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  • Writer's pictureCarol McKee

The Best Way to See Polar Bears & Northern Lights in One Shot

Lights dancing across the night sky. Polar bears lounging on the ice. Imagine for a moment if you could see both those sights on the same journey. Indeed you can.

Where do you find them?

First let's start with the best place to find polar bears. Most polar bears are to be found with in the arctic circle. There are some that live a bit further south in the Hudson Bay region of Canada but for the most part they live north of the circle. Bears can be found in the arctic region of five different countries: The US (Alaska), northern Canada (the Canadian High Arctic), and in remote arctic regions of Russia, Greenland and in Norway. The Norwegian bears are found specifically in the area of the islands in the Svalbard archipelago particularly on the island of Spitsbergen.

Polar bears are nomadic creatures rather than territorial like many of their bear cousins. Their habitat of ever changing and moving sea ice has them roaming "with the flow" to find their prey of seals. Their available hunting grounds change with the seasons. Larger in winter due to more ice and shrinking back in the summer with the longer days and melting retreating ice.

Many people think that there are also polar bears in the Antarctic but there are not. For polar bears head north to the arctic. For penguins head south to the Antarctic regions.

The best place to see both the Northern Lights and polar bears

So how do you see both in one trip? We have covered where to see the bears and now let's consider where we can find the lights. The best places to see the lights are those regions closest to the arctic circle. These include the Canadian Arctic, Iceland, Alaska, Norway and Greenland. And while you can also see the lights in norther areas of Finland and Sweden you have to avoid areas with lots of artificial light so populated areas are out. And of course cloudy weather will stop you from seeing the lights as well.

So really the answer to see both is simple: get out to sea where the polar bears are hunting and be well north of the arctic circle so that you have the best chance to see both.

As a travel advisor I spend a lot of my time vetting travel suppliers and really doing a deep dive into their offerings. And I can tell you that in the northern regions of the world there a lot of companies that do a seasonal trip or two up to this part of the world during the summer when the Caribbean is in less demand. And while that might be a good trip I think that this region is so spectacular and getting to see the best sights like bears and the Northern light demands a trip with a company that specializes in the polar regions. So therefore my choice recommendation is Quark Expeditions.

You many not be familiar with this company but they have been traveling the polar regions for decades. Their fleet of ships is specifically built for ice expeditions with specially enforce ice rated hulls which means they can get closer to the action than a ship built for warmer regions.

But sailing on their ships is not the cramped quarters that the mind conjures up like being on a boat in the TV series about catching King Snow crabs. Rather their ships are up fitted with a stylish interior that you would expect to see in a really good hotel and the cabins are spacious and comfortable.

Also on board are experts and scientists ranging from Historians to Glaciologists and Biologists. One advance of traveling this way is that the crew keeps watch during the night to make sure that if the lights are out and you placed a wake up call for them that you will get to see them. And bear spotting out on the deck is a great way to spend your time at sea especially if you are standing next to an experienced guide or Biologist.

The other thing that makes this company stand out is the many adventure options that they offer to their guests. Hiking, paddling, kayaking, helicopter sightseeing, heli-skiing, camping on shore (both in the Arctic and the Antarctic), stand up paddle boarding and of course zodiacs on the water. More active and adventure options than any other company that goes to these regions makes this even more of a winner in my mind.

Some of the best Quark Expeditions itineraries to see both the bears and the lights include: Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland & East Greenland

Another great place to see the polar bears and the lights is in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway of which Spitsbergen is the largest island. This area is home to an estimated 3000 polar bears. The Spitsbergen Photography: In Search of Polar Bears itinerary is particularly a good choice.

No matter which one of these itineraries appeals to you most these bucket list trips deserve the help of a professional to plan and I stand ready to help you. What we have learned as we venture through this pandemic is make our travel dreams a reality sooner rather than later because no one knows what the future will bring. Until then keep dreaming and rest assure that travel's return is just around the corner.

A big thank you to Quark Expeditions for supplying me with all the photos of the Arctic shared in this post. Want more info about traveling to the polar regions? Shoot me an email at

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