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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 a floating ice sheet surrounded by dry land. In Antarctica the situation is exactly reversed.

The Arctic


Map of Arctic

The northern edges of North America, Europe and Asia are within the Arctic Circle.


A sunny summer's night in Tromsø, Norway.

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:

  • 1 Bodø Bodø (town) on Wikipedia – seat of Nordland county, Norway
  • 2 Fairbanks – Alaska's second-largest city, junction of several major highways
  • 3 Iqaluit – capital of Nunavut, Canada
  • 4 Kiruna — a mining town, Sweden
  • 5 Murmansk — largest city in the Arctic and important military harbor, Russia
  • 6 Norilsk — second largest city in the Arctic, access is restricted due to mining and military activities, Russia
  • 7 Nuuk — capital of Greenland
  • 8 Rovaniemi — the capital of Finnish Lapland
  • 9 Salekhard, Russia — a prosperous oil and gas-town
  • 10 Tromsø – historically a starting point for many Arctic expeditions and one of the biggest cities so far north, Norway
  • 11 Utqiaġvik — the northernmost town in the USA

Other destinations[edit]

The Bolshezemelskaja Tundra in Komi.
Sea ice in the Beaufort Sea.


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 close enough to the poles) – unless a hill is covering the view – and most of the accessible Arctic is good for seeing the Northern Lights during winter.

The sun is low also when seen, 47° above the horizon at noon in Midsummer 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 the Sami languages. 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.

Get in[edit]

Want to get on a cruise?

Regular flights to most towns – and regional flights also to many minor settlements. Some towns, such as Murmansk, have connections by rail, and some 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).

The only guarded borders in the Arctic are Russia's border to Finland, Norway and USA, and the Alaska-Canada border. You should still check formalities.

Get around[edit]

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.

Arctic Europe is generally significantly easier to get around in than Arctic Asia or North America.


Mountains in southern Greenland in the middle of the summer

Polar bears[edit]

Polar bears, Ursus maritimus, live in and around the Arctic Ocean. During winter, they can be found on and under the rim of the Arctic ice cap, hunting ringed seals in the water. During summer, part of the ice melts, and they retreat to land for a lean season.

This huge habitat area contains only about 30,000 bears. Luckily, they tend to be concentrated in a few coastal areas where it is possible to see them, particularly in the summer and fall.

  • 1 Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Known as the "Polar Bear Capital of the World". Churchill is a small village on the coast of Hudson's Bay, a branch of the Arctic Ocean. Every fall, Churchill hosts the world's largest concentration of polar bears, as the bears wait for the bay to freeze over. This has made Churchill a major tourist destination, as tourists board "tundra buggies" (large elevated armored buses) to go out and see the bears face to face. Churchill (Q744553) on Wikidata Churchill, Manitoba on Wikipedia
  • 2 Wrangel Island, off the northeast coast of Siberia (and very hard to get to). The world's largest concentration of polar bear maternity dens. Wrangel Island (Q106594) on Wikidata Wrangel Island on Wikipedia

In captivity, polar bears can be seen in zoos worldwide.


Sir John Franklin's 1845 lost expedition perished trying to map the Northwest Passage from the North Atlantic to the Bering Strait. Between 1903 and 1906, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to complete the journey.

  • 3 Gjoa Haven, southeast coast of King William Island, Nunavut, Canada. Amundsen stayed in what he called "the finest little harbor in the world" for nearly two years. Gjoa Haven (Q719585) on Wikidata Gjoa Haven on Wikipedia



Traditional cuisines rely heavily on fish and meat (including seal and whale in many places), vegetarians beware. Most other food has to be imported from the south, so prices tend to be high. There are still e.g. berries growing locally, some of which may be new acquaintances.


Stay safe[edit]

See also: Cold weather, Winter driving

The cold, polar bears and desolation are the main dangers. Despite the cold temperatures you can get sunburn too, especially when snow and ice are reflecting the sunlight. Sun on snow can cause snow blindness.

Go next[edit]

The only way out of the Arctic is south or to space.

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