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How to Get to the Arctic Circle and Traveling to the North Pole

The Arctic is an extraordinary, icy wilderness encompassing eight countries and millions of square miles, with the North Pole in the center.  


A vast area stretching across the top of the globe, the Arctic offers adventures from viewing iconic wildlife and epic icescapes to having rare and enriching encounters with local cultures.


With decades of experience exploring every region of the Arctic Circle, here Lindblad answers all of your Arctic questions.


Where is the Arctic Circle Located?


Map of the Arctic Circle
Located above 66 degrees north, Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia are all part of the Arctic Circle.

To visit the Arctic Circle, you will need to cross the invisible line around the globe at 66°33′ north of the equator. 


Traveling to the Arctic means heading north to the Arctic Ocean to the portions of the countries inside the circle. You can go to the Arctic by visiting Norway, Greenland, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Canada, the U.S., or Russia. 


Are you Allowed to go to the Arctic?

The Arctic can seem like a vast and far-away corner of the planet so you might be wondering “Can I travel to the Arctic?” The answer is a resounding “Yes.” 


People can visit the Arctic by following the advice in this guide.

Are you Allowed to Visit the North Pole?

If you are also curious to know “Can people travel to the North Pole?” the answer again is “Yes.” Being at the very top of the globe–90º N–surrounded by ice that’s only penetrable two months a year, the actual North Pole is challenging, but possible, to access.


People can arrive by ship, airplane, helicopter, or a combination of modes of transportation. 


According to Lindblad’s Arctic Expedition Development Manager Laura Macfarlane, it is a monumental effort to get to the North Pole and “there’s nothing there.” 


She explains that although Lindblad does not offer North Pole excursions “we go above 80 degrees north to locations like Ellesmere Island, Canada, and northern Greenland.” She continues, “Going somewhere is more than just getting to coordinates.”


How do I get to the Arctic Circle?


Airplane wing visible over Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
An aerial view of the Greenland ice cap on a flight to Kangerlussuaq, Western Greenland. Photo: Michael S. Nolan


The route to begin your Arctic Circle travel will depend on which region of the Arctic you choose to explore. Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic offers 18 Arctic cruise itineraries that span from Norway to Greenland to Arctic Canada and beyond.  If you book one of our Arctic tours, you’ll receive specific details on how to get to the Arctic from the USA or from wherever you might be traveling.  


Macfarlane notes that many Arctic airport locations and ports are “outposts not cities.” She cautions not to rely on being able to buy something you might have forgotten at home since goods are not widely available. For example, she says that East Greenland receives only two supply ships a year. 


Macfarlane has noticed that being on a frontier creates a strong sense of community. “It’s wonderful to see how they make things work; how so much is possible without the comforts of home,” she says. She has observed a “unique economy that includes bartering.”

How to get to Svalbard (Spitsbergen)

There is no regularly scheduled boat service to Svalbard. We recommend flying into Oslo, Norway, to connect with a three-hour charter flight to Longyearbyen. This hub of the Svalbard archipelago on the island of Spitsbergen is our expedition embarkation port.


Longyearbyen Airport is the most northerly airport in the world to have regularly scheduled flights.


Flights book up far in advance for the short summer window of Svalbard travel, Macfarlane notes. However, she assures that guests aboard Lindblad expeditions are guaranteed seats on our chartered Oslo-Longyearbyen flights. 


Although there are daily flights, schedules can be inconvenient. You might need to overnight in both Longyearbyen and Oslo as flights can arrive in the wee hours of the morning. This can add days to your itinerary.

How to get to Greenland


Hikers in front of the Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland
Guests walk the boardwalk trail in Sermermiut Fjord, laden with icebergs, Icefjord, Ilulissat, Greenland Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

There is no international ferry service to Greenland. Most travelers fly into Kangerlussuaq, our Greenland departure port, from Oslo or Reykjavik. Kangerlussuaq is conveniently located at the head of a picturesque 120-mile fjord. 


