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Nuussuaq district of Nuuk with the Sermitsiaq mountain in the background
Nuussuaq district of Nuuk with the Sermitsiaq mountain in the background
Flag of Nuuk
Coat of arms of Nuuk
Coat of arms
Nuuk is located in Greenland
Location within Greenland
State  Kingdom of Denmark
Constituent country  Greenland
Municipality Sermersooq
Founded 29 August 1728
Incorporated 1728
 • Mayor Asii Chemnitz Narup (Inuit Ataqatigiit)
 • City 690 km2 (265 sq mi)
Elevation 5 m (16 ft)
Population (2013)
 • City 16,454[1] (Largest in Greenland)
 • Metro 18,039 (including Qiisumooq/Ingestad village)
Time zone Western Greenland Standard (UTC‑3)
 • Summer (DST) Western Greenland Daylight (UTC‑2)
Postal code 3900

Nuuk (Danish: Godthåb)[2] is the capital and largest city of Greenland. It is the seat of government and the country's largest cultural and economic center. The major cities closest to the capital are Iqaluit and St. John's in Canada and Reykjavík in Iceland. Nuuk is the seat of government for the Sermersooq municipality. In January 2013, it had a population of 16,454,[3] making it one of the smallest capital cities in the world by population.

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.


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.[4] 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, and shortly thereafter by Inuit peoples.[5] 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 statue of Hans Egede in Nuuk.

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.[6] Hans Egede went back to Denmark in 1736 after 15 years in Greenland, leaving his son Poul to continue his work.[7] Godthaab became the seat of government for the Danish colony of South Greenland,[8] while Godhavn (modern Qeqertarsuaq) was the capital of North Greenland until 1940 when the administration was unified in Godthaab.[9]

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),[10] before they were discontinued in 1900 and folded into the Lutheran Church of Denmark.[11]

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 that 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 very 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 May 1, 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. Currently over a third of Greenland's total population lives in the Nuuk Greater Metropolitan area.[12]


Nuuk is located at approximately .[13] at the mouth of Nuup Kangerlua (formerly Baal's River[14]), some 10 km (6.2 mi) from the shores of 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 , splitting into three arms in its lower run, with three big islands in between the arms: Sermitsiaq Island, Qeqertarsuaq Island, and Qoornuup Qeqertarsua.[15] The fjord widens into a bay dotted with skerries near its mouth, opening into Labrador Sea at approximately . The Sermitsiaq mountain looms over the city and can be seen almost everywhere in Nuuk. The mountain has given its name to the nationwide newspaper Sermitsiaq.

View from the mountain Ukkusissaq
View from the mountain Ukkusissaq, which means "soap stone" (in Danish it is called Store Malene)


Nuuk has a maritime-influenced polar climate (Köppen ET) with cold, snowy winters and cool summers. In December, the sun rises at 10:00 and sets at 14:30. By contrast, from late May to early August the days are long. Temperatures average below freezing for 7 months of the year. The coldest month is March, at −8.0 °C (17.6 °F), while the warmest is July, at 6.5 °C (43.7 °F), while the year averages out at −1.42 °C (29.4 °F). Extremes have ranged from −29.5 °C (−21 °F) to 24.2 °C (76 °F).[16]

Climate data for Nuuk
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 11
Average high °C (°F) −4.6
Daily mean °C (°F) −7.3
Average low °C (°F) −10
Record low °C (°F) −29
Precipitation mm (inches) 40
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 9 9 10 9 9 8 10 9 12 10 11 10 116
Mean monthly sunshine hours 31 84 186 240 186 150 186 124 90 62 30 0 1,369
Source #1: [17]
Source #2: BBC Weather

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[18] which do not sustain well.


Panorama of Nuuk
Panorama of Nuuk


With 16,454 inhabitants as of 2013, Nuuk is the fastest growing town in Greenland,[19] with migrants from the smaller towns and settlements reinforcing the trend. Nuuk 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 increased by over a third relative to the 1990 levels, and by over 22% relative to the 2000 levels.[19]

Government and politics

As the capital of Greenland, Nuuk is the administrative center of the country, containing all of the important government buildings and institutions. The current mayor of Nuuk is Asii Chemnitz Narup from the Inuit Ataqatigiit party.

