Denmark > Greenland > Nuuk


Nuuk is the capital and largest city of Greenland and the municipality of Sermersooq. It is the seat of government and the country's largest cultural and economic centre. The major cities closest to the capital are Iqaluit and St. John's in Canada and Reykjavík in Iceland. Nuuk contains almost a third of Greenland's population, and also has the tallest building in Greenland. Nuuk is the seat of government for the Sermersooq municipality. In January 2016, it had a population of 17,316.

Nuuk is the Kalaallisut word for "cape". It is so named because of its position at the end of the Nuup Kangerlua fjord on the eastern shore of the Labrador Sea. Its latitude, at 64°10' N, makes it the world's northernmost capital, located only a few kilometres farther north than the Icelandic capital Reykjavík. Since 2009, the city bus service Nuup Bussii provides city transport services in Nuuk for the new Sermersooq municipality, linking the town centre with the outlying districts and neighborhoods of Nuussuaq, Qinngorput, as well as Qernertunnguit in Quassussuup Tungaa. In 2012 the buses transported more than 2 million passengers around the city of Nuuk. The campus of the University of Greenland, hosting Statistics Greenland, and the main holdings of the Public and National Library of Greenland is located at the northern end of the district, near the road to the Nuuk Airport.

Nuuk receives its electric power mainly from the renewable energy-powered Buksefjord hydroelectric power plant by way of a 132 kV powerline crossing Ameralik fjord over a distance of 5,376 m, the world's longest free span.


The site has a long history of habitation. The area around Nuuk was first occupied by the ancient pre-Inuit, Paleo-Eskimo people of the Saqqaq culture as far back as 2200 BC when they lived in the area around the now abandoned settlement of Qoornoq. For a long time it was occupied by the Dorset culture around the former settlement of Kangeq but they disappeared from the Nuuk district before AD 1000. The Nuuk area was later inhabited by Viking explorers in the 10th century (Western Settlement), and shortly thereafter by Inuit peoples. Inuit and Norsemen both lived with little interaction in this area from about 1000 until the disappearance of the Norse settlement for uncertain reasons during the 15th century.

The city proper was founded as the fort of Godt-Haab in 1728 by the royal governor Claus Paarss, when he relocated the missionary and merchant Hans Egede's earlier Hope Colony (Haabets Koloni) from Kangeq Island to the mainland. At that time, Greenland was formally still a Danish colony under the united Dano-Norwegian Crown, but the colony had not had any contact for over three centuries. Paarss's colonists consisted of mutinous soldiers, convicts, and prostitutes and most died within the first year of scurvy and other ailments. In 1733 and 1734, a smallpox epidemic killed most of the native population as well as Egede's wife. Hans Egede went back to Denmark in 1736 after 15 years in Greenland, leaving his son Poul to continue his work. Godthaab became the seat of government for the Danish colony of South Greenland, while Godhavn (modern Qeqertarsuaq) was the capital of North Greenland until 1940 when the administration was unified in Godthaab.

In 1733, Moravian missionaries received permission to begin a mission on the island; in 1747, there were enough converts to prompt the construction of the Moravian Brethren Mission House and the formal establishment of the mission as New Herrnhut (Danish: Nye-Hernhut). This became the nucleus for present-day Nuuk as many Greenlanders from the southeastern coast left their territory to live at the mission station. From this base, further missions were established at Lichtenfels (1748), Lichtenau (1774), Friedrichsthal (1824), Umanak (1861), and Idlorpait (1864), before they were discontinued in 1900 and folded into the Lutheran Church of Denmark.

Around 1850, Greenland, and especially the area around Nuuk, were in crisis. The Europeans had brought diseases and a culture that conflicted with the ways of the native Greenlanders. Many Greenlanders were living in poverty. In 1853, Hinrich Johannes Rink came to Greenland and perceived the Greenlanders had lost much of their culture and identity under Danish influence. In response, in 1861, he started the Atuagagdliutt, Greenland's first newspaper, with a native Greenlander as editor. This newspaper based in Nuuk later became significant for the Greenlandic identity.

