Best Arctic Shore Excursions

December 7, 2016
Iceberg in Disko Bay, Ilulissat, Greenland

Remote villages, icy fjords and rare wildlife make the world's Arctic region a compelling destination for cruisers looking for a little adventure. Encompassing Greenland, Iceland, the North Pole and the northern reaches of Norway, Russia and Canada, the Arctic is mostly traversed by small-ship expedition and luxury lines.

On many such cruises, you won't experience traditional shore excursions. Because the ships are so small and many landings occur in isolated areas, you'll often find that hikes, nature walks or Zodiac trips with the expedition staff are the only activity options -- and these are usually included in the price of your cruise (for more information on Arctic cruising, check out Arctic Cruise Basics and Postcards from an Arctic Cruise).

However, in larger or more developed Arctic ports, cruisers can choose from a wider variety of activities. We've rounded up a few of our favorite excursions across the Arctic region.

Ilulissat, Greenland

Boat Trip to the Icefjord

Fed by Sermeq Kujalleq -- one of the world's most active glaciers -- Ilulissat's spectacular icefjord has been named a World UNESCO Heritage Site, and there's no better way to check it out than by taking a small boat out among the icebergs. You'll hear smaller hunks of ice scraping along the boat's reinforced hull as you float serenely past massive icebergs in beautiful shades of blue and white.

Who Should Go: Anyone -- as long as you're bundled up in warm clothes!

Why It's Extraordinary: You can't truly appreciate the awe-inspiring size of the icebergs until you get up close to them in a small boat.

Sled Dog in Norway

Longyearbyen, Norway

Summer Dog Sledding

Most travelers visit the Arctic during the summer months when the weather is temperate and the sunlight lasts nearly around the clock. That means traditional dog sledding in the snow isn't an option. With this tour, however, you can still meet the local dogs and ride in a sled equipped with wheels. You'll learn the basics of mushing and then hop aboard for an exhilarating race across the tundra.

Who Should Go: Animal lovers and those up for an adventure.

Why It's Extraordinary: You get to experience the incredible energy and power of these working dogs.

Honningsvag, Norway

King Crab Safari

Take a ride aboard a deep-sea raft into the waters of the Sarnesfjord, where your guide will show you the pots set up to catch massive king crabs. (The crustaceans can weigh as much as 22 pounds each!) After you retrieve a few crabs -- and pose for a few photos -- the group will head to a Sami camp to cook the crabs over an open fire; you can sample them as a delicious snack with bread and butter.

Who Should Go: Foodies in good physical condition.

Why It's Extraordinary: Seafood doesn't get any fresher than this.

Sea kayaking in Tromso, Norway

Tromso, Norway

Ocean Kayaking

There are few more stunning backdrops for kayaking than Norway's scenic coastline. In this excursion from Tromso, you'll paddle an ocean kayak in the waters near Whale Island, enjoying the clean, crisp air and keeping an eye out for fish and marine birds. A guide will give you safety instructions before you set out.

Who Should Go: Physically fit travelers; previous kayaking experience is helpful but not required.

Why It's Extraordinary: It's the perfect combination of wildlife watching, scenic sightseeing and a good workout.

Qassiarsuk, Greenland

Erik the Red Settlement Walk (also known as Viking Ruins)

"Greenland" seems like an odd moniker for a barren land covered mostly in rock and ice, but this tiny farming settlement in the southern part of the island is one of the few places that live up to the name. Lush green hills covered with grazing sheep and horses provide a backdrop for the ruins of the Viking settlement founded by Erik the Red in the 10th century. Visitors can walk inside a re-creation of Erik's longhouse and his wife Tjodhilde's small chapel, and listen to a guide tell stories of what life was like here for the Viking settlers.

Who Should Go: Anyone interested in Viking history.

Why It's Extraordinary: This is one of only a handful of Viking ruins in Greenland, and the setting is spectacular.

View from Helgafell in Iceland

Grundarfjordur, Iceland

Bjarnarhofn Shark Farm & Helgafell

This tour offers a taste of traditional Iceland -- literally. You'll drive through a stark lava field en route to Bjarnarhofn, a farm where shark meat is allowed to rot and air-cure for months to produce a delicacy known as hakarl. (You can try it if you're brave. An accompanying shot of Brennivin, a local schnapps, helps it go down a little easier.) The tour then proceeds to a 240-foot hill called Helgafell; legend has it that those who climb it will be granted three wishes.

Who Should Go: Adventurous foodies and those interested in Icelandic traditions.

Why It's Extraordinary: Where else will you get the chance to sample rotten shark?

Isafjordur, Iceland

Cruise to Vigur Island

Take a serene, 30-minute boat ride to tiny Vigur Island, measuring just a mile long and 450 yards wide. You'll share the island with a population of puffins, eider ducks, Arctic terns and other birds -- so bring your binoculars! Vigur is also home to Iceland's only windmill, dating back to 1840, and to a well-preserved, 200-year-old rowboat that the locals still use to transfer their sheep to the mainland to graze.

Who Should Go: Birders and other nature lovers.

Why It's Extraordinary: The combination of varied birdlife and a pristine natural setting make for a memorable half-day trip.

Horseback riding on Lofoten beach, Norway

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten by Horseback

Saddle up and enjoy a relaxing ride through the Gimsoy landscape aboard a gentle Icelandic horse. Along the way you'll spot Viking ruins, colorful houses, fish laid out to dry and a golf course where duffers can tee up around the clock in the summertime under the midnight sun. You'll even ride for a while along the beach.

Who Should Go: Outdoorsy types, especially those with at least a little previous riding experience; the tour isn't appropriate for pregnant women or people with back problems.

Why It's Extraordinary: By the end of the tour you'll have bonded with your horse and seen much more than you could have on foot.

--By Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor of Cruise Critic's sister site, IndependentTraveler.com

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