There is a range of landscapes in the Arctic and a variety of trips available. You can tour by land or sea or stay in one location. The different countries around the Arctic provide a range of cultural and wilderness experiences. There is a long and distinguished history here of inhabitation and exploration going back thousands of years in a variety of settlements of all sizes.
Cruises - Destinations
Arctic Cruises and Adventures with Cool Antarctica and Antarctica Travels
Tourism in the Arctic - Where will I go and what will I see?
coastal voyage or circumnavigation
A series of islands belonging to Norway, the largest of which is Spitsbergen. High above the Arctic Circle, the largest town Longyearbyen is about 1,300 km (820 miles) from the North Pole. In the summer months when the winter sea ice breaks up and melts, polar bears retreat onto Svalbard and there is a very good chance of seeing them. There are estimated to be around 3,500 polar bears in the area in mid summer, outnumbering the human population of 2,650, though they are more spread out (the bears that is).
You can see the midnight sun on Svalbard from April 19th to August the 23rd, it's light for 4 straight months!. There are many historic remains including the Dutch whaling station of Smeerenburg. Other wildlife is also plentiful including reindeer, walrus and many kinds of sea-birds with nesting cliffs that house many thousands of them. Glaciers, ice-bergs and sea-ice will be in evidence, complete circumnavigation of the island may be prevented if there is too much sea-ice but there are plenty of alternatives if it is.
The largest island in the world, 80% of the island is covered in the only permanent ice-sheet outside of Antarctica. A full circuit of Greenland would be about 7,000km (4,300 miles) so cruises skirt along part of the West or East coast. Human habitations in Greenland can be traced back at least 4,500 years, Erik the Red came to Greenland and named it in order to attract other settlers there (seems he kept quiet about all that ice). Vikings from Iceland lived on Greenland from about the 10th century until 1500AD. Until recently Greenland was part of Denmark, it now has self-rule and is heading towards greater independence.
There is a rich Inuit culture across all settlements on Greenland. The towns are often colourful places with each building painted in bright colours and little clutter from utilities which are placed at ground level rather than suspended from telegraph poles, a lack of fences and the presence of sledges outside homes and sled dogs around add to the story book feel. There are no roads between towns in Greenland, the distances are too great and terrain too rugged, transport between towns is by sea, air or via the sea-ice in the winter time. Greenland is the least densely populated, permanently inhabited place on earth.
The west coast of Greenland is home to the highest concentration of ice bergs and the busiest ice-berg making factory in the Northern hemisphere, colossal ice structures abound. It has spectacular fjords and glaciers. Polar bears, musk-ox, reindeer, four species of seals, whales, walrus, arctic fox, and sea-birds can be seen around the green coastal belt that is free of permanent ice, though is still covered in the winter by seasonal snow.
cruise, city break, interior travel
Iceland is one of the most populated places in the Arctic though still the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Reykjavik, the capital, is a modern European city, though there is extensive rugged wilderness not so far outside of the major population centers. Iceland has extensive volcanic activity and geothermal phenomena such as boiling mud lakes, geysers, thermal springs, and even the occasional volcano! You can go and relax in the geothermally heated "Blue Lagoon" near Reykjavik. geothermal energy provides much of Iceland's power and heat.
The terrain is often very rugged and volcanic being very young in geological terms with relatively little weathering. It is possible to walk (and even scuba dive) between the North American and European tectonic plates. The sea is rich in whales, seals and all kinds of fish which historically were the mainstay of the Icelandic economy.
cruise amongst the islands
That top part of North America that you may have noticed on the map where it dissolves into over 36,000 islands is a huge wilderness area with isolated settlements where Arctic trips can start and end.
On land you'll find polar bears, grizzly bears, arctic foxes, wolves and hares, caribou, musk-ox, moose and lemmings. In the sea there are seals, narwhals, orcas, beluga, fin, bowhead and right whales. Birds fill nesting cliffs in multitudinous thousands. What you won't find on the tundra are trees or grasslands, but this lays bare the geology of the land and gives clearer views of magnificent mountain ranges, valleys and fjords.
There is a rich history here from indigenous peoples to the voyages of those in search of the North West Passage or in search of the people who disappeared while looking for the North West Passage.
A giant area of the widest of open spaces, sea channels between the islands that may be impassable one year but completely clear the next depending on where the ice has formed or broken up.
polar bears up close
Each year after the warmer months with long days have gone, in October and November polar bears assemble at the western edge of Hudson Bay waiting for the sea-ice to form so they can leave the land where they have spent the summer and go hunting seals again on the ice.
