Countries that have territory within the Arctic Circle include Denmark (Greenland), Norway (Svalbard archipelago), Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, the United States of America (Alaska) – and a small portion of Iceland.
The most practical solution for travelers sorting out how to get to the Arctic Circle is to book a polar voyage with a well-organized polar expedition. Guests travel on small polar ships built to withstand the rigorous conditions of the polar environments. Some expedition ships, for example, are ice-breakers, and all are designed with ice-strengthened hulls. Vessels are small (never more than 199 passengers), enabling them to navigate remote fjords and explore hard-to-reach passageways that huge ships can’t access. (Sometimes small truly is better!)
When you book with a respectable expedition company, your transfer flights are sometimes included in your package. That’s a key factor when determining how to get to the Arctic Circle. Most expedition companies will arrange flights for travelers to rendezvous in various northern hubs, depending on the relevant Arctic Circle cruise. Guests will ultimately board their ship at an Arctic cruise port that caters to polar expedition ships. The Arctic departure port is a crucial component to establishing how to get to the Arctic Circle.
For Arctic Circle cruises that explore Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, you’d embark on your cruise from the Arctic port of Longyearbyen, which is located on Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago. There are other common Arctic cruise departure ports such as Reykjavik, Iceland; Resolute, Nunavut, in the High Canadian Arctic; Murmansk, Russia, which is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle; and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Another possible Arctic cruise port is Aberdeen, Scotland—which sometimes surprises people. Aberdeen is where you’d board your ship for Arctic cruise expeditions, including the Faroe Islands in their Arctic Circle tour.
For nature-lovers keen to observe diverse Arctic wildlife, rest assured the Arctic is one of the few places on Earth where you can experience an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitats. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, known as the Wildlife Capital of the Arctic, provides opportunities to see polar bears, walruses, reindeer, seals, and incredible bird species.
And who doesn’t dream of grand fjords and glaciers? Imagine the chance to immerse yourself in the polar environment through various activities from sea kayaking and paddling excursions to hiking and Zodiac cruising, each providing a unique perspective of the fjords and glaciers of the Arctic. Disko Bay, which is included in some of our Arctic Circle cruises through Greenland, is well-known for its abundance of sculpted icebergs.
And then there are rich experiences awaiting those who long to visit Indigenous communities. Guests can visit indigenous communities in Nunavut and Greenland for a richer and more intimate glimpse of what life in the Arctic is really like. It’s essential to appreciate the lands claimed today by various nations; many were initially occupied – and continue to be settled – by indigenous peoples. The indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic are primarily descendants of the ancient Thule people and have inhabited the region for thousands of years—long before European explorers got the urge! These indigenous cultures survive in archaeological sites like 4000-year-old Sermermiut and the many communities that still practice traditional ways of life.
Do you have a longing to get a close look at a 20th-century explorer’s huts that seem lost in time? There are Arctic Circle expeditions, such as Northwest Passage: In the Footsteps of Franklin, whereby you get to visit preserved cabins and encampments used by early 20th explorers and hunters, as well as other historical sites, such as the marked graves of members of the tragic Franklin expedition (1845-46) on Beechey Island in Nunavut.
Perhaps you’re among those travelers whose bucket list includes the chance to visit one of the least explored territories on the planet. Guests get to explore Severnaya Zemlya, the last territorial discovery on the Earth made in 1930, located in the remote Russian High Arctic.
Once you figure out how to get to the Arctic Circle, you’ll want to determine the best time to visit the Arctic Circle. Since the Arctic is vast and covers a cross-spectrum of countries and geographic zones, it’s helpful to understand that the best time to visit the Arctic Circle depends on which Arctic region you wish to explore.
The ideal season to visit Russia is during the height of summer, from June to August, when the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours each day, making wildlife viewing easier. Sea birds are in abundance during this period.
There are many reasons travelers visit Greenland, but seeing the Northern Lights is a priority for many. The best time to see the Northern Lights in Greenland is September to October, as increased darkness improves visibility. However, if you wish a more active off-ship experience, such as the Greenland Adventure: Explore by Sea, Land, and Air, earlier in the summer months is preferable.
The best time to see polar bears in Svalbard is from May to August, partly because the ice melts sufficiently during this period for polar vessels to navigate the icy waters. Polar bear sightings are expected as the majestic creatures follow the pack ice on the hunt for food. Photographers like this season because of the round-the-clock natural lighting, which is ideal for taking pictures of the incredible Arctic scenery and wildlife.
For the High Canadian Arctic, if you have a preference to experience snow and ice, consider June to mid-July. Also, the midnight sun has not yet melted the ice, so polar bears and walrus will be hunting along the ice edge, and birds are returning to breed. The preferred season for navigation is late August and September. Destinations like Baffin Island will have less ice during this period, making it considerably easier for small polar vessels to remote parts of the High Canadian Arctic.
And, lastly, the North Pole. The ideal season to head to the top of the world is June and July, when the sun shines for 24 hours daily, providing optimal viewing opportunities. Who knows, maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who get to experience hot-air ballooning while at the North Pole. That would be a polar memory to last a lifetime!
It is hard to choose the Arctic or the Antarctic. Both destinations have a lot to offer