While embarking on one of the best arctic tours may not be your first choice for a holiday, it certainly has a lot of unique features that you won't experience anywhere else.
On any of these tours you will have the opportunity to experience a range of amazing things, such as sipping on sparkling glacier water or seeing a polar bear in person.
Immerse yourself in a truly rare one-of-a-kind trip to a range of countries, boasting magical scenery that will dazzle the senses and a collection of incredible wildlife.
Instead of spending your time researching the best companies to take you around the arctic, spend your time marvelling at its wonders while on one of these 5 arctic tours.
Wrong Side? Best Antarctica Tours
1. North Pole: Ultimate Arctic Adventure
Join the few who have been fortunate enough to have experienced this unique spot in the world that normally remains in our imaginations as the home of Santa Claus.
It is a truly breathtaking location that’s beauty can be viewed properly on the North Pole Ultimate Arctic Adventure via helicopter and hot air balloon flights.
You will see the native land inhabitants in a way no zoo can compare to, experience the stunning wonders that Franz Josef Land has to offer and feel the adrenaline rush of the world’s strongest nuclear ice breaker, 50 Years of Victory, as it powers through the ice to the North Pole.
With just under 30 years of providing travellers with this unparalleled experience, Quark Expeditions are the best in the business.
Their expertise and passion will ensure you experience an unforgettable journey that will have you reminiscing for decades to come.
The adventure starts with an overnight stay in Helsinki, Finland. From there you will fly to Murmansk, Russia where you will meet and board the ice breaker that you remain on for 3 days until reaching the North Pole.
The return trip then commences, with the option to disembark and explore the terrain on Zodiacs. All up, the journey goes for 14 days with prices starting at $30,995. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to experience the road less travelled.
2. Arctic Highlights
Discover the remote world of the Arctic through Gad Adventures’ 15 day Arctic Highlights adventure. You will board the G Expedition at Longyearbyen, Norway, leaving late in the day to begin your highly anticipated journey to Iceland.
Stunning scenery and sights will tantalise the tastebuds as you get closer to your destination, however the journey is just as rewarding and will hopefully include wildlife viewings and many unforgettable moments.
You will be given the opportunity to explore the unique landscape not just by ship, but on foot or Zodiac as well, providing you with the chance to get as close to this rare location as possible.
You will visit an Inuit village and other isolated sites such as the Northwest Spitsbergen and Northeast Greenland National Parks. These include the noteworthy fjords and small community of Ittoqqortoormiit.
The tail end of the journey as you arrive in Iceland includes the luxurious hot springs of Reykjavík that will come as a welcome change to the freezing Arctic conditions.
It is the perfect end to a fortnight you will not forget in a hurry, with memories that will last a lifetime.
All meals are included as well as arrival and departure transfers, waterproof boots and Parkas, and lectures and other educational material while aboard the ship so that you can understand the full weight of where you are in the world and the true grandeur it has to offer.
Prices depend on travel dates and room selection and start at $9299 AUD.
3. Russian High Arctic Odyssey
With Intrepid Travel, you will experience the sheer thrill of navigating sparsely travelled Arctic landscapes and seas on the Russian High Arctic Odyssey.
Be prepared for extraordinary sightings at any time of day as the trips take place during Spitsbergen’s 24-hour daylight period.
These sightings include spectacular wildlife and stunning scenery like glaciers, icebergs and more.
The trip starts in Helsinki, Finland where you will be awed by the unique architecture before flying to Murmansk, Russia where you will board the Ocean Adventurer to begin your Arctic journey.
Areas that will be explored in the first few days (days 5-7) include Novaya Zemlya’s Inostrantseva Bay, Oransky Islands, Cape Spory Navalok, Cape Zhelaniya and Russkaya Gavan.
Severnaya Zemlya and the Karra Sea are visited over days 8-13 with opportunities to disembark the ship and explore on foot.
Franz Josef Land is part of the next leg (days 15-18) and is a beautiful area that provides a plethora of unique terrain and chances to glimpse a range of wildlife in their natural habitat via Zodiac.
With knowledgeable and experienced guides, you will soak up the unique history of the area and feel the excitement of walking the same paths famous explorers have walked before.
Day 21 sees you return to Murmansk where you will board a return flight to Helsinki and stay one more night. This tour starts at $21,870 AUD excluding flights.
