Common Arctic Cruise Departure Ports

April 8, 2021 Doug O'Neill

When planning a long-awaited Arctic cruise, some travelers pay little attention to the port city where they’ll board their ship to embark on their life-changing Arctic cruise. And that’s totally understandable. When you’re in the midst of googling photos of polar bears and reading up on glaciers, tundra and wildlife, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the Arctic port where your ship awaits.

Of the common Arctic cruise departure ports, my favorite is Longyearbyen, which is located on Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago in Arctic Norway. Other common Arctic cruise departure ports include: Reykjavik, Iceland; Resolute (sometimes referred to as Resolute Bay) in Nunavut, Arctic Canada; Murmansk, Russia; Aberdeen, Scotland (if you’re headed to the Faroe Islands); and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. There are many other Arctic ports which are more popular with cargo rather than Arctic cruise ships.

The Arctic cruise departure port of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, entices visitors with its deep Viking
history combined with modern architecture and design . Photo: AdobeStock

Common Arctic cruise departure ports aren’t to be confused with Arctic ports of call. An expedition ship may stop at various ports along the way, but those aren’t considered Arctic departure ports in terms of your voice. That’s certainly the case with Greenland’s capital, the port city of Nuuk, which is on the itinerary for Quark Expeditions’ Essential Greenland: Southern Costs and Disko Bay voyage. While that specific Arctic cruise includes a port of call stop at Nuuk, which is the world’s smallest capital city, the Arctic cruise departure port is actually Reykjavik, Iceland, where that Arctic cruise begins.

There are many Arctic ports used primarily for shipping cargo rather than polar expeditions for travelers. 

Many Quark Expeditions guests visit the Blue Lagoon geothermal pools before or after their Arctic voyage. Photo: AdobeStock

So, let’s give you an idea of what you can see and do in the common Arctic cruise ports used by Quark Expeditions.

Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Norway

See the colorful of Longyearbyen before embarking on your Spitsbergen voyage.

Longyearbyen, the northernmost city in the world, offers a surprising mix of cafes and galleries.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Dombrowski of

For anyone planning to join a polar expedition in Spitsbergen, in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, chances are you’ll embark from the Arctic port of Longyearbyen, the northernmost city in the entire world. It’s one of the most common Arctic cruise departure ports for travelers seeking to explore the wildlife-rich Norwegian Arctic. Guests who book voyages such as Quark Expeditions’ Intro to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers and Wildlife of Svalbard,  or the equally popular Spitsbergen Explorer: Wildlife Capital of the Arctic, will get to spend time at the beginning or end of their voyage in this fascinating “small” northern city.  

On these specific Spitsbergen journeys, guests first make their way to Oslo where they’ll hop a flight to the Arctic port of Longyearbyen, where their ship will await passengers from all around the world.

Most guests traveling with Quark Expeditions will have time on the day of embarkation or when they disembark to explore the easily walkable city of Longyearbyen, which has a population of 2,368. This Arctic port, the capital of the Svalbard archipelago, began as a mining operation in 1906 —though the coal mines are now long gone. Longyearbyen—despite its remote, northerly location—has a smattering of art galleries, museums, pubs, a school, university, and sports complex. Visitors should budget some time to visit the Svalbard Museum and the North Pole Museum, which chronicles the history of North Pole exploration. There are everyday features that remind visitors it’s a remote northern city. I recall how surprised I was to see rows of snowmobile parking spots outside the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS)—which, unsurprisingly, is the northernmost higher-education facility in the world. 

Resolute, Nunavut, Canada

 Arctic ports along the Northwest Passage offer guests the wonderful opportunity to
explore Indigenous culture. Photo: Hugo Perrin

The Arctic port of Resolute, in Nunavut, Canada’s youngest territory, is one of the most common Arctic cruise departure ports. Embarking from this Arctic port enables adventurers to explore the Northwest Passage, Ellesmere Island, Heiberg Islands and other incredible destinations in the Canadian Arctic.

Guests who join such voyages as Canada’s Remote Arctic: Northwest Passage to Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands or Arctic Express Canada: The Heart of the Northwest Passage, rendez-vous in Toronto, Ontario, and fly to Resolute, an Inuit hamlet on Cornwallis Island in Nunavut, to board their polar vessel. 

The Inuit call the small settlement (of 198 people) Qausuittuq, which translates into “place with no dawn,” a nod to the extremely long winter night. Resolute is located along the Northwest Passage, making it important to early Arctic explorers. The region surrounding Resolute is known for wildlife viewing (polar bears, beluga whales, seals, walruses and migratory birds), much of it in nearby Tupirvik Territorial Park.