To illustrate her point about some Arctic airports being in outposts as opposed to cities, Macfarlane notes that Air Greenland only has one jet that goes back and forth to “Kanger.” She describes Kanger as “a former U.S. military base and not really a town.”


In addition to Air Greenland, Macfarlane says that Icelandair also has flights to Kanger but they “are not plentiful and get booked” so flight arrangements should be made as soon as possible after booking your expedition. 


Besides Kanger, Greenland’s other airports are located in Narsarsuaq (the only other one large enough for large airliners), Nuuk, Ilulissat, Constable Point, and Kulusuk.

How to get to Iceland


A hiker stands in front of the Dynjandi waterfall
A hiker stands in front of the thundering Dynjandi waterfall in the Westfjords region of Iceland. Photo: Andrew Peacock


More than 20 airlines fly to Keflavik, which is Reykjavik’s international airport. From North America, United, Delta, Icelandair, Play, and Air Canada are among many airlines that serve Keflavik. 


There is also a multi-day ferry from Denmark to Iceland that stops in the Faroe Islands. M/S Norrönasails from Hirtshals, Denmark, to Tórshavn on the Faroe Islands and on to Seyðisfjörður, Iceland.

How to get to the North Pole

It is possible to fly from Svalbard to the North Pole or to travel on an icebreaker from Murmansk, Russia. Travel to and from Russia, however, is currently restricted. Serious adventurers travel by overland, skiing or dog sledding.

How to get to the Northwest Passage


An aerial view of ice near the Arctic Circle in Alaska
A guest searches the iridescent ice of the Beaufort Sea from the bow of the ship National Geographic Endurance, Northwest Passage, Alaska. Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins


Because it’s located entirely within the Arctic Circle, the Northwest Passage is enclosed by ice much of the year. As it covers about 900 miles along the northern coast of North America, this route that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Arctic Ocean has multiple entry points. 


For your convenience, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic charters flights between New York City, U.S. and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where you embark on our epic Northwest Passage adventure. We also charter flights between the expedition end point of Nome, Alaska, and Anchorage, where you can connect to a flight home.

How to get to the Canadian Arctic

Our explorations in the Canadian Arctic begin in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, cross Baffin Bay, and continue through the fabled Northwest Passage to end in Nome, Alaska.


Canadian Arctic adventures can also begin in Resolute Bay Airport in Nunavut, Canada; Iqaluit on Baffin Island; Cambridge Bay, or Kugluktuk in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut.


Canadian gateway cities with charter flights to these remote outposts include Toronto, Ottawa, and Edmonton.

Why Visit the Arctic?


three polar bears walk on ice in the High Arctic
Polar bears walk on deep pack ice surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the high Arctic. Photo: Sven Lindblad


You might question if traveling way up in the Arctic is worth the effort, and our guests would answer heartily in the affirmative for wildlife including polar bears, massive icebergs, and enriching encounters with locals including Indigenous cultures.


Guests would say that the best way to visit the Arctic is on one of Lindblad’s 18 expeditions—truly the most rewarding, safe, and hassle-free way of visiting the Arctic Circle.


When asked about some of her personal highlights from her travels in the Arctic, the first thing that comes to Macfarlane’s mind is Svalbard’s “stark and striking” early season light. “It feels like another world, like a ‘Star Wars’ landscape. It’s hard to believe it’s real,” she says.


Macfarlane encourages people to head north as soon as “there is a real urgency” to see the Arctic since it is “changing literally each year” due to global temperature increases.

What can I see in the Arctic?


A killer whale in Svalbard, Norway
Guests spot pods of Atlantic killer whales surfacing just north of Tromso, Norway. Photo: Michael S. Nolan.


Going to the Arctic is a nature lover’s dream for the rare chance to see wildlife like polar bears, reindeer, and musk oxen in their natural habitats, as well as walruses and a variety of whales and seals. On many Arctic Circle tours you will marvel at stunning fjords, colossal ice forms, thundering waterfalls, and carpets of wildflowers.


