Skip to main content
Glacier in the Russian High Arctic - Photo by David Merron

Russian Arctic Cruises & Expeditions

Population
2,000,000
Highest Elevation
TBD
Terrain
Ice-covered archipelagos
Russian Arctic Landscape

Overview

Russia’s Arctic territory accounts for about one-third of the entire country’s landmass. It includes a staggering 24,140 kilometers (15,000 miles) of coastline along the Arctic Ocean, the Barents Sea, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. At the heart of the Russian Arctic are remote archipelagoes, such as Novaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea, Severnaya Zemlya in the Laptev Sea, and the New Siberian Islands in the East Siberian Sea. Russia’s remote, seldom-visited Franz Josef Land,  northeast of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, is a frontier unto itself.

About 20% of Russia’s landmass (which includes glacier-covered mountains, mossy tundra, spectacular coastal fjords) is north of the Arctic Circle. Of the 4,000,000 people worldwide who make their home in the Arctic, roughly 2,000,000 live in the Russian Arctic—though many regions, such as Severnaya Zemlya, have no inhabitants whatsoever, apart from a handful of scientists.

Request a Quote Contact Us
Russian Arctic Landscape

Destination Highlights

Franz Josef Land

 At 900 kilometres from the North Pole, Franz Josef Land is the northernmost archipelago in the world. The uninhabited chain of 192 islands (a total of 16,000 square kilometers) has–until quite recently—been covered by ice for much of the year. Polar bears are the dominant mammal on the land. The scree slopes and cliffs are ruled by colonies of kittiwakes, little auks and other seabirds. Ruling the ocean waters are bowhead whales and Atlantic walruses. Franz Josef Land interests polar history enthusiasts: Jackson Island, Cape Norway, is where Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen (later a Nobel Peace Prize laureate) and Hjalmar Johansen wintered from 1895 to 1896. Remnants of their small hut remain.

Severnaya Zemlya

With the exception of scientists and members of the security forces, no one lives in Severnaya Zemlya. It’s the last major territorial discovery on the planet: the 37,000-square-kilometre (14,175 square mile) archipelago was first explored in 1913 and then charted in 1930-32. Its islands include October Revolution Island and Bolshevik Island, among others. Severnaya Zemlya consists of glacier-covered mountains, mossy tundra and spectacular fjords. Wildlife sightings tend to be of birds, lemmings and wolves. Winters are severe–with temperatures dipping to -22° F (-30° C). There’s only a two-and-a-half month-stretch that’s free of snow. Low-lying lichens and bushes are the only visible growth on the otherwise treeless landscape. Visiting Severnaya Zemlya is to experience the truly remote Russian Arctic.

Novaya Zemlya

Novaya Zemlya takes travelers to the extreme. One visitor described the archipelago in remote northwestern Russia as “as an inhospitable place with harsh weather.” Its two major islands, Severny (northern) and Yuzhny (southern), are vast. The archipelago lies in the Arctic Ocean, separating the Barents and Kara seas. More than one-quarter of the land is permanently covered by ice, and much of the north and south are considered Arctic desert. In the ice-free parts of the islands there’s little but tundra and swamp. Lemmings, Arctic foxes, seals, walruses are found on Novaya Zemlya. Polar bears make an occasional appearance.

Top Things to See

Russian Arctic Landscape

Russian Arctic National Park

Russia’s newest National Park is the northernmost and the largest protected natural territory in Russia. The park occupies two remote archipelagoes, the northern part of Novaya Zemlya and the archipelago of Franz Josef Land. Together, they’re sometimes referred to as “The Edge of the Earth.” This expansive territory is primary habitat for many iconic Arctic mammals, such as polar bears, walruses and narwhals, as well as diverse bird species. This region is where the first European visitors overwintered. The national park is home to some well-preserved Soviet polar research stations.