Murmansk, Russia

Heading to the North Pole? It’s quite likely you’ll embark on your journey from the Arctic port of Murmansk, Russia. Guests of Quark Expeditions will join a charter flight in Helsinki and fly to Murmansk, one of the common Arctic cruise departure ports. It’s also the Arctic port where travelers embark on voyages destined for the remote Russian archipelagoes of Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlyaand Severnaya Zemlya, which are among the most hard-to-reach destinations on the planet. 

The largest city north of the Arctic Circle, Murmansk (population: 303,700) is located at the end of a deep bay off the Barents Sea in northwestern Russia, and is an ideal stopping point for anyone with an interest in ships and polar exploration, particularly Russian maritime history. Highlights of this Arctic port include the Northern Navy Museum and Shipping History Museum. The decommissioned nuclear-powered Lenin icebreaker is now a museum on the city’s pier. Murmansk is one of the most common Arctic cruise departure ports for expeditions into the remote Russian Arctic. 

Arctic ports of Kangerlussuaq and Narsarsuaq, Greenland 

There’s more than one common Arctic cruise departure ports for adventurers exploring Greenland. If you’ve signed up for Quark Expeditions’ action-packed Greenland Adventure: Explore by Sea, Land and Air, you’ll travel by private charter from Reykjavik to the Arctic port of Narsarsuaq, a picturesque village deep in the Tunulliarfik Fjord in Southern Greenland. There you’ll board your ship, Ultramarine in this case, to enjoy helicopter-supporter off-ship adventures such as alpine kayaking, walking the Greenland Ice Sheet, overnight camping. There’s even mountain biking which our mountain biking enthusiast Ben Haggar shares in full detail.
Quark Expeditions operates another Greenland voyage, in a different part of the country, called Best of the Western Arctic: Canada and Greenland. Guests on that Arctic cruise will embark from the Arctic port of Kangerlussuaq, a small town at the eastern head of Sondre Stromfjord, one of the longest fjords in the world. It’s no surprise that Kangerlussuaq is the Greenlandic term for “big fjord.” 

Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, is actually the largest Arctic port in Greenland but most Quark Expeditions voyages embark from the above two common Arctic cruise departure ports: Narsarsuaq and Kangerlussuaq. Some guests, depending on their voyage of choice, will stop at Nuuk.

Aberdeen, United Kingdom

So, you ask, what’s a port in a mid-size city of Scotland doing in a list of common Arctic cruise departure ports? While Aberdeen isn’t located in the Arctic, it’s among the common Arctic cruise departure ports for travelers heading to the Faroe Islands, a mecca for puffin-lovers. Travelers who join Quark Expeditions’ Arctic Saga: Exploring Spitsbergen, the Faroes and Jan Mayen, embark from Aberdeen, once the granite capital of the world. The city’s Victorian buildings of granite dominate the cityscape. Time-depending, guests can explore Aberdeen’s museums, galleries, theaters, shops, cafés and restaurants before embarking on their 14-day journey to the unspoiled Arctic destinations of Fair Isle, the Faroe Islands, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen.

Reykjavik, Iceland

While only a small part of Iceland is officially within the Arctic Circle, the cosmopolitan capital of Reykjavik is a popular Arctic port from which travelers embark on their Arctic expeditions. Quark Expeditions’ Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland & East Greenland is designed in a way that allows guests to spend the day exploring the city, which is steeped in Viking culture. Reykjavik is also one of the most common Arctic cruise departure ports for voyages that also take in Greenland.

Whichever voyage you choose, we urge you to spend some time researching your Arctic cruise departure port before you go. It will add one more layer to an already unforgettable journey.

About the Author

Doug O'Neill

A love of nature and writing has enabled Doug O'Neill to visit almost 50 countries around the world—and to immerse himself in some of the most incredible nature settings. Doug's role as Brand Copywriter at Quark Expeditions has been a natural step on a journey that started with a degree in Environmental Studies and later a Certificate in Journalism. When not travelling, Doug is usually hiking: he's a certified hike leader with Hike Ontario and the Bruce Trail Conservancy. He's the co-author of a nature book, “110 Nature Hot Spots in Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” published by Firefly Books in 2019. Says Doug: "Few destinations rival the Polar Regions—not just for the staggering beauty and incredible wildlife, but for the transformative experiences that occur the moment you set foot in the most remote parts of the world."

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