Arctic Circle cruises sail to some of the world’s northernmost ports. Glaciers, ice caves and snow-dusted peaks make for impressive backdrops, but spring and summer sees the Arctic Circle bloom with wildflowers and lush greenery that dominate the once stark, white landscape. Whether you sail to Norway, Canada, Alaska, Sweden, Finland or Iceland or just the Arctic Circle itself, you can expect wildlife, natural beauty and rugged coastal ports in abundance. Naturally the Arctic Circle scenery stands out, but don’t miss opportunities to explore new cultures, cities and past times. Sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiles are great ways to explore!
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History & culture
Unlike the Antarctic, the harshest, northernmost stretches of the Arctic Circle have been inhabited by indigenous populations for thousands of years. Inuit, Sami and Chukchi people have hunted, lived and worked the lands long before cruise passengers started sailing in. Don’t miss the chance to explore their traditions, way of life and the adaptations they’ve made to their changing surroundings and modern culture. Other ways of living to explore include the Swedish hygge (cosy comfort), Finland’s sisu (determination and bravery) and Sweden’s lagom (finding balance). On the music and art scene, Iceland leads the way with work that stands out in every sense.
Food & drink
Remote locations, local produce and the Arctic lifestyle heavily influence the region’s food. International menus aren’t in short supply, but foodies will want to taste a cloudberry, tuck in to a snow crab salad or sample the local craft beer and botanical gin scene. Fermented shark, reindeer burgers and roast puffin are a little harder to swallow, but local delicacies are often an acquired taste. Game, seafood, herbs and berries are the staples behind menus here. Trawl the markets or book a lunch in each of your Arctic Circle cruise ports to explore new ingredients and dishes that will always remind you of this flavour-packed food scene.
Featured Arctic Circle Destinations to visit
The land of fire and ice isn’t always so tempestuous. In the spring and summer the snow melts, revealing stunning green scenery. Puffins fly from sea to nest feeding their young, whales breach the waves and wildflowers make the most of the briefest of summers. The dramatic, volcanic landscape is not to be missed.
It can be easy to forget you’re on an Arctic Circle cruise in Norway. In spring and summer, the turquoise melt waters of the retreating glaciers are all that’s left to remind you of Norway’s winters. Plunging waterfalls, seemingly endless fjords and architecturally intriguing coastal ports make Norway an Arctic Circle stop to treasure.
Exploring Alaska’s vast wilderness is made all the easier on an Arctic Circle cruise. Hop on an excursion to the sprawling forests of Denali National Park or be enchanted by the sea lions in Glacier Bay. Salmon-fishing grizzlies, soaring bald eagles and migrating humpbacks add to the wildlife spotting opportunities. But often, it’s the towering glaciers that are Alaska’s most jaw-dropping sights.
Arctic Circle cruises are some of the best cruises for whale watching. In port, you’ll have the chance to book a whale watching excursion. Hop in a rib to get close to nature’s gentle giants or take a larger boat to sail the waves spotting blow holes. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for whales as you sail between ports too.
If your Arctic Circle cruise ports in or near Greenland, Churchill, Kaktovik or Svalbard you may spot a polar bear in its natural habitat. Sightings are increasingly rare - but don’t miss the chance to join an excursion to spot these magnificent bears lounging on ice floes or hunting its prey.
Autumn and winter cruises to the Arctic Circle increase your chances of spotting the magical Northern Lights. The green shimmering dance of the Aurora Borealis is an unforgettable sight and the further north you sail the more likely you are to see a spectacular show. If your Arctic Circle cruise ports in Reykjavik, take time to visit the Northern Lights Centre to learn more about nature’s surreal phenomenon.
Want more? Discover more incredible things to experience in the Arctic!
Tips for cruising to the Arctic Circle
Major credit cards are accepted in all of the countries spanning the Arctic Circle. However, some supermarkets in Norway may not accept foreign credit cards. If you’re travelling to more remote spots, take a small amount of local currency for souvenirs and small purchases, just in case.
Customs / traditions to be aware of
Traditional hunting methods in the Arctic Circle mean that you may see reindeer, whale or puffin on the menu. In addition, it’s not unusual to see furs and hides for sale in souvenir shops. Some cruise liners perform a ‘ceremony’ when crossing the Arctic Circle. This can range from a deck party or themed lunch to a ‘Blue Nose Ceremony.’
In spring and summer, most Arctic Circle transport will be by car, bus, boat or train - as all but the coldest areas will be free from snow and ice. Autumn and winter open up options to travel by sled, skidoo, sleigh or skis.
Making the most use of short durations in port
Research Arctic Circle cruise ports in advance to pinpoint what that area specialises in. If you’re short on time, look for excursions that visit all the key sights in port. Consider alternative transport methods too.
Cruise Lines sailing to the Arctic Circle
FAQs about Arctic Circle cruises
Will Arctic Circle cruises see the Northern Lights?
Yes, Arctic Circle cruises do see the Northern Lights - but only those that sail in late autumn. Most Arctic Circle cruises sail through the spring and summer months. During this time, the 24 hour days mean the skies never darken enough to see the Northern Lights.
What time of year is best for an Arctic Circle cruise?
The best time of year for an Arctic Circle cruise all depends on what you want to see. If you’re looking to spot polar bears on ice floes or the crisp white snow of winter, sail in May or June. For the Northern Lights, sail the stormier autumn seas of October. For the wildflowers, wildlife and midnight sun, sail in July or August.
Do cruise ships still hit icebergs?
While it’s true that cruise ships still hit ice in the Arctic Circle, this tends to be melting pack ice - rather than what most would consider an iceberg. Cruise ships take extraordinary care to navigate away from icebergs and any contact with them is considered to be extremely rare.
Does it get very cold on the ship on an Arctic Circle cruise?
It’s rarely very cold on the ship on an Arctic Circle cruise. Heating and cabin-controlled temperatures mean that however cold it is outside, you’ll be warm within the ship’s interior. As most cruises explore the Arctic Circle in spring and summer, the outside temperatures can be warm too.