“Seeing the ice floes from northern Greenland” and Greenland’s “dynamic landscape with black basalt ribbons 10-20 feet high,” were also memorable for Macfarlane. She adds that “Back country hiking is super fun,” and notes that as much time as she has spent in Greenland, “I want to see more and more.”


To learn more about the diverse regions of the Arctic Circle and what you will do and see on our different itineraries, view our Discovering the Arctic webinar.

What can I do in the Arctic?


A Zodiac in front of an iceberg in Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland
Guests explore the towering icebergs of Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord by Zodiac. Photo: Michael S. Nolan


Throughout your Arctic cruise, you’ll enjoy an array of Arctic excursions. Take a Zodiac to the foot of iridescent icebergs and calving glaciers, stroll sea cliffs alive with gannets and puffins, or experience Inuit culture. Travel to the Arctic can also mean viewing the Northern Lights and encountering elusive wildlife like polar bears, narwhals, and belugas.


“The diversity of experiences is unmatched on a Lindblad-National Geographic expedition,” says Macfarlane. “If you’re traveling with a group, everyone can choose something different every day, whether it’s hiking, visiting a museum, or learning about wildlife.”


“Our expeditions sail with 10 or 12 staff–that’s a lot of different expertise,” she explains. “Our deep experience in the Arctic and long partnership with National Geographic are key. Guests who sail with us travel with leading naturalists, cultural experts, noted historians, and certified photo instructors who are extremely knowledgeable about the Arctic.”


For more ideas for Arctic activities, see our list of top things to do in the Arctic Circle.

How do People Travel Around in the Arctic?

The most practical way for people to travel around the Arctic is on a polar expedition cruise. Regularly scheduled flights are few and book quickly, and many locations do not have the infrastructure for touring. Also, distances are vast and roads are few.


The easiest way to get to the Arctic Circle is by flying to your Arctic Circle cruise departure port. Cruises to the Arctic Circle are the best way to go to the Arctic and to venture near the North Pole. 


National Geographic Endurance in the Trollfjord, Norway
The National Geographic Endurance is purpose-built to navigate places like Trollfjord, one of Norway’s most beautiful fjords. Photo: Michael S. Nolan.


A small, ice class expedition ship can explore areas larger ships cannot. “Our ships are purposefully built for polar exploration,” Macfarlane says. “It’s a formidable task going up above 80 degrees north,” she notes and our ships are prepared for the challenges.


Lindblad Expeditions has over 50 years of experience and an outstanding safety record in one of Earth’s most remote destinations.

Common Arctic Cruise Departure Ports

If you are asking “Where do cruises to the Arctic leave from?,” the answer depends on your Arctic travel company itinerary. If you take a cruise ship to the Arctic Circle with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, departure ports include Kangerlussuaq, Greenland; Longyearbyen, Norway; and Reykjavik, Iceland.


Other Arctic Cruise departure ports include Aberdeen, Scotland and Murmansk, Russia.


The largest city north of the Arctic Circle, Murmansk has been a popular Arctic port. However, due to Russia’s current war with Ukraine, it is difficult if not impossible to obtain a visa. In addition, Russia is currently on the U.S. Department of State’s Do Not Travel List. 

How is the Arctic Different from Antarctica?


Three reindeer grazing in Edge Island, Svalbard, Norway
A pack of reindeer graze on Edge Island, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins


On trips to the Arctic, you may see polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer, and musk oxen. In contrast, Antarctica has no terrestrial animals but is known for penguins. Also, millions of diverse peoples, including Indigenous cultures, live in the Arctic but no one is from Antarctica.


The Arctic is composed of many islands of differing sizes spread far across an enormous ocean. Antarctica, however, is basically one large land mass.


Here’s a helpful graphic that shows the differences between the Arctic and Antarctica at a glance.


Explore our Arctic expeditions