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As someone who grew up closer to the equator, the Arctic Circle has always fascinated me. It’s a unique part of the world where one can experience endless summer days (midnight sun) and 24-hour darkness (polar night).
It’s a place where some of the most stalwart humans ever to walk the earth have learned not just to survive but thrive in these harsh environments. It’s a place where you can have up-close encounters with rare wildlife like polar bears, musk ox, arctic foxes, and walruses… some of the most incredible critters all call the Arctic home.
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting the top of the world, this article is just for you. I’ve got some of the best Arctic towns in the world that you can put on your bucket list and start planning your ultimate Arctic adventure.
One quick note, though: arctic travel is inherently risky. These locations are remote and experience extreme weather. They also typically have limited access to services. That being said, it’s always a good idea to get some travel insurance before you go. I’d highly recommend a policy from SafetyWing, but you can also shop around at places like TravelInsurance.com.
Arctic Towns To Add To Your Bucket List
1. Tromsø, Norway
Starting off strong with my favorite Arctic town, Tromsø is the third largest city above the Arctic Circle. As the “Northern Lights Capital of the World,” it’s one of the best places in the world to see the aurora borealis.
There are plenty of hotels in Tromsø, and I highly recommend the Scandic Ishavshotel. It’s right on the harbor and offers some stunning views of the city, including the Tromsø Bridge and the famous Arctic Cathedral. Plus, you’re right in the middle of everything and within walking distance of anywhere you want to go.
Of course, you’ll be on the hunt for the aurora borealis, and while you can take a guided experience tour, how about spending an evening surrounded by huskies with a campfire and an authentic Norwegian meal? This husky Northern Lights tour is certainly one you’ll remember.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Norway & Things to Do
2. Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard is an island in Norway close to the North Pole, and it’s the ultimate destination for the Arctic adventurer. You can fly from Oslo to Longyearbyen in about three hours, but you can also get there in about 90 minutes if you catch a flight from Tromsø.
Svalbard is the only place in Norway where you can see polar bears in their natural habitat, and they genuinely outnumber people here! Don’t worry; they typically stay away from towns and prefer their sea ice and glacier hangouts.
3. Bodø, Norway
Located just above the Arctic Circle between the Vestfjorden and the Saltfjorden, Bodø is a popular gateway for travelers looking to explore the beautiful Lofoten Islands.
As the second largest city in Northern Norway, Bodø is worth spending a few days exploring before heading to Lofoten or continuing north on your arctic adventure.
Both Bodø and the Lofoten Islands are a photography lovers paradise, and if you take a private aurora tour, you might be able to get some photo lessons on how to capture this phenomenon!
Lensrentals is perfect for photography on a budget and allows you to rent cameras and lenses at a much cheaper rate than buying them (and even cheaper when you use the Lensrentals coupon code VIATRAVELERS15).
See Related: How Much is a Trip to Norway? [Full Trip Cost Guide]
4. Harstad, Norway
Sitting pretty on Hinnøya, Norway’s largest island, Harstad is the ultimate destination to discover more about Vikings. In its early days, Harstad was the northernmost Viking power center in Norway. Today, the city is known for its rich food scene, beautiful nature, and both Viking and WWII history.
The Trondenes Historic Center goes into great detail about the town’s Viking heritage as well as the area’s part in WWII. Largely untouched by the war, The Nazis occupied and fortified Harstad, siting the “Adolf Gun” there, a repurposed naval gun capable of firing 40 cm (15.7 inch) shells, weighing 1,030 kgs (2,270 lb) about 43 kilometers (27 miles).
On the water, visitors to Harstad can enjoy sailing through the fjords and learning how to sail while watching for sea eagles, cormorants, or even puffins if you’re lucky. You might even be inspired to take an early morning aurora tour or rent a car and find them yourself. Rentalcars.com should be able to help you out.
For hotels, I’m a big fan of the Scandic line. You can’t go wrong with a night at the Scandic Harstad.
See Related: Famous Historical Landmarks in Norway to Visit
5. Kiruna, Sweden
Located in the far north of Swedish Lapland, Kiruna is the northernmost city in Sweden. Famous for its iron ore mine, travelers often find themselves here after riding the iconic Arctic Circle train, one of the most scenic train rides in the world.
When Kiruna isn’t expiring iron ore, it’s looking to the skies. The Esrange Space Center, the Institute of Space Physics, and the Luleå University of Technology’s Department of Space Science are all located here in Kiruna.
Speaking of the skies, Kiruna’s location within the Arctic region makes it a perfect spot for aurora borealis viewing. Book a stay at the Icehotel in nearby Jukkasjärvi for an incredible aurora-viewing adventure.
The hotel is completely made out of ice from the Torne River and is rebuilt annually. Guests sleep with thermal sleeping bags on beds covered in reindeer hides, but if that’s too intense, you can select one of the warm rooms.
To further dive into the Arctic life, hop on a snowshoe hike and ice fishing tour and pick up some survival skills while in Kiruna. Experience what it takes to live in these harsh environments while possibly catching arctic char or rainbow trout on this guided ice fishing tour.
This is the ultimate Arctic Circle winter excursion! As such, now might be a great time to remind you that travel insurance is always a good idea.
Fun fact about Kiruna: it’s moving! The iron ore mines threaten to swallow up the town, so in what’s being called the most radical relocation project ever seen, the entire town is being relocated building by building 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) to the east.
