The Arctic Circle may look like just a line on the map, but take a trip inside the 66th parallel north and you’ll discover that one of the harshest landscapes on Earth is also among the most beautiful. Encased in ice and inhabited by fearsome predators, the world’s northernmost region is the kind of place that never fails to impress those who behold it.
Previously accessible only to hardy adventurers and whalers, these days the Arctic is open to commercial tourists, with cruises and expeditions offered to the region. That said, many of the Arctic waters remain uncharted, and with much of the area still undiscovered those who do venture north can be sure of having a real Arctic adventure.
If leaving civilisation behind and entering a world of giant glaciers, polar bears and stunning fjords sounds like something you’d be up for then the Arctic is the place for you. In this brief guide you’ll find more information about the types of things you’re likely to see at the top of the world.
One of the main attractions of the Arctic is its stunning wildlife, with the Ursus maritimus – or polar bear – being the star of the show. Summer is a great time for spotting bears, as they tend to stick out more against the landscape once the ice begins to melt, and with 24-hour sunlight there’s no danger of poor light ruining your viewing experience.
Polar bears are by no means the only animal on show here, though, with five species of seal – including the ringed, elephant, harp, bearded and ribbon seals – inhabiting the Arctic, while walruses can be seen lounging around on beaches throughout the area. Taking a cruise around Spitsbergen is a great option for anyone interested in spotting some of this wildlife, with Moffen Island – which sits just beyond the famous 80th parallel north – being a walrus reserve.
The Arctic skies also come alive during the summer months, with millions of migratory birds heading north to breed and feast on the rich waters. Alkefjellet, for example, is a must-see for anyone circumnavigating Svalbard, with hundreds of thousands of Brunnich’s guillemot inhabiting the imposing towers of volcanic rock that rise out of the water like skyscrapers.
Glaciers are among the most impressive natural features to be found anywhere on Earth, and are giant sheets of compressed ice, much of which is thousands of years old. With jagged edges resembling huge fortresses, anyone who has ever witnessed a calving event – whereby chunks of ice fall from the face of the glacier, becoming icebergs – will know just how imposing these huge structures can be. Even from several hundred feet away, the thunderous sound of the ice crashing into the water as it falls gives onlookers an idea of the immense size and power of these intimidating frozen monsters.
Whether sailing around Spitsbergen or Greenland you’ll be guaranteed to see some amazingly serene and picturesque fjords. Flanked by towering, snow-capped mountains, these inlets are among the most peaceful yet imposing places on the planet, with glassy water that acts like a mirror. Inhabited by whales and roamed by polar bears, they also provide excellent wildlife-spotting opportunities. Woodfjord and Kongsfjord in Spitsbergen are fantastic examples of these beautiful natural features, and on a cruise around the Svalbard archipelago you’ll have plenty of chances to view the fjords in all their splendour either while zodiac cruising on the water or hiking on the tundra.