Best Ilulissat Tours: First-Hand Reviews

large crevassed blue iceberg with a black scar through it

If you’re planning to visit Ilulissat, Greenland, you’re probably considering taking some Ilulissat tours, and wondering which ones to do. In this post, I’ll share my own first-hand experience of several different tours to help you choose what to spend your hard-earned cash on. After all, Greenland is a pricey place to travel to for most of us!

I recently spent a week in Ilulissat and it was one of the most captivating, mesmerising places I’ve been so far in the world. It’s a small town in an epic landscape. Sitting in the Arctic Circle on Disko Bay, this coastal town sees enormous, majestic icebergs float by. It really is an amazing spectacle.

My travel to Greenland was not sponsored: I planned and paid for it myself. I also won’t earn commission on the tours I mention here (not because I’m above that, but because none have affiliate schemes 😊). I’m writing this for the love, people!

Why Visit Ilulissat, Greenland?

The main reason to visit Ilulissat for me was the icebergs. Greenland is covered by a vast ice sheet that flows into the sea via outlet glaciers at the coast. Ilulissat is next to a particularly productive glacier, Sermeq Kujalleq, that results in many icebergs drifting past the town and into the still waters of Disko Bay.

thick field of icebergs in a bay
Disko Bay near Ilulissat, Greenland

There’s also plenty of wildlife in Greenland: whales, seals, birds and land mammals including polar bears, reindeer and arctic foxes.

And culturally, it’s fascinating: in such a harsh environment, it’s impossible not to respect the culture of the indigenous Greenlanders, who have lived by fishing and hunting for millennia. These days, Ilulissat remains a big fishing town, with a focus on halibut.

Being in the Arctic Circle, the seasons are extreme: the long winter nights might bring the reward of seeing the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. And in summer, the sun won’t set: the midnight sun phenomenon is when is it light all night long.

My Visit To Ilulissat

I have been lucky enough to have gotten close to the stunning icebergs on glacial lagoons in Iceland, and as I became aware of the huge bergs in Greenland, I started to hatch a plan to see them with my own eyes.

Many visitors to Greenland do boat tours or cruises around the island because that is the only way to travel from place to place in Greenland, other than dog sledding in winter.

I chose to take a simpler approach (and it also seemed like a cheaper option): seeing as it is known as the place with the biggest icebergs, I only went there. I flew in and out of Ilulissat and stayed there for a week, taking tours most days.

large iceberg with a black mark through it reflected in the still water of a bay
Iceberg in Ilulissat

Ilulissat Tours – Reviews By Tour Type

Here are my thoughts on the Ilulissat tours I did, all of which I did in early June 2023, which was the beginning of the summer season in Greenland.

The prices are in Danish Krone because Greenland is a district of Denmark. Prices and the equivalent in other currencies are correct at the time of writing but could vary. You know this, of course, but I feel like I should mention it anyway!

Ilulissat Boat Tours

The main reason I went to Greenland was to see icebergs, and the best way to see icebergs up close in Ilulissat is by taking a boat tour. And during my week in Greenland, I did five of them!

boat moored on a wooden pier in a bay with ice bergs floating around
One of the vessels used for Ilulissat boat tours by Albatross Arctic Circle

Tip for any Ilulissat Boat Tour: wear very warm clothes, including a thermal underlayer, a warm hat, scarf and gloves. It is always colder out on the water than it is in the town, and if the boat picks up any speed while you’re out on the deck, you will feel the deep chill of the arctic wind!

Here’s my take on all five Ilulissat boat tours…

Ilulissat Icefjord Tours

One of the common boat tours in Ilulissat is of the Icefjord, which is the source of Ilulissat’s icebergs. The Sermeq Kujalleq glacier produces the most ice of any glacier in the northern hemisphere (over 35 km3 of ice per year, which is 10% of all Greenland calf ice, according to its UNESCO World Heritage listing).

Gigantic icebergs calve from the glacier, then travel down the fjord towards the sea, where they float around Disko Bay, near Ilulissat.

