark) quite frequently.

Air Greenland is much less accessible than Icelandair, so you may have a harder time making it to Greenland initially.  

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Is Iceland colder than Greenland?

If this is the first time you’ve explored the idea of visiting Iceland or Greenland, you might be a little confused. A quick glance at Iceland and Greenland often leaves people wondering, “Why is Iceland called Iceland and Greenland called Greenland?”

Based on the names alone, you’d probably assume the main difference between Iceland and Greenland is Iceland is colder than Greenland. However, the reality is Greenland is the much colder location — with far more ice and snow to traverse.

If you’re wondering “Is it colder in Iceland or Greenland?” consider the majority of Greenland is covered in Ice, whereas Iceland only has a few fjords to explore. So, why is Greenland called Greenland and Iceland called Iceland?

Legend says Viking settler Erik the Red named Greenland in an attempt to lure fellow kinsmen to the island with visions of lush, green landscapes. Crucially, Greenland already had a name before this point “Kalaallit Nunaat”. Some locals still refer to the country by this name to this day.

Alternatively, while Erik the Red was trying to use Greenland as a name for marketing purposes, the name “Iceland” happened by chance. A Viking settler arriving in Iceland apparently first saw a number of Icebergs when arriving on the shore and chose the name Iceland as a result.

Ironically, there’s a good chance the icebergs were actually breaking away from Greenland.

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Difference between Iceland and Greenland for expats

If you’re just planning on visiting Greenland or Iceland, there’s nothing to stop you from visiting both in your own time. However, if you’re thinking of making the transition to a new way of life by moving to one of the countries, you’re going to need to answer some important questions.

For instance, is Iceland more expensive than Greenland? Or how about, when it comes to health and happiness, which is better? Greenland or Iceland?

From an expense perspective:

  • Iceland is up to 9.8% cheaper than Greenland.
  • Icelandic people pay up to 19.4% less for restaurant food.
  • Greenlandic people spend up to 28.2% more on groceries.
  • Icelandic people spend up to 35.9% more on transportation.
  • Greenlandic people pay 27.2% more on housing.
  • Icelandic people pay 65.5% less for childcare.
  • Greenlandic people spend around 6.7% more on entertainment.
  • Icelandic people spend up to 42.8% more on clothing.

Iceland is more expensive than Greenland in terms of clothing and travel. However, for everything else, Greenland is the more expensive choice, with much higher costs for childcare, housing, groceries, and entertainment.

Of course — it’s not all about the money.

If you lived in Iceland rather than Greenland, statistics show you could also live up to 9.9 years longer and be 69.2% less likely to suffer from unemployment.

Greenland also has a lower per capita income than Iceland, meaning you can earn up to 24.9% more in Iceland. Another bonus, Iceland offers fantastic internet access, with around 99% of people having a connection, compared to only 69.5% in Greenland.

Moving country: Which is better, Greenland or Iceland?

Outside of quality of life and budgetary factors, there are a few additional points you might want to consider when deciding to move to Greenland or Iceland.

If you’re more of an introvert, you’ll probably appreciate how sparsely populated Greenland is. Though this country is 21 times bigger than Iceland in terms of land coverage, it has a tiny portion of citizens.

The chances are you’ll never feel crowded when living in Greenland. Iceland has around 7 times the citizens of Greenland, though many of them are concentrated into specific cities.

Around 50% of the residents in Iceland live in Reykjavik, while around 30% of the residents of Greenland live in Nuuk (the capital city).

Greenland is also much colder than Iceland, with around 80% of the country covered in ice, compared to Iceland’s 11%. As cold as a winter might be in Iceland, it’s nothing close to Greenland, which can drop to around -17 degrees Celsius.

The culture in Greenland and Iceland is worth noting too. Around 90% of Greenlandic people come from Inuit bloodlines. This means a lot of the history revolves around the Inuit, rather than the Viking (like in Iceland). The culture of the two countries also impacts the food they eat.

Both Greenland and Iceland have a hard time growing crops in the bitter cold, so there’s more fish and meat here than you might expect in other parts of the world. Some meals are stranger than others — such as fermented shark from Iceland.

For overall health and wellbeing, Icelandic people usually have slightly better health, and a better overall sense of happiness than those in Greenland. The Nordic countries in general are some of the happiest in the world, so you can expect to meet a lot of joyous people.

Both Greenland and Iceland also have a universal healthcare system, although expected lifespan in Greenland is around 10 years less than Iceland.

Should you choose Iceland or Greenland?

Both Iceland and Greenland are unforgettable, stunning places, with plenty of wonders to discover. With both Iceland and Greenland, visitors or expats can expect to discover amazing scenery, wonderful people, and fantastic heritage.

Greenland is likely to be the top choice for you if you’re looking for a place full of ice and snow. If you like being a little further away from other people, and the concept of exploring the fjords intrigues you, then Greenland is an amazing place.

Just make sure you’re prepared for the extremely cold weather.

Although Iceland can be chilly too — it’s often much easier to visit and live in than Greenland. Iceland is a beautiful place full of outdoor adventure. The region is also a lot greener than Greenland, with moments of sunshine to look forward to.

If you’re struggling to decide which country is best, why not visit both?

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Now read these:
The pros and cons of living in Iceland
The pros and cons of living in Denmark
The pros and cons of living in Sweden
The pros and cons of living in Finland
The pros and cons of living in Norway
Norway vs Sweden, the key differences
Choosing between Denmark and Norway
Sweden vs Demark, how to decide

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