The Russian Arctic and the North Pole Tours

Only a few places in the world have stirred the hearts of explorers more than the North Pole. This region has unspeakable power and the journey to reach the most northern point on Earth is equally as inspiring. At 90 degrees north, you are at a point on Earth where the only direction you can go is south. A journey to the North Pole offers the chance of a lifetime, the chance to be one of the privileged few to have stood at the top of the world, surrounded by white icescapes. Travelling through thick pack ice, the voyage itself is an exciting adventure. 
 
For travellers seeking a truly remote and wild destination, the Russian Arctic will not disappoint and each day will be an epic adventure of discovery. This vast, largely ignored region on the roof of the world opened up to expedition cruising in its purest form after the dismantling of the Soviet Union. It is an absolute wilderness paradise with mammoth steppe vegetation filled with strange endemic flora where you can observe musk oxen, reindeer, walruses and polar bears plus a multitude of birds including tufted and horned puffins, guillemots and crested auklets. A graveyard of ancient walrus skulls is a haunting reminder of the days of hunting whilst rocky landscapes come alive with colour as the Arctic wildflowers start to bloom. 
 

My expedition cruise to Franz Josef Land was absolutely fantastic. We discovered unparalleled landscapes, wildlife, and history in one of the wildest and most remote corners of the Arctic. I can highly recommend going there!

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Featured The Russian Arctic and the North Pole Trips & Deals

POPULAR  From 12,895

Starting in Longyearbyen in the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, we cross the icy, wildlife-rich Barents Sea to the Russian High Arctic. 

POPULAR  From 29,299

We invite you to join us on an historic journey which explores the history and development of the Arctic and the many islands along the way.

POPULAR  From 15,775

This unique expedition crosses the Arctic Circle and includes the isolated and pristine Wrangel and Herald Islands and a significant section of the wild North Eastern Siberian coastline. 

The Russian Arctic and the North Pole Tours

14 NIGHTS From 12,535

The Chukotka region is one of 83 regions which make up the Russian Federation, officially known as the Chukotka Autonomous Region, it was the last part of Siberia to be ‘conquered' or ‘subdued' by the Cossack invaders from the west. 

2 NIGHTS From 28,160

This seasonal, fly-in base camp is truly a unique North Pole experience and ideal for those seeking a short, but adventurous journey to the top of the world.

Country Information

WHEN TO GO
Expedition cruises to the Russian Arctic operate only during the brief Arctic summer when the sea ice has receded enough to allow access by expedition vessels. Between October and May, the long dark days and the density of sea ice mean that cruises to this part of the world cannot operate. Although there are a few Arctic bird species that overwinter in the Arctic, the majority of birds in this region are migratory birds who arrive in the summer. The summer months are also the months when you are likely to see whales, seals, musk ox, walruses and polar bears. 
Voyages to the North Pole are only available in the Arctic summer - generally operating in June and July. 
If you are hoping to transit the Northeast Passage, then you will need to travel in July or August. By July the ice is in full retreat, making the route accessible to expedition cruises. This route generally opens in July and is usually accessible until the end of August. 
 
WEATHER
The North Pole lies at sea level in the middle of the ocean and as a result is warmer than the South Pole. In July and August temperatures even peak above freezing. In winter temperatures at the North Pole average around -30°C ranging from -13 to -50°C. In the summer months of June to August, temperatures average 0°C. Cyclones have been reported at the North Pole by weather stations.
The Arctic city of Murmansk is located in the extreme northwest of Russia. Winters here are long and cold, and summers short and cool. Average highs in July exceed 17°C, but in the height of winter temperatures range between -6 and -13°C and have been known to fall as low as -40°C. At the extreme northeast lies Anadyr, Russia’s easternmost town. January, the coldest month sees average temperatures of -23°C with average highs of -18°C. In July, average highs are 16°C.
Franz Josef Land, an archipelago that forms part of the Russian Arctic is warmer than the Canadian Arctic archipelago but colder than Spitsbergen, with summer temperatures averaging 0 to 3°C.
The Northeast Passage connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the Arctic along the coasts of Russia and Norway. Parts remain ice-free year round while other parts freeze in winter and partially melt in the summer, opening up the route to some Arctic voyages.
 
WILDLIFE
At the North Pole, the drifting ice makes for an unpredictable habitat and land mammals rarely migrate here. Arctic foxes and ringed seals have been spotted in the area and occasional polar bear tracks have been seen near to the North Pole. The most frequent visitors and inhabitants are migratory birds such as snow buntings, fulmars, kittiwakes and the Arctic tern. The Arctic tern migrates over 60,000 kilometres on its annual round trip between the North and South Poles. Under the ice, shrimp, sea anemones and small crustaceans inhabit the waters. Several species of fish are found at the North Pole including Arctic cod.
 
