Best Time To Visit The Arctic

best time to visit the Arctic

The best time to visit the Arctic is during the summer season. In fact, unless you are a researcher, this is the only time you'll be able to reach the Arctic Circle proper by ship. When you go during the summer period will very much depend on what you wish to see.

The summer season runs from late May to September with the high summer period being in July and August when the icepacks have reduced in size considerably. This period is also known as the Land Of The Midnight Sun due to the sun shining 24 hours a day.

Whilst there are very few cruises to the Arctic proper in Winter, there are frequent Northern Light cruises that run up the coast of Sweden and Norway during winter. Although not deep within the Arctic Circle, the Northern Lights are still bright and beautiful in this region.

The best way to decide on when you want to visit the Arctic is to decide what you want to get out of your trip. Do you want the best chance to see polar bears? Are you interested in seeing icebergs? Or perhaps you want to be there for breeding season?

Don't panic though if you're constrained to sailing at a certain date due to work or home life, every Arctic cruise is totally epic and unforgettable, no matter when you travel.

Below we have provided a graph detailing the best time to see certain animals, landscapes etc. We have also provided a month by month description for further information.

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​Best Time To Visit The Arctic​


​Month By Month Breakdown


May brings the beginning of the Arctic cruise season as the pack ice starts to recede. Temperatures range around from -7°C to -2°C, so wearing layers is key to enjoying your time onboard.

As strange as it sounds, May actually produces the most sunshine on average even though it is not 24 hour daylight. May is the driest of Arctic months and has less rainfall and go than the months in the high summer period.

Make sure your cruise ship is a 1A ice class ice-strenthed vessel as you'll be cutting through some heavy ice during May. If you can handle the cold, then you'll be rewarded with epic ice formations, picture perfect valleys with snow-capped mountains and polar bears hunting across the thick pack ice. Cruising in May feels very much like an expedition adventure.

May is a great time to spot humpback whales breaching in front of pristine ice-scapes and photographers will certainly get their money's worth during this month.


June is when the Arctic cruise season kicks off proper. Temperatures begin to warm, tending to stay around the freezing mark and wildlife becomes more abundant and easier to spot during this month. Rainfall is still fairly low and you'll hopefully get plenty of sunshine during June.

Birdlife such as fulmars, kittiwakes and common eiders start to arrive in their millions during this month and the elusive narwal is best spotted in June, particularly in the Canadian Arctic

The ice packs continue to retreat but you'll still be able to witness the last of the icebergs and glorious ice formations. Towards the end of June the beluga whales arrive in Hudson Bay which is a memorable sight for any wildlife lover.

It is possible to see walrus, seals and plenty of birdlife in June around Svalbard. Polar bears will be roaming miles every day in search of food.


July is the warmest of the Arctic months with constant daylight and temperatures ranging between 3°C - 7°C though. However, it is possible to get days over 10°C!

Where you travel during this period depends on how much the pack-ice has melted and itineraries change daily. Wildlife is in full flight during July with Polar bear and walrus sightings very common.

The North West Passage opens up enough to travel through in July and this is one of the greatest cruising expeditions on offer. Beluga whales in Hudson Bay are frequently seen, as are arctic foxes and millions of puffins.

Whales are also most commonly sighted during this period and you should keep your eyes peeled for minke, humpback, fin and even blue whales!


August still remains fairly warm with temperatures around the 2°C mark. Daylight is no longer 24 hours and you should expect around 19 hours of daylight each day instead.

This is therefore a great opportunity for sunset and sunrise shots! August is the wettest of Arctic months and drizzle is common. Remember to bring a water and windproof jacket and wear layers.

Polar bears are hungry in August and you'll hopefully see them close to the coast hunting prey. Whales are common sights in August and you should expect to see a avast array of bird and sea life including walrus and seals.


September hails the end of the Arctic cruise season and daylight hours decrease fast throughout the month from 19 hours to just over 7 hours by the end of September.

Temperatures also drop and you should expect daily temperatures around the freezing point. Wearing layers is key, particularly when you consider the wind.

Fog is common during this month, but the pack ice has melted to such an extent that you can visit rarely seen areas of the Arctic.

Wildlife sightings are still common and you may even see some Northern Light displays later in the month towards West Greenland.

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​Winter In The Arctic

Winter in the Arctic sees the return of the pack ice as the colder and shorter days set in. This period gets very few tourists and 95% of cruises stop throughout the Arctic region. There is still the odd cruise to Iceland and Svalbard during September and October, but these are often aboard small sailing vessels.  

The only cruises that depart during Winter in the Arctic are special Northern Lights cruises. The Lights draw many tourists and special cruises depart from Norwat fairly regualrly throughout Winter.


Below is a short video that demonstrates the beauty of the midnight sun. Notice how the low sun creates some fantastic colours - ideal for photography! Video by Scientifantastic.


If you have any queries or questions regarding the best time to visit the Arctic, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.

Tags: best time to cruise the Arctic, when to cruise the Arctic, best time to do an Arctic cruise

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote from our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

About the Author Burnham Arlidge

Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has cruised to some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet.

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