Despite the name of the tours, boats don’t actually go into the Icefjord itself. I was told it can be dangerous to do that. The icebergs have been known to block the entrance to the fjord, and you wouldn’t want to get trapped in the fjord with no way out. For that reason, the boat tours go to the big icebergs that cluster around the entrance to the Icejord, without going in.

huge iceberg glowing white on a sunny day in greenland
Huge icebergs congregate at the mouth of the Icefjord

Quite often, these icebergs at the mouth of the Icefjord are grounded: the bergs are resting on the bottom because the fjord becomes shallower where it meets the sea. That’s why you often get huge bergs here: they get stuck until they melt down small enough to float out into Disko Bay.

I did two Icefjord boat tours: one called ‘Midnight Sailing’ with Albatross Arctic Circle and another called ‘Icefjord Cruise’ with Disko Line Explorer.

Midnight Sailing With Albatross Arctic Circle

This tour departed from a pier below the Hotel Hvalde Falk. It was on a medium-sized boat, with seats inside for 16 people, but there were only 10-11 passengers, plus a guide and the captain, so we had plenty of room. There was also an outdoor deck at the back of the boat and a space on top of the cabin for viewing.

I spent most of the time on the outdoor deck, enjoying the view of magnificent icebergs. I did have to go inside a few times to warm up, but something always caught my eye a drew me outside again pretty quickly!

large iceberg with an archway formed in it, reflected in the still water of a bay
Iceberg archway at the entrance to Ilulissat’s Icefjord

The boat departed at 9:30 pm and took us out to the biggest ‘bergs in the bay, slowly motoring amongst them.  A guide on board pointed out a few features in the ice and shared some facts throughout the tour, but not as a running commentary – just as we encountered different features in the ice. Mostly, we were simply enjoying the otherworldly scenery, transfixed by the beauty of the ice.

I had perfect weather for my midnight sailing: clear skies and calm water. It was so serene and beautiful.

large pyramidal iceberg reflected in the still water of Disko Bay in Greenland
Majestic icebergs during my Midnight Sailing boat tour in Ilulissat

While the sun doesn’t set in summer in Greenland, it does get lower in the sky, creating warm yellow light in which the icebergs appear to glow, which contrasts with the soft blue shadows. It was absolutely mesmerising – I was enthralled for the whole trip.

At the end of the tour, we returned to the dock at midnight, and Albatross Arctic Circle gave us lifts back to our hotels in their minivan.

Tour duration: 2.5 hours

Tour cost: 650 DKK  (approx. £75 or US$98)

Book: Albatross Arctic Circle website or in their office next to the Hotel Hvide Falk (check the map at the end of the article)

Icefjord Cruise With Disko Line Explorer

To do this Icefjord tour, we met outside the Disko Line Explorer office on Kussangajaannguaq and then they drove everyone down to the north side of the harbour to get on the boat.

This boat was bigger than the first Icefjord tour I did: it probably fit 50-ish people inside. I think it was also slightly slower. We were free to go outside on the deck in the front and back, and also on the first upper deck where they have a lifeboat. The top deck was off limits though.

shadowy iceberg reflected in dark water in front of a moody cloudy sky
The moody conditions didn’t make the icebergs any less photogenic!

The weather conditions were very different to those of my Midnight Sailing tour: the sky was overcast. But it didn’t spoil the trip at all. In fact, it made the whole spectacle of the icebergs quite arresting: the moody skies created a dramatic backdrop to the bergs, and the sea appeared dark, reflecting the bergs like a mirror.

The route was simpler than the Albatros Arctic Circle tour: we went out to the same cluster of big icebergs, paused there for a short presentation, and then headed back the same way we came.

The presentation was a brief bit of info about the Icefjord and the icebergs, followed by a cocktail made from local Labrador tea herbs and gin, poured over glacial ice fished from the sea in a net once we were on board. On the guide’s instruction, I held the drink up to my ear to hear the faint fizz as the ice melted and its air bubbles opened up, releasing air that had been trapped for thousands of years. It was a nice touch!

metal cup containing drink and ice held in front of a bay filled with icebergs
The cocktail made with local ingredients and glacial ice was a nice touch on the Disko Line Explorer Icefjord Cruise

Tour duration: 2.5 hours

Tour cost: 695 DKK, plus a 35DKK fee (not sure what this was for), plus I had to pay an additional 21.5 DKK to use my credit card, so all in it cost me 751.5 DKK (approx. £87 or US$114)

Book: Disko Line Explorer website. They have an office in the town centre at Kussangajaannguaq 7, but when I went there in person, they told me to book online.

