The Arctic is the area around the North Pole, including the Arctic Ocean and nearby land.
The Arctic is formally defined as either the area within the Arctic Circle (at 66°33′46.7″ N), or all northern areas normally colder than 10°C (50°F), year-round. The latter definition includes inland areas south of the Arctic Circle, and excludes some areas north of it. Unlike Antarctica around the South Pole, the Arctic is sea covered in an increasingly shrinking floating ice sheet surrounded by dry land. In Antarctica the situation is exactly reversed.
These countries and provinces are within the Arctic Circle.
- United States: Arctic Alaska
- Canada: Northern Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) and parts of Northern Quebec
- A few small islands north of Iceland
- Norway: Northern Norway, Svalbard and Jan Mayen
- Sweden: Norrbotten County
- Finland: Finnish Lapland
- Russia: Northwestern Russia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Yakutia and Chukotka
- Islands of the Arctic Ocean
The Arctic is sparsely populated. Many settlements are or have historically been associated with fishing, whaling (now sometimes replaced by whale-watching), mining, the military or research. Some major centers of population are:
- Bodø, Norway
- Kiruna, Sweden - a mining town
- Murmansk, Russia - one of the most important military harbors of Russia
- Tromsø, Norway - historically a starting point for many Arctic expeditions and one of the biggest cities so far north
- Fairbanks, Alaska
- North Pole
- Svalbard - you're in luck as you won't need a visa getting there (though you might need one to get to Norway where almost all flights here depart from)
The Arctic is antipodal to Antarctica. And to get this out of the way: Polar bears: Arctic. Penguins: Antarctica and other places in the Southern Hemisphere. Both: Nowhere but zoos.
Within the Arctic Circle, the sun stays above the horizon during parts of summer (Midnight Sun), and beneath the horizon during parts of winter (Arctic/Polar Night).
Anywhere north of the Arctic Circle is suitable to see the Midnight Sun in Midsummer (all summer if near close enough to the poles) – unless a hill is covering the view – and the Northern Lights during winter.
The sun is low also when seen, 47° above the horizon in Midsummer at noon at the Arctic Circle, 23,5° at the North Pole. There are few truly warm days and temperatures below freezing (32°F or 0°C) are possible even in the summer. Winters are extreme in many areas.
The climate differs significantly by latitude – but also by longitude. Due to the Gulf Stream (from the Sargasso Sea), Scandinavia has a much warmer climate than Alaska, Northern Canada or Siberia at the same latitudes.
In contrast to Antarctica which is terra nullius, virtually all dry land in the Arctic is national territory.
English is the dominant language at international expeditions. Besides national languages (English, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Russian) there are several indigenous languages such as Greenlandic, Inuktitut, and Sami. People in the Nordic countries are famously excellent at foreign languages and many Canadians speak a bit of the other national language of their country, even though full bilingualism is rare. Russians rarely speak anything but Russian. Speakers of indigenous languages increasingly speak the metropole language and often another one, too.
Regular flights to most big cities – and also regional flights to many minor ones. Some towns, such as Murmansk, have connections by rail, and many regions have decent road connections. Many railways were built with mining goods, not people in mind, so you may be in for a slow and bumpy if usually picturesque ride. There are even four EuroVelo cycling routes to the Barents Sea (to Nordkapp and Kirkenes).
Scheduled transportation through the Arctic is limited, and travellers need to rely on chartered or private vehicles in most areas. Many places – even what qualifies for cities so far North – are only accessible by boat or plane and even that may be possible only seasonally. Prices tend to reflect that, even where direct or indirect subsidies keep a service alive that would otherwise not be commercially viable.
- Northern Lights
- Whale watching
- Midnight sun; visible part of the summer.
- Ice and snow — a lot of it and in many places around the year
The cold, polar bears, snow blindness and desolation are the main dangers. You can get sunburn too.
The only way out of the Arctic is south or to space.