Last updated on January 18, 2024 by Wandering our World
Iceland and Greenland are neighboring nations, with the little island of Iceland just a short distance off the southeast coast of the much larger Greenland. However, despite their close proximity, the two countries are remarkably different, which can make it tricky when choosing which one to visit.
It’s also worth noting that the names of these two countries can be a little misleading! Despite having “Green” in its name, Greenland is actually much icier than Iceland, with around 80% of its landmass covered in glaciers, compared to approximately 10% in Iceland, which is comparatively milder than its big sibling.
Weather and wilderness are just two of the big factors separating Iceland and Greenland. And, while they may have a few things in common, like their Viking heritage and rugged wilderness, the two have many more differences which may make one of them much more appealing to you than the other.
So, which is best? Well, that’s what this guide is here to explore. Below, we’ll dig into Iceland vs Greenland, taking a deep dive into their climate, attractions, cities, cultures, culinary styles, and more. By the end, you should have a much clearer idea of what these two nations have to offer and which one is right for you.
- A Quick Overview Of Iceland vs Greenland
- Which Has The Best Weather?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Cities?
- Which Is Best For Hiking And Outdoor Fun?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Is Best For Food?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Iceland vs Greenland: Which Is Better?
Wandering Our World’s Ten-Second Comparison:
A Quick Overview Of Iceland vs Greenland
Iceland: A Quick Overview
Iceland is one of the Nordic nations of northern Europe. It’s an island country, situated in between the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic, around 175 miles off the southeast coast of Greenland. Covering 39,817 square miles of land, Iceland is home to around 380,000 people in total, with many of them – approximately a third – living in the capital city, Reykjavik.
Ranked as the second-largest island in all of Europe, Iceland is famed for its vast expanses of tundra and distinctive, volcanic landscape. A huge volcanic plateau stretches out across the center of the country, with the likes of black sands and lava fields dotted across the landscape. Iceland also has its own fjords, hot springs, and mountains.
The history of Iceland is quite fascinating, with records showing that Vikings first came to the island around 870. An influx of Norwegian settlers arrived soon after, forming towns and cities, and Iceland later formed unions with Norway and other Scandinavian countries, before becoming a truly independent nation in the 20th century.
These days, Iceland is enjoying a real emergence on the global stage, especially in the field of tourism. It may be a small nation, but it has a lot to offer, drawing in adventurers, backpackers, and explorers from across the globe who are eager to enjoy its peaceful tranquility, sublime scenery, and relaxing atmosphere.
Greenland: A Quick Overview
Greenland is a country that’s part of the Kingdom of Denmark. It’s the biggest country in the Danish Kingdom, stretching out across an enormous 836,330 square miles of land, but being home to only 56,000 people. Located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, Greenland is technically part of the North American continent, despite its strong ties with Europe.
The biggest island in the world, Greenland also has the distinction of being the northernmost piece of land on the planet. Since it’s so far north, it has some of the coldest temperatures of all, and around 80% of the country is covered in a vast ice sheet, with all of its towns and cities situated along the slightly milder and ice-free coastal areas.
Various Arctic peoples have made Greenland their home over the millennia. Vikings also sailed there and settled the southern part of the country in the 10th century, with Inuit people arriving a few centuries later. It was only in 1814 that Greenland became 100% Danish, though most of its residents are Inuit and the country has gradually gained more independence over the years.
While Iceland is famed for being quiet and sparsely populated, Greenland takes that concept even further. It’s the most sparsely populated region in the entire world, being exceptionally remote and largely untouched by humanity. Anyone seeking a genuine off-the-beaten-path adventure will certainty love it here.
Which Has The Best Weather?
With Greenland and Iceland both being so far north, you shouldn’t expect sunshine and warm weather in either of these locations. In general, they’re both quite cool for large parts of the year, especially during the coldest winter months, with many of Greenland’s iciest areas being simply too frosty for people to live in.
However, in summer, both countries are notably milder, which is why the summer months tend to be the best time to visit. That’s when you can expect to enjoy temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit around Iceland, or between 40 and 60 in Greenland, depending on which part of the island you explore.
