NORTHEAST & NORTHWEST PASSAGES
European explorers have searched for a northernly sea passage between Western Europe and Asia since the 1400s. Such a route would save months of arduous travel around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn at the tip of South America. Many explorers journeyed west around Greenland and through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in search of a corridor connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; others steered their ships east across the top of present-day Norway and Arctic Russia. These early seafarers were turned back time and again by treacherous weather conditions and thick sea ice; many perished. Yet the Arctic has experienced monumental change since these passages were first mapped, and the region’s transformative nature has created ice-free areas year-round, making shipping — and expedition travel — possible.
Northeast & Northwest Passages Destinations
A cadre of early seafarers pieced together various sections of this passage across the frozen region atop Norway and Arctic Russia. Finnish-Swedish scientist Adolf Nordenskiöld made the first full transit on an 1878-79 expedition — although his ship was frozen near the Bering Strait for nearly ten months. It took another 55 years before a Soviet icebreaker did it in a single season, and until 1991 for the route to officially open to foreign shipping. Seabourn guests will discover one of the most mysterious and wildly beautiful places on Earth, venturing out on Zodiac excursions and tundra hikes that reveal fascinating rock formations and microscopic flora. Wherever possible, you can join your ship’s Kayak Team for a rare, water-level perspective. Stop at important remnants of early expeditions and Indigenous villages that still eke out a meager living off this frozen land. Possible wildlife encounters abound — from muskoxen, reindeer, and Arctic foxes to walruses, and whales. The chance to witness a polar bear in the wild is worth the journey alone, and Seabourn explores two of the best places to view the “King of the Arctic”: Franz Josef Land and the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Wrangel Island Reserve — home to the highest concentration of polar bear dens on earth.
Venetian navigator John Cabot first set out in 1492 to search for this fabled passage, which spans some 900 miles between Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska. Numerous expeditions followed and failed — including the infamous Franklin Expedition of 1845 — before Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen finally made a successful transit in 1906. Today’s adventurers can traverse the corridor in ultra-luxury comfort with Seabourn. Take an exhilarating Zodiac excursion along the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ponder the lonely graves of doomed Franklin Expedition members on tiny Beechy island, and hike to an ancient Thule settlement of stone pit houses on Devon Island — a.k.a. “Mars on Earth.” Visit Inuit towns like Cambridge Bay in Canada’s Nunavut territory, and learn how Indigenous people survive in such a remote and harsh environment. Wherever possible, Seabourn guests can join their ship’s Kayak Team for an optional paddle. You can even explore below the frigid water surface in one of your ship’s custom-built submarines.
Please note: Destinations shown above are representative of many of the places we'll visit but are subject to conditions.
A Travel Blog from Seabourn
Read the latest Northeast and Northwest Passages articles on Seabourn’s digital magazine, Current — the newest way to find out about some of the most unique Seabourn destinations.
Navigating the Northeast Passage
Discover the hardships that early adventurers endured in their search for this important sea route, and how life can still thrive amidst the barren Arctic environment.
In Pursuit of the Northwest Passage
Learn why it took explorers so long to locate — and then navigate — this famous passage, and what it means for the future of expedition travel.