[Editor's note: The following blog content refers to past voyages to the North Pole, which embarks from Murmansk, Russia. Quark Expeditions is currently not operating any voyages that include Russia. We hope to resume our North Pole itinerary in the future.]
It’s a destination that belongs to all of us, yet few will ever reach it.
All lines of longitude converge here at the top of the world, where a glance in any direction is a look south. Coveted by many countries, the North Pole is owned by no one. It has no economic value, and yet no equivalent or alternative. The importance of this sacred place is immeasurable.
And yet many wonder - can you visit the North Pole? The answer is yes you can, and polar cruises through the true north of the Canadian Arctic can be a life-changing experience.
Some explorers are surprised to find out that there are many differences between the north and south poles and how much their experiences or expectations of the Antarctic continent south pole differ from the northernmost point of the Arctic.
The landscapes, wildlife, and exclusive experience of visiting the North Pole is unlike anything else on Earth.
Just what is it that makes a North Pole expedition one of the most unique vacations and greatest travel achievements on the planet? Passengers consistently identify a few specific sights and activities as the elements that really made their Arctic journey to the geographic North Pole the trip of a lifetime.
So check out expeditions to the North Pole, including the North Pole: The Ultimate Arctic Adventure and consider these your top 5 reasons to visit to the North Pole!
1. Follow in the Footsteps of Adventurous Polar Explorers
Your visit to the North Pole takes you through Franz Josef Land, the northerly-most archipelago in Eurasia.
This collection of 191 unpopulated islands inside the Arctic Circle offers a number of fascinating shore landing opportunities and just like the explorers of days gone by, opportunities to make land are guided by the weather and ice conditions.
“Aptly named ‘pancake’ ice, this whimsical ice formation is fast to form, when temperatures drop, and fast to melt. I really enjoyed this ever-changing landscape as we made our way towards the North Pole on the Russian Nuclear Ice-Breaker “50 Years of Victory” with Quark Expeditions and SeaLegacy.”
- Cristina Mittermeier, SeaLegacy
The recorded history of Franz Josef Land is relatively short, given that it was discovered even later than Antarctica in 1873. Even so, more than 50 scientific expeditions and hunting vessels from Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Norway, Russia and the USA visited the island before its accession to the USSR, according to Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation.
Among the earliest visitors to Franz Josef Land was Benjamin Leigh-Smith’s expedition, who built a hut at Bell Island. They never had the opportunity to use it, however, as their ship wrecked just off the coast.
The hut stands in excellent condition today, with a series of fascinating inscriptions on its interior walls. You’ll also find an old Russian isba (wood structure) here, which may even pre-date the official discovery of the islands.
"These islands never had Aboriginal inhabitants, so their history is quite recent. Their history is the story of the people who discovered these islands and how they traveled between them. At Cape Flora, for example, you’ll find monuments to the various expeditions that have spent time there.”
- Laurie Dexter, Historian
The ‘1000 Days in the Arctic’ expedition of Jackson-Harmsworth passed through Franz Josef Land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, along with more than a half dozen others.
On Cape Norway on Jackson Island lies the remains of Fridtjof Nansen and Frederick Jackson’s stone hut, where the pair stayed over the winter of 1895-96.
If you make it to Alger Island, you’ll see the remains of the huts built and used by the Baldwin-Ziegler expedition of 1901-02 and the subsequent Fiala-Ziegler expedition of 1903-05.
2. Crush Through Multi-Year Sea Ice on One of the World’s Most Powerful Icebreakers
The only passenger ship delivering passengers to their North Pole experience, 50 Years of Victory is at once an icebreaking powerhouse and a comfortable, cozy home base where visitors stay during their Arctic adventures as they get to the North Pole.
Your trip includes plenty of free time for you to enjoy time on deck the icebreaker ship keeping an eye out for polar bear sightings, watching for wildlife, soaking up the midnight sun and taking in the mesmerizing spectacle of an endless sea of pack ice drifting towards you on ice days.
Warm up with a swim or sauna, then take in an expert talk--maybe on climate change, the magnetic North Pole, Arctic species or the culture of the Far North.
Join new friends in the lounge for a drink, have a quick volleyball game, or take a quiet break to learn more about the harsh conditions of these frigid regions (and the people who discovered them) in the Polar Library.
Underpinning each of these new onboard experiences is the once in a lifetime adventure of crushing through thick, multi-year sea ice. Icebreakers need three main components to do their hard work: engines powerful enough to drive the bow up into the ice; a hull strong enough to withstand that force; and a bow shape to clear the ice, allowing the ship to move forward.