Russian Arctic Landscape

Great Arctic State Nature Reserve

This Russian state nature reserve compromises most of the remote islands of the Kara Sea, some coastline and parts of the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. At 4 million hectares, it’s one of the largest nature reserves in the world and the largest in Russia and Eurasia. The impetus to create the reserve originated with a group of scientists who were conducting field research on the Taymyr peninsula in the late 1980s. They wanted to protect the unique ecosystems of this Arctic region. The reserve was approved in 1993 and today it remains a protected habitat for many important bird and mammal species. 

Passengers looking Polar Bear eating

Wildlife

The Russian Arctic abounds with wildlife: polar bears and walruses along with beluga, narwhal and bowhead whales. That abundance is due to a number of reasons: the remoteness of Russia’s Arctic coastline; minimal human presence; and the biological productivity of its waters. In the Barents and Kara Seas, the warm waters of the Atlantic mix with the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean and fresh water discharges of Russia’s massive continental rivers (such as the Ob and Yenisey) create a unique and thriving ecosystem. The seasonal sea ice habitats are especially inviting to polar bears and marine mammals in the summer. 

Passenger walking by Historical Sites

Historical Sites

Once-secret Soviet polar stations—established in the Arctic during the Cold War—have recently opened to foreign visitors. But the Arctic figured prominently in Russia’s history long before that. Some of the first European incursions into the Arctic started on the shores of the Russian Arctic. Willem Barents, for instance, became the first European to overwinter in Novaya Zemlya in the late 16th century, and Franz Josef Land became the home base for North Pole expeditions in the age of polar exploration. In recent years, polar explorers have been lured to Severnaya Zemlya’s Cape Arkticheskiy, less than 1,000 kilometres from the North Pole. 

Points of Interest

Murmansk Landscape
Murmansk

For many visitors, Murmansk is a study in Russian maritime history. The largest city north of the Arctic Circle, Murmansk (population: 303,700) is located at the end of a deep bay off the Barents Sea in northwestern Russia, and is an ideal stopping point for anyone with an interest in ships and polar exploration. The Northern Navy Museum and Shipping History Museum will captivate history buffs. The decommissioned nuclear-powered Lenin icebreaker now operates as a museum on the Murmansk pier. The city is the major embarkation point for expeditions into the Russian Arctic.

Murmansk Landscape
Close-up photo of Rubini Rock
Rubini Rock, Hooker Island

Located in Tichaya Bay near Hooker Island, Rubini Rock is home to one of the largest seabird colonies in Franz Josef Land. As many as 10,000 Brünnich’s guillemots, kittiwakes, little auks, fulmars and other birds nest high on the basalt columns above the Arctic waters. The rock is named after the Italian opera singer Giovanni Rubini Zodiac, prompted no doubt by the near-constant singing and squawking of the cliff-dwelling birds. Down below, visitors (in Zodiacs or small cruise boats) get close-up views of glaciers and pack ice — and of walruses relaxing on the ice floes.

Close-up photo of Rubini Rock
Passenger looking at Tellman Fjord
Tellman Fjord

Tellman Fjord, which sits on the northwestern shores of Bolshevik Island in Severnaya Zemlya, is one of the least-visited sites in the Russian Arctic. Landing here affords visitors excellent hiking opportunities and sweeping views of the Semenov-Tyan’shanskiy glacier and Grotov Ice Caps. 

Passenger looking at Tellman Fjord
Walruses on Icy Arctic Landscape
Stolichki and Apollonova Islands

Located deep in the heart of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, the remote Stolichki and Apollonova Islands are known for the summer-time walrus haul-outs. Several hundred of these large specimens can often be seen on the shores and on the seemingly endless ice floes in the surrounding waters.

Walruses on Icy Arctic Landscape

When to Go

Ideal Season

During the height of summer, June to August, the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours daily, making wildlife-viewing easier. Sea birds are in abundance during this period.

Title

Discover Your Next Adventure

Description
The Russian High Arctic is waiting to be explored. Browse all of our expeditions options to this remote corner of the Arctic.