Greenland's Self Government Parliament, the Inatsisartut, is located in Nuuk. It currently 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 ([21] The association is overseen by Maliina Abelsen, the Minister for Social Affairs in the Government of Greenland.[20][22]

Economy and infrastructure

Although only a small city, Nuuk has developed trade, business, shipping and other industries. Nuuk began as a small fishing settlement with a harbor but as the economy developed rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s, the fishing industry in the capital declined.[23] However, seafood, including fish, seal etc. is sold in abundance in Nuuk and the capital contains a number of fish markets, the largest being Kalaaliaraq Market. Minerals such as zinc, gold, etc. 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.[24]


All of Greenland's electricity is powered by the government owned company Nukissiorfiit, which has a monopoly on the electricity in Greenland. Nuuk gets its electric power mainly from Buksefjord hydroelectric power plant by way of a 132 kV powerline crossing Ameralik fjord on the world's longest span.


University of Greenland

Nuuk has several educational institutions of higher learning. The University of Greenland (Ilisimatusarfik), which is the only university in Greenland, is located in Nuuk. The university 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, located 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.[25]


The Nuuk Tourist Office was built in 1992 to house the headquarters of the new National Tourist Board of Greenland.[26] It was built not only to provide information to tourists but as an attraction, with a fake Christmas tree and an extremely large postal box.


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


Nuuk's main road Aqqusinersuaq with Hotel Hans Egede on the right


Nuuk has an international airport located 4 km (2.5 mi) to the northeast of the town centrum. Built in 1979, it is a focus city for Air Greenland, which is also headquartered in Nuuk,[27] and operates its technical base at the airport. Air Iceland flies regularly between Reykjavík, Iceland, and Nuuk.


For most of the year, Nuuk is served twice-weekly by coastal ferries of Arctic Umiaq Line which link the communities of the western coast.[28]


The main street in Nuuk is Aqqusinersuaq, with a number of shops and the 140-room Hotel Hans Egede.[29] The majority of the 72 buses and 2,570 cars owned in Greenland (as of 2004) operate in Nuuk.[30] Nuup Bussii provides frequent bus services to the outlying districts of Nuussuaq and Qinngorput.

Sites of interest

Nuuk Cathedral


The Church of Our Savior, the Nuuk Cathedral of the Lutheran diocese of Greenland, was built in 1849. The red building with a steeple is a prominent site on the landscape. The Herrnhut House was the center of the Moravian mission of New Herrnhut. Other landmarks include the Hans Egede Church, the Statue of Hans Egede and the Hans Egede House.

Greenland National Museum is located in Nuuk and was one of the first museums established in Greenland, inaugurated in the mid-1960s.[31] The museum has many artifacts and exhibits related to Greenland's archaeology, history, art, and handicrafts, and contains the Qilakitsoq mummies.


Nuuk Art Museum

Katuaq is a cultural center used for concerts, films, art exhibitions, and conferences. It was designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen and inaugurated on 15 February 1997. Katuaq contains two auditoria, the larger seating 1,008 people and the smaller, 508. The complex also contains an art school, library, meeting facilities, administrative offices and a café.

The Nuuk Art Museum is the only private art and crafts museum in Greenland.[32] The museum contains a notable collection of local paintings, watercolors, drawings, and graphics. Some by Andy Warhol; and figures in soapstone, ivory, and wood, with many items collected by archaeologists.


Ilisimatusarfik, the University of Greenland, is located in Nuuk and is the national university of Greenland. Most courses are taught in Danish, although a few are in Kalaallisut as well. As of 2007, the university had approximately 150 students (almost all Greenlanders), around 14 academic staff, and five administrators.[33] Its library holds approximately 18,000 volumes.

The National Library of Greenland in Nuuk is the largest reference library in the country, devoted to the preservation of Greenland's cultural heritage and history.[34] The library holdings are split between the public library in the town center and Ilimmarfik, the campus of the University of Greenland. As of 1 January 2008, there are 83,324 items in the library database at Ilimmarfik.[35]


Godthåbhallen exterior
Teletårnet, Nuuk

Nuuk's sports clubs include Nuuk IL (established in 1934), B-67, and GSS Nuuk.

