Arctic travel advice

Tips on where to go

Cassia Jackson, from our supplier Heritage Expeditions, shares her Arctic cruises advice for those traveling to Siberia: “Russia's Wrangel Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to a large polar bear population, as well as Pacific walruses, Arctic foxes, snowy owls, snow geese, musk ox, reindeer and more. It is also believed to be the last home of the woolly mammoth. Mammoth tusks and bones are regularly unearthed in the riverbeds and interior of the island. When I was on Wrangel Island, I was lucky enough to spend some time with a group of mammothologists (best job title ever!) learning about their fascinating work uncovering more details about Wrangel Island's former inhabitants.”
Mary Curry, from our supplier Adventure Life, shares her Arctic cruises advice:
“Most think about going to Svalbard for their first trip, or Eastern Greenland. But Baffin Island has a lot to offer it’s not as well known, and it’s and often easier to get to. The charter flights leave from southern Canada – so you just have to get yourself to Toronto or Montreal. I would say Baffin by itself is underrated, especially amongst first timers in the Arctic. People who have been up there three or four times are a bit more savvy about that.”

Tips for birders

Andrew Appleyard, from our supplier Exodus, shares his Arctic cruises advice for wildlife fans:
“In the Arctic, the quest for the polar bear is the one that everyone’s there for. That makes it, to be honest, a bit of a one-trick pony. But for me, the birdlife up there is absolutely astounding. Beautiful eider ducks, the skuas, the phalaropes... for me, the birding was the highlight of the entire trip. You’ve also got the Arctic tern – it travels from the North Pole all the way to the South, it’s the longest migratory bird in the world.”

Itinerary advice

Charlotte Caffrey is a marine scientist and the co-founder of our supplier Aqua-Firma. She shares her Arctic cruises travel advice: “You have to understand that this is an expedition; it’s not like a normal vacation with a fixed itinerary. Out there, what will be, will be. What nature will reveal, she will reveal. You have to go with the flow and take the opportunities as you see them. Itineraries are there as a snapshot of what may be and we change them all the time to make the most of opportunities. If there’s a whale carcass that has been located then we might bypass what we were going to see to visit the carcass, as there may be polar bears feeding on it. There is ice and weather and everything else to consider too; you really do have to have an open mind.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Arctic cruising or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Health & safety


No vaccinations are required for the Arctic, but do speak with your vacation company to discuss any medical issues you have; back problems can cause difficulties when dog sledding or on longer Zodiac journeys for example, and of course you'll need to take any prescription medication with you along with anything else you might need. Take out comprehensive travel insurance that covers all activities you may be participating in (kayaking, diving, ice climbing) as well as emergency evacuation. Ships have basic medical care and a doctor or nurse, but any serious treatment will require evacuation. Bring good quality, protective sunglasses and sunscreen. It may be cold, but the sun’s rays can be harsh – made fiercer by reflecting off ice, snow and water. Tour operators will provide detailed trip notes and packing lists. Follow them. As you’ll be spending several days at sea, seasickness is a possibility. Look into remedies before you depart – there are patches, wristbands, tablets and of course, good old ginger. While there are no upper age limits on Antarctica tours and excursions are not obligatory, being in shape is highly recommended. The boats have lots of steep stairs, and the choppy crossing may result in passengers not being able to sleep or eat much, sapping strength. Boarding zodiacs down a steep gangway is physically challenging, and other activities such as kayaking, sledging and trekking on the snow and ice are much better enjoyed if you are fitter – so prepare your body before you go!


Drills are performed at the beginning of each expedition – do pay attention! Children are permitted on many Arctic cruises – though there will be age limits. Children under 10 are unlikely to get much out of the trip, and are less likely to understand the strict safety warnings and procedures. If you do decide to travel with children, be aware that there may not be other children onboard for them to play with and no activities designed specifically for kids – and you'll need to make sure they are safe at all times. Polar bears are one of the most dangerous animals on earth – and they stray increasingly close to populated areas. Obey your guide and never wander off alone. In some areas, such as outside Longyearbyen, you may not walk without a firearm – the threat of an encounter is very real. Other wildlife, including walrus and musk ox, may not have the polar bear’s fearsome reputation, but are still incredibly dangerous. Never approach any wildlife in the Arctic, and always follow your guide’s instructions.

Arctic cruise advice from our travelers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Arctic cruise travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation - and the space inside your suitcase.
Make sure you have excellent binoculars, a really powerful zoom on the camera, and are prepared to take literally thousands of photographs. Try to find wellies which you can wear comfortably for long walks.
- Justin watts
Take lots of layers but don't worry too much about buying lots of expensive technical clothing. An old pair of leggings or yoga gear may be a good alternative to buying the latest in thermal base layers. Some travelers held back from going on some of the hikes and zodiac trips. My advice is: don't - these things are too good to miss. Our guides were great at making sure they catered for everyone's abilities and the more able travelers seemed very happy to help those who needed a bit of support. - Christine Symes

Recommend visits to Art Gallery and Museum in Longyearbyen. The "long" walk options were also very good, a welcome break from sitting on the ship. - John Vose
Read all the literature carefully - it was comprehensive and covered practically everything one would wish to know. Do some long walks beforehand, especially uphill, if possible.
- Jane Mackay
Don't expect a close-up of a polar bear, that would be very rare, they are usually spotted in the distance on a mountainside or beach. If you want a close up of them go to Churchill with the other tourists. - Keith Brignell

Be flexible and do not expect much of what written in the 'final itinerary' to happen. Decisions are made everyday depending on the weather. - Annamaria Cozza

When inside of the boat you can be relatively warm – have layers for going out on deck where it can be cooler but you can watch the midnight sun or enjoy the on deck BBQ. If you want good photographs make sure you have a camera with long range focus as you are often at a distance from the wildlife so as not to disturb them. Take your swimming gear as you do get the opportunity to swim in arctic waters - everyone that did did survive! - Susie Barrett
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: steve estvanik] [Where to go: Sami Keinanen] [Birder tips (Eider): U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters] [Health and safety: Bernd Thaller] [Review 1: Polar Cruises] [Review 2: Kitty Terwolbeck]