Travel Guide: How to Get to the Arctic Circle!

June 3, 2021

Where is the Arctic Circle located?

If you’re wondering how to get to the Arctic Circle, you first need to answer the oft-asked question, “Where is the Arctic Circle located?” It’s helpful to understand that the Arctic is primarily made up of the Arctic Ocean and nearby seas. Whereas Antarctica is a continent, the Arctic is not. The Arctic Circle is the line of latitude at approximately 66°33’ North that marks the border of the Arctic, which we know is the northernmost region of Earth. The North Pole is the geographic point at the centre of Arctic Circle. 

Polar bears are the major attraction for nature lovers to the Arctic

Polar bears are the major attraction for nature lovers to the Arctic who dream of seeing the
majestic beasts in their natural environment. Photo: Acacia Johnson

Countries that have territory within the Arctic Circle include Denmark (Greenland), Norway (Svalbard archipelago), Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, United States of America (Alaska) – and a small portion of Iceland.

How to get to the Arctic Circle and common Arctic cruise departure ports 

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, in which guests travel on small polar ships built to withstand the rigorous conditions of the polar environments. Some of Quark Expeditions’ ships, for example, are ice-breakers, and all are designed with ice-strengthened hulls. Quark Expeditions’ vessels are small (never more than 199 passengers), which enables them to navigate remote fjords and to explore hard-to-reach passageways which really big 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 in order to rendez-vous in various northern hubs, which depend 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 key 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 Canadian High 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 that include the Faroe Islands in their Arctic Circle tour.

Best places to visit in the Arctic Circle?

Greenland, Spitsbergen, remote northern Russia, the Canadian High Arctic and the North Pole  are among the best places to visit in the Arctic Circle. Such destinations appeal to travelers with a variety of travel plans, whether it’s to explore the Land of the Midnight Sun, cruise down palatial fjords, stand in awe of glaciers, witness wildlife in their natural habitat, visit Indigenous communities, or set foot in ice-covered landscapes seldom visited by humankind. 

Guests traveling with Quark Expeditions guests on the deck of the ship on a voyage through the remote regions of the Russian Arctic, Franz Josef Land.

Guests traveling with Quark Expeditions guests on the deck of the ship on a voyage through the remote regions of
the Russian Arctic, Franz Josef Land. Photo: Quark Expeditions

To choose an Arctic Circle cruise that will take you to the best places to visit in the Arctic Circle, you’ve got a lot of options of Arctic Circle expeditions. There’s always an Article Circle Tour that’s perfect for you—but first you need to identify what you wish to see and do.

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 habitat, such as polar bears, walrus, reindeer, Arctic fox, beluga whales and numerous species of seabirds. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, which is known as the Wildlife Capital of the Arctic, provides opportunities to see polar bears, walruses, reindeer, seals and incredible bird species. One of the Arctic Circle cruises offered by Quark Expeditions focuses on polar bears.

And who doesn’t dream of palatial fjords and glaciers? Imagine the chance to immerse yourself in the polar environment through a variety of 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 our Arctic Circle cruises through Greenland, is well-known for its abundance of sculpted icebergs.

The opportunity to connect with local community members and learn about their culture

The opportunity to connect with local community members and learn about their culture is one of the highlights for many
guests traveling to Arctic Greenland with Quark Expeditions. Photo: Sam Crimmin

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 important—vital, in fact—to appreciate that of the lands claimed today by various nations, many were originally occupied – and continue to be occupied – by indigenous peoples. The indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic are primarily descendants of the ancient Thule people and have occupied the region for thousands of years—long before European explorers got the urge! These indigenous cultures survive in both the 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 last explored territories on the planet. Guests travelling with Quark Expeditions get to explore Severnaya Zemlya, the last territorial discovery on the planet made in 1930, located in the remote Russian High Arctic.

The sunsets in the remote Russian are amongst the most stunning in the Arctic.

The sunsets in the remote Russian are amongst the most stunning in the Arctic. Photo: Dave Merron

Best time to visit the Arctic Circle

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 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 their 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 common as the majestic creatures follow the pack ice on the hunt for food. Photographers like this time of season because of the round-the-clock natural lighting which is ideal for taking pictures of the incredible Arctic scenery and wildlife.

For the Canadian High 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. During this period, destinations like Baffin Island will have less ice at this time which makes it considerably easier for small polar vessels to remote parts of the Canadian High 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 gets to experience hot-air ballooning while at the North Pole. That would be a polar memory to last a lifetime!

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