While Greenland’s east coast is as remote as it gets, there is more variety for adventures in the north-west, not least in the 164km Arctic Circle Trail (June-August) that winds out of Kangerlussuaq to Sisimuit. This is solitary backcountry hiking but polar-bear-free, and you arrive in a town where there’s one working dog for every five people, so sledding trips are de rigueur.
Further north, the UNESCO-listed ice fjord of Ilulissat is Greenland’s most popular sight, offering frozen panoramas of a region where 35 billion tonnes of icebergs pass through every year. It’s a 56km inlet of Disko Bay, and ships sail out past its monster icebergs, up the Davis Strait and on to the High Arctic.
In the far reaches of Greenland lies Siorapaluk, the world’s most northerly indigenous community, just 1,362km from the North Pole. Cruise typically stop at Devon and Ellesmere islands, revealing ruins of the Thule (ancient Inuit) and the chance to spot polar bears hunting seals out on the ice floes, before peaking in the icy realms of 80°north.
Duration: 3-16 days
Start/finish: Kangerlussuaq / Ilulissat (Greenland)
Why go? Dogsled, hike and meet the world’s most northerly indigenous community.
Daily flights from the UK via Oslo almost make a mockery of quite how remote the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard actually is. Spitsbergen’s Longyearbyen lies at over 78° north, making it the northernmost town of its size on Earth, yet you’ll still find a local brewery here, great food and a museum detailing its mining past. Ghost towns like Pyramiden remind us of quite how tentative life on the frozen edge is, but then that’s all part of the appeal; hiking and sledding trips to the caves of Lars Glacier let you sleep on the ice, and trekking the wilds roamed by reindeer and Arctic fox can take you to the Global Seed Vault, the world’s largest collection of crops and plants.
Take to the water and you’ll see a wilder side to Svalbard, cruising vast icefields or even polar-snorkelling with seals. Cruises run between May and August – when midnight sun smothers the islands in an eternal glow – typically visiting the South Cape and West Spitsbergen. But for rarer glimpses, a few circumnavigate the whole archipelago, edging up past Ny-Ålesund (a mining village once served by the world’s northernmost railway) to the farthest reaches of Kvitøya, a giant ice cap where massed gangs of walrus bully the shores. From here, ships drop down to Diskobukta, edging waters filled with Greenland whales and cliffs where polar bears patrol beneath the nests of thousands of kittiwake and glaucous gulls. Wild.
Duration: 1+ days
Start/finish: Longyearbyen (Norway)
Why go? Polar bears, ice sleeps and the most northerly town on Earth.
Nature dominates the upper reaches of North America, much of it impenetrable but for ships and single-propeller flights in and out. The islands of Nunavut are especially remote, with the wild tundra and glowering peaks of Ellesmere Island’s Quttinirpaaq NP less than 800km from the North Pole. For the truly adventurous, summer-run charter flights land here, with wilderness guides leading backcountry treks (June–July) across its glacial caps and tundra to spy roaming musk oxen and caribou in a land that received just 21 visitors last year.
Just as impressive are the Arctic parks of Baffin Island to the south. Here, visitors can ski, snowmobile or dogsled their way in during spring, or even catch a boat in summer. Floe-edge tours of its Sirmilik NP bring narwhals, beluga whales and seal-hunting polar bears up close, while Pond Inlet offers a chance to see the planet’s largest flock of snow geese.
Then there’s Canada’s far west. Yukon’s Ivvavik NP runs a fly-in base camp (June-August) that lets visitors soar north of the Arctic Circle. Here, Inuvialuit hosts put you up at Sheep Creek, deep in the heart of grizzly country, with wild hiking and rafting deep into this little-seen land. Visits here, like all of Canada’s Arctic parks, require a lot of planning but it’s worth it to step this far out of your comfort zone.
Duration: 5+ days
Start/finish: Yukon, North-West Territories and Nunavut (Canada)
Why go? Inuit culture, river rafting, and the northern lights.
The bulk of Lapland lies within the Arctic, where it accounts for 30% of northern Finland (and just 3% of its population) and spills into Sweden and Norway. No matter which area you visit, you’ll find dogsledding, snow hikes, reindeer treks, northern lights excursions and ambitious ice hotels.
Yet what truly makes a visit here are encounters with Lapland’s indigenous Sámi people, who still make a living herding thousands of reindeer through the boreal forests of Arctic Scandinavia. Stays in Lappish communities, huddled in a lavvu (tent) and devouring wood-smoked reindeer, give an insight into a people still tied to the rhythms of their livestock. Some trips even offer the chance to follow families of herders on their spring migration, or stay in nature camps that teach bushcraft and the traditional skills still integral to the community, such as reindeer lassooing. You’re rarely not active, whether dogsledding Finnmark’s plains with the Sámi, hiking sacred Saana Fell from Finnish Kilpisjärvi, or learning to drive a reindeer-pulled sleigh through the forests of Sweden’s Jukkasjärvi.
Duration: 3-7 days
Start/finish: Alta, Norway/Kittilä, Finland/Abisko, Sweden
Why go? Live alongside the reindeer-herding Sámi people on year-round trips.
Flights and cruises are all well and good, but there’s nothing like the feeling of tarmac beneath you. North America has some epic car journeys, but few as stark as Canada’s 735km-long Dempster Highway, which begins in Dawson City (Yukon) and finishes over the border in the North-West Territories town of Inuvik. Cruise past the Arctic Circle, gold rush settlements and wild trails, before taking the newly opened 137km extension up to Tuktoyaktuk, the remotest Inuvialuit village in Arctic Canada (just 898-strong), savouring every empty horizon along the way.
Just as breathtaking is the scenery of north Norway, with the 1,150km between Trondheim and Tromsø not only crossing 66° but also affording some sumptuous detours. Take the ferry to the Lofoten archipelago, where tarmac takes you through steep mountains, past windswept Arctic beaches and red-painted villages where salted cod dries in the breeze. Then there’s the Andøya Route that runs between the island’s bare coastline and flat cloudberry marshes, with Bleik offering a welcome stop for boat trips out to spot sperm whales and its 80,000 pairs of roosting puffins. The perfect Arctic drive.
Duration: 4-8 days
Start/finish: Dawson City, Canada/Trondheim and Tromsø, Norway
Why go? Strap on your all-weather tyres (bring a couple of spares), grab a satphone, take plenty of supplies and set off into the lonely wild.
4 things you MUST do on your Arctic adventure