With soaring icebergs and abundant marine life, the Ilulissat Icefjord is the crown jewel of Greenland tourism. Now, there’s a new way to admire this UNESCO World Heritage site‘s iceberg-dotted waters: the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre, a sleek and experiential venue that opened on July 3. The minimalistic, nature-inspired facility adds context and interpretation to the area’s icy surroundings. Exhibits narrate Greenland’s story of ice, nature, and climate change—and it’s a tale the town of Ilulissat is perfectly poised to tell. By Stephanie Vermillion
Ilulissat, situated 150 miles (241 km) north of the Arctic Circle, is the gateway to Greenland‘s Ilulissat Icefjord, the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq, Earth’s fastest-moving glacier. Sermeq Kujalleq links the 660,000-square-mile (1709392-square-km) Greenland ice cap to the sea and produces 10 per cent of the island’s icebergs. Its nutrient-rich waters draw hungry humpback, minke and fin whales. And the scenery, a maze of towering ice flanked by far-flung mountains and Ilulissat’s vibrant houses, painted every colour of the crayon box, is unlike any place else in the world.
But the Ilulissat Icefjord boasts more than beauty; it’s a first-hand lesson in climate change. The 37-mile-long (59 km) icefjord, roughly the size of 66,000 football fields, is growing as the Sermeq Kujalleq retreats at record speed. The glacier shrunk eight miles (12 km) from 1902 to 2001; from 2002 to 2012 alone, it receded by nine miles (14 km).
Through exhibits, artwork, and an icefjord-view deck, the new 16,000-square-foot Ilulissat Icefjord Centre will immerse guests in the beauty and bitter reality of these changing landscapes. “We hope that those who visit the Icefjord Centre and the icefjord will leave here with an awareness that man cannot be above nature,” Elisabeth Momme, leader of the Icefjord Centre, said in a press release. “That nature and man are one, that we must take care of nature, and that it is only on loan.”
The premier exhibit in this $24.8 million venue, designed by Danish architect Dorte Mandrup and financed by the government of Greenland, Avannaata municipality, and the philanthropic association Realdania, is “The Story of Ice.” Here, visitors journey through ice floes and prisms, with inland ice-core samples highlighting climate and Greenlandic culture dating back to 124,000 BC. Art installations enrich the visitor experience further, as does the rooftop observation deck, with sweeping 360-degree views rivalled only by Ilulissat’s local flightseeing helicopters and small-boat icefjord cruises.
From the visitor centre, travellers can stroll an elevated trail to the shores of the icefjord itself, where the roar of calving ice and the enormity of skyscraper-high icebergs are a humbling reminder of humanity’s place in the world—and humankind’s responsibility to protect it.
The Ilulissat Icefjord Centre opened on July 3, 2021, and Greenland is slowly reopening for tourism as well. Check here for Greenland’s latest COVID-19 travel guidelines.