Best time to go on an Arctic Cruise


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IN THE ARCTIC

July-August is – for many – the loveliest time in the Arctic, as the sea ice has melted, leaving open waters to cruise through, while migrating whales breach the chilly surface. The Gulf Stream flows up Svalbard’s coast, creating a strangely mild oasis 1,200km north of the Arctic Circle. Earlier on the recently calved icebergs are more colossal, but the later you travel, the further north you can sail. By late September, however, the ice creeps southward again, and the Northern Lights begin to glow. Canadian and Russian cruises barely skim the Arctic Circle; the climate is much chillier, bringing ice – and polar bears – considerably further south.

Arctic cruises, month by month


There’s not much in the way of sunlight or open sailing passages during November, December, January and February, so Arctic cruises are not recommended, especially if you’re hoping to see any wildlife.

The Northern Lights are visible from September through to March - with the spring and autumn equinoxes said to be particularly good times for viewings.

The return of the sun in mid-February and early March sees the advent of spring, and polar bears begin to emerge in the wilds of Canada.

April is one of the best times to go on an Arctic cruise for nature photographers as not only are there some incredible newly formed icebergs but there’s every chance of also seeing humpback whales appearing beyond untouched landscapes covered in snow and ice.

The most impressive icebergs tend to last through May and into June and it’s as they’re melting that you’ll find the best time to see narwhals and sea birds.

If you’re looking to find polar bears coming closer to the shoreline then July and August is the best time for an Arctic cruise.

If you're cruising around Spitsbergen, this is definitely a summer activity. By October the northern shores have iced over, blocking your route, and the lack of daylight and colder temperatures make cruises much less pleasurable.

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What happens when in the Arctic


Charlotte Caffrey, co-founder of our supplier Aqua-Firma, advises on when to go on an Arctic cruise to Svalbard: “The seasons are very different. In June, there’s a lot of snow and ice, so you’re able only to visit parts of Spitsbergen. As the season goes on, you get a melting of the ice so you can do a circumnavigation. It’s a longer trip and you’re getting very different aspects of the Arctic. By September, there’s no longer 24-hour daylight; you’ll get more evening time. The birdlife stays from around June into early September – there’s a lot of food around and the breeding activity is really high. So you have to think: what do I want to see? How long do I want to be there? Which parts do I want to explore?”

Mary Curry, from our supplier Adventure Life, shares her advice on when to go on a cruise in the Canadian Arctic: “I did a narwhal trip around Baffin Island and the narwhal move in June, so that’s the best time to see those.”

What happens when in The Arctic


Our nature pick from The Arctic calendar

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It’s not all ice and polar bears up here. You’ll see brown bears feasting on salmon in a landscape dotted with delicate summer wildflowers along Eastern Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula in July. If you cruise along the peninsula’s coast in September, the landscape will be painted in vivid autumnal reds and oranges.
Photo credits: [Topbox: Alexandre Lavrov] [Birds: Polar Cruises] [Brown bear: Harald Deischinger]
Written by Vicki Brown
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