During World War II, there was a reawakening to Greenlandic national identity. Greenlanders shared a written language and assembled a council under Eske Brun's leadership in Nuuk. In 1940, an American and a Canadian Consulate were established in Nuuk. Under new regulations in 1950, two councils amalgamated into one. This Countryside Council was abolished on 1 May 1979, when the city of Godthåb was renamed Nuuk by the Greenland Home Rule government. The city boomed during the 1950s when Denmark began to modernise Greenland. As in Greenland as a whole, Nuuk is populated today by both Inuit and Danes. Over a third of Greenland's total population lives in the Nuuk Greater Metropolitan area.

An article examining indigenous influences on cities worldwide suggested,

One city... stands out. Nuuk... has probably the highest percentage of aboriginal people of any city: almost 90% of Greenland’s population of 58,000 is Inuit, and least eight in 10 live in urban settlements. Nuuk also celebrates Inuit culture and history to an extent that is unprecedented in many cities with higher total aboriginal populations. By proportion and by cultural authority and impact, it may well be tiny Nuuk that is the most indigenous city in the world.


Nuuk is located at approximately 64°10′N 51°44′W / 64.167°N 51.733°W / 64.167; -51.733 at the mouth of Nuup Kangerlua (formerly Baal's River), some 10 km (6.2 mi) from the shores of the Labrador Sea on the southwestern coast of Greenland, and about 240 km (150 mi) south of the Arctic Circle. Initially, the fjord flows to the northwest, to then turn southwest at 64°43′N 50°37′W / 64.717°N 50.617°W / 64.717; -50.617, splitting into three arms in its lower run, with three big islands in between the arms: Sermitsiaq Island, Qeqertarsuaq Island, and Qoornuup Qeqertarsua. The fjord widens into a bay dotted with skerries near its mouth, opening into Labrador Sea at approximately 64°03′N 51°58′W / 64.050°N 51.967°W / 64.050; -51.967. Some 20 km (12 mi) to the northeast, reaching a height of 1,210 m (3,970 ft), Sermitsiaq can be seen from almost everywhere in Nuuk. The mountain has given its name to the nationwide newspaper Sermitsiaq. Closer to the town are the peaks of Store Malene, 790 m (2,590 ft), and Lille Malene, 420 m (1,380 ft). The magnetic declination at Nuuk is extreme.


Nuuk has a maritime-influenced tundra climate (Köppen ET) with cold, long, snowy winters and cool, short summers. On 22 December, the shortest day and longest night of the year, the sun rises at 10:30 and sets at 14:20. By contrast, on the longest day and shortest night of the year, 21 June, the sun rises at 03:00 and does not set until 00:00. Nuuk can have mild temperatures on brief occasions year round, with each month having recorded 13 °C (55 °F) or warmer. The monthly averages range from −7.5 °C (18.5 °F) to 8 °C (46 °F), whereas all-time extremes range from −32.5 °C (−26.5 °F) to 26.3 °C (79.3 °F).

The climate (6.5 °C (43.7 °F) in July) is colder than what is considered the limit for trees (10 °C (50 °F) during the warmest month). There are a few planted trees which do not sustain well.


With 16,992 inhabitants as of 2015, Nuuk is by far the largest and fastest growing town in Greenland. Despite an overall decline in the country's population, there was an increase of 174 in Nuuk from 2014 to 2015. Nuuk, Paamiut and Tasiilaq are the only towns in the Sermersooq commune (a third of Greenland) which have grown steadily over the last two decades. The population of Nuuk has doubled since 1977, increased by over a third since 1990, and risen by almost 21% since 2000. In addition to those born in Greenland, 3,636 were born outside the country. Attracted by good employment opportunities with high wages, Danes have continued to settle in the town. Today, Nuuk has the highest proportion of Danes of any town in Greenland. Half of Greenland's immigrants live in Nuuk, which also accounts for a quarter of the country's native population.

Government and politics

As the capital of Greenland, Nuuk is the administrative centre of the country, containing all of the important government buildings and institutions. The public sector bodies are also the town's largest employer.

As of December 2015, the mayor of Nuuk is Asii Chemnitz Narup. She is a member of the Inuit Ataqatigiit party.