Day Tours To Eqi Glacier

As I said, boats won’t go into the Ilulissat Icefjord, so you can’t do a boat tour of that glacier. However, there is a glacier 70km north of Ilulissat that boats can get close to. The Eqi glacier is another big calving glacier in Greenland, but one you can get close to and possibly see ice calving off.

This is a popular day tour from Ilulissat, with boats leaving around 9 am and getting back around 3 pm, with lunch included.

steep snowy mountains on either side of a channel of water with icebergs in it
The journey to and from the Eqi glacier felt very arctic indeed!

I did an Eqi glacier tour with Albatross Arctic Circle, in the same medium-sized boat in which I did the Midnight Sailing. Roughly speaking, the route involves 2 hours to get to the glacier and two hours to get back to Ilulissat, leaving two hours at the glacier itself.

However, it didn’t quite work out that way on my tour because we were not able to get close to the glacier at all. There was a lot of sea ice around it and our boat spent some time weaving its way between the icebergs toward the glacier face. But in the end, the captain said he was wary of going any further in case we got stuck or delayed getting back out again.

It was a bit disappointing, especially as it was quite foggy, so we couldn’t even see the glacier from a distance – we could only see a vague area of light between the mountains.

ice in an overcast bay, with an arrow pointing to a foggy area
My view of the Eqi glacier (indicated by the arrow!)

However, it meant we had a little more time on the way back, so we spent some time in the channel between Eqi and Ilulissat looking for whales and we also paused to circle one of the big icebergs on the way back. We didn’t see whales on the way back, but we did see a humpback whale on the way there, which was a wonderful surprise.

Tour duration: 6 hours

Tour cost: 2100 DKK (approx. £245 or US$320)

Book: Albatross Arctic Circle website or in their office next to the Hotel Hvide Falk.

Whale-Watching, Ilulissat

In summer, it’s possible to see whales around Ilulissat, with humpback whales the most common, I’m told.

I did two whale-watching tours in Ilulissat, with mixed success…

Whale Tour With Whale Tours Ilulissat

My first whale-watching boat tour in Ilulissat was with a guy I was recommended by someone else in town: Claus from Whale Tours, Ilulissat. He has an office on Kussangajaannguaq Street, but I arranged my tour with him via email.

He has a small boat that takes 2-3 passengers and he provides a thermal suit for everyone, seeing as it’s an open boat (as I said, it can get very cold out on the water, even in summer). Being a small boat, we also felt every clang of ice as we went through the ice fields, so it was rather a bumpy ride!

small open boat motoring between icebergs in Ilulissat
Not the boat I was in for whale-watching (but ours was similar)

Claus took us south from Ilulissat and unfortunately, we didn‘t see any whales on the tour. He said he had hoped to be able to cross the ice that gathers near the Icefjord into clearer waters with less ice which increases the chance of seeing whales. However, the ice was densely packed that day and it was very hard to get through it, meaning we didn’t make it into clear water in the two-hour tour.

Despite seeing no whales, it was still fun – being out amongst the icebergs was still very exciting and beautiful.

Tour duration: 2 hours

Tour cost: 695 DKK (approx. £80 or US$105)

Book: Whale Tours Ilulissat website or in their office on Kussangajaannguaq 5.

Whale Watching With Albatross Arctic Circle

My second whale-watching tour started off really badly, with a broken boat, a delay of more than an hour and a replacement boat that was too small for the size of our group.

Eventually, 12 of us squeezed into a boat with only 8 indoor seats (and more space on the deck in the front and back). Everyone else on the boat was Danish and they all knew each other, including the captain, so they were perfectly happy squeezing in together, sharing jokes and flasks of tea and biscuits.

It was a little odd for me, being the only stranger, though! I opted to sit out in the front of the boat, wrapped up with a blanket, enjoying the best view of the icebergs.

tail of a whale disappearing into the sea with snowy mountains behind
This magnificent humpback whale came up and dived several times during my final whale-watching tour in Ilulissat – it was amazing!

On this whale-watching tour, we went north of Ilulissat, following a tip, they said, from some other boats who had seen whales there. It took at least an hour to get to the channel of water between Ilulissat and the Eqi glacier (the same place we’d seen a whale on my Eqi tour), and we were rewarded by almost immediately seeing a humpback whale. It was so exciting! We saw the same whale come up for air several times, and it even flipped its tail for us three times.

