Remote villages, icy fjords and rare wildlife make the world's Arctic region a compelling destination for cruisers looking for a little adventure. Encompassing Greenland, Iceland, the North Pole and the northern reaches of Norway, Russia and Canada, the Arctic is mostly traversed by small-ship expedition and luxury lines.
On many such cruises, you won't experience traditional shore excursions. Because the ships are small and landings occur in isolated areas, hikes, nature walks or Zodiac trips with the expedition staff are typically the only activity options -- and they're usually included in the cruise price. (For more information on Arctic cruising, check out Arctic Cruise Tips.)
However, in larger or more developed Arctic ports, cruisers can choose from a wider variety of activities. We've rounded up a few of our favorite excursions across the Arctic region.
Boat Trip to the Icefjord
Fed by Sermeq Kujalleq -- one of the world's most active glaciers -- Ilulissat's spectacular icefjord has been named a World UNESCO Heritage Site, and there's no better way to check it out than by taking a small boat out among the icebergs. You can't truly appreciate the awe-inspiring size of the icebergs until you get up close -- just bundle up in warm clothes. You'll hear smaller hunks of ice scraping along the boat's reinforced hull as you float serenely past massive icebergs in beautiful shades of blue and white.
Most travelers visit the Arctic during the summer when the weather is temperate and the sunlight lasts around the clock. Traditional dog-sledding isn't an option, but you can still meet the local dogs and ride in a wheeled sled. You'll learn the basics of mushing and then hop aboard for an exhilarating race across the tundra.
King Crab Safari
From Honningsvag, take a ride aboard a deep-sea raft into the waters of the Sarnesfjord, where your guide will show you the pots set up to catch massive king crabs. (The crustaceans can weigh as much as 22 pounds each!) After you retrieve a few crabs -- and pose for a few photos -- the group will head to a Sami camp to cook the crabs over an open fire; you can sample them as a delicious snack with bread and butter.
There are few more stunning backdrops for kayaking than Norway's scenic coastline. In this excursion from Tromso, you'll paddle an ocean kayak in the waters near Whale Island, enjoying the clean, crisp air while watching for fish and marine birds. This excursion is suited for physically fit travelers; previous kayaking experience is helpful but not required.
Erik the Red Settlement Walk (also known as Viking Ruins)
"Greenland" seems like an odd moniker for a barren land covered mostly in rock and ice, but this tiny farming settlement in the southern part of the island is one of the few places that live up to the name. Lush green hills populated by grazing sheep and horses provide a backdrop for the ruins of the Viking settlement founded by Erik the Red in the 10th century -- one of only a handful of Viking ruins in Greenland. Visitors can walk inside a re-creation of Erik's longhouse and his wife Tjodhilde's small chapel, and listen to a guide tell stories of what life was like here for the Viking settlers.
Bjarnarhofn Shark Farm & Helgafell
This tour for adventurous foodies offers a taste of traditional Iceland -- literally. You'll drive through a stark lava field en route to Bjarnarhofn, a farm where shark meat is allowed to rot and air-cure for months to produce a delicacy known as hakarl. (You can try it if you're brave. An accompanying shot of Brennivin, a local schnapps, helps it go down a little easier.) The tour then proceeds to a 240-foot hill called Helgafell; legend has it that those who climb it will be granted three wishes.
Cruise to Vigur Island
Take a serene, 30-minute boat ride from Isafjordur to tiny Vigur Island, measuring just a mile long and 450 yards wide. You'll share the island with a population of puffins, eider ducks, Arctic terns and other birds -- so bring your binoculars! Vigur is also home to Iceland's only windmill, dating back to 1840, and to a well-preserved, 200-year-old rowboat that the locals still use to transfer their sheep to the mainland to graze.
Lofoten by Horseback
Saddle up and enjoy a relaxing ride through the Gimsoy landscape on a gentle Icelandic horse. Along the way you'll spot Viking ruins, colorful houses, fish laid out to dry, and a golf course where duffers can tee up around the clock in the summertime under the midnight sun. You'll even ride on the beach.
Yes, it's popular. And no, it's not technically in the Arctic. But chances are that far-north cruises departing from Iceland will put you in proximity of this geothermal wonder; it's just 30 minutes from downtown Reykjavik and 15 minutes from the airport. The water is heated to a constant 102 degrees, making it ideal for a relaxing soak. Splurge on an in-water massage while floating on a raft in the massive pool. Or duck into its grotto, then luxuriate under a manmade waterfall. The mineral-rich, milky blue water is Wow Factor No. 1, but its ethereal black lava setting ranks a close second.
Updated October 10, 2019