The best time to visit the Arctic is between June and September, during the high summer. The sea ice begins to break up to allow access to cruising vessels and temperatures are between 3°C and 7°C. Wildlife also becomes more active at the start of the season before their annual migration.
There is so much more to the Arctic than just ice and snow. With seasonal shifts come changing landscapes and animal migration patterns, making each day unique.
From October to March, large patches of the Arctic Ocean are frozen and almost impossible to navigate unless you’re a narwhal or a beluga whale. While the Arctic region is suffering from climate change in the form of rapidly melting ice sheets and permafrost thaw, cruising season in the Arctic is still determined by the sea ice. For now, at least.
From April through September, this sea ice begins to break up and reveal passages and coastline usually inaccessible to cruising vessels at other times of the year. Each of these summer months has something different to offer. The high summer months of June and July are great for viewing wildlife, for example – particularly the elusive polar bear. By the end of the season in August and September, the sky begins to light up with the Northern Lights – also known as the Aurora Borealis – and mind-blowing Arctic sunsets.
Check out the guide below to get a sense of which month you'd prefer to travel in.
June to mid-July
If you’re interested in seeing an Arctic that aligns best with the image of a winter wonderland, June to mid-July might be your time. Ice and snow are still present, but the wildlife are starting to get active again, with a few species of whale returning after spending the colder months in warmer waters. Polar bears and walruses are likely to be hunting on the ice edge. Birds are returning to breed and nesting on rocky cliffs. Midnight sun rears its glowing face.
From June to mid-July you might:
- Spot polar bears feeding at the ice edge
- Take excursions and photographs at ‘night’ with the help of the midnight sun
- See pods of whales returning to feast
Mid-July to mid-August
It’s hard to beat the Arctic during this period, which is why so many expeditions happen during this time. Ice recedes further, making the smaller islands of Svalbard accessible. Tundra flowers go into bloom and coat the ordinarily barren landscape in colour. Much of the Arctic’s iconic wildlife is on the move during this period, with reindeer (caribou) migrating in preparation for breeding season. Midnight sun is still out and about in northern Svalbard.
From mid-July to mid-August you might:
- Watch seabirds begin their annual migration
- Reach the North Pole as ice breaks up enough to allow access
- See walruses in Svalbard
Mid-August to September
The brief summer season is coming to an end and the days are getting shorter. Bird watching can be magnificent as birds begin to migrate south. Towards the end of August, you’ll have your first chance at spotting the Northern Lights in Greenland and Spitsbergen. The sun is lower but not quite gone, making for some awesome Arctic sunsets.
From mid-August to September you might:
- Catch the Northern Lights
- Explore the isolated Sam Ford Fjord as ice recedes to its lowest point
- Discover ruins and ancient settlements as the snow and ice melt
What is the weather like in the Arctic?
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