Visit The Arctic

66° 34' N

From the Arctic Circle at 66° latitude to the North Pole, the Arctic is a vast expanse of awe-inspiring landscapes, frozen seas and majestic wildlife.

Introduction

Due to its remote, sparsely populated location, one of the best ways to visit the Arctic region is on an expedition cruise.

The Arctic captivates travellers with its allure of unique wildlife only seen in the North, its history of exploration, and some of the most captivating scenery on Earth. From the endless sea ice of the North Pole, Svalbard’s countless glaciers, Greenland’s incomprehensible mountains and steep-sided fjords to the Northwest Passage’s seldom explored islands, The Arctic is a territory that will resonate with the explorer in you. 

For wildlife lovers, the Arctic is home to Polar Bears, Walruses, Narwhals, Beluga Whales, Reindeer, Arctic Foxes and diverse bird species including Arctic Terns, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Northern Fulmars. Svalbard and the Northwest Passage offer the best wildlife viewing opportunities. 

For history buffs, the Arctic holds tales of heroism galore, from Roald Amundsen’s quest to reach the North Pole by airship from Svalbard to Franklin’s ill-fated attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage.

Ways to Visit The Arctic

Arctic Cruises

The best way to witness all the Arctic offers is on an expedition cruise. Choose from The North Pole, Greenland, Svalbard and the Northwest Passage or combine multiple destinations.

North Pole Cruises

Reach the most Northerly point on Earth on a unique icebreaker cruise. Choose from itineraries combining the North Pole and East Greenland or cross the Arctic from Alaska.

Northwest Passage Cruises

Explore the fabled sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through a labyrinth of frozen channels and remote islands with diverse Arctic wildlife.

Greenland Cruises

Encounter colossal icebergs, sail through some of the most captivating fjords on Earth, meet the local Inuits and engage in their rich culture.

Svalbard Cruises

A favourite for wildlife lovers, Svalbard is home to countless Polar Bears that roam the shores, walrus colonies, bird cliffs, Svalbard Reindeer and 2,000 glaciers.

When to Visit The Arctic

The best time to visit the Arctic is typically during the summer months between June and September, when wildlife is most active, and the temperatures are mildest. Some routes are seasonal and are only accessible during this time. It is, however, possible to visit certain parts of the Arctic during the winter for Northern Lights, winter experiences and whale watching. 

Ice Breakers such as Le Commandant Charcot offer new and adventurous possibilities to explore previously inaccessible Arctic destinations such as the North Pole, East Greenland during the spring when the coast is encapsulated by sea ice and Disko Bay in West Greenland during the spring outside of the typical Arctic summer season. 

Please see our guide below to find out more about the best time to visit the Arctic for your preferences.

when to go to the Arctic man watching Icebergs in Greenland

Where is the Arctic?

Where is the Arctic Huge Iceberg Kulusuk in Greenland

The Arctic is a polar region above the Arctic Circle at the approximate latitude of 66° 34′ and covers the entire northernmost parts of the Earth. The Arctic Ocean is surrounded by eight countries with territories within the Arctic Circle: Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the United States. 

The Arctic Ocean is covered by thick sea ice for most of the year, which thaws during summer and freezes during winter. Unlike Antarctica, a continent surrounded by ocean, the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents.

Above the Arctic Circle, the Midnight sun occurs where the sun doesn’t set during summer. This is reversed in the winter by 24 hours of darkness.

Arctic Wildlife

One of the main attractions for visiting the Arctic is encountering mesmerising polar wildlife in its natural habitat. Polar Bears are frequently sighted on our expedition cruises to Svalbard, the North Pole, the Northwest Passage and occasionally in East Greenland, either on the pack ice or roaming the shore searching for food.

Throughout the Arctic waters, you will encounter different whale species, including Belugas, Minke, Humpbacks, Fin and Blue Whales. For the best chance of sighting the highly illusive Narwhal with its unicorn tusk, choose an expedition to the Northwest Passage. Walruses, reindeer and an array of birdlife is observed throughout the Arctic. 

To learn more about the Arctic’s wildlife, where to view different species and the best times of the year, please see our guide below.

