When most folks think of vacations and once-in-a-lifetime adventures, they usually aim for tropical locales where board shorts are required attire and shoes are optional. Of course, as lovers of all outdoor spaces, we think that mindset is a bit misguided. There are plenty of bucket-list-worthy locales that can be found at much higher latitudes. In fact, some of the best adventures you could possibly experience are as far north as physically possible.
If you’re a true soup-to-nuts explorer, taking a trip into the Arctic Circle can be a breathtakingly brilliant experience you’ll not soon forget. And, if you subscribe to the overwhelming scientific evidence that the poles are shrinking, there’s a chance that you won’t get to see the frozen landscapes or enjoy said endeavors in as little as a couple of decades. With that in mind, we’ve tracked down the most unique bucket-list worthy Arctic adventures to try before you die.
A Word Of Caution
No experience worth having should include the wanton destruction of the very environments you plan to enjoy.You’ll notice that, on our list, there is a lack of wildlife encounters. And there is a very good reason for this. While we are promoting whale-watching, the activity is relatively benign and doesn’t encroach too much on the animals and their environment. However, in light of the increasingly bad conditions of the Arctic ice shelves and a decline in wildlife populations, we’ve consciously refused to include experiences that let you get too close to at-risk species, such as polar bears and wolves. Many of the organizations that offer such encounters are not regulated and, therefore, do not follow environmental protocols put in place to keep the very animals they’re seeking safe. And some of them have actually put said creatures in small cages without proper care for the enjoyment of paying customers. As with any bucket list activity, we suggest looking into the legitimacy of your adventures before taking them. No experience worth having should include the wanton destruction of the very environments you plan to enjoy.
Arctic Whale Tours
Whale-watching is 100% something that should be on everyone’s bucket list, as there are few creatures in this world quite as wonderous, magnificent, and intelligent. And some of the best out there can be found in the Arctic Circle. This particular trek, courtesy of Arctic Whale Tours — which leaves from Stø, Norway (a 7-hour trip from the city of Tromsø) — affords you the ability to marvel at whales, birds, and seals as sustainably as possible — all while learning about the importance of the natural environment and what you can do to help protect it. If you happen to speak Norwegian, the tour is offered in the language, but there are also accommodations for English speakers from the entire staff (including their biologists and qualified nature guides).
Location: Stø, Norway
Nearest Major City: Tromsø, Norway
Duration: 8 Hours
Though it technically falls outside of the Arctic Circle by a few degrees, one of the most singular experiences you can have in the northern part of the world is the opportunity to snorkel or scuba at Silfra — in Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park. And the reason for this is twofold. First, Silfra itself is a fissure that marks the separation between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates — meaning it’s a literal continental divide. This unique geological feature has also resulted in the fact that Silfra has the clearest water in the world. For all fans of natural wonders, this is a bucket list Arctic adventure that should not be passed up.
Location: Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Nearest Major City: Reykjavík, Iceland
Duration: 2.5+ Hours
Blue Ice Glacier Adventure
Obviously, one of the most unique features of any Arctic landscape is the incredible amount of snow and ice. But the pinnacle of that can be found in the many glaciers across the region. And since Iceland is a hotbed for these features — with four major glaciers and numerous other smaller ones — it’s also ground zero for anyone looking to appreciate their majesty. If the bucket list activity of your choice happens to be the Blue Ice Glacier Adventure with Arctic Adventures, then you’ll also be afforded some interesting options from which to choose. They include hiking on a glacier, ice climbing up the sheer side of a glacier, and even trekking down into a stunning blue ice cave inside of a glacier. With year-round availability, this is a bucket list adventure unlike any other.
Location: Sólheimajökull, Iceland
Nearest Major City: Reykjavik, Iceland
Duration: 4.5 Hours
Arctic Snow Hotel & Glass Igloos
By now, you’ve probably heard that — in Finland — an ice hotel is carved into the snow every year. Over recent years, the hotel has been Game Of Thrones-themed. However, that changes every year, as the features of the said hotel need to be re-built and re-carved annually after the weather drops down to a suitable temperature. What you might not know about this frozen vacation spot, though, is just how reasonably priced it is. At just $148 a night for the baseline rental, this is a remarkably affordable bucket list Arctic adventure. Of course, if you’re not into the idea of spending the night in a cold ice cave, they have other options. The most enticing is probably their series of glass-domed igloos, which allow for unencumbered views of the winter night sky. And yes, that also means the potential to watch the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of a warm bed.
Location: Lehtojärvi, Finland
Nearest Major City: Rovaniemi, Finland
Duration: 1+ Day
Kvaløya Dog Sledding
An ancient arctic tradition, dog sledding is one of the few activities still around in the modern world that illustrates just how balanced mankind and nature can truly be. And it’s still more efficient than a lot of other forms of travel — even motorized ones. But the activity does require some skill. Learn everything you need to know about dog sledding while actually partaking in it yourself with Arctic Adventure Tours. With a four-hour tour plus ninety minutes of self-driven dog sledding, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That’s bolstered even further by the potential that, in the evening hours (and at the right time of year), you could have a chance to see the Aurora Borealis. And if one day of sledding isn’t enough for you, the company also offers a 7-day tour.