Nuuk Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium, used mostly for soccer games. The stadium has a capacity of 2,000.[36] The stadium can also be used as an entertainment venue: recently, the Scottish rock band Nazareth performed at the venue. Nuuk also has the Godthåbhallen, a handball stadium. It is the home of the Greenland national handball team and has a capacity of 1,000.[37]

There is a hill for alpine skiing with lifts (altitude difference around 300 m), on the mountain Lille Malene,[38] with the valley station close to the airport terminal.[39] There is also a golf course in Nuuk.

Notable people

International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Nuuk is twinned with:

See also


  1. ^ Greenland in Figures 2,013.  
  2. ^ The pre-1948 spelling was Godthaab.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Human history". Nuuk Tourism. Retrieved July 12, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Nuuk".  
  6. ^ Wurm, Stephen A.; Mühlhäusler, Peter; Tyron, Darrell T. (1996). Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas, International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies. Volume 2, Part 1 Volume 13 of Trends in Linguistics. Walter de Gruyter. p. 1051.  
  7. ^ Nuuk travel guide
  8. ^ Scandinavian Review. American-Scandinavian Foundation. 1921. p. 681. 
  9. ^ Lemkin, Raphael (1 June 2008). Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. p. 167.  
  10. ^ Lüdecke, Cornelia. "East Meets West: Meteorological observations of the Moravians in Greenland and Labrador since the 18th century". History of Meteorology 2 (2005). Accessed 27 Apr 2012.
  11. ^ Wittman, P. "Greenland". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Co. (New York), 1909. Accessed 28 Apr 2012.
  12. ^ "CIA World Factbook – Greenland". 
  13. ^ Municipality information. De grønlandske kommuners Landsforening, KANUKOKA
  14. ^ Nicoll, James. An Historical and Descriptive Account of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Oliver & Boyd, 1840.
  15. ^ O'Carroll, Etain (2005). Greenland and the Arctic. Lonely Planet. p. 154.  
  16. ^ "Extreme temperature records since 1850". Retrieved 2011-03-06. 
  17. ^ "World Weather Information Service – Nuuk". United Nations. Retrieved 21 January 2011. 
  18. ^ e.g Gult by Henrik Greve Thorsen
  19. ^ a b Statistics Greenland, Population in localities
  20. ^ a b "Sermitsiaq mener: Hvem ka’? Kanukoka!".  
  21. ^ "Hvad er KANUKOKA?" (in Danish). KANUKOKA, Official Website. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  22. ^ "Minister for Social Affairs". Government of Greenland. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  23. ^ Jones, Michael; Olwig, Kenneth (2008). Nordic landscapes: region and belonging on the northern edge of Europe.  
  24. ^ World of Information Regional Review: Europe. Kogan Page Publishers. 2003. p. 164.  
  25. ^ Bjerregaard, Peter; Young, T. Kue (1998). The circumpolar Inuit: health of a population in transition. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 55.  
  26. ^ Europa World Year, Book 1. Taylor & Francis Group. 2004. p. 1458.  
  27. ^
  28. ^ "AUL, Timetable 2009" (PDF). Arctic Umiaq Line. Retrieved 13 July 2010. 
  29. ^ Hotel Hans Egede
  30. ^ O'Carroll, Etain (2005). Greenland and the Arctic. Lonely Planet. p. 231.  
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ About the University. "ca. 150 studenter; 14 lærere foruden rektor samt 5 teknisk-administrativt ansatte."
  34. ^ "About Us". Groenlandica, Greenlandic National Library. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  35. ^ "Collections". Groenlandica, Greenlandic National Library. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  36. ^ World Stadiums entry
  37. ^ World Stadiums: Stadiums in Greenland
  38. ^ "Skiliften Sisorarfiit". Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  39. ^ Webster, Bob (2010-05-10). "General Aviation Flying to Europe". Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  40. ^ "Aalborg Twin Towns". Retrieved 19 August 2013. 

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