In terms of rainfall, Greenland is notably drier than Iceland and not quite as windy, for the most part. So, despite being a little cooler on the whole, travelers may find that Greenland’s climate is actually more comfortable.
Which Is Best For Activities?
If you’re planning a trip to an exciting and unusual vacation destination like Iceland or Greenland, you’re probably not planning to spend most of your time cooped up in your hotel room. Instead, you’re more likely to want to get out and explore, admiring the Northern Lights, learning more about the islands’ cultures, and enjoying their rich scenery. But which is best?
Iceland: The Activities
Most people who visit Iceland tend to base themselves in the country’s capital and biggest city of Reykjavik. That’s the best place to fully embrace Icelandic culture and cuisine, with plenty of interesting landmarks to check out, like the distinctive Hallgrimskirkja Church. You’ll also find many museums here, like the National Museum of Iceland, to discover the country’s past.
Other attractions around Reykjavik include the intriguing Whales of Iceland museum, which boasts life-sized whale models and family-friendly interactive exhibits, as well as The Settlement Exhibition. Alternatively, you can stop off at some of Iceland’s other towns and cities, like Keflavík and Hafnarfjordur, to learn about its Viking past and fun folklore.
Of course, many people pick Iceland as their vacation destination not for its urban centers, but for its amazing landscapes. And, if you’re eager to get out into nature, enjoying activities like hiking and exploring, you’ll find no shortage of awesome places to visit, like the vast Thingvellir National Park, home of dramatic cliffs and the country’s largest lake.
From the beauty of Asbyrgi Canyon to the romance of Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland has an almost never-ending list of natural landmarks to visit and admire. Whether you want to sunbathe on a black sand beach, submerge yourself in a healing natural spring, take a horseback ride across the countryside, or even drive a 4×4 across lava fields, it’s all possible here.
Greenland: The Activities
If you’re heading to Greenland and want to learn about the country’s unique culture and history, head to the capital: Nuuk. It’s not as big or busy as Reykjavik, with a much smaller population, but there’s still plenty to do here, like visiting the National Museum, with artifacts and archives telling the 4,500-year-old story of Greenland as we know it.
The National Museum also provides a great introduction to Inuit culture, and there are many other ways to connect with the island’s inhabitants, from tasting their food to admiring their artwork and traditions. Many people also look to book guided tours or expeditions, with expert native guides leading the way and sharing insights about their fascinating way of life.
Just like Iceland, Greenland mostly tends to appeal to adventurers and lovers of the great outdoors. And there’s simply so much to see here, with the kinds of landscapes you can’t find anywhere else on Earth. The vast Greenland Ice Sheet, for example, is simply amazing to admire from a helicopter ride or coastal cruise.
Hiking is also a hugely popular activity for visitors to Greenland, with hundreds of miles of Arctic trails, while kayaking is another super way to get around across glacial lagoons and along the shimmering blue rivers that stretch across the island. Meanwhile, if you love wildlife, make sure to book your spot on a Greenland whale-watching tour.
Overall, there’s lots to do in Iceland and Greenland, with a big focus on nature-based activities in both countries. Iceland has a little more going on in its towns and cities, and is also more compact, making it easy to get from place to place. But, with a smaller population and much larger landmass, Greenland can appeal to those seeking a peaceful escape from regular life.
Which Is Best For Cities?
While Iceland and Greenland primarily appeal to nature lovers, you may also want to spend some time exploring the towns and cities of these countries. If so, you’ll want to know which one is better-suited to urban exploration.
Well, despite being so much smaller than Greenland, Iceland has a significantly larger population, with bigger and more developed cities to explore. For example, the capital and largest city of Iceland, Reykjavik, is home to around 139,000 people, while Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, has less than 20,000 inhabitants.
That means you’ll generally find more engaging and exciting urban experiences in Iceland. Reykjavik has got everything from a lively nightlife scene to many museums, galleries, shops, and intriguing landmarks to visit. Other urban centers, like Kopavogur and Hafnarfjordur, are also worth checking out for their quirky attractions.