Location: Kvaløya, Norway
Nearest Major City: Tromsø, Norway
Duration: 4 Hours
Northern Lights Driving Adventure
It should come as no surprise that so many bucket list Arctic adventures prominently feature the Northern Lights. After all, it’s the only place you can see them. Of course, a big part of seeing them is how you get there. That’s why, if you’re a citizen of the States or you’re international and you’ve got Alaska on your list of places to see, we suggest experiencing the Aurora Borealis by way of this Alaska Tours Northern Lights Driving Adventure. Headquartered out of Fairbanks — one of the largest cities in the far north — this 15-hour trip will take you over the Alaskan tundra, alongside the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and even a stop at the fabled Yukon river before skirting into the Arctic Circle and underneath the Northern Lights.
Location: Alaskan Arctic Circle
Nearest Major City: Fairbanks, Alaska
Duration: 15-16 Hours
Riisitunturi Photography Expedition
Tourists like to take pictures — that’s no secret. But the quality of your photos can depend hugely upon the quality of your gear and your familiarity with the tenets of photography, like composition, lighting, timing, etc. While you don’t have to have gone to school for it to be a good photographer, taking a few pointers here and there from actual professionals certainly doesn’t hurt. Of course, if you can combine that with a bucket list-level adventure, there’s even more fun to be had. And that’s exactly the case with the Riisitunturi Photography Expedition. This 8-9-hour trek will take you through some of the most remote parts of Lapland (northern Finland) and into the Riisitunturi National Park — where you’ll learn all you need to know about Arctic photography. We only hope you take a moment to look at the gorgeous scenery with your own eyes and not just through a viewfinder.
Location: Riisitunturi National Park, Finland
Nearest Major City: Kuusamo, Finland
Duration: 8 Hours
Disko Bay Glacier Adventure
Greenland, while being one of the largest non-continental masses of land on Earth, is not exactly high on most people’s must-see list. But that makes it the perfect winter getaway for anyone who wants to enjoy a more pristine look into the natural world — untouched by human hands. And one of the best ways to do that is via the Disko Bay Glacier Adventure. This one-hour tour will take you up and over the landscape in a single-prop airplane, where you can gaze down upon glacier lagoons, roving wildlife, and the fabled Isua Glacier. While we’d certainly classify this outing as “short and sweet,” it’s definitely worth the trip to see this part of the world from an angle you’d otherwise be unable to appreciate.
Location: Disko Bay, Greenland
Nearest Major City: Ilulissat, Greenland
Duration: 1 Hour
Arctic Snowmobiling Tour
While most of the adventures on our list can be accomplished in the span of a day or two, there are a few that are quite a bit longer. And while they’re not for the faint of heart, they’re definitely a true adventurer’s dream. This Arctic Snowmobiling Tour with Swoop Arctic is one such adventure. For five days, along with trained guides, you’ll ride on the back of a snowmobile traveling at speeds of over 60 mph across Norway’s pristine and isolated Svalbard archipelago. But don’t worry about accommodations, as the trip will take you to a modern cabin that’s 100 miles from civilization, so you can truly experience just how isolated this winter wonderland is. It’s not a cheap trip, but it’s definitely worth it for the experience and memories.
Location: Svalbard, Norway
Nearest Major City: Longyearbyen, Norway
Duration: 5 Days
For most surfers, the must-see bucket list locales can be found in or near the tropics: Hawaii, Bali, Tahiti, etc. For a truly singular experience, however, there are some other places you might not think to travel that still offer amazing surfing. The Amazon comes to mind, as does the Eisbach river in Germany. But winter surf trip even more special than both of those can be found in the far north — the Lofoten Islands in Norway, to be exact. You see, from roughly the month of August until (sometimes) as late as April, you can actually surf under the Northern Lights. Unstad Arctic Surf will supply you with everything you need — a board, dry suit, transportation, instructions, and even food — and you can hit the surf under the Aurora Borealis. There’s really nothing else like it in the world.
Location: Lofoten Islands, Norway
Nearest Major City: Bodø, Norway
Duration: 6+ Hours
Arctic Snowboard Adventure
There are a ton of visit-worthy ski and snowboard resorts in the world. Of course, a lot of them are also very crowded most of the time. If you want to have an entire mountain to yourself, however, you’ll want to consider Mint Snowboarding’s Arctic Snowboard Adventure. Based out of the small Arctic town of Narvik, this experience will take you into Norway’s Narvikfjellet resort — a hidden gem that affords you the opportunity to board both on groomed runs and through the backcountry. The week-long course also includes a heli-drop into Riksgränsen, so you can really tear up the untouched powder.
Location: Narvikfjellet, Norway
Nearest Major City: Narvik, Norway
Duration: 6 Days
North Pole Cruise
Definitely not for those with shallow pockets, Quark Expeditions’ North Pole Cruise costs a whopping $30k per person. But it’s also an experience unlike any other — an all-inclusive cruise aboard the world’s most powerful nuclear icebreaker ship, the 50 Years Of Victory, that will literally take you to the North Pole where you can disembark and walk up to 90°N. You can also take a ride aboard a helicopter and see the Great White North from the sky. And the ship even has a hot air balloon that, weather permitting, makes for a romantic and singular experience. And that’s just the start of what makes this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Location: The North Pole
Nearest Major City: Murmansk, Russia
Duration: 14 Days
15 Classic Cars To Drive Before You Die
You don’t have to travel to the ends of the Earth to go on unique adventures, especially if that includes driving some drool-worthy automobiles. Find out how to knock some excellent autos off your bucket list on our guide to the best classic cars to drive before you die.