In direct translation, Ilulissat is the Kalaallisut word for "Icebergs". The nearby Ilulissat Icefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has made Ilulissat the most popular tourist destination in Greenland. Tourism is now the town's principal industry. The city neighbours the Ilulissat Icefjord, where there are enormous icebergs from the most productive glacier in the northern hemisphere.
The town was established as a trading post by Jacob Severin's company in 1741 and was named in his honor.
The Zion Church (Zions Kirke) was built in the late 18th century, and was the largest man-made structure in Greenland at the time. The final resident of nearby Sermermiut moved to Ilulissat in 1850.
The town was the site of the Arctic Ocean Conference in May 2008. The joint meeting between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States was held to discuss key issues relating to territorial claims in the Arctic (particularly Hans Island and Arktika 2007) and Arctic shrinkage produced by climate change.
The Ilulissat Declaration arose from the conference. It stated that the law of the sea provided for important rights and obligations concerning the delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf, the protection of the marine environment, including ice-covered areas, freedom of navigation, marine scientific research, and other uses of the sea. It also said that it remained committed to this legal framework and to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims.
With this existing legal framework, providing a solid foundation for responsible management, there was no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean. The states involved, would keep abreast of the developments in the Arctic Ocean and continue to implement appropriate measures.
The Ilulissat Icefjord (Greenlandic: Ilulissat Kangerlua) southeast of Ilulissat was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
With 4,541 inhabitants in 2013, Ilulissat is the largest town in the Qaasuitsup municipality. The population increased over 8% relative to 1990 levels but has remained steady since around 2003.
Ilulissat Airport is located 2.8 km (1.7 mi) to the northeast of the town center and was built in 1983. It serves Ilulissat with connections to towns in northwestern and midwestern Greenland via Air Greenland. Service to Reykjavík, Iceland, began in April 2011 via Air Iceland.
The Arctic Umiaq ferry links Ilulissat with Sisimiut, Nuuk, and other towns and settlements on the western and southwestern coast of Greenland.
The town is home to Nagdlunguaq-48 who play in the Greenlandic Men's Football Championship, Greenland's top soccer competition. Nagdlunguaq-48, who play all their league games in Nuuk, have won the championship ten times (as of 2016).