The arctic has always fascinated me. Maybe it’s from years of re-reading and re-watching Into the Wild, or maybe it’s just the appeal of being in a world totally opposite from the sunny Southern California beaches I've grown up on. Regardless of the reason, visiting the Arctic Circle has top billing on my bucket list. Until a little while ago, I always assumed that Alaska would be the place I would venture off to when I finally decided to travel north. Follow in the footsteps of Chris McCandless (albeit playing it a lot safer), but something felt lackluster about Alaska. If I was going to visit arctic, I want a genuine 180 degrees culture shock experience. That’s when I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, featuring beautiful shots of the Greenlandic landscape to an acoustic cover of Major Tom. Needless to say, it was love at first sight. After I saw that movie I began to do research on Greenland. That's what drew me to Sisimiut.
Why go to Sisimiut?
Sitting prominently amongst the wilderness—a short 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle—sits the quaint, snow loving town of Sisimiut (pronounced Sis-em-u-it, in case you were wondering). With a population of only 5,600 people, you might assume it’s a small town, but relative to the rest of Greenland it's anything but. Sisimiut actually the second largest city in all of Greenland with their own bus system, airport, and one of it's northernmost ports. This coastal town offers a spectrum of beautiful views and brightly colored wood paneled houses. Sisimiut (literally translated to “the people living in a place where there are fox dens”) offers 4,500 years of history and culture, an expansive wilderness brimming with fauna, and a suburban lifestyle so there's no shortage of things to do.
What to do in Sisimiut?
Contrary to what you might assume of a city in the Arctic Circle, the best time to visit is actually in the winter. This community has their genes rooted in cold, so when snow falls down, the people come out.
The vast Greenlandic icescape is just waiting to be explored, although there's a lot to cover. That's why dog sledding is the ideal way to see everything Sisimiut has to offer. Don’t worry about being uninitiated in the dog sledding world because not only is Sisimiut’s back country the most accessible in all of Greenland, but they also offer guided tours for beginners. Not all tours are for created equal. if you're feeling a connection to the thousands of years of Inuit culture and want a real dog sledding experience, consider taking the 160km ride all the way to the town of Kangerlussuaq. Although if you're feeling more modern, there are always snow mobiles for rent.
One of the most spectacular things to experience in Sisimiut is the welcoming of the warm winter sun. As with many polar towns, there’s a period of time where the sun sinks below the horizon for one last sunset and doesn't return for several weeks. During this time the town doesn’t experience pure darkness, rather the moonlit, snowy landscape provides some of the most spectacular views imaginable. Although the darkness is something everyone should experience, when the sun rises again in mid-January the community rejoices and some schools even take hikes and sing songs to welcome back the daylight. A sunrise is something we may take for granted here, but this is one sunrise you wont want to miss.
This should go without saying: Aurora Borealis is one of the wonders of nature that are just too gorgeous to miss. Looking up to ribbons of light’s may seem like a spectacle now, but to the early settlers of Greenland they had an explanation as to what they were seeing. “According to old Inuit myths, the northern lights appear on the sky when the souls of the dead are playing ball with walrus skulls.”(source) While the real explanation of the Aurora may not be as interesting to some, it's still something everyone should see in their lifetime. Unfortunately, given the nature of the spectacle, it's impossible to predict more than a few hours in advance, so all you can do is pray that the dead are feeling up for a game of soccer.
Other Activities of note
- Visit the neighboring town of Kangerlussuaq
- Kayak in fjord
- Go to the local skate park
- The Sisimiut Museum
ACCOMMODATIONS in Sisimiut
Sisimiut may not be known for their variety of hotels, but they are known for their quality of hotels. With only 2 hotels and 3 hostels, you will have slim picking but there's no real way to go wrong. Hotel Sømandshjemmet (or the Seamen's home) is a great option to stay in, featuring 32 rooms and a cafe which is perfect for meeting fellow travelers as well as making friends with the locals. The other option is Hotel Sisimiut which is considers #1 of 2 hotels in all Sisimiut. Hotel Sisimiut offers comfort and culture at a reasonable price. Katak Housing, and Sisimiut Youth Hostel are both great places to stay on the cheap, offering amazing amenities from kitchenettes to WiFi, but one hostel really peaked my attention: The Knud Ramussens High School. That's right, on top of being an in-use High School, they also offer rooms for travelers. Prices are as low as 450 kkd a night (a bit less than $70) for a room which includes breakfast, but, if you can convince the principal, you can arrange to stay in a full sized apartment for 1000 kdd a night($150). Dinner and lunch accommodations are also offered for just 70kdd ($10.50) each.
So would you travel to arctic? Have you been to the arctic? Maybe you know of a city that deserves some praise. If so, let us know in the comments below!