Things to consider
- Getting to The Arctic can be complicated as there are multiple entry points to choose from, but quite a limited number of actual routes for the size of the region.
- Due to the distances and logistics involved, most people fly to the Arctic, however you can also get there by boat or even car.
- Longyearbyen on Svalbard is the most northerly airport to receive daily scheduled flights, making it arguably the most accessible place in the High Arctic.
- Other parts of the Arctic, notably the Canadian Arctic, aren’t so well served by commercial airlines and have to rely on expensive charter flights.
- To get to Greenland you need to fly via Copenhagen, Denmark or Iceland.
How to get there
Flying to the Arctic
Flying is by far the most popular and expedient way to get to the Arctic. Distances are considerable, temperatures can be challenging, and in many areas, roads simply don’t exist. However, in spite of flying being the most convenient and commonly used mode of transportation, there's actually quite a limited choice of flight routes into the High Arctic. For example:
- To get to Svalbard you have to fly via Oslo, Norway
- To reach Greenland you need to fly via Copenhagen, Denmark or Iceland
The other important consideration to be aware of is that there are two main types of flights into the Arctic:
Operated by commercial airlines - such as SAS, Norwegian, Air Greenland & Air Iceland - these are regular flights with published flight timings which are publicly available online for anyone to book.
These operate in a very different way to commercial flights which people are used to booking, because there are no scheduled flights, they only operate on private request. You can’t just book a seat, you need to secure the whole plane (unless your boat operator has done it for you). Charter flights:
- Are typically more expensive than scheduled flights
- Use smaller planes than most commercial flights
- Can get you into remoter places where commercial airlines simply don’t go
The Canadian Arctic, and parts of northern Canada, are very good examples of places which rely heavily on charter flight operators - such as First Air & Calm Air - to get around, in the absence of scheduled flights being available.
Reaching the Arctic by boat
Getting to the Arctic by boat has the obvious disadvantage that due to ice it's only possible for a few limited months each summer. Plus, the sheer distances involved can be a challenge, which is where flying is often a better bet.
However, for anyone keen to reach the Arctic by ship, a number of expedition ships offer a limited selection of voyages in early summer which start in either Scotland, Iceland or Norway and head north to Svalbard, bisecting the Arctic Circle en route. These trips typically last 10-14 days and are a great way to experience the transition in climate and habitat as you journey north.
Driving to the Arctic
While driving to the Arctic might sound unlikely, in a few select places it is entirely feasible. For example, in Norway the 1,080 mile (1,737km) drive from Oslo to Tromso, which lies inside the Arctic Circle, is straightforward (if long!) during the summer months.
In North America, Alaska’s iconic 414 mile (666 km) Dalton Highway, which runs due north from Fairbanks to Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean, with only three towns along the route, is one of the most isolated roads in the United States.
These limited examples aside, the vast distances and punishing treatment that the extreme Arctic climate gives road surfaces has led to a general underinvestment in road systems in the Arctic Regions. Huge areas remain totally roadless. Svalbard, for example, has only 27 miles (44km) of tarmac road in total, and none of its main settlements are joined.
How to get to each region
In spite of Svalbard being located closer to the North Pole than its nearest neighbour Norway, due to daily scheduled flights from Oslo to Longyearbyen, the main town, it's actually one of the most accessible parts of the High Arctic, and least expensive to get to.
The North Pole
A truly iconic destination which resides on many a traveller’s Bucket List, it's actually more accessible than many realise. The most popular route is via icebreaker ship from Murmansk in Russia, during the summer months, forcing a path through the ice to reach 90 degrees north to stand on the roof of the world, where all lines of longitude meet. Alternatively, for those shorter on time, you can fly to Svalbard (in April only) and from there arrive at the North Pole by helicopter.
Canadian Arctic & Northwest Passage
A vast area dominated by the labyrinthine Arctic Archipelago, the sheer distances and extremity of the weather provide real challenges when it comes to both getting to and travel within the Canadian Arctic. In the absence of scheduled flights, charter flights from gateway cities like Ottawa, Toronto and Edmonton are called upon to reach remote Inuit communities and logistical centres like Resolute.
For such a large island which backs almost directly into the Canadian Arctic, you would be forgiven for assuming that accessing Greenland from North America is reasonably straightforward. The reality is that the main access points for anyone wanting to get to Greenland is either via Copenhagen, Denmark or Iceland.
The Russian Arctic occupies the longest and least populated coastline in the whole of the Arctic. Access is limited and expensive, and visitor infrastructure rudimentary at best once you arrive. One notable exception to this are summer trips by expedition ship from Anadyr to Wrangel Island, an important polar bear denning site.
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