4. Heart of Greenland with Disko Bay
The Heart of Greenland with Disko Bay is a 16-day exploration starting and ending in Reykjavik, Iceland. Discover the culture of the Inuit amid stunning scenery with the majority covered in ice.
This includes glaciers, fjords and meadows, and you can be on the lookout at all times for wildlife like seals, whales and sea birds.
Isolated regions are exciting to explore knowing that not many have done so before you. It really is a hidden gem of a location that will leave you feeling in awe of what is before your eyes.
With opportunities to explore the land on foot and the ocean by kayak, you will also see world heritage listed Ilulissat Icefjord in all its breathtaking glory.
This is smack bang in the middle of the trip on day 8, with the previous days spent in Greenland towns, Qaqortoq, Maniitsoq and Sisimiut, and the following days in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, and Ivittuut, before returning to Iceland over a couple of days where you can relax and try to wrap your mind around all you have seen on this remarkably unique journey.
You will the disembark in Iceland’s capital. Accommodation, meals, expert guides and transport are all included as well as wind and water-resistant jackets, boots, and equipment required for the various activities on offer.
This tour starts at $13,093 AUD and goes for 16 days.
5. Spitsbergen via Faroes and Jan Mayen
Starting in Aberdeen, Scotland, this tour takes you on a spectacular exploration of Norway, Longyearbyen, Svalbard and Jan Mayen.
You will have the first day and night in Aberdeen before being transported in the morning to embark the ship that you will be aboard for the rest of the journey.
Look out for puffins on the UK’s most isolated island of Fair Isle, before traveling to the Faroe Islands where 2 days will be spent exploring this picturesque location with the opportunity to disembark and hike up a historic fort.
A further two days will be spent at sea on the way to the volcanic island of Jan Mayen.
There is no moment spent bored while at sea with numerous activities lined up to keep you entertained including learning how to spot specific seabirds, lounging in the polar library with an interesting book, listening to knowledgeable presentations by the crew, or relaxing on deck taking in the breathtaking views, keeping an eye out for wildlife.
Another two days are spent at Jan Mayen with many exploration options such as the black sand beach and Olonkinbyen which can be travelled to via Zodiac.
The next destination is Spitsbergen, Norway that is situated within the Arctic Circle and boasts plentiful wildlife and mesmerising sights of icebergs, glaciers and fjords.
Three days will be spent here before disembarking in Longyearbyen where the journey ends.
This tour starts at $7,300 AUD excluding flights and includes majority of meals and accommodation with optional extras available.
Where is the Arctic?
The Arctic is described as everything North of the Arctic circle, which is a latitude at approximately 66 degrees, 34 North. The region spans the Arctic ocean, which is the smallest and the shallowest of the world's oceans.
And eight countries covering the land area of parts of Iceland, Canada, Greenland, Russia, Norway, and the United States, as well as Finland and Sweden.
Despite being one of the harshest environments and climates in the world, over 4 million people live in the Arctic circle and everything above. These include settlements as well as other people living in the area.
When to go to the Arctic?
If you're going to take a tour, these generally operate during the summer months in North America and Europe with most cruises starting in around May and continuing through until September or in some cases October when the daylight hours are longer.
It still can be very cold during this time, with temperatures around 30 degrees Fahrenheit in May. Whereas temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August in places such as Greenland.
That means you have a very short window on when to take your Arctic tour.
The best time to travel is during this time and while most of the major companies do not offer tours outside of this schedule, some of the smaller companies may be prepared to take you on a customised tour.
Best time to go to the Arctic?
During your tour, you can expect 24 hours of constant daylight and if you venture to the Arctic outside the summer months, then you can expect six months of darkness at the North pole.
Unfortunately, one factor you may need to consider when visiting the Arctic is that fog is prevalent and can impact on your tour.
So please factor this in when you are booking your tour that your photos may not turn out amazing if your tour is plagued by fog.
So what is the best time of year to go to see different things in the Arctic, so between May and early July in the early summer months, sea ice is prevalent and you are likely to see polar bears during this time as they are much easier to spot on the ice.
If you want to take a full circumnavigation of Spitsbergen, then likely at this time it is not possible, due to the number of large ice flows in the Arctic pack.
However, if you are a wildlife enthusiast, you are more likely to see wildlife during this time.
For those of you who are looking at fall Bard and Spitsbergen expeditions, you will likely need to take a tour that starts in July or August.
Arctic Wild Life Spotting
This offers the best chance of circumnavigation and also better wildlife spotting.