A polar bear walking on sea ice in the Arctic

Arctic Weather and Climate

Arctic weather fogbow in Svalbard

During the summer months, the Arctic is considerably milder than most people imagine, with temperatures at the North Pole usually hovering between -5 °C and 5°C (23°F and 41°F). Svalbard and parts of Greenland experience milder temperatures during the summer when expedition cruises occur, with temperatures above freezing. On a sunny day, it is possible to hike in just a base layer.

The Arctic experiences a high-pressure system during the summer, usually creating calm conditions with little wind. The weather in the Arctic can change, and during your Arctic cruise, it is essential to dress for every occasion. We supply a detailed packing list at the time of booking.

Arctic History

The Arctic holds an eclectic mix of tales of exploration and sites of historical interest you can visit on an expedition cruise. From Svalbard, where explorers set out to reach the North Pole in airships and balloons, to the quest to be the first to traverse the Northwest Passage, the Arctic holds stories for every history consumer. 

From Ny Alesund in Svalbard, Roald Amundsen famously took off in his airship Norge to be the first person to sight the North Pole. The mast holding the airship still stands there nearly 100 years later. An Arctic cruise allows you to better understand the rich history and challenges polar explorers faced.

Arctic history Andree's baloon in Svalbard

Frequently Asked Questions

No, the Arctic is not a continent. The Arctic refers to the Earth’s northernmost region, centred around the North Pole. It includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of several continents, such as North America, Europe, and Asia. Unlike continents, which are large, continuous landmasses with distinct geological features and boundaries, the Arctic is a polar region characterised by its icy conditions, cold climate, and unique ecosystems. It doesn’t meet the geological criteria to be classified as a continent. Instead, it is more accurately described as a polar region or a collection of territories surrounding the North Pole.

The Arctic is not considered a continent because it does not meet the geological criteria that define continents. Continents are large, continuous land masses typically made up of various types of rocks and have distinct boundaries. In contrast, the Arctic is located around the North Pole and consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of several continents, including North America, Europe, and Asia.

The Arctic region is characterised by its cold climate, icy conditions, and unique ecosystems. It is not a separate landmass but a polar region extending across the Arctic Circle. While the Arctic is often referred to as a region due to its distinctive environmental and climatic features, it does not qualify as a continent based on geological considerations.

Continents are generally identified by their large size, geological composition, and distinct separation. The Arctic lacks these characteristics and is better described as a polar region or a collection of Arctic territories surrounding the North Pole.

The countries that have territory within the Arctic region are commonly referred to as the Arctic countries. These countries have land or maritime areas that extend into or beyond the Arctic Circle. The Arctic countries include:

  1. Canada
  2. Denmark (Greenland, which is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark)
  3. Finland
  4. Iceland
  5. Norway
  6. Russia
  7. Sweden
  8. United States (Alaska)

These countries are members of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum established to promote cooperation and coordination among Arctic states on issues related to the Arctic region. While not all Arctic countries have land within the Arctic Circle, they have interests in the area due to shared maritime boundaries, environmental concerns, and the impacts of climate change on the Arctic.

The size of the Arctic region can vary depending on the specific criteria used to define its boundaries. Typically, the Arctic region includes the area within the Arctic Circle, an imaginary line at approximately 66.5 degrees north latitude. This region encompasses parts of several continents, including North America, Europe, Asia, and the Arctic Ocean.

As for the size of the Arctic Ocean it is the smallest and shallowest of the world’s oceans. The total area of the Arctic Ocean is about 14.06 million square kilometres (about 5.43 million square miles). It is surrounded by the landmasses of North America, Europe, and Asia, and it plays a crucial role in the Earth’s climate system, with sea ice covering a significant portion of its surface.

It’s important to note that defining the size of the Arctic region may involve considerations beyond political or geographical boundaries, as factors like climate, ecosystems, and environmental characteristics contribute to the concept of the Arctic.

The word “Arctic” originates from the Greek word “arktos,” meaning “bear.” It is derived from the constellation Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear, which is prominent in the northern sky. The term Arctic has been used for centuries to refer to the north polar region of the Earth.