In contrast, Greenland’s towns feel much smaller and quieter. They’re still very charming in their own ways, like Ilulissat, with its classy restaurants and awesome ice fjord views, and Qaqortoq, which has cute, colorful homes, natural hot springs, and a lovely harbor. Just don’t expect to find vast shopping districts or long lists of attractions in any of these places.
Overall, Iceland is the better destination for urban excitement, with Reykjavik standing head and shoulders above any of Greenland’s towns or cities. However, if you love peaceful and characterful places, you’ll still appreciate the little coastal settlements of Greenland.
Which Is Best For Hiking And Outdoor Fun?
As mentioned above, one of the best things about visiting Greenland and Iceland is their amazing natural landscapes. In Greenland, you’ve got glacial lakes and ice fields, while Iceland is known as the “Land of Ice and Fire” for its distinctive mix of volcanic and arctic scenery. But which one is best for hikes and other outdoor activities?
Well, if hiking is one of your favorite ways to spend time in the great outdoors, you’ll surely adore Greenland. It’s got many, many miles of hiking trails to try, including a mixture of long, challenging treks and easier, more family-friendly paths. There’s also world-class kayaking in this country, along with cycling, dog sledding, and more.
In Iceland, too, there are many beautiful and inspiring hiking trails to follow, though they can be a little tough to find. The scenery here is wonderfully diverse, and it’s one of the best places in the world for those who enjoy volcanic landscapes, with black sands, geysers, and impressive peaks to ascend.
Overall, there’s no clear winner here, as both countries are so fantastic for nature lovers. Iceland has the benefit of being more compact, with its distinctive volcanic scenes. Meanwhile, Greenland is bigger and better for hiking, and also slightly better for wildlife, with over 15 species of whales, along with seals, polar bears, puffins, and more.
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
Nightlife might not be your No. 1 priority when planning a trip to either Iceland or Greenland. However, if you’re the kind of traveler who likes to stay out late and have fun in the evenings, it’s still worth considering the nightlife scenes of these two neighboring nations. And, when it comes to nightlife, there’s a clear winner.
Iceland is most definitely the better place to be for evening entertainment, especially Reykjavik. In fact, the Icelandic capital is gradually building up a reputation as one of the leading nightlife destinations in the Nordic region, with a growing selection of lively nightclubs, dance spots, and trendy bars to go along with its top class restaurants.
Since it’s much more sparsely populated and quieter in general, Greenland can’t quite compete with Iceland for nightlife excitement. However, there are still a few fun clubs dotted around Nuuk and a couple of the other larger towns, serving drinks and playing music until the early hours, with groups of friendly locals waiting to greet you.
Overall, Iceland is the clear winner in the nightlife department.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Shopping is something else you might like to partake in before leaving Greenland or Iceland and heading home. Both countries are great for buying one-of-a-kind souvenirs and handcrafted, traditional items, though one of them has a deeper and more diverse shopping scene than the other.
And, once again, it’s Iceland that emerges as the winner in this category, mainly thanks to Reykjavik. The capital has a lot of super places to shop, especially in the three main streets of Laugavegur, Bankastraeti, and Skolavoroustígur, with stores selling pretty much everything you could hope to find, from clothing and jewelry to books, toys, antiques, and more.
Greenland, meanwhile, isn’t exactly a leading destination for shopaholics, with mostly small towns and simple stores that sell the basic items people need to get by. With that said, you can still buy some truly unique souvenirs here, like tupilak figures, super warm wool accessories, beaded jewelry, and decorative glassware.
Overall, Iceland is best for shopping, but you can still find cool mementos and special gifts in Greenland.
Which Is Best For Food?
Tasting the local food is part of the fun of visiting Greenland and Iceland. However, you may find that one of these countries’ culinary styles is more appealing to you than the other.
Greenlandic cuisine is based around whatever ingredients the native hunters and fishermen can find nearby, with lots of meals being based around the likes of seal, birds, and fish. In short, Greelandic people tend to have quite meaty, high-protein diets, and some of the best dishes to try include suaasat seal soup and smoked seal meat.