In order to get off the boat during this time, it's definitely advisable to go in July and August as land access is possible.
While, polar bear spotting is much harder during this time, if you've got an eagle eye or long range binoculars, you may be able to spot them on land and in the sea.
In July and August, ships can cover a lot more ground and territory, due to less ice floating in the sea and tours during these months are often longer or shorter depending on your budget.
The final month where some tours will depart as in September, and this is when fall comes to the Arctic, and even in this month, it can be dark enough to see the aura lights and the Northern lights in the evening.
What better way to explore this extravagant light show than from a cruise ship in the Arctic and towards the end of this month, you are still likely to see polar bears.
Different Types of Arctic Ships
There are many different companies claiming to offer the best ships available, but when you are looking, it may be confusing as it's sometimes not clear which ship you will be on, and some ships are a lot older than others.
The first step is to look at the itinerary on offer. There is a lot of brokers of Arctic tours. These are not companies that actually perform the tours.
They're simply selling you a bed on a another tour or reselling your package as a travel agent.
The best way to find out who actually owns the cruise ship is to take the ship name and put it into Google and find out who owns that boat.
Savvy travellers will then go and book that tour directly with the cruise ship owner or the boat owner. However you can get discounts from resellers such as G- Adventures.
However most resellers of tours often add their own margin to the price and you can be paying more for the exact same tour than someone else whom has purchased directly from the company.
How do you choose the best Arctic ship?
Well, the best option is to consider your itinerary first and then select your ship after.
If you go about it the other way and try and find a ship, you may find an amazing one, but that does not cover the area of the Arctic that you wish to visit.
The most popular type of cruise in the Arctic is on board an expedition ship. These are often newer boats that are designed for traversing the land up in the far North.
They are built with ice friendly hulls, which mean they can go pretty much anywhere and are much safer to be on board.
They likely feature onboard helicopters, for heli-assisted adventures, including hiking, alpine kayaking, mountain biking, camping and flight seeing.
Additionally, these boats will offer on board assistance with training and upskilling on the environment.
Some boats may hold classes where you can also speak with researchers and professors on board who will share their experience with you making it a much more enjoyable journey onboard.
You will have a wide range of facilities with often a bar and a restaurant where your daily meals will take place.
The number of passengers on these type of vessels is a lot lower than on a traditional cruise ship, and these boats can survive a cruise for up to 70 days at a time.
You will likely be able to get an inside cabin or a private cabinet with a balcony, depending on your budget. If you can, don't get an inside cabin as you'll miss so much!
If you're looking for a more intimate experience in the Arctic, then these smaller sailing vessels are designed to carry up to 50 guests at a time.
They are likely geared up towards sailing in the small islands of the Arctic and to offer the same closeup exploration experiences as larger ships, but may not have all the facilities on offers such as a helicopter or kayaking or inflatable Zodiacs to take you out and about.
However, the food will be a lot better. You will get a much more intimate experience. And there will be a lot less tourists interrupting your photos.
Ultimately if you want to reach the North Pole you'll need to take an Ice Breaker. There's a few out there around the world.
The most common one that accepts passengers is the Russian, '50 Years of Victory' which is a Nuclear ship offering a range of on board facilities.
How to Choose Your Arctic Cruise Region?
So when it comes to choosing your cruise ship in the Arctic and where you wish to cruise, there are a few different itineraries and regions that are on offer.
This is the most popular region for cruising in the Arctic because it is very accessible from Norway and offers a wide variety of natural and cultural historical sites.
Cruises in this area generally last from 7 to 14 days and may include full circumnavigation of the archipelago and its largest Island Spitsbergen.
By taking a tour to this area, you will get a wide variety of Arctic highlights as well as wildlife, including polar bears. Walrus. And the Ora Bora Alice.
You will also see a wide variety of glaciers, and you will see various historical sites. A lot of the tourists in this area offer kayaking, delay, HSA, kayaking, Zodiac trips, and walking on the ice. Spell Bart and beyond.
If you've got a bit more time than you can take a cruise to Svalbard plus other areas within Norway's fjords, Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, the Faroe islands, and Franz Josef land.
You will need to take a longer expedition and it can be up to 17 days.
The wildlife and nature on offer in this area is amazing.
You could always fly directly to Iceland and a lot of travellers do, but you can also take an Arctic cruise that visits Iceland pre or post cruise trip, and here you can enjoy the regions, geology, wildlife, and culture.