The Arctic Circle, an imaginary line located at approximately 66.5 degrees north latitude, marks the southernmost boundary of the Arctic region. Areas north of this circle experience at least one day per year where the sun does not set (midsummer) and one day where the sun does not rise (midwinter). The Arctic includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of various continents, such as North America, Europe, and Asia. The term “Arctic” is commonly used to describe the unique climate, environment, and conditions in this northernmost part of the world.

The Arctic and Antarctic are both polar regions located at opposite ends of the Earth, but they have distinct differences:

Geographical Location:

Arctic:  In the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic region includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of several continents, such as North America, Europe, and Asia. The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line at approximately 66.5 degrees north latitude that marks the southernmost boundary of the Arctic region.

 Antarctic:  Located in the Southern Hemisphere, the Antarctic region consists of the continent of Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean. The Antarctic Circle is an imaginary line at approximately 66.5 degrees south latitude that marks the northernmost boundary of the Antarctic region.

Landmass

Arctic: The Arctic is not a landmass but a region that includes the Arctic Ocean and portions of land from surrounding continents.

Antarctic: Antarctica is a continent covered by ice and surrounded by the Southern Ocean. It is the fifth-largest continent and contains about 70% of the Earth’s fresh water in ice.

Countries

Arctic: Multiple countries have territory within the Arctic Circle, including Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States (Alaska).

Antarctic:  Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, which designates the continent as a scientific preserve and prohibits military activity. It has no native population, and the Antarctic Treaty is signed by numerous countries, ensuring peaceful and cooperative scientific research.

Climate:

Arctic: The Arctic has a polar climate characterised by cold temperatures, sea ice, and permafrost. It is home to unique ecosystems adapted to the cold conditions.

   – **Antarctic:** Antarctica is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent. Its climate is also polar, with extremely low temperatures and vast ice sheets.

Human Presence:

Arctic: The Arctic has indigenous populations and is home to various communities, economic activities, and infrastructure.

Antarctic: Antarctica has no permanent population While there are scientific research stations in Antarctica. The activities in Antarctica are primarily for scientific research purposes.

In summary, while the Arctic and Antarctic are polar regions characterised by extreme cold and ice, they differ in geographical location, landmass, countries involved, climate, and human presence.

Yes, the Arctic environment is undergoing significant changes, and many are associated with climate change. Some critical aspects of environmental change in the Arctic include:

Temperature Increase:

The Arctic is experiencing more rapid warming than many other parts of the world. Average temperatures in the Arctic have been rising at more than twice the global average rate.

Sea Ice Decline:

Arctic sea ice has been shrinking in extent and thickness. The summer minimum extent of sea ice has decreased over the years, leading to concerns about the impacts on polar bears, seals, and other wildlife that depend on sea ice.

Glacial Melting:

Glaciers and ice caps in the Arctic region are melting, contributing to rising sea levels. This has implications for coastal communities and ecosystems.

Permafrost Thaw:

Permafrost, frozen ground that contains a large amount of organic carbon, is thawing. This process releases greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide, which can further contribute to global warming.

Changing Ecosystems:

The warming climate affects Arctic ecosystems. Shifts in vegetation, animal behaviour, and species distribution are being observed. Some species may benefit from these changes, while others face challenges.

Impact on Indigenous Communities:

Indigenous peoples in the Arctic are experiencing changes in their traditional ways of life. Melting ice and thawing permafrost can affect transportation, hunting, and fishing activities.

Ocean Acidification:

The Arctic Ocean is also experiencing ocean acidification due to increased carbon dioxide absorption by the oceans. This can negatively affect marine life, particularly organisms that rely on calcium carbonate to build their skeletons and shells.

Increased Shipping and Resource Exploration:

As sea ice diminishes, there is increased interest in shipping routes and resource exploration in the Arctic. This has economic and geopolitical implications but also raises concerns about potential environmental impacts and the need for sustainable practices.

These changes in the Arctic have global implications, as they contribute to and are influenced by broader climate patterns. Studying and understanding these changes is crucial for addressing the challenges of climate change and developing strategies for adaptation and mitigation.

 

At North Pole Cruises, we only work with experienced operators who meet stringent environmental requirements to operate sustainably in the polar regions.  

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Our friendly and knowledgeable Travel Experience Team is ready to assist you.

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