Planning a trip with a twist? We’ve unearthed 9 unforgettable wild islands from Scotland to the Arctic – each one worthy of your travel wish list...
Hidden away in one of the most remote regions of the British Isles, St Kilda is a breathtaking, isolated archipelago of the Outer Hebrides. As the home of Europe’s highest cliff and the largest colony of seabirds (including everyone’s favourite: puffins) anywhere on the continent, it’s no surprise that St Kilda is a World Heritage Site. The staggering scenery of this island cluster is reason enough to visit, however, the wonder doesn’t end there. The long-deserted crofts which dot the rocky, windswept coastlines hint at the hardiness of its late residents, who abandoned Soay, the ‘island of sheep’, in 1930, and are sure to leave you in awe.
Svalbard is one of those destinations that many people have heard of, but not many people understand what it's really like. This wild archipelago is sandwiched between Norway and the North Pole, technically part of Norway but a world apart in terms of landscapes and geography. The place names are hard to pronounce – Isfjorden, Sjuøyane, Woodfjorden, Magdalenefjorden – but don't let that put you off: this is a world of dramatic mountain scenery, sheer bird-covered cliffs, ice-speckled ocean and more wildlife than you can imagine, including whales, polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer and walruses. Thanks to Svalbard's wild and ever-changing appearance, no two trips are ever the same – though you can always bank on a lot of adventure.
The Shetland Islands are famous for their unique inhabitants and remote, rugged beauty. Highlights of a visit to Shetland include exploring the sea caves of Papa Stour, where over millennia, the Atlantic Ocean has carved cliff faces into spectacular arches and a warren of caves. Discover the unique marine wildlife by kayak or aboard a Zodiac and marvel at the caves’ eerie beauty, before heading off to see one of Shetland’s most complex archaeological sites at Jarlshof. There, you’ll find evidence of civilisation dating back to 3,200 BC. Be sure to pay a visit to the ancient home of a working bronzesmith whose clay moulds were used to create axe heads and short swords as early as 800 BC.
5,000 years of history in the Orkney Islands makes for some unique and wondrous attractions in this isolated archipelago, including the oldest known house in Northern Europe. Looking out over the shores of Papa Westray (also known as Papay Island), the site is incredibly well preserved, and will no doubt have you marvelling at the lives its Neolithic residents must have lived as they hunted, farmed and fished. Next, visit Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands. Don’t let its modern harbour fool you, though. Kirkwall is a maze of winding, ancient streets barely changed over the centuries. A leisurely walk will lead you to a striking red and white sandstone structure, widely considered to be the most remarkable medieval building in Scotland: St Magnus Cathedral.
Fancy a foray into the most remote uninhabited archipelago on Earth? Franz Josef Land comprises 192 islands, none of which are inhabited, except by Russian military personnel. Franz Josef Land is one of the most glaciated places on earth, so expect lots of ice!
900km from the North Pole and 1,500km above the Arctic Circle, the region’s extreme location makes it a feather in the cap of any keen adventure seeker. A sail through the waters of Franz Josef Land could bring you into contact with humpback whales, bowhead whales, polar bears or walrus. Step ashore at Prince George Land and crunch your way over black pebbly shores where the ice meets the sea, for some impressive photos. Your Instagram followers will thank you.
Think ‘Arctic wilderness’ and Vikings inevitably come to mind. The Westman Islands’ – a collection of islands in the south of the country – is home to remarkable replica Viking houses in Herjolfsdalur valley on the main island of Heimaey. Take a hike to the valley or join a city tour which will also stop off at Eldheimar Museum where you can learn all about the ‘Pompei of the North’, an eruption that took place in 1973 and resulted in the evacuation of the entire population of Heimaey. Be sure to pack the camera for some epic photos of Eldfell, Helgafell and Idfell volcanoes.
The north of Iceland is also wild. Here, you can explore the Westfjords region, where jaw-dropping views reveal dramatic fjords carved by ancient glaciers and sheer table mountains that plunge into the sea. The region features postcard-pretty towns like Isafjordur, as well as the famous Dynjandi waterfall. Head off on a kayak, hike the hills or try a spot of birdwatching: the Latrabjarg cliffs are home to thousands of puffins nests.
The beautiful island of Nanortalik seems worlds away from its surrounding Southern Greenland landscapes, eschewing the typical wildflower fields and lush meadows for steep and dramatic valley walls standing guard over intricate fjord systems. To the west float giant ice sheets, home to an array of Arctic wildlife, including musk oxen, reindeer, and sea eagles. The Nanortalik locals welcome visitors warmly to their picturesque seaside town, where you can take in the views from the comfort of a coffee shop or simply wander the water’s edge for your fill of fresh Greenlandic air and stunning scenery.
A trip to L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site rewards Viking enthusiasts with an extraordinary historical experience. The complete remains of an 11th-century Viking settlement have been excavated and as a result, the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. This settlement is understood to be the first authenticated Norse settlement in North America and the earliest evidence of Europeans on the continent. For a truly immersive encounter, try your hand at blacksmithing or chat with Viking characters who will really bring the Norse legends to life.
These age-old mountains take their name from the Inuktitut word ‘Tongait’, meaning ‘place of spirits’ and one glance over the breathtaking ranges will uncover just why. The modern day Innuit people can still be found hunting and fishing in much the same fashion as their ancestors. Sail through the deep and mysterious Eclipse Channel and Nachvak Fjord to crane your neck at the 1,600m peaks, devoid of trees (as the arctic tundra climate lies above the tree line) or skip ashore to explore archaeological sites and discover local protected wildlife including caribou, peregrine falcon, foxes, wolves, and polar bears.
All of these experiences are available on trips with Aurora Expeditions – small-group specialists with over 27 years’ polar experience, and one of Polar Routes top partners. When it comes to expedition cruises, Polar Routes are the experts. They will align your preferences to the perfect polar partner, always maintaining a commitment to quality, value and sustainability. Their specialist knowledge is based on first-hand experience in the field – ensuring you have a true once-in-a-lifetime experience, whether you travel to the wilds of the Arctic or the wonders of Antarctica.
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