I’ve been lucky enough to have seen whales in Iceland and Sri Lanka before, but this was the first time I saw a tail flip! I felt very privileged to have witnessed it.

Tour duration: 3 hours

Tour cost: 995 DKK (approx. £115 or US$150)

Book: Albatross Arctic Circle website or in their office next to the Hotel Hvide Falk

Ilulissat City Tours

On my second to last day, I had some time to fill, so I did a tour of the town of Ilulissat. I’d already explored it quite thoroughly on foot and I’d sat on the bus as it wound its way around the town, but I thought it might be good to get some more in-depth info about the town. I figured I’d learn some local insider knowledge, which I have generally come to expect from city tours.

This was a mistake on my part: assuming Ilulissat city tours would be given by someone local. This tour, like all others I did in Ilulissat, was given by a Danish student working there for a few months.

town of brightly coloured houses and a steepled church on the shore of a bay full of icebergs
Ilulissat

As such, I did learn more than I already knew about the town, such as the history of the town and the historic function of certain buildings. But I didn’t get any kind of deep local knowledge, nor a perspective from a Greenlandic person.

For me, this was a little disappointing. It also didn’t seem like great value for money, considering what the price was.

Tour duration: 2 hours was advertised, but mine only lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

Tour cost: 250 DKK (approx. £30 or US$38)

Book: World of Greenland website or in their office on Fredericiap Aqq. 4.

Or, alternatively, take my free self-guided walking tour of Ilulissat instead!

My Favourite Ilulissat Tour

I think my favourite Ilulissat tour was the Midnight Sailing tour with Albatross Arctic Circle. The Disko Line Explorer tour was also amazing, but the Albatross Arctic Circle one has a smaller, faster boat and it seemed like we covered a greater distance, and therefore, saw more icebergs with that one.

It really is one of the unmissable things to do in Ilulissat!

towering icebergs glow yellow with blue shadows
Midnight Sailing: the light on the icebergs was so gorgeous

It was also slightly better value for money, seeing as it cost less.

Other Ilulissat Tours

Now, I came across the next tours, but I didn’t do them myself. I am including a few details on them because I thought it would help you to know what else is available, beyond the tours I did myself.

Some of these I looked into but decided not to do – and in some cases, I regret that choice, haha! But either way, I’ll share what I know, for what it’s worth.

Dog Sled Tours

There are few roads in Greenland: the traditional modes of transport are boats or dog sleds – and a popular thing to do in Greenland is a dog sled tour.

I didn’t do one in Ilulissat for the simple reason that I was there in June and these tours aren’t available in the summer months when the snow has largely receded around Ilulissat.

In summer, the sled dogs are kept in dog stations around the town, so you can see sled dogs when you’re in Ilulissat. They’re very impressive: strong-looking dogs who don’t seem to be bothered by rain or snow.

husky sled dog lying down on a granite rock surrounded by snowy mountains
Sled dogs are not for petting

There are some experiences you can do in summer where you meet, learn about and feed the sled dogs, but this didn’t take my fancy. World Of Greenland offers such an experience.

NB. The one piece of advice I was given over and over was not to approach the dogs unless their owner has told you it is safe to do so: they are not pets and can be very aggressive.

Northern Lights

Like the sled dog tours, Northern Lights tours are only available in the winter months. When I was in Ilulissat in June, it was 24-hour daylight, so the lights would not be visible.

So if seeing the Northern Lights is your reason for going to Greenland, you’ll need to go between September and early April.

Ilulissat Kayaking

Imagine gliding across still water between towering blue icebergs… Kayaks were first created by Inuit people thousands of years ago – the word itself comes from the Greenlandic work ‘qajaq’. So it’s a pretty cool thing to kayak in Ilulissat!

I love kayaking – I’ve done it in several places, including Croatia, Greece, Montenegro and Norway. I was really tempted to do it in Greenland, too. But in the end, I backed out. I was just too nervous about getting in and out of the boats!

orange kayaks drying on granite rocks on the edge of the icy bay
Albatross Arctic Circle kayaks on the shore, where they launch from

You see, there aren’t really beaches around Ilulissat. The kayak tour companies I found launched either from rocks or boats – and I just felt like there was a good chance I’d wobble getting in or out of the kayak and end up in the icy water!

