Nunavut is Canada’s youngest and most sprawling territory. Covering more than one-fifth of Canada’s landmass, Nunavut is home to just 38.000 people, making it one of the least densely populated territories on Earth.
Nunavut encompasses the Arctic Archipelago, a series of large islands that stretch from mainland Canada all the way to the north pole. If you’re looking for an off the beaten path destination, you can’t do much better than Nunavut.
Although a visit to the far reaches of the Arctic can be prohibitively expensive, a trip to Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital city, is much more feasible and budget-friendly.
For a fraction of the cost, you’ll be able to kayak on the Arctic Ocean, snowmobile over sea ice, catch the Northern Lights, hike over tundra, and much more. The stunning scenery and many fun things to do in Iqaluit make it the perfect remote getaway.
Things to do in Iqaluit
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This post is written by Mikaela, the voice behind Voyageur Tripper, a blog dedicated to outdoor adventure travel. She spent several seasons working as a hiking and canoeing guide throughout Canada.
Nunavut is one of my favorite destinations I’ve ever been to. I love the sprawling tundra, hiking under the midnight sun, watching icebergs float along in the Arctic Ocean.
I spent four months living in Iqaluit. Despite being the capital city of Nunavut, the Iqaluit population is just under 8000 people!
I worked in Iqaluit as a guide and supported town tours, as well as hiking and kayaking trips. Since then, I have returned to Iqaluit as a tourist myself as I couldn’t stay away from this wonderful small town in Canada.
In this post, I will go over how to get to Iqaluit, the best time to visit, where to stay, what to do, and more. I’ll also provide a few tips to ensure you have the best experience possible.
How to get to Iqaluit
A big misconception is that getting to Iqaluit is difficult. It’s quite expensive, yes, but not difficult. There’s a direct flight from both Ottawa and Montreal to Iqaluit, both take less than 4 hours. You can either book through Canadian North or by calling Aeroplan.
If you are booking by Aeroplan, you will need to call well in advance. For reference, when I was booking my most recent trip, I called in November to book flights for March (read about lots of money-saving tips in my How to visit Nunavut on the cheap post).
The best time to visit Iqaluit depends on what it is you want to do. For winter activities, mid-February through April is an excellent time to visit. The days are getting longer, it’s cold but not freezing, and the bay is still frozen so you can go snowmobiling.
May and June are the shoulder season and not the best time to travel to Iqaluit. The ice on the bay is starting to melt (meaning snowmobiling might not be possible) but it isn’t yet time for kayaking on open water.
July can be a little temperamental too, and supposedly has the most mosquitoes (my personal experience definitely confirms this).
So for summer activities, August to early-October is perfect. The bay will surely be unfrozen; the days are still reasonably long. Plus, the tundra will start to turn red and orange with the changing seasons, and as autumn gets nearer it will start getting dark enough to see the magical northern lights.
Finally, I don’t recommend visiting Nunavut from mid-October through early-February. During this time, the days are short and dark, and it’s incredibly cold. Furthermore, a lot of the activities you’d want to do in Iqaluit will not be available during these months.
So to summarize, the best time to visit Iqaluit is either between mid-February and April or between August and early-October.
How long to spend in Iqaluit
While I personally spent several months working in Iqaluit, for an Iqaluit tourism trip I think four full days is enough time. You will have time to see everything Iqaluit has to offer and leave yourself a bit of a buffer for incremental weather.
Where to stay in Iqaluit
There aren’t really any options for budget accommodation in Iqaluit unfortunately. However, hotel prices are fairly comparable to what you’d see in the south.
Airbnb is also an option, although there isn’t always a lot of availability. That said, food is expensive in Iqaluit so being able to cook your own meals to a huge plus if you’re looking to save money.
What to do in Iqaluit
The majority of the activities in Iqaluit, and the ones I’ve mentioned so far, are things that get you out on the land. These activities will require you to hire a guide or go with an outfitter.
However, there are a number of other activities you can do that don’t involve being outside, such as visiting the museum or getting a nice meal.