Cruising the waters of the Russian Arctic you may see grey and minke whales and possibly a white beluga whale. Around the islands you find birds such as least and crested auklets, tufted and horned puffins and guillemots. There are at least 40 different species of birds in the area. Emperor geese and spoon-billed sandpipers are found on Belaka Spit near the mouth of Kolyuchin Inlet and grey whales also frequent the area. 
 
Wrangel Island is known for its wildlife. It is a significant polar bear denning site and also boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus. Musk ox and reindeer thrive on the island as do tundra geese and each summer thousands of birds migrate here to breed including snow geese, snowy owls, gulls (Ross’s, Sabine’s and ivory), skuas and Arctic terns.
 
CULTURE AND CUSTOMS
There are no human inhabitants at the North Pole, as the constantly moving ice makes the establishment of a permanent community nearly impossible, but Inuit people live in the nearby Russian Arctic. 
The Chukchi are indigenous people that inhabit the Chukchi or Chukotka Peninsula. Traditionally these people are nomadic, migrating seasonally with their reindeer herds and living in reindeer-hide tents. The Chukchi living in the interior of the peninsula herd and hunt reindeer whilst those living along the coast traditionally hunt marine mammals such as whales, walruses and seals. They speak the Chukchi language and their religion is a native form of shamanism. During rituals, the shamans fall into trances and communicate with the spirits. Originally their housing was rounded reindeer-hide tents (yarangas) but wooden and concrete buildings are now common. Similarly the traditional forms of transport (dogsleds, skin boats and reindeer-pulled sleds) are now supplemented by snow-mobiles and motor-boats. Western clothing has also replaced the traditional garments made from reindeer or seal hide and trimmed with fox or wolf fur. Chukchi women are skilled at sewing and embroidery whilst the men are skilled at bone carving and sculpture. 
 
The tiny coastal village of Uelen in Chukotka is known for its carvings from walrus ivory. It is the most north eastern village in Russia and archaeological research indicates that seal, whale and walrus hunters have lived there for more than 2,000 years.
 
‘Whale Bone Alley’ is located on the northern shores of Yttygran Island, consisting of a large number of whale skulls and bones that have been carefully arranged as well as meat storage pits. In one section there is an incredible archway made from vast bowhead whale jawbones and ribs. It is thought that this was once a collective centre for the butchery and storage of whale meat. 
 
TOURISM AND SUSTAINABILITY
The Arctic Council was established in 1996 with Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, USA and Russia as member countries and with six organisations representing Arctic indigenous peoples as Permanent Participants. The main aim of the Arctic Council is to promote sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Major projects include the conservation of Arctic biodiversity and the protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.
Many Arctic operators also work in the Antarctic, using the same vessels in the alternating seasons and Chimu Adventures, like the operators they work with, are members of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators). The good practices, training and environmental protection promoted in the Antarctic are also promoted in the Arctic. 
Tourism does have its benefits in that national park and wildlife reserve fees help to maintain, protect and monitor these wilderness areas. Conservation in the Russian Arctic is extremely underfunded, not helped by its remoteness from Moscow but some Arctic operators contribute directly to conservation in the area by their partnership with conservation agencies.  
Visiting remote Inuit communities, taking tours with them and buying their handicrafts is also beneficial. It provides them with an income, supports a traditional and unique way of life that is disappearing and helps these people to remain in their isolated rural communities.
 
GEOGRAPHY
The North Pole is the most northernmost point on Earth at a latitude of 90° north, and from the North Pole, all directions point south. It sits in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, on water that is almost permanently covered with constantly shifting sea ice. The depth of the ocean at the North Pole is over 4,000m and the ice is 2-3m in thickness.
The Russian Arctic extends west to east for nearly 7,000 kilometres from the Kola Peninsula to Nenetsia, the Gulf of Ob, the Taymyr Peninsula and the Chukchi Peninsula in the Russian Far East. The islands and archipelagos in the Arctic Sea that also form part of the Russian Arctic include Severnaya Zemlya, Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, Wrangel Island, Heron Island, New Siberian Islands and Kolguyev Island.
North of the Arctic Circle, the Russian Arctic is mainly barren tundra or permafrost. The subsoil is permanently frozen and so the only natural vegetation are mosses, lichens and low shrubs.  
The Franz Josef Land group of islands are located in the Barents Sea, the most northerly group of islands of the Russian Arctic, lying within 900 kilometres of the North Pole. The archipelago is made up of 191 ice-covered glaciated islands that are encased in sea ice for most of the year.
 
