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The Arctic -- the polar region lying above the Arctic Circle (66 degrees latitude north) -- is best explored by small ship and expedition-style cruise vessels. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada and the United States all have Arctic lands; Greenland, a largely self-governing Danish territory, is another prominent Arctic region (the Arctic Circle just skirts the northern edges of Iceland). Popular Arctic cruise routes include Canada's Northwest Passage; Scandinavia to Greenland via Iceland; and to the far north Norwegian island of Spitsbergen.
The Arctic -- the earth’s northern polar region, 66 degrees latitude north and above -- ranges across a number of countries including much of Scandinavia, Russia, and North America. Unlike Antarctica, its southern counterpart, it has no penguins, but it does have polar bears and more marine mammals. The Gulf Stream and generally warmer temperatures than in Antarctica help make Arctic exploration more accessible, offering a number of choices for experiencing life above the Arctic Circle. Travel is restricted only by the laws of the various countries and the relative scarcity of transportation.
An ideal way to explore the Arctic is by expedition-style cruise vessels. More routes are opening up to cruising, such as the Northeast Passage from northern Norway to Siberia and Alaska via the Russian Arctic.
Greenland is ground zero for climate change, as its glacial ice – representing about eight percent of the world’s supply – is rapidly melting, threatening to raise ocean levels and temperatures. But much of its interior remains a wonderland of white, and icebergs still fill its bays. Fascinating towns and small settlements dot both west and east coasts, which you can visit either by small cruise ship or via land and air transportation.
Only a tiny fraction of Iceland lies above the Arctic Circle, but this volcanic land of black lava, geothermal pools, moon-like landscapes, and neat, brightly painted houses is one of the far-north’s most visited areas. Part of Europe but lying a third of the way toward the North American continent, Iceland boasts one of the world’s most literate populations and is easily accessible by air as well as sea.
The Arctic coast of Norway is accessible by the half-cruise, half-cargo ships of the Hurtigruten, which makes two-week round trips between Bergen and Kirkenes, near the Russian border. With its views of fjords, snow-capped mountains and tiny remote villages, the Hurtigruten is one of the world’s most beautiful voyages. In both Arctic Norway and Finland, you can ride in reindeer sleds and visit the Sami, the nomadic people who drive their reindeer herds through the frozen wilderness. The Finnish town of Rovaniemi lies directly on the Arctic Circle and claims to be the home of Santa Claus.
Small ships now make the journey to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), a Norwegian island archipelago hundreds of miles north of the top of continental Europe. Spitsbergen is home to some of the farthest north settlements in the world, as well as glaciers, icebergs, and an array of wildlife including polar bears, walruses, and flocks of seabirds.
One of the top places to view the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is in Abisko National Park near Kiruna in northern Sweden, where skies tend to be clear despite frequent overcast in the region. A chair-lift leads up to a lookout tower at the Aurora Sky Station for the best viewing.
Transiting the Northeast Passage – from Europe to Asia via the Russian Arctic – represents a new thrill in Arctic exploration, now available by expedition-style cruise ships with high ice-class ratings. Until recently, this area was off limits due to both political and climatological reasons. The cruises visit Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and continue through the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean to Russian Siberia until reaching Nome, Alaska. Expect to see polar bears, whales and seals along the way.
Northern Canada is a far cry from the urbanity of the cities lying near the U.S. border that harbor most of this huge country’s population. The town of Churchill in northern Manitoba is the place to see polar bears and Beluga whales, while the vast, remote province of Nunavut beckons adventurous travelers to encounter Inuit villages that include the northernmost permanent settlement in the world. Cruises through Canada’s Northwest Passage sail the coast of northern Nunavut east to Greenland or the reverse, with generally excellent wildlife viewing on remote islands.
Most visitors to Alaska confine themselves to cruises along its southeast coast or inland trips to Denali National Park, but the state’s remote Aleutian Islands and far northern tundra area stretching north to Nome offer adventurous travelers an entirely different experience in the “Last Frontier.” You can go dog sledding in Arctic Alaska, fish for salmon in far northern waters, watch for bears and birds, and get around by small plane (or properly equipped vehicles along rough roads).
|Antarctica and the Arctic|
|Manitoba, Canada; Svalbard, Norway; Iceland; Lapland, Scandinavia; The North Pole and Many More|
|Wildlife Sightseeing, Expedition Cruises, Dog Sledding & Experience Aurora Borealis|
|Alaska, Norway, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Greenland