North Pole Overview

Arctic Cruises - North Pole

North Pole

Why Visit

Standing at 90° North latitude, you’ll understand why so many explorers pursued the North Pole for so long. There’s just something awe-inspiring about reaching the top of the world, white ice extending for miles in every direction. Perhaps most notable is what’s not there—no geographic landmarks, no great mountain peaks, not even land beneath your feet. You’re standing on the Arctic Ocean—frozen into a changing, moving ice floe that’s accessible on foot, dogsled or skis. Stand in the same place for an hour and you’ll be in a different spot.

Although it took centuries of explorers braving wind and weather to reach the pole—aboard everything from hydrogen balloons to dogsleds—your cruise to the North Pole takes place in the comfort and safely of a nuclear-powered icebreaker ship. Along the way, you’ll spot polar bears, ringed seals, Arctic birds and even a whale or two.

Enjoy exciting sightseeing expeditions from a helicopter. You’ll marvel at the remote, fascinating landscape at the same time you watch your ship effortlessly cut through the ice pack.

Travelers who’ve been to Antarctica will feel a sense of completion after a trip to the North Pole—like they’ve literally been to the ends of the earth and back. Although both destinations might seem similar on the icy surface, each offers a unique glimpse at different landscapes, wildlife, and local culture. At the South Pole, penguins are king. Here at the North Pole, the mighty polar bear reigns supreme.

For the truly courageous traveler, there are few experiences in life more exhilarating than the “polar plunge.” Here’s your chance to become a member of the most extreme Polar Bear Club on Earth by jumping into water that reaches 12,000 feet deep and a chilly 28° F.

In a land where the sun rises and sets only once per year, you’ll have the unique opportunity to stand at the top of the world. Travelers often celebrate this achievement by holding a special memento they’ve brought from thousands of miles away. Others have a champagne toast and a bite to eat. How will you celebrate your victorious expedition?

History

The history of humankind’s race to the North Pole is a storied one. Just 450 nautical miles from Greenland, this point on the map eluded brave explorers until recent times. As early as the sixteenth century, people correctly believed that the North Pole was in a sea. Early expeditions used whaling ships, which were already common in the Arctic. Many expeditions throughout the centuries met with disaster—some crushed by ice, others thwarted by insubordination and poor leadership. Some made attempts on skis, others by airship, balloon or dogsled.

There is some disagreement over who reached the North Pole first. American explorer Richard E. Peary claimed to have been the first in 1909, traveling by dogsled. Another American, Richard E. Byrd, claimed to have reached the pole by airplane in 1926. Both of these claims were later disputed—some controversy remains ongoing. An international expedition of Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth and Umberto Nobile indisputably reached the North Pole by airship three days after Byrd’s attempt in 1926. On this expedition, they became the first to reach the pole and the first to traverse the polar region—from Svalbard to Alaska.

The first surface expedition to travel to the North Pole was in 1968, when America Ralph Plaisted led a team there on snowmobiles. This group was airlifted home from the pole. The first surface expedition to travel to the pole and back without resupplying didn’t happen until 1986 by dogsled. It was also in 1986 that the first woman reached the North Pole—American Ann Bancroft.

No country owns the North Pole. While the South Pole is located on land, the North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, frozen over much of the year. The ice is constantly moving and changing, making it difficult to construct any permanent stations like those found near the South Pole. Research in the area is conducted year-round by several Russian-built drifting stations that study the ice, ocean, weather and other aspects of the Arctic. Scientists speculate that within decades, the North Pole could become seasonally ice-free due to global warming.

Although wildlife at the North Pole is scarce, the surrounding region is home to polar bears, ringed seals, arctic foxes and birds like the snow bunting, northern fulmar and black-legged kittiwake.

Adventurers on trips to the North Pole often note the spiritual quality of the area and its mystical solitude. In fact, the otherworldliness of the North Pole has inspired mythology since before humans began searching for it. In Greek mythology, it was thought to be the abode of God and superhuman beings. Ancient Islamic tradition speaks of Mount Qaf, “the farthest point of the Earth,” that is often identified as the North Pole. And, of course, everyone knows that Santa and his workshop of industrious elves live there, too.

Today, North Pole tours offer small groups of adventure-seeking travelers a chance to access the top of the world by icebreaker ship or helicopter. Although tourism has grown, the North Pole remains a seldom visited yet historically significant region of the Arctic. It is a rare opportunity for those on a real quest for adventure.