Icelandic cuisine also revolves around local, accessible ingredients, like fish from the surrounding waters and lamb reared on the island. Many menus include fish and seafood dishes, along with cured meats and tasty flatbreads. Overall, there’s more variety here, with a wider range of foods to suit all preferences.
So, if you want the best variety and tastiest flavors, you’ll most likely prefer the restaurants and eateries of Iceland over those of Greenland.
Which Is Best For Families?
Greenland and Iceland can both be suitable destinations for family vacations, especially for families who are active and love spending time outside. But which one is best-suited for parents and kids?
Well, Iceland has the big advantage of being much more compact than Greenland, and that makes it much easier to get around and see the sights without having to worry about long flights or boat rides. There are also plenty of family-friendly activities to enjoy here, from whale-watching tours to hot spring visits or even admiring the island’s “Elf Houses”.
Greenland also has many great outdoor recreation possibilities for families, with a myriad of hiking trails to check out. Kids may also enjoy learning all about the Inuit culture and visiting the glaciers and glacial lakes here. It’s almost like a tour of the North Pole, but much more family-friendly, ideal for adventurous spirits.
Overall, both countries can work well for families, but Iceland arguably has a slight edge because of its more compact and accessible nature.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life with someone special by your side? If so, a trip to Iceland or Greenland could be just what the doctor ordered. With their peaceful vibes and pristine nature, both of these countries provide idyllic conditions for couples in search of quiet, cozy romance.
And if peace and quiet is what you want most of all, head to Greenland. It’s so sparsely populated, you can almost feel like you’re entirely alone in certain areas. Plus, there’s plenty of potential for romantic moments on glacial lake cruises or incredible helicopter rides above the icy expanse.
At the same time, Iceland is also a prime destination for couples of all ages, with a more diverse range of experiences to enjoy. By day, you can set off exploring the country’s otherworldly landscapes. By night, you can hit up the trendy bars and restaurants of Reykjavik before retreating to your boutique hotel.
Overall, while both countries can appeal to couples, Iceland is the easiest of the two to recommend.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Backpackers can also have a thrilling and memorable experience in either Iceland or Greenland, with both of these special countries drawing in the backpacking crowd.
Iceland has a couple of notable backpacking benefits. First, it’s cheaper. That’ll definitely be important to you if you’ve got a tight budget. It’s also more accessible, with many more flights and a stronger touristic scene to help you settle in and feel at home. Plus, since it’s so compact, it’s really easy to hop around from place to place and see all you want to see.
In contrast, Greenland is pricer to get to and tougher to traverse, without the same touristic amenities that Iceland has. While the more rugged nature of Greenland may appeal to seasoned adventurers in search of an authentic off-the-beaten-path expedition, inexperienced backpackers might find it a little too inaccessible.
Overall, Iceland is the better backpacking nation for the most part, but you shouldn’t rule out Greenland right away.
Which Is Cheaper?
When it comes to cost, it’s worth noting that Iceland is notably cheaper than Greenland in most of the key areas. That means flights, hotels, getting around, and even touristic activities usually cost less in Iceland, though food may be a little more expensive. So, if you’re looking for the best value for money or don’t have too much to spend, Iceland is the right choice for you.
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Iceland vs Greenland: Which Is Better?
Overall, both of these countries are so beautiful and wondrous, it’s almost impossible to say that one is better than the other. Each one has its pros, cons, and key features, like Iceland with its “Ice and Fire” landscapes and Greenland with its remarkably peaceful vibes and truly unique Inuit culture.
However, the aim of this guide is to decide which country is best for most travelers. And that’s Iceland. More compact, yet surprisingly diverse, Iceland is cheaper, easier to get to, simpler to get around, and a more exciting place to visit in many ways, offering the best of both worlds – all the dynamic fun of a big city in Reykjavik, coupled with majestic, magical landscapes galore.
At the same time, Greenland is also worth considering, especially if you’re looking for a place that is almost incomparably peaceful, where you can truly feel aligned with Mother Nature. With its icy, snowy scenery and intriguing cultural traditions, it’s a lovely place for couples, groups of friends, or even solo adventurers to have unforgettable experiences.