Few destinations on earth evoke as much mystery and mythology as the Arctic. The region is home to reindeers and polar bears, the northern lights and the midnight sun; the North Pole, ancient indigenous cultures and spectacular vistas of icebergs floating past the breathtaking polar wilderness. The Arctic Circle is the northernmost region on Earth and extends its icy reach to northern Scandinavia, Greenland, Russia, Alaska and Canada.
Located in the Arctic Ocean, the geographic North Pole is the northernmost point of the Earth’s axis of rotation. Unlike Antarctica, there is no land at the North Pole, instead it consists of constantly shifting pieces of sea ice. Whilst no country occupies the North Pole, there is however a long, fascinating history of human occupation within the Arctic Circle which goes back thousands of years and currently has a permanent population of over four million people.
Ancient Indigenous Cultures
Indigenous cultures have existed in the Arctic for thousands of years and continue to thrive there today. They have a unique cultural heritage and have successfully adapted to life in one of the planet’s most extreme climates.
The two main indigenous groups are the Inuit, from Canada, Alaska and Greenland and the Sami people from Scandinavia and northwestern Russia.
The Inuit, commonly referred to as Eskimos, build snow houses or 'igloos' and live off a diet of sea mammals such as seals, whales and walruses. They use every part of these animals, not just for food, but also for clothing, tools, weapons and even boats.
The Sami people are historically nomadic and lived in the northern reaches of four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. They have their own language, customs and traditions that today differ greatly from their fellow countrymen. The Sami are famous for their distinct fashion and they have a rich heritage of arts of crafts, including one of the oldest song traditions in Europe.
Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun
The Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun are two of the world’s most incredible natural phenomena and there is no place better in the world to witness both than in the Arctic.
Also known as Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights is a spectacular display of colourful dancing lights that often magically appear in the night skies of the Arctic. The lights are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun as they enter the earth’s atmosphere, and result in one of the most beautiful, otherworldly natural displays on earth. The best time to witness this spectacle is between mid-September and mid-March.
The Aurora can be seen throughout the entire Arctic region. However, we believe that one of the best places to see the lights is in Svalbard, the string of Norwegian islands between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Another destination blessed with frequent visits from these mysterious and unpredictable lights is Greenland. Its remoteness and lack of major industrial centres makes this one of, if not, the best place in the world, to enjoy this spectacle.
The Midnight Sun is another natural phenomenon that only exists in the Arctic Circle and the rarely visited Antarctic Circle. During the summer months, from the end of May until the end of July, the sun never sets and so the Arctic is bathed in eternal summer sun. This is an ideal time to visit as the endless days allow for you to pack so much into any one day - imagine kayaking around an iceberg or whale watching at midnight?
Arctic Expeditions and Cruises
The rugged and remote Arctic is one of the most unexplored regions on earth and there is no better way to discover this magical place than on an Arctic expedition cruise.
Sail past the glacial coastlines and mountainous fjords of Greenland, discover the thick Nordic forests and Aurora-lit islands of northern Norway, keep an eye out for polar bears and walruses floating on the sparkling white pack-ice of the Svalbard archipelago. Expect to see inquisitive seals and breaching whales, rugged tundra, iceberg filled bays and dramatic bird cliffs.
Apart from the chance to see some of the world’s untouched landscapes and wildlife, expedition cruises also offer an array of exhilarating polar activities that allow one to fully immerse into the fascinating world of the Arctic. Explore the Arctic by kayak, take a zodiac ride to whale watch, embark on a snowshoe trek inland or even partake in some ski mountaineering.
And for the explorers, expedition cruises along the Northeast Passage connecting Europe and Asia via the Russian coast, and along the Northwest Passage connecting Scandinavia and North American via the Canadian and Alaskan coast are rich with history, culture, wildlife and landscapes.
Northern Norway (including Svalbard and Jan Mayen)
Northern Norway is an excellent introduction to the Arctic, and it never disappoints. With jaw-dropping mountains sweeping down into vibrant green farmlands and coastal fjords that glide gently between them, this is a stunning destination.
The region’s main city, Tromsø is an easily accessible, and surprisingly cosmopolitan town offering good restaurants and a laid-back style of life. It makes for a gentle introduction to the Arctic, yet the real pull of the Arctic will lead you to venture into the far northern islands.