Summer outdoor activities in Iqaluit
There are two great hikes in Iqaluit that I personally love. The first is the Apex Trail, which traces the coastline from Iqaluit to the small community of Apex. Along the trail, you’ll pass the Hudson Bay Buildings and at the end, there’s a big hill to climb for great views of the bay (pictured above).
I also recommend checking out Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. The walk along the Sylvia Grinnell River is beautiful, and there is a viewing platform at the start of the trail with great views of the river.
Because it’s the arctic and there is always a chance of getting lost on the tundra, visitors are advised to hire a local guide if they want to hike outside of town. You will have a much better experience knowing you’re safe. What’s more, you’ll learn a ton with a knowledgable guide than you would on your own.
Local outfitters can take you kayaking on Frobisher Bay, definitely one of the best places to kayak in Canada! This is a really nice way to see Iqaluit from a different perspective.
Although you’re not kayaking next to colossal icebergs, it’s still possible there will be leftover ice chunks floating in the water, which can be pretty cool. If you are lucky, there may even be a coast guard ship in the bay.
Iqaluit activities in winter
This is one of my favorite activities to do in Iqaluit. Zipping across the frozen Arctic Ocean at 50 km/h, checking out ice cliffs, and patches of open water.
With this activity, you’ll have the option to either go over tundra or out to the polynia, a permanently open body of water surrounded by sea ice. Definitely choose the polynia, it’s very beautiful (pictured above).
Sit on a Qamutik (Inuit sled) and be pulled by a team of sled dogs. You’ll have plenty of time to pet and socialize with the dogs, and may get to help with feeding afterward.
I loved this activity because I love sled dogs, but the tour itself is slower than snowmobiling (understandable as dogs don’t run as fast as a motorized snowmobile) so if adrenaline is what you’re after, go with snowmobiling.
See the Northern Lights in Nunavut
There are excellent northern lights viewing opportunities in Iqaluit! This is partly due to its latitude, it’s located right under the Aurora Belt, and partly because the city of Iqaluit is quite small and therefore there isn’t a lot of light pollution.
I’d recommend going with a guide for this, they can drive you out of town to the best Northern Lights viewing spots.
Other Iqaluit attractions and places to visit
In addition to the myriad of outdoor activities, there are plenty of other Iqaluit too. There are a few places around town to visit:
- Visitor’s Centre: located in downtown Iqaluit, this is a great place to go first. Here you can get all the information you need to make the most of your time in Iqaluit, learn about special events that may take place during your visit, and ask about trail conditions (and more).
- Art Museum: Here you can learn about Nunavut, Inuit culture and buy some art.
- Legislative Assembly: If you call in advance you can take a tour.
- DEW Line: This decommissioned radar system sits at the highest point in the area. Hop in a taxi to get here and enjoy a great view of Iqaluit and Frobisher Bay.
Here are some of my favorite places to eat and drink in Iqaluit.
- Black Heart Cafe: specialty lattes and perhaps the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had, this place is an absolute must.
- Storehouse Bar: this is my favorite place to grab a drink and play a round of pool.
- NuBrew: Nunavut’s only brewery, and from my knowledge, Canada’s most northerly brewery!
- Discovery Lodge: the restaurant in the lodge is pricey, but has really good food.
- Country Food Market: pick up some frozen smoked Arctic Char and bring it home with you. I brought a few home with me and my family had it on bagels with cream cheese (like lox but arctic style!).
Final tips for visiting Iqaluit
Finally I’d like to provide you with some tips for planning your trip to a calot to ensure you have the best experience possible.
- Book everything far in advance: this is especially true for flights to Iqaluit. There aren’t any last-minute bargains, so don’t hold off on booking. If anything, they just get more expensive.
- Dress for warm weather, any time of year: even in the summer, Iqaluit can get chilly. Make sure you dress in layers and bring a waterproof coat and good shoes.
- You don’t need to rent a car: I don’t even think you can rent a car in Iqaluit, Taxis are widely available (and cost $8 per person, regardless of where you’re going) and most sights in the main part of the city are within walking distance.
- Bring a wide-angle lens: if you’re a photography enthusiast, bring a good camera and a wide-angle lens that will help you capture this expansive landscape!
Iqaluit things to do and travel guide: in conclusion
I hope you have enjoyed this extensive guide to Iqaluit. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below!
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