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Unbelievable Arctic Tourist Attractions

7 min read

What is unique about the Arctic that you absolutely must experience?

Hot-air ballooning at the very top of the world inspires many adventurers to journey to the North Pole.

Hot-air ballooning at the very top of the world inspires many adventurers to journey
to the North Pole. Photo: Sam Crimmin

What is unique about the Arctic is the breadth of diverse experiences you can expect in this northern Polar Region. The Arctic, unlike the Antarctic, is spread across multiple nations and cultures. You can visit Greenland (part of Denmark), Svalbard (the Norwegian Arctic), the remote Russian Arctic, the Canadian High Arctic, and, of course, there's also the North Pole.

Diversity. That's what's unique about the Arctic. Diverse wildlife: polar bears, musk oxen, whales, walruses, seals, reindeer, Arctic foxes, seabirds…. The cultures within the Arctic are distinct from one region to another—yet similarities do exist, as well. Visitors can experience the Inuit culture of Greenland – as well as the Inuit culture of Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic. There are also remote research stations with modest settlements in the far distant Russian Arctic where few humans live. Then there are places like Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, which is home to Longyearbyen, the most northerly permanent settlement in the world.

What is unique about the Arctic is the wide array of Arctic tourist attractions and experiences.

Must-see Arctic Tourist Attractions and Experiences

There are so many Arctic tourist attractions and experiences that no single list can cover them all. The best way to experience the Arctic is to choose which ones appeal to you the most and select a polar itinerary to match. Here are some of our top picks of Arctic tourist attractions and experiences:

Standing at the North Pole

Guests on a Quark Expeditions voyage to the North Pole fulfill a much-awaited dream of standing at the very top of the world.

Guests on a Quark Expeditions voyage to the North Pole fulfill a much-awaited dream
of standing at the very top of the world. Photo: Sam Crimmin

Few Arctic experiences rival the sensation of stepping off a polar vessel and planting your feet at 90 degrees north, the venerable North Pole. At that moment you'll find yourself at the very top of the world. Every direction you look is southward. As past visitors will tell you, there is an unforgettable moment when you say to yourself: “Yes, I am here!

Hot air balloon rides at the North Pole

Could any Arctic tourist attraction or experience top the moment you stand at the top of the world? Think for a moment what it would be like to go hot-air ballooning at the North Pole. Imagine the views of the North Pole you'd experience from above? (Rest assured, the hot air balloon would be tethered to the ground.)

Northern Lights

For many, the best way to experience the Arctic is to look up: Arctic birds, snow-capped mountains, and, of course, the Northern Lights, which are also called the Aurora borealis. The natural exploding light phenomenon occurs when charged particles from the sun become trapped in the Earth's electromagnetic field and create this beautiful explosion of multi-colored lights that often morph into brightly colored waves that dance across the night sky. This Arctic tourist attraction lures legions of travelers to northerly destinations such as Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

Quark Expeditions' guests who join the Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland voyage have plenty of opportunities to witness the mesmerizing Aurora borealis.

Guests witness the stunning Northern Lights (Aurora borealis) on a polar voyage to
Greenland. Photo: Michelle Sole

Polar bear sightings

Nanuk to some, King of the Arctic to others. Polar bears are treated with reverence in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures. Some of that admiration could be due to the animal's imposing stature and sheer size. Adult males weigh from 350 to more than 600 kilograms (775 to more than 1,300 pounds). The “smaller” females weigh in at 150 to 290 kilograms (330 to 650 pounds). Most nature lovers, upon seeing their polar bear, comment on the animal's “regal” bearing.

The polar bear, which is a marine mammal, is an incredibly strong swimmer whose intelligence is reflected in the way it hunts, the way it swims along the ice floes unnoticed before it pounces on its prey, usually a seal. To see a polar bear in the wild, especially with its cub or while hunting for its next meal, is one of the most unforgettable Arctic tourist experiences made possible by seasoned polar operators such as Quark Expeditions, which offers an itinerary specifically focused on photographing polar bears.

A mama bear and her cub in the remote Russian Arctic archipelago of  Franz Josef Land.

A mama bear and her cub in the remote Russian Arctic archipelago of Franz Josef Land.
Photo: Quark Expeditions

Historic Sites

Sir John Franklin, Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen, James Clark Ross, John Davis, and Frederick William Beechey are just a handful of the brave polar pioneers who dared to explore the Arctic. Many historic sites, some of them abandoned long ago, that are associated with these early Arctic adventurers have become much-revered Arctic tourist attractions. “Tourist attractions” perhaps don't do justice to these historic sites, which are steeped in history, and which, collectively, nurture respect for the polar heroes of yesterday.