HISTORY
  • The first major attempts to reach the North Pole were in the 19th century
  • Frederick Albert Cook and Robert Peary both claim to have been first to reach the North Pole in 1908/9, still debated to this day
  • The first verified flight over the North Pole is credited to Roald Amundsen in 1926
  • The first men to set foot at the North Pole were a Soviet party in 1948, landing in 3 aircraft
  • The USS Nautilus submarine was the first vessel to travel beneath the North Pole in 1958
  • Ralph Plaisted reached the pole by snowmobile in 1968, the first confirmed surface crossing
  • Wally Herbert was the first person to reach the North Pole on foot in 1969
  • The Soviet nuclear-powered ice-breaker NS Arktika was the first surface vessel to reach the North Pole in 1977
  • In 2007 a Russian submersible reached the seabed under the North Pole, dropping a titanium flag there
  • Canada, Russia & Denmark all claim the North Pole as part of their territory but currently no country owns it
 
FOOD AND DRINK
In general, on Arctic cruises to the Russian Arctic and the North Pole, all meals are taken on board your expedition vessel. The food is of a high standard - plentiful, tasty and nutritious, prepared by professional chefs who serve a wide variety of dishes. The majority of meals tend to be buffet style, but dinners may be served to your table. Beverages such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate are included whereas soft drinks and alcohol must be paid for. Most ships have well stocked bars and a good selection of wines. It is usual to toast your arrival at the North Pole with champagne or Russian vodka!
The staple diet of the Chukchi, varies depending on whether they are living on the coast or inland. On the coast, the cuisine is based on marine mammals such as boiled seal, whale and walrus meat as well as fish and seaweed. The inland cuisine features reindeer and includes such ‘delicacies’ as reindeer-blood soup, boiled venison and thinly sliced frozen salted venison. Rilkeil is a traditional Chukchi dish made from the semi-digested moss from the stomach of a slaughtered reindeer mixed with deer fat, blood and thinly sliced intestine. Kolobki are meat balls made from boiled venison, seal oil and the pounded roots and bulbs of herbs. Traditional Inuit cuisines are now supplemented with canned vegetables, bread and other prepared foods.
 
FURTHER READING
  • True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole by Bruce Henderson
  • Eyewitness Accounts: My Life as an Explorer by Roald Amundsen
  • Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen
  • In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic by Valerian Albanov
  • Ada BlackJack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic by Jennifer Niven
  • Conquering the Impossible by Mike Horn
 

Frequently Asked Questions

What money do they use in in the Russian Arctic?

The unit of currency in Russia is the Russian Ruble (RUB). 
Please check websites such as www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for up to date exchange rates prior to your departure.
 
On all Arctic cruises meals are included but drinks and souvenirs need to be purchased separately. Most cruise ships accept Euros € and US $. Major credit cards, in particular Visa and MasterCard are also widely accepted on board. 

What language do they speak in the Russian Arctic?

The official language of Russia is Russian. The indigenous people have their own languages including Nenets and Chukchi. 

Do I need to be fit to go to the Russian Arctic ?

A high level of fitness is not necessary for Arctic cruises to the North Pole and Russian Arctic, but you need to be in good health as although there is generally a doctor on board the ship, you may be a long way from any other medical assistance. The majority of activities are focused around shore excursions and zodiac cruising and so you need to be agile and able-bodied enough to climb into and out of the inflatable zodiacs from both the ship and the shore. On shore landings you may need to negotiate uneven and slippery ground. Shore excursions generally involve some walking.

Is it safe to travel in the Russian Arctic?

All of our tours are 100% tried and tested to ensure that when you travel with us, you’re doing so in a controlled and safe environment with trained experts. We consistently monitor weather conditions and will always provide you with the best possible adventure without risk of injury to you or the vessel. While some activities may need to be rescheduled or cancelled due to weather, every effort is made to have a contingency plan should such conditions become a reality during your expedition. We use our vast experience and knowledge when picking the vessels we sell to provide you with an adventure that’s unforgettable for all the right reasons.

Do I need a visa to travel to the Russian Arctic?

A visa is not required to visit the North Pole but a visa is required by all foreign nationals to travel to the Russian Federation.

How long will I spend in the Russian Arctic ?

Arctic cruises to the North Pole generally take 6-7 days to reach the North Pole with a day spent at the Pole. These cruises are often combined with a 3-4 day exploration of Franz Josef Land, part of the Russian Arctic. 
Northeast Passage Arctic cruises are generally 3-4 week voyages that include visits to various points along the Russian Arctic coast and several islands including the Chukotka Peninsula, Wrangel Island, New Siberian Islands, Severnaya Zemlya, Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land.
Russian Arctic cruises are typically 12 to 15 days.