Of course, before you get in the kayak, they suit you in special waterproof, thermal suits to protect you from the cold water. But still, I didn’t fancy risking it in the end, so I didn’t do it.

If you’re braver than me, the companies I was looking at include Inuk Adventure, who have an office in central Ilulissat on Kaaleraq Poulsen Aqq 1. They launch from their boats and also have SUP boards. I also looked at kayaking with Albatross Arctic Circle, who launch from the rocks below their office.

Ilulissat Hiking

I did do some hiking in Ilulissat, but I didn’t go with a guide. The hike I did is a relatively short one: the Yellow Trail. It is classified as ‘easy’, and also although I didn’t find it that easy (I’m not much of a hiker), I don’t think you need a guide for this route because it’s fairly well-marked and also fairly popular in summer.

view of icebergs in the bay from a rocky hilltop
The Yellow Trail in Ilulissat

For some of the longer hikes, a guide is probably very useful. Some that I heard about when I was there include the Blue Trail along the Icefjord and hiking from Ilulissat to Oqaatsut settlement.

There’s also a short walk to Sermermiut, which is on the edge of the Icefjord and where there’s the remains of an old Inuit settlement. You could go with a guide: not because it’s a tricky route (there’s a boardwalk), but more because they’d provide info about the settlement.

Settlement Visits

When I was in Ilulissat, I saw several boat tours offering a visit to smaller settlements around Ilulissat, including Oqaatsut and Ilimanaq, which also has KOKS restaurant, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the Arctic Circle.

Maybe if I’d been in Ilulissat longer I would have tried one of these, but my priority was seeing the natural beauty of Greenland, so I saved my money for icebergs and whales primarily.

Musk Ox Tours

Before I went to Ilulissat, I didn’t know there were Musk Oxes in Greenland! But there are, and you can do tours to track them down and see them. Inuk Adventure does them.

I wasn’t interested enough in this to pay to do this tour. In fact, the only bit of a musk ox I saw was a set of horns outside someone’s house (I noticed, it’s fairly common to display animal skulls, antlers or horns outside houses in Ilulissat).

Booking Ilulissat Tours: Online Or In Person?

You can book tours in advance online for many of the tour providers. I have included links to their sites above where relevant. However, you can also book in person for many of them, as the main tour operators seem to have offices in the town. One thing to note is that, at least when I was there, their opening hours were limited: many were open only a few hours a day, and I only found one open before at 11 am.

In my case, I didn’t book any Ilulissat tours in advance of my trip and only booked things when I was there so that I could plan my tours around a more accurate weather forecast. 

dark skies over a bay full of icebergs
Ominous skies over Disko Bay

In early June, I found that some tours seemed to fill up a day or two in advance, but I didn’t need to book any earlier than that.

Also, some of the smaller operators didn’t necessarily run all the tours they advertised if they didn’t have enough takers. In those cases, I found them to be pretty good at communicating when they were planning to go or not, and they didn’t take my money until they were sure they were running a tour.

Ilulissat Map

I thought it would help to know where in Ilulissat you can find the tour companies I have mentioned. Here’s a map of the town, some key landmarks, the tour operators’ offices and also cafes and restaurants in Ilulissat.

How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one.  If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.

Best Time To Visit Greenland

It depends on what you want to experience.

If you’re into the idea of dog sledding and the northern lights, you’ll need to come outside the summer months. Someone local told me April is a good month to come during the winter season, I think because it’s not as harsh as midwinter.

If you want the best chance of good weather and a chance to see whales, summer is the best time to come. I went in early June, and it was still a bit snowy when I was there, but I had some good days. Some local people told me July has more reliably good weather in summer and is also the best chance to see whales.

wooden black church with  aspire next to an icy bay
Midnight sun: Zion’s Church in Ilulissat at midnight

The Last Word

I hope this guide to tours in Ilulissat has been useful!

I had such a great time there and those boat tours amongst majestic icebergs are among the most breath-taking experiences I’ve had while travelling. I found the sight of them so spectacular it was almost overwhelming!

They’re right up there with flying over the Namib desert and flying over a volcano in Iceland for things that filled me with awe and which I’ll never forget.

If you are thinking of visiting Ilulissat, before you book, check out my review of hotels in Ilulissat. And I’ve also written all about where to eat in Ilulissat and what to see in Ilulissat city itself.

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