While many of us have heard the names Greenland and Iceland. Something both places have in common is they are almost entirely unknown to the general public. They seem to be so far away, up there close to the North Pole, that the information we get in the media is quite scarce. This blog is all about learning, and Iceland is our main topic. That is why today, we want to share the intriguing story of Greenland and Iceland, whose connection is stronger than you may think.

Glacier in Greenland, not to be confused with Iceland

Both islands are in the North Atlantic Ocean, quite close to the Arctic Circle. This line does cross some areas of Iceland, as well as Greenland. Many believe that Greenland is a country, but that’s not exactly true. This enormous island is part of the kingdom of Denmark as a self-constituent state, so it is similar to a country but not quite. I know, politics always make things more complicated. If you have been reading our blog, you may already know that Iceland was also part of the Danish kingdom before becoming an independent country.

As you can see, Greenland and Iceland seem to have a similar political past, but there is way more than that. Let’s dig into it!

The Story of Greenland and Iceland – The Settlement of Both Islands

Traveling back in time, we’ll find some links between Greenland and Iceland. Iceland is a Viking nation because the Vikings settled on the island back in the 9th century. The same thing happened to Greenland. The Norsemen, who were powerful seafarers, also discovered this remote island around the 10th century while they were trying to get to Iceland.

Despite this common past, there is also a huge difference between these two lands. In the case of Iceland, when the Norse arrived there were no inhabitants other than a few Irish monks who were there for a spiritual retreat. They ended up being expelled by the fierce Vikings. In the case of Greenland, it had been settled by the Inuit. The Inuit are indigenous people of northern Canada who traveled from North America and ended up in Greenland.

Viking ships sailing to conquer

Unlike the Irish monks, the Inuit ended up staying in Greenland, and that is why nowadays 80% of the population are Greenlandic Inuit. By contrast, in Iceland, the vast majority of the population descends directly from Viking settlers.

The Story of Greenland and Iceland – Where do their names come from?

Both lands have very descriptive names. One could think, well they chose Iceland because the country is full of ice and Greenland because the territory is green, right? Well not quite. The truth is only 11% of Iceland is covered by ice, while Greenland is 80% ice. That’s not so green. So how come they have those names?

Besides talking about the origins of these two nations, it seems we should also talk about marketing during the Viking era. Erik the Red was expelled from Iceland for manslaughter. He and his family ended up in this newly found land they decided to call Greenland, hoping this would attract many settlers to the area. This way, people would think the land was lavish and green even though it wasn’t.

Green landscapes in Iceland

In the case of Iceland, some say the name comes from the icy sights the first settlers found when arriving at the island. But there is also a different story stating that since the land was tough but still fertile and habitable, the Vikings named it Iceland to scare newcomers away.

The Story of Greenland and Iceland – Other shared similarities 


  • Even though Greenland is closer to North America than to Europe, it has more in common with Icelandic and European culture. Maybe the Danes have something to do with it.
  • Both countries have long, dark winter nights where one can enjoy the Northern Lights. But when the summer finally arrives, both nations have the Midnight Sun. That means the sun doesn’t set at all!
  • Greenland and Iceland rely heavily on their fishing industry and have a strong seafood culinary tradition.
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