Iceland offers some of the most amazing cuisine, but also some of the most expensive beer in the world, also go to the blue lagoon!
This is the world's largest Island and hosts a dramatic landscape and has a very vibrant and unique culture. Some Arctic tours will conclude or start here, while others will simply pay a visit.
Additionally, you can arrange to fly direct to their from Iceland or from Scotland and start your tour there as a pre or post cruise ship experience.
Canadian High Arctic
The Canadian high Arctic can be explored in as little as 9 to 21 days, and this navigates around Baffin Bay and the surrounding archipelago.
The terrain here is mountainous and there's lots of steep fjords and high and low covered planes. You will see an abundance of wildlife and animals, including the wolf, the polar bear, muskox, while lemming and tundra.
You can take a number of cruise ships in this area, however, it's likely that this part of the tour can be very expensive.
The North Pole
There's only a few companies that offer tours to the North pole.
And today we have actually included this on one of our tours, which is the ultimate Arctic adventure by cork expeditions.
To get to the North pole, you will need a vessel that is capable of breaking through the ice, commonly known as a icebreaker.
To get to 90 degrees North or the North pole, you'll need to spend two weeks traversing your way up through the ice to your final destination.
Most of these tours start from Murmansk in Russia, and you will need to spend a small fortune of your savings to get there.
Prices start at $31,000 for the experience of a lifetime, and you will get some amazing photos. And if you want, you can even go for a swim in the ocean at the North Pole.
Getting To Your Arctic Start Point
Most of the cruises start in Northern parts of Europe, including Finland, Iceland, or Norway.
If you taking an icebreaker cruise, then this will start in Murmansk in Russia. However, tour companies generally provide complimentary flights from Helsinki to get there.
Voyages normally have an embarkation and disembarkation point and may not be round trip. You can usually take a charter flight to yours start or end point, and then whether you wish to return to the same place or not is entirely up to you.
A lot of people prefer to get off at a different destination to where they started so they can explore another city or country as well.
Will I get sick on an Arctic cruise?
Generally the waters in the Arctic are very calm, with the exception of the sea in Denmark. Bad weather, however, can be an issue at any point in time and calls some rough water.
If you are subject to motion sickness or you attract motion sickness easily, then I would definitely recommend getting an injection for motion sickness before you leave in your home country.
Alternatively, you can bring some medication with you.
However, if you are really unsure about your level of motion sickness, maybe an Arctic cruise is not for you. You may need to stick to a river cruise instead.
Travel Insurance For Arctic Tours
In order to take an Arctic cruise, you will likely need to take out emergency and medical evacuation car insurance coverage.
You can't simply go to a travel insurance provider and choose a normal policy.
When you're going through the process, they will likely ask you if you will be taking a cruise, and if so, where?
You need to make sure that you select the option for taking a cruise as the premium is a lot higher than someone who is not partaking in such a travel adventure.
If you are offered travel insurance at the time of booking your cruise, it's definitely advisable to do so because they will ensure you've got the right policy for the right type of trip that you're taking.
I've personally used World Nomads in the past and they are a good provider. Provided you select the right policy option.
Arctic Cruise Versus Antarctica Cruises
For first time travellers or those who are looking for an adventure are undecided between the Arctic and Antarctica and wonder which cruise they should take, here's my advice.
Some travellers actually confuse the two and end up on the wrong tour as well.
The Arctic provides a vast frozen ocean around the North pole, and it's surrounded by areas of North America, Greenland, Northern Europe, and Russia.
Antarctica is a frozen continent by itself, and is anchored by the South pole and surrounded by many oceans. There's a lot of days at sea with nothing to see.
Where To See Polar Bears & Penguins
If you want to see polar bears, then you need to go to the Arctic. If you want to see penguins, then you need to go to Antarctica.
If you want to see both together, then you will likely need to go to the local Zoo.You will never see penguins and polar bears together in the wild, despite all those movies you may have seen.
Additionally, in both locations, you will see whales. However, they are a lot more common in Antarctica.
The travel seasons are opposite, so if you've only got time off in June, July, and August, if you're in the Northern hemisphere, then you should consider an Arctic cruise.
Likewise, the seasons are reversed. So in the Southern hemisphere, the best time for an Antarctic accrues is in December, January, February.
From our own personal experience, we would recommend starting with Antarctica first because it is a lot more accessible with cruises departing from only one of two places in South America or New Zealand.