Two nuclear reactor thrusters generate up to 74,000 horsepower to muscle 50 Years of Victory through ice up to 2.5 meters thick, which it then crushes under its weight. The first Arktika* icebreaker built with a spoon-shaped bow, 50 Years has been proven so effective at clearing ice that the bow design has been widely adopted for new icebreaker builds. (*Arktika-class is a Russian designation for its most powerful icebreakers.)
Most visitors are surprised by the impact of the ship itself on their adventure through the Arctic Ocean.
"Sailing to the North Pole is dramatic, almost meditative. As the 50 Years slices through the white landscape, we stand on the bow, looking down to see the ice splitting and snapping as if the blue Arctic Ocean can breathe again through these new cracks. The sound of the gigantic icebergs banging into the reinforced bow of the vessel reverberates throughout the ship. During the evening, we listen to the sounds from the bar, where we come together to warm up, share stories and, often with a glass of wine in the hand, gaze at the ethereal frozen desert enveloping us.”
- Debbie Pappyn for The Telegraph | Luxury Ultratravel
3. Soar High Over Fragile Arctic Sea Ice by Helicopter or Hot Air Balloon
High above the 50 Years of Victory, the frozen Arctic Ocean becomes a natural mosaic of snow-capped ice ridges, massive crevices and cracks, and melt pools ranging from cerulean to a deep, spectacular turquoise.
This new perspective, paired with the absolute still and silence of flying up to 30 meters high in a tethered hot air balloon, makes this optional activity one of the most exclusive and unique vacation experiences on Earth.
Only Quark offers this opportunity to not only reach and stand on, but trips to transcend and float high over the top of the world.
"Exploring the Arctic, a beautiful and fragile ecosystem, and witnessing climate change with my own eyes was wonderful and simultaneously frightening experience.”
- Timo Kohler, Photographer
Throughout your expedition, you’ll have the opportunity to take weather-permitting sightseeing flights on the onboard helicopters including the Mi2 helicopter.
Franz Josef Land’s craggy, jutting cliffs and massive icebergs in 50 Years of Victory’s path will play with your sense of perception when you fly high above and you'll feel like you're at the very top of the world.
4. Enjoy Whale and Wildlife Watching as a Part the North Pole Experience
50 Years of Victory’s ample exterior windows, open bridge policy and deck space make for great wildlife viewing, when animals choose to present themselves. When you do venture up to the bridge, you’ll almost always find an Expedition Team member there scouting the ice or waters ahead for seals, whales and polar bears.
Often, the first sign of a whale nearby is the tell-tale spout of water shot into the air on its exhale. You might catch only a glimpse of its slick back just inches above the water, but don’t lose hope.
When a passenger or team member spots a whale (or more than one, as often happens) and reports to the Expedition Leader, they’ll evaluate whether it’s likely to stick around for a time.
If the ship is moving towards the whale or it seems to be moving fairly slowly, an announcement goes out to all passengers with the location of the sighting. Throw on your parka, grab your camera and hit the decks!
Polar bear sightings are completely unpredictable and unbearably exciting (see what we did there?) when they happen. Your Expedition Leader will announce over the PA where you can go for the best view.
Incredibly lucky expeditions have had polar bears take an interest in our presence and approach the ship but even at a distance, a polar bear spotted in the wild of the Arctic is a rare and impactful sighting.
5. Toast Your Incredible Travel Achievement at 90° North
Raise your glass with new friends and toast your shared achievement of reaching one of the world’s least visited destinations and joining an exclusive club of a small number of polar explorers.
Out on the ice, you’ll enjoy a powerful, multicultural ceremony to mark the monumental occasion, followed by a delicious meal prepared by your Expedition Team.
Soak up the midnight sun; weather-permitting, you’ll have time to make your time on the ice your own, too.
If “practice yoga at the North Pole” is on your bucket list, make it happen! We’ve seen the sweetest marriage proposals, community inukshuk building, silent reflection and prayer, and people cheering at the top of their lungs at 90° North during their trips to the North Pole.
It’s your North Pole experience to do your way and truly commemorate your trip of a lifetime.
Want to learn more about planning your own epic journey to the top of the world?
- Read more North Pole stories from expedition experts and travelers like you
- Download your free North Pole: The Ultimate Arctic Adventure brochure
- Contact one of our adventure consultants to learn more