Anyone who has flown between Europe and the U.S. on a clear day will be familiar with the sight of Greenland. The vast ice sheet on the world’s largest island breaks up the ocean views in spectacular fashion. From up high, it’s hard to believe anyone lives in such a seemingly inhospitable place.
Yet about 56,000 people do just that, living in small communities clinging to the ice-free parts of the coastline. The biggest of those small communities, Nuuk, is home to one-in-three Greenlanders.
Sailing along the Greenlandic coastline, it’s equally hard to believe that a city could exist here. But as your ship turns towards the Nuup Kangerlua fjord, a colourful mosaic of buildings comes into view on a narrow peninsula.
It’s the last place on earth you would expect to find a capital city, yet Nuuk continues to grow. Here are some fun facts about Nuuk for you to get to know this most unlikely of cities better.
The world’s northernmost capital, sort of
Greenland is a constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark with a home rule government based in Nuuk. This makes Nuuk the world’s northernmost capital of a constituent state.
Nuuk is just a few miles farther north than the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, which is the world’s northernmost capital of an independent sovereign state.
Nuuk is powered by renewable energy
Some of the world’s most remote communities rely on diesel generators to supply their power. Not so in Nuuk, where most of its energy requirements are met by Buksefjord hydroelectric power plant.
Nuuk’s cultural center is inspired by the northern lights
Clad in an undulating wooden screen, the cultural center Katuaq is a striking piece of modern architecture. The wave-like appearance of the exterior was inspired by the aurora borealis, which are a common sight above Nuuk in the long nights of winter.
There is a university in Nuuk
Greenland’s only university is based in Nuuk. However, it’s home to just a few hundred students and most courses are taught in Danish. International students can apply to study for a semester in Nuuk in one of a handful of cultural and social science topics. Priority is given to students through cooperation agreements such as Erasmus+.
Nuuk’s first shopping mall opened in 2012
The construction of Nuuk Center also saw the opening of the first underground parking facility anywhere in Greenland. With two floors of stores and eight floors of office space, the center is the largest building in the country.
You cannot drive anywhere else
There are cars and even public buses in Nuuk. However, there are no roads out of Nuuk aside from to a handful of suburbs that are generally considered part of Nuuk. In fact, there are no roads between cities anywhere in Greenland.
Most travelers can’t fly directly to Nuuk
At least, not yet. An airport expansion and runway extension scheduled for completion in 2024 will facilitate landings of larger aircraft from Denmark. At present, most international travelers must fly to the larger airport at Kangerlussuaq and then transfer onto smaller propellor planes to reach Nuuk.
Nuuk is home to Greenland’s oldest building
In 1721, Norwegian missionary Hans Egged built a small house close to the harbour. It has survived more than three centuries of harsh conditions to become the oldest house in Greenland. The government now uses the house to host events.
It’s below freezing for half the year
Nuuk residents must put up with a daily mean temperature of below freezing for six months of the year. January, February and March are usually the coldest months.
The population has more than doubled since 1977
In the 1970s the population of Nuuk was well below 10,000. Nuuk has enjoyed 13 straight years of population growth and may soon pass 20,000 residents for the first time ever. Half of Greenland’s immigrants live in Nuuk, mostly economic migrants from Denmark.
Fishing remains important to Nuuk
While the city and country remain dependent on financial support from Denmark, the fishing and seafood industries continue to be an important contributor to Nuuk’s economy. Half of Greenland’s fishing fleet is based in Nuuk.