On a 6 to 7 day trip you can view these bears up close from a "tundra buggy" during the day time or stay out on the tundra in the "tundra lodge" while the bears walk around and underneath you. You might see the aurora borealis too!
In July and August this is the place to see thousands of beluga or white whales as they arrive in the Churchill river to calve. Churchill is also a great place for bird watching.
There are many cruises that incorporate more than one of the above regions. Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland can often be combined, all or two of the three maybe with a visit to northern Norway too. Arctic Canada and Greenland make a good combination with a variety of sights and experiences. You can sail the fabled Northwest Passage or the counterpart Northeast passage.
At the start or end of almost any trip to the Arctic you will most likely be in a North American or European airport so combining the trip with a few days in the nearby city of your choice is always a good option too.
Russian Far East
cruise along the coasts
A rarely visited area of the world and almost completely inaccessible by tourists until the early 1990's. This is an arctic and subarctic region that has many indigenous people's, lots of wildlife, a vast wilderness and a land of fire and ice on the Kamchatka Peninsula with around 30 active volcanoes.
The seas have plentiful seals, whales and walrus, on land there are around 18,000 bears on the Kamchatka Peninsula along with 4,000 Steller's Sea Eagles, you may also see red and arctic foxes, hares, sable, wolves, reindeer, lynx, otters, caribou, mink and snow sheep. There are places with many thousands of sea birds, Matykil Island part of the Yamskiye group is estimated to have 7 million nesting birds - guillemots, auklets, puffins and fulmars.
cruise on a nuclear powered ice breaker
Rarely visited, yet a truly unique destination. The North Pole lies in the Arctic Ocean 725 km (450 miles) from Greenland the nearest point of land, you can visit on an icebreaker during the summer months that powers its way through sea-ice to get there. Helicopters give you a view of the ship breaking through the ice en route.
When you get there there's a champagne toast and BBQ on the ice and if conditions allow, you can fly above it in a tethered hot air balloon or even have a chilly (and brief!) dip in the sea, a "Polar Plunge".
Not a budget trip, but truly one that you will remember forever.
contact our travel partners who will help you find the best cruise for your requirements
Arctic - Svalbard / Spitsbergen - Sample Cruises - 2022
|Spitsbergen Highlights||North from Longyearbyen, glaciers, historic sites, polar bears, walrus, lots of birds.||$4,946 -
Around Spitsbergen, Circumnavigation
|Historic sites, sea-ice, glaciers, wild flowers, lush tundra, walrus, polar bears, reindeer, huge sea bird colonies, optional kayaking.||$9,896 -
|North Norway, Aurora Borealis & Whales||Norwegian Arctic, Aurora Borealis, sailing ship, whale, sea-eagles, small fishing villages||$2,450 - $3,050||7|
North Pole - 2022
|The North Pole||Stand at 90 degrees North - the very top of the world, helicopter sightseeing, polar wildlife and lanscapes||$33,495 - $50,995|
Arctic - Greenland and Canada - Sample Cruises - 2022
|Northwest Passage and Greenland||Historic Canadian and Greenlandic sites, abundant wildlife, rich Inuit culture and dramatic icy landscapes. Polar bears, whales and walrus, hike across the tundra||$15,495 -
|East Greenland from Iceland||Spectacular scenery of East Greenland, Inuit culture, museums, historic sites. Fjords, mountains and ice, Seabirds, look out for humpback and minke whales. Optional kayaking on some voyages. Tie-in with a few days in Iceland before or after the cruise.||$4,600 -
|Northeast Greenland, Scoresby Sound||The world's largest fjord system, spectacular scenery, giant icebergs and glaciers, musk ox, arctic hares, sea-birds, Inuit culture, historic sites.||$8,490 - $10,590||7|
Arctic - Land Based - Sample Trips - 2022
|Polar Bear Fly-in Safari||Churchill, Canada in the fall is where polar bears congregate to wait for Hudson Bay to freeze over, see them from the Polar Bear Cabins complex.||TBA||8|
* Prices are based per person, the lowest price is usually for triple occupancy in a basic cabin, the highest for double occupancy in the best available suite.
Options may be at additional cost and are usually booked when the cruise is booked - it may be too late once the cruise has started.
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Picture credit: Brown Bear - Robert F. Tobler - Creative Commons 4.0 Attribution Share Alike International license.