Cruises to lands above the Arctic Circle often start and/or end in Norway, Svalbard (Spitsbergen) Iceland or Greenland. Repositioning cruises make a northern arc calling at all of these en route from Eastern Canada to Northern Europe. Svalbard, north of Norway, is noted for its polar bear and whale sightings, birdlife, amazing ice and snow landscapes, while the Faroe Islands, northwest of Scotland, feature picturesque landscapes, tiny villages and Viking ruins. Cruises along Greenland’s coast visits colorful villages, fjords, glaciers and Viking ruins, while Iceland enchants with rugged landscapes, fjords, thermal wonders, newly created islands and the capital of Reykjavik with its contrasting sophistication. New ventures to truly remote lands call at the Russian Arctic and the Barents Sea ports of Archangel and Murmansk and islands such as Franz Josef Land. A few ships take passengers to the North Pole, either directly or via short helicopter flights if the ice is impenetrable.
The region consists of all of Canada above the Arctic Circle; some of it attached to mainland Canada and the rest islands of all sizes. It is a popular destination for those seeking remote people, barren landscapes, sea birds, whales and polar bears, and for the well-heeled sailing the Northwest Passage.
Definitely misnamed, Iceland has recently become a major draw for small ships with its deep inlets, recent islands that rose from the sea during volcanic eruptions, thermal hot springs and its colorful capital of Reykjavik.
A huge semi-autonomous island under Danish administration, its heavily indented coastline provides scenic fjords to explore via small ships, some dead-ended with glaciers, colorful native towns, ruins of early Viking settlements, and wildlife in the air and on the sea.
From the western end, the summer-only semi-ice-free route starts north of Alaska then passes through extreme northern Arctic Canada between islands south of the North Pole and mainland Canada. It ends at the Baffin Sea running alongside Greenland.
Powerful icebreakers can now access latitude 90 degrees and put expedition passengers on to the ice at this exact spot. Some ships carry helicopters for the well heeled to float above True North.
Spitzbergen / Svalbard
Allied with and located north of Norway, the island chain is noted for its polar bear population more likely seen aboard small expedition ships that large cruise liners, and its majestic beauty, ice formations and museum at its capital Longyearbyen.