The Svalbard Islands feel like an Arctic fairytale and its largest island, Spitsbergen is home to the world’s northernmost urban community, Longyearbyen. Considered one of the best places in the world to see polar bears, Svalbard is nature at its most pristine, offering majestic mountains, blue sea ice, never-ending glaciers, and a rich animal and marine life that dominate the landscape.
The other highlight of the Norwegian Arctic, Jan Mayen is a largely glaciated island in the Arctic Ocean topped by the dramatic 2,277-meter-high volcano, Mount Beerenberg. The island provides visitors staggeringly scenic views and abundant marine life in the food-rich waters offshore. With no permanent settlements, the isolated beauty of Jan Mayen is best experienced via an expedition cruise.
With gigantic icebergs, unspoiled tundra and arguably the best views of the aurora borealis, Greenland is not unlike where Iceland was decades ago before overtourism set in. Greenland is a 836,300 square-mile island with a population of less than 60,000, with only 100 miles of roads, no railways and with 90% of its land mass still indigenous. Its vast ice sheet covers the majority of Greenland; its charming towns and settlements dot the coasts, including its capital, Nuuk Town (Godthåb). Locals rely on their Sarfaq Ittuk ferry to move up and down Greenland's stunning iceberg-laden western coast.
Culturally, the blend of Inuit and Danish blood has produced a unique Greenlandic society. Endless vistas of gorgeous, unfenced wilderness give adventurers freedom to explore at will, whether on foot, by ski or by dogsled. Helicopter and boat rides are excellent ways to travel around the country, and alllow visitors views over magnificent mountainscapes and glaciers or through some of the planet's most spectacular fjords. Greenland also offers authentic opportunities for sea kayaking, rock climbing and salmon fishing.
The Mystical Russian Arctic
The Russian Arctic accounts for about one-third of the entire country, with a staggering 24,140 kilometers of coastline along the Arctic Ocean. At the heart of the Russian Arctic are remote archipelagoes, such as Novaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea, Severnaya Zemlya in the Laptev Sea, and the New Siberian Islands in the East Siberian Sea.
The crème de la crème of the Russian Arctic, however, is the remote and seldom-visited Franz Josef Land, the world’s northernmost archipelago. Made up of 192 islands comprising more than 16,000 square kilometers, this uninhabited island chain has, until recently, been locked beneath ice for much of the year. Franz Josef Land is not only one of the most scenic and wildlife-rich locations in the Arctic Ocean, but it is also steeped in expedition history.
On land, polar bears reign and colonies of kittiwakes, little auks, and other seabirds claim the scree slopes and cliffs. Offshore, bowhead whales feed in the frigid waters and Atlantic walruses haul out on diminishing sea ice. The only way to experiences this unique ecosystem is by expedition vessels.
For families with young children, there is something mythical about Lapland. The fabled home of Santa Claus is a magical place under the Midnight Sun and Northern Lights, home to nomadic Sami people with their herds of reindeer, and the silent, snowy landscape that feels both otherworldly and familiar at the same time.
Lapland encompasses four countries, stretching across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and into the Kola Peninsula of Russia. It is, however, mostly associated with northern Finland where we work with a small portfolio of exclusive luxury lodges.
A visit to Lapland offers snowmobile rides through the frozen landscape, an introduction to Sami culture, husky sledding through pristine forests, an overnight stay in a luxury villa, snow hotel, or a quiet evening in a remote wood cabin, sitting by the open fire as you marvel at the Northern Lights as they dance across the Arctic night sky.
We have purposely steered clear of heavy tourist Arctic hotspots such as Iceland, but we can arrange bespoke, off-the-beaten track overland journeys and helicopter expeditions across Iceland, and cruises around its rugged northern peninsula. We also organize private polar bear safaris in remote parts of Hudson Bay and Churchhill in Canada's far north.
In our ever-changing world impacted by climate change, now is the time to experience the Arctic in all its frozen, pristine beauty.
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We do not subscribe to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ philosophy. Sample itineraries and cost estimates are meant purely as a guide. To find out more, please contact one of our expert travel consultants to plan a customized itinerary based on your budget and interests.