On Quark Expeditions' “Northwest Passage: In the Footsteps of Franklin” itinerary, polar history enthusiasts can visit landings and historical sites that played a significant role in the fated Franklin expedition. These include Cumberland Sound and Cape Mercy (named by British explorer John Davis for whom the Davis Strait is named). And there are other historically significant places such as windswept Beechey Island, named after famed British explorer Frederick William Beechey, which is now a Canadian National Historic Site. Visitors often stop here to pay their respects at the marked graves of three crew members who died during Sir John Franklin's tragic 1845–46 expedition. Roald Amundsen would land here much later in 1903 during the first successful voyage by ship through the Northwest Passage.

Whale watching

Patience is what seasoned polar travelers would suggest as the best way to experience the Arctic. Anyone familiar with any kind of wildlife or bird watching will attest to that. Sometimes there'll be a crowd of species in front of you. Other times, you must wait for Mother Nature's finest creatures to show up when they're good and ready. Such is the case with one of the largest creatures on earth: the whale species.

Blue whales. Humpback whales. Fin whales. White whales. Minke whales. Bowhead whales. Grey whales. The elusive Narwhal. The presence of multiple species of whales in the Arctic is reason enough for some visitors to make the journey to the Arctic. Whale watching ranks high on the list of many adventurous polar travelers.

The sight of a whale breaching the ocean surface, or a pod of whales swimming through an Arctic bay can leave nature lovers speechless. Whale-watching is an Arctic tourist experience that requires patience and a reliable polar operator staffed with a team that knows where and when to find whales, whether they're in the Canadian High Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, the Russian Arctic, or in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

Read our informative article to learn about the most common places to see beluga whales in the wild. Or discover the best time to go whale watching in Svalbard. Another of our team wrote a helpful guide on how to spot the blue whale in the Arctic.

Quark Expeditions guests receive a visit from a curious humpback whale during a Zodiac outing.

Quark Expeditions guests receive a visit from a curious humpback whale during a Zodiac outing.
Photo: Acacia Johnson

Northeast Greenland National Park

The Northeast Greenland National Park is the world's largest national park which covers 972,000 square kilometers in the interior and northeastern coast of Greenland. It's home to 40% of the world's muskox population. The park is vast and encompasses much of the Greenland Ice Sheet, the second largest fresh-water ice formation on the planet.

Greenland's Kangerlussuaq Glacier

Kangerlussuaq is the largest glacier on the east coast of the Greenland Ice Sheet. This huge glacier flows into the Kangerlussuaq Fjord, which is the second-largest fjord in East Greenland. It's possible to see this glacier on Quark Expeditions' Best of the Western Arctic: Canada and Greenland voyage.

Monaco Glacier, Spitsbergen

Spitsbergen, in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, is home to hundreds of glaciers of various sizes and magnitudes. One of the largest glaciers in Spitsbergen is Monaco Glacier (or Monacobreen), which is located in Liefdefjorden. The foot of this glacier is 7 km wide and 60 meters high. Guests can see Monaco Glacier on Quark Expeditions' “Spitsbergen In Depth: Big Islands, Big Adventure” itinerary.

The best way to experience the Arctic

The wonders of the Arctic don't always reveal themselves on demand. Polar bears aren't always going to make an appearance the moment you've got your camera ready. Mother Nature is a fickle beast so you need to travel with experienced polar guides who know how to respond to changing ice and weather conditions—and the shifts in wildlife domains. Your Expedition Leader will have used their expertise to determine where to take you to see herds of muskoxen in the Arctic, for instance, but conditions change which can prompt these herds to move elsewhere. It takes a team of experienced polar guides to track wildlife, navigate icy terrain and Arctic waters, and read the Arctic weather.

Greenland is home to the second-largest ice mass on the planet, the Greenland Ice Sheet, which Quark Expeditions' guests can visit by helicopter.

Guests traveling with Quark Expeditions get to spend time
exploring the Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). Photo: Hugo Perrin

The best way to experience the Arctic is to start by choosing a voyage that meets your travel desires. Start with the Arctic Cruises & Expeditions to choose the journey. And then decide what off-ship activities you'll want to do while in the Arctic. Paddling, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, bird-watching, photography walks…. It's your journey so you get to choose the activities you want to participate in during your voyage.

In terms of the Arctic Cruises & Expeditions trip options, you may wish to choose a voyage that focuses on the Northern Lights or polar bears, or maybe it's an active adventure that's calling you. It's your much-awaited Arctic adventure so make the most of it!

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