Greenland's Self Government Parliament, the Inatsisartut, is in Nuuk. It has 31 seats and its members are elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve four-year terms. All of Greenland's major political parties have their headquarters in Nuuk, including the Inuit Ataqatigiit, Siumut, Democrats, Atassut, Association of Candidates and the Women's Party.


KANUKOKA (Greenlandic: Kalaallit Nunaanni Kommunit Kattuffiat) is based in Nuuk. It is an association of Greenland's municipalities, led by Enok Sandgreen. The aim of the organisation is to facilitate cooperation among all four municipalities of Greenland: Kujalleq, Qaasuitsup, Qeqqata, and Sermersooq. The organisation runs the municipal elections every four years, with the last election taking place in 2012. All municipal authorities in Greenland are members of the organisation. The association is overseen by Maliina Abelsen, the Minister for Social Affairs in the Government of Greenland.

Economy and infrastructure

Although only a small town, Nuuk has developed trade, business, shipping and other industries. It began as a small fishing settlement with a harbour but as the economy developed rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s, the fishing industry in the capital declined. The port is nevertheless still home to almost half of Greenland's fishing fleet. The local Royal Greenland processing plant absorbs landed seafood amounting to over DKK 50 million (US $7 million) per annum, mainly (80%) shrimp but also cod, lumpfish and halibut. Seafood, including seal, is also sold in abundance in Nuuk's fish markets, the largest being Kalaaliaraq Market. Minerals including zinc and gold have contributed to the development of Nuuk's economy.

The city, like much of Greenland, is heavily dependent upon Danish investment and relies on Denmark for block funding.


All of Greenland's electricity is powered by the government owned company Nukissiorfiit, which has a monopoly on the electricity in Greenland. Since 1993, Nuuk has received its electric power mainly from Buksefjord hydroelectric power plant by way of a 132 kV powerline crossing Ameralik fjord over a distance of 5,376 m (17,638 ft), the world's longest free span.


Nuuk has several educational institutions of higher learning. The University of Greenland (Ilisimatusarfik), which is the only university in Greenland, is in Nuuk. The university was founded in 1987 and expanded in 2007 with the new building called Ilimmarfik which houses departments of journalism, management and economics, language, literature and media, cultural and social history, theology and religion and social work. Nuuk is also home to the Department of Learning (Ilinniarfissuaq), the oldest educational facility in Greenland, in the old colonial part of Nuuk (Nuutoqaq: Old Nuuk). Other notable educational institutions include the Department of Nursing and Health Science, Nuuk Technical College and the Iron & Metal School.


The city is served by Queen Ingrid's Hospital. The hospital not only serves as the main hospital for the municipality but is the central hospital in all of Greenland. The hospital has around 130 beds.


The Nuuk Tourist Office was built in 1992 to house the headquarters of the new National Tourist Board of Greenland.


Nuuk is a good place for buying high quality art and craftwork. In July 2012 Greenland's first shopping centre, Nuuk Center (abbreviated as NC), opened. The centre has Greenland's first underground parking. Several supermarkets exist, such as Nuuk Center, Pisiffik, Brugseni, and Spar.



Nuuk has an international airport 4 km (2.5 mi) to the northeast of the town centre. Built in 1979, it is a focus city for Air Greenland, which is also headquartered in Nuuk, and operates its technical base at the airport. Air Iceland flies regularly between Reykjavík, Iceland, and Nuuk.


As a result of the high cost of flying goods to Greenland, Nuuk and other towns in Greenland are connected to Denmark by cargo vessels which sail mainly from Aalborg during the warmer months after the winter ice has melted. They bring clothing, flour, medicine, timber and machinery and return with deep-frozen shrimp and fish.

For most of the year, Nuuk is served twice-weekly by the coastal ferry of the Arctic Umiaq Line which links the communities of the western coast.


The main street in Nuuk is Aqqusinersuaq, with a number of shops and the 140-room Hotel Hans Egede. The majority of the 72 buses and 2,570 cars owned in Greenland (as of 2005) operate in Nuuk. With its 31 yellow buses, Nuup Bussii provides public bus services throughout the town and has routes to the outlying districts of Nuussuaq and Qinngorput, as well as a shuttle service to the airport. There are no roads connecting Nuuk with other areas of Greenland.

Notable people

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