6. Rovaniemi, Finland
Moving over to Finland, we have Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Finland. Once a unique historic city, Rovaniemi was pretty much completely destroyed by the Russians during World War II, making this one of the more modern cities to make the list.
While you may have heard that the North Pole is where you’ll find the Santa Claus house, Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus, and no visit to this charming town is complete without visiting the Santa Claus Village and seeing the official Santa Claus house. To fully embrace the Christmas spirit, you can even spend your entire holiday at the Santa Claus Holiday Village.
The village is open year-round, but of course, it’s extra special during winter. A reindeer sleigh ride is one of the top attractions, but you may decide to go rogue and opt for a dog sledding tour instead. Both are offered with this tour in Rovaniemi.
See Related: Best Finland Igloo Hotels You Cannot Miss
7. Utqiaġvik, Alaska
Utqiaġvik is the northernmost city in America, and it’s reserved for those who crave the journey as much as the destination.
Far from interior Alaska, there are no roads leading to Utqiaġvik, you’ll need to catch a flight from Fairbanks or Anchorage to get here. What’s more, there are no paved roads here either (because of the permafrost). So, if you were hoping to take the famous Richardson Highway here, think again.
Utqiaġvik is home to the Iñupiat, an indigenous Inuit group that has lived in this region for over 1,500 years. If the name Utqiaġvik doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps “Barrow” will.
Named after nearby Point Barrow, the town was called Barrow for over a century, but that changed in 2016 when the city voted to change its name to Utqiaġvik, citing that the main reason it was called Barrow was because non-natives found it easier to pronounce.
Your options for lodging are limited here, as there are only two hotels in this town of about 5,000 residents. A vacation rental might be your best bet, and this one, in particular, has some of the most amazing panoramas!
See Related: Best Family Vacation Spots in Alaska
8. Inuvik, Canada
Located on Canada‘s largest freshwater delta, Inuvik is the largest NWT town above the Arctic Circle and the first planned community for the Northwest Territories. Since 1955, the town has flourished into the epic Arctic gateway it is today.
Inuvik is easily accessible by land and air, with flights from Yellowknife offered several times a week. For road warriors, Inuvik is a popular stop along the Dempster Highway.
In the Arctic summer, the Arctic Market is the place to be, with local artisans coming out every Saturday to sell their specialties. During the winter, visitors can snowshoe the Boot Lake Trail, hunt for the northern lights, hit the slopes at the Inuvik Ski Club, and so much more.
Don’t forget to snap a selfie in front of the Igloo Church. Originally built in 1960 and rebuilt in 2005, the Igloo Church (officially named Our Lady of Victory) is one of Inuvik’s most popular tourist attractions.
Nova Inn Inuvik is just two minutes from the church, and it’s the perfect spot to call home while you explore.
See Related: Best Winter Travel Clothes for Cold Weather
9. Churchill, Canada
Nestled along the western shore of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba, Churchill may have a population that hovers under 1,000 residents, but don’t let that fool you…this is the ultimate Arctic playground for adventurers and animal lovers.
Nicknamed the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” Churchill is one of the best places to see polar bears roaming around, and you can take a guided tour or a safari across the tundra to see them in the fall/late summer, a truly amazing experience.
It’s a fantastic spot in the summer to see beluga whales cruising down the Churchill River. Like every spot on this list, the Northern Lights are always a possibility, though keep in mind Churchill is the only town on this list that isn’t actually above the Arctic Circle, so the solar storm will need to be fairly intense to see it.
You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, though. Since it is a smaller town, hotels are few and far between, so you’ll want to reserve your stay as far in advance as possible.
See Related: Best Places to Travel to in December on a Budget
10. Nuuk, Greenland
Located on the southwest coast, Nuuk is the capital of Greenland and is easily one of the most underrated Arctic towns to visit.
The majestic fjords surrounding Nuuk (the second-largest fjord system in the world) are just ideal for viewing waterfalls, humpback whales, and icebergs pretty much year-round. Nuuk is a beautiful place where nature reigns supreme and new adventures are around every corner.
A guided tour will take you all around the city, soaking in all the sights, learning about the history and its people, and so much more.
There are hotels in Nuuk for every budget, but if you’re trying to save a few bucks, consider staying at one of the hostels. Inuk Hostels, in particular, is just dreamy and also has its own private beach! Even if you’re not up for a polar plunge, it’s a lovely spot to sit and wait for the Green Lady to dance across the sky.
A Note About Murmansk, Norilsk, Vorkuta, and Salekhard
It’s hard to include a list of Arctic towns without mentioning these four, some of the largest communities north of the Arctic Circle. Each is unique and home to fascinating histories and cultures.
In fact, Murmansk and Norilsk are the two most populated towns within the Arctic Circle. They have a combined population of over 400,000 residents, and they are worth putting on a bucket list. They also happen to be located in Russia.
Thanks to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ongoing global tensions, the Department of State has issued a travel advisory for Russia. While it’s not a good idea to visit these towns now, it may be something to add to your bucket list for the future.
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Jacks is a New Orleans native passionate about exploring the Arctic region. She’s a frequent writer and contributor to Only in Your State. A mediocre ukulele player, photographer, and artist, she thrives on spontaneous solo adventures and encourages everyone to follow the deal, not the destination. When she’s not traveling, she’s feeding the neighborhood crows, squirrels, and bluejays that have befriended her, much to the dismay of her cat, Tugger.