How to Get to the Arctic

November 3, 2017 Amanda Wells

The New England saying, “You can’t get there from here,” is often used by people being asked for directions to a place that can’t easily be described. Although the Arctic is one of the remote wildernesses on the planet, there are actually many ways to get there, from wherever you are!

How to Get to the Arctic

*Note: The approximate location of the Barneo Ice Camp changes daily. Image: Quark Expeditions

There are plenty of ways for you to get to the Arctic, depending on your home airport, preferred gateways, points of embarkation and debarkation. In this post, you’ll learn which gateways are available to you, the difference between gateway and embarkation cities, and helpful tips for booking your Arctic flights.


Where is the Arctic?

The Arctic is a massive region at the top of the world consisting of everything north of the Arctic Circle, a line of latitude that spans the globe at approximately 66° 34′ N. Antarctica is a frozen continent surrounded by ocean, and the Arctic is a frozen ocean surrounded by continents.

The most popular Arctic destinations to visit on expedition are:

You can learn more about countries and bodies of water in the Arctic here.


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Arctic Expedition Starting Points & Embarkation Points

In some cases, your expedition starting point is also your point of embarkation. Other expeditions begin with a convenient charter flight from the starting point to a port city, where you’ll meet your expedition ship. This is because some port cities that are fantastic for accommodating cruise ships aren’t very accessible through commercial airlines. To identify where your voyage starts and which transfers you have to book on your own, always double-check with your Polar Travel Adviser.

Your Arctic expedition might begin in:


Tip: Talk to your Polar Travel Adviser about whether a charter flight is needed to reach your point of embarkation and clarify whether that cost is included in your expedition package.

Here are a few Arctic gateways you may visit en route to your point of embarkation:

These fascinating far north cities can be worth exploring, if you choose to stay on or travel onward after your expedition. Ask a Polar Travel Adviser about your options for extending your trip or coordinating onward travel with an agent.


Find YOUR Ideal Arctic Expedition


North American Gateways to the Arctic

If you’re traveling through Canada:

Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and the Ottawa International Airport (YOW) is accessible from many international destinations. YOW features many amenities for travelers, including banking, currency exchange, baggage storage, and a free cellphone parking lot, where drivers can wait for passengers to call or text that they are ready for pickup.

Ottawa International Airport at night, one of the ways you might get to the Arctic.

Ottawa International Airport in the Canadian capital at night. Photo credit:

Yellowknife is the capital city and largest community in the Northwest Territories. The Yellowknife Airport (YFZ) is the arrival and departure point for Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, situated north of the Arctic Circle. You can usually find flights into Yellowknife Airport from northern communities like Calgary and Edmonton, and can get to Yellowknife from New York or Los Angeles with a single stop in one of those aforementioned cities.


European Gateways to the Arctic

If you’re traveling through Norway:

Svalbard Airport, Longyearbyen Airport (LYR), serves the island of Spitsbergen, located on the Arctic Svalbard archipelago of Norway. Just outside of the community of Longyearbyen, it is the northernmost airport in the world. To reach Longyearbyen, travelers must connect via Helsinki and Oslo.

Longyearbyen Airport serving the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. Image credit: Wikipedia

Longyearbyen Airport serving the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. Image credit: Wikipedia

If you’re traveling through Iceland:

Keflavík International Airport (KEF) in Reykjavik is the largest airport in Iceland, and direct flights from many international cities arrive here. For the intrepid traveler, the popular trip extension Beyond Reykjavik: Iceland Off the Beaten Path is available. This airport and the domestic airport REK are the jumping off points for a number of Quark adventures, including the Greenland Explorer: Valleys and Fjords and West Greenland: Disko Bay.


If you’re traveling through Finland:

North Pole and other Arctic adventurers can take a direct flight to Helsinki Airport (also known as HELSINKI-VANTAA Airport), Finland (HEL) from most international cities. Here, you can spend an extra night to explore this amazing city.

Arriving at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge via charter flight from Yellowknife.

Arriving at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge via charter flight from Yellowknife.

We can help arrange flights at your request, or provide information to help your travel agent find flights that work with your itinerary.

Remember these other important points around booking:

  • Search engines and booking sites can be a convenient way to find flight deals. However, booking through a third party (rather than directly with the airline) can present unique challenges in the case of delays and cancellations. If you’re booking your own flights online, make sure you understand who to contact and who is responsible for assisting you during transit. If you book flights through Quark, you can access our 24-hour Air Desk Helpline to assist you in the event of flight problems, delays or cancellations.
  • You may be tempted to break your travel into separate tickets, but breaking up your fares rather than traveling on one ticket can increase the chances of delays and cancellations.
  • Be sure to check your carrier’s baggage limits for both carry-on and checked luggage before traveling. See our How to Pack for the Polar Regions resource for space saving packing tips.
  • Protect your expedition with comprehensive travel insurance that covers trip cancellation, trip interruption, missed connections, travel delays, accident and sickness, and medical evacuation. $100,000 in emergency evacuation insurance comes standard with every polar expedition booking. You can learn more about your insurance options here.
  • Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary are three connecting cities with direct flights to Yellowknife.

Want to learn more about planning your own epic journey to the Arctic? 


Explore Arctic Expedition Destinations and Departures


About the Author

Amanda Wells

Amanda is Director of Marketing at Quark Expeditions, a recent MBA grad, and a practitioner of positive psychology. In addition to her passion for travel, Amanda brings to Quark her belief that travel helps people push their growth boundaries, both literally and figuratively, and is always looking to connect with like-minded individuals.<br><br> Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn <a href="">here.</a>

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