The Arctic, a realm of pristine beauty and untouched wilderness, is a dream destination for many intrepid travellers. Its icy landscapes, teeming with unique wildlife and steeped in rich history, offer an unparalleled polar adventure.
If you’re considering embarking on an Arctic cruise, you’re in for a chilly, expansive treat. Here, wrapped up all warm and cosy, we’re checking out 8 of the most popular Arctic cruise itineraries. Care to join us?
Understanding Arctic Cruising Seasons
The Arctic, with its harsh climate and secluded position, necessitates a brief cruising season, generally spanning from June to September. This limited window of opportunity adds a sense of urgency and exclusivity to the Arctic adventure, much like the sought-after British Isles cruises tour operator experiences offered closer to home.
The peak of the Arctic cruising season falls between June and August, coinciding with the region’s summer months. During this period, travelers can expect milder temperatures, ranging from 3 to 12 degrees Celsius, and almost continuous daylight, providing ample opportunities for exploration and wildlife watching. This is when the Arctic is teeming with life; seabirds are nesting, marine mammals are active, and the tundra blooms with wildflowers.
May and early June mark the beginning of the season, offering a chance to witness the transformation as the ice and snow start to melt, revealing the landscapes beneath. September, on the other hand, sees the end of the season, with the onset of autumn colors and the opportunity to spot migratory birds as they begin their journey south.
Understanding the nuances of the Arctic cruising seasons and aligning your travel plans accordingly ensures a richer, more fulfilling experience, capturing the essence of this remarkable destination at its best.
Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago located in the Arctic Ocean, is a top choice for many Arctic explorers. This itinerary typically starts and ends in Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost town. You’ll have the chance to witness the majestic polar bears, walruses, and reindeer in their natural habitat. The midnight sun, a natural phenomenon where the sun doesn’t set for months, adds a magical touch to this Arctic adventure.
This journey typically lasts between 8 to 14 days. The nearest airport is Svalbard Airport, Longyear, located in Longyearbyen. Besides the enchanting wildlife, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the remnants of the whaling industry and the fascinating Global Seed Vault.
Greenland’s West Coast
Greenland, the world’s largest island, offers a unique blend of Inuit culture, dramatic landscapes, and diverse wildlife. Cruises along the west coast of Greenland often start from Kangerlussuaq, sailing through the stunning Disko Bay, and ending in Nuuk, the capital. Along the way, you’ll encounter gigantic icebergs, humpback whales, and traditional Inuit villages.
A cruise along Greenland’s west coast usually spans 10 to 15 days. The starting point, Kangerlussuaq, is accessible via Kangerlussuaq Airport. This itinerary offers a chance to witness the Northern Lights, explore the UNESCO-listed Ilulissat Icefjord, and learn about Greenland’s Viking history.
The Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage, once a treacherous route sought by early explorers, is now a popular Arctic cruise itinerary. This voyage typically starts in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and ends in Nome, Alaska. It’s a journey through history, wildlife, and breathtaking landscapes. You’ll traverse the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, visit remote Inuit communities, and possibly spot the elusive narwhal.
This epic journey typically takes around 17 to 20 days. The nearest airport to the starting point is Kangerlussuaq Airport in Greenland. Highlights include the historic Beechey Island, the wildlife-rich Prince of Wales Strait, and the culturally rich Gjoa Haven.
The Russian Arctic & Franz Josef Land
For those seeking a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, a cruise to the Russian Arctic and Franz Josef Land is a must. Starting from Murmansk, Russia, this itinerary takes you to the remote archipelago of Franz Josef Land. Here, you’ll find towering cliffs teeming with seabirds, polar bears roaming the ice, and historical sites from the era of Arctic exploration.
This off-the-beaten-path adventure usually lasts between 14 to 16 days. The nearest airport is Murmansk Airport in Russia. You’ll have the chance to explore the historic sites of the early Arctic explorers and witness the awe-inspiring phenomenon of the Midnight Sun.
The Norwegian Fjords & The North Cape
A cruise along Norway’s coastline offers a different Arctic experience. You’ll sail through the stunning Norwegian fjords, visit charming coastal towns, and reach the North Cape, the northernmost point of mainland Europe. This itinerary combines natural beauty, wildlife encounters, and a taste of Scandinavian culture.
This cruise typically spans 7 to 10 days. The nearest airport is Bergen Airport, Flesland, if your cruise starts from Bergen. Highlights include the UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord, the charming Lofoten Islands, and the Sami culture in Honningsvåg.
An Iceland Circumnavigation cruise offers a comprehensive exploration of this stunning island nation. Starting and ending in Reykjavik, the itinerary takes you around the entire country, allowing you to experience its diverse landscapes. From the dramatic fjords of the Westfjords region to the puffin colonies of the Eastfjords, and from the geothermal wonders of the North to the black sand beaches of the South, Iceland is a treasure trove of natural beauty. Plus, you’ll have the chance to soak in the rich Viking history and vibrant Icelandic culture.
An Iceland Circumnavigation cruise usually takes around 10 days. The nearest airport is Keflavik International Airport, located near Reykjavik. You’ll have the opportunity to visit the geothermal Mývatn region, the bird cliffs of Látrabjarg, and the charming Westman Islands.
Spitsbergen & The East Greenland Coast
This itinerary combines the best of Svalbard and Greenland, offering an in-depth Arctic experience. Starting in Longyearbyen, you’ll explore the wildlife-rich Spitsbergen before crossing the Greenland Sea to the remote and rugged East Greenland coast. Here, you’ll encounter towering icebergs, ancient Thule sites, and possibly the Northern Lights. The cruise typically ends in Reykjavik, Iceland, providing a fitting conclusion to an epic Arctic adventure.
This comprehensive Arctic journey typically lasts between 13 to 15 days. The nearest airport is Svalbard Airport, Longyear. Highlights include the wildlife haven of Spitsbergen, the remote Scoresby Sund in East Greenland, and the chance to witness the Northern Lights.
Baffin Island & The High Canadian Arctic
For those seeking a truly remote Arctic experience, a cruise to Baffin Island and the High Canadian Arctic is a must. Starting from Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, this itinerary takes you deep into the heart of the Canadian Arctic. You’ll explore the stunning fjords of Baffin Island, visit traditional Inuit communities, and witness the spectacular wildlife, including polar bears, narwhals, and perhaps even the elusive bowhead whale. The cruise typically ends in Resolute, a small Inuit hamlet and one of the northernmost communities in Canada.
This remote Arctic experience usually spans 12 to 14 days. The nearest airport is Iqaluit Airport in Nunavut, Canada. You’ll have the chance to visit the historic Thule sites, the stunning Auyuittuq National Park, and the wildlife-rich Lancaster Sound.
The Bottom Line
Embarking on an Arctic cruise is a journey like no other. It’s an opportunity to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and connect with nature in its purest form. Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, a history buff, or simply an adventurer at heart, the Arctic has something for everyone. So, pack your bags, bring your sense of wonder, and get ready for an unforgettable Arctic adventure.
Remember, the Arctic is a fragile environment. As travellers, it’s our responsibility to respect and protect it. Always choose eco-friendly cruises, follow the guidelines, and leave no trace behind.
And if you’re still not cold enough, then next up we’re heading to Antarctica. You’re more than welcome to hide in our suitcase…