Arctic Explorer

Tailormade Rail Adventure

Arctic Explorer – Rail Adventure – a 16 day Private Tour from £3,100 per person.


Our pioneering tailor-made trip, the Arctic Explorer, leads northwards into the furthest reaches of Norway and Sweden where few locals and even fewer visitors penetrate. A journey with us leads through the lands that lie above 66⁰34’ North, from redoubtable Finnmark’s Kirkenes, in the shadow of the vast Russias, and onto the stunning Barents Sea.

Board the iconic Hurtigruten vessel to explore a rugged, fjord-fissured coastline, alive with incredible displays of cliff-nesting birdlife and encounter Europe’s remotest ports, clinging to the raw beauty of the tundra’s inlets, as you round the fabled North Cape. Witness coastal habitats which astound, whilst under the tutelage of the crew’s in-depth local knowledge.

Descend by the dramatic railway engineering of the erstwhile iron-ore line through Narvik, lacing together two of the region’s most beautiful cities of Tromsø and Stockholm, wonderful contrasts to the experiences already under your belt.

 

The Arctic Explorer is a unique no flying rail adventure tour taking in a huge swathe of Russia, the Arctic and Scandinavia.

This year-round tour has been designed to show you the highlights of the Arctic and Scandinavia, travelling mostly by rail, including comfortable sleeper trains. In addition, you will take a two day voyage on the world renowned Hurtigruten Norwegian coastal service from Kirkenes to Tromsø – a wonderful opportunity to experience the Midnight Sun in summer and, in winter, the Northern Lights.

Your adventure starts from London’s St. Pancras station with a trip on Eurostar to Brussels and the next morning by German Railways ICE train to Berlin where you board Russian Railways’ twice-weekly sleeper service for the 24 hour trip to Moscow. With two nights in Moscow you will have ample time to take in some of the city’s highlights on a private guided tour, including Red Square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The next part of your journey conjures up a true adventure, and one very seldom taken by tourists. Travel north by train on the 2,000km ‘Arktika’ service to Murmansk – a two night odyssey. During your stay in the Arctic’s largest city we have included a half day private tour to take in the highlights or for those who would like to extend their trip we can offer a variety of optional excursions. From Murmansk take a bus over the border into Norway. Join a spectacular Hurtigruten coastal cruise from Kirkenes to Tromsø and pass North Cape – the northernmost point on the European continent.

After an overnight stay in Tromsø, continue by bus to Narvik where you will travel on the Ofoten Railway for a wonderfully scenic trip crossing the border into Sweden and onto Stockholm. Enjoy a full day in one of the world’s most picturesque capitals, a joy to visit on foot, before heading south to Copenhagen and onwards to Hamburg. After an overnight stay in Hamburg, a combination of high-speed trains and Eurostar will get you back to London the same day, marking the end to an incredible adventure, all achieved without a single flight.

Tour ratings.

  • Fitness
  • Off the beaten track
  • Culture 
  • History 
  • Wildlife 

Tour pace

Busy

Tour style

Traveller

Relaxed Pace

Relaxed tours are easy paced with plenty of leisure time built in. The tour will in all probability still be off the beaten track, with the occasional early start and there may still be occasional long drives. In general on a relaxed pace tour you can enjoy easy-going activities and experiences with opportunities to absorb the sights and immerse yourself in the local surroundings.

Moderate Pace

Moderate pace tours are ideal if you want a tour experience that combines activities and experiences with some time to relax. Typically you will be active and busy for part of the day but then also have time to rest and recharge your batteries. In general on a moderate paced tour there may be some long journeys involved but the tour is not an expedition or a road trip. On a moderate paced tour it will be necessary to have some early starts.

Busy Pace

A busy paced tour means that you can expect to be doing, seeing or experiencing something new almost every day, and moving on from place to place to pack in as much as possible. There may be early starts, long journeys and tiring days along the way, but you’ll return home feeling you’ve really experienced as much as you possibly could.

Pioneer Class Tours

On our Pioneer tours, you will be amongst an elite group of intrepid travellers and some of the first to explore a country that few have been privileged enough to discover. Of course, exploring such areas of the world will come with its challenges; it may mean several nights camping, long journeys by 4WD and the need to maintain a degree of flexibility for when carefully laid plans change. These are challenging tours in countries and areas that may have poor infrastructure, high levels of poverty and illiteracy. This can translate in to low standards in hotels, bad roads and poor driving standards among other issues. We try and smooth out as much of these issues as we can but you should be prepared to experience the bad with the good.

Traveller Class Tours

Our Traveller itineraries are at the core of our programme. These journeys are designed for travellers who still want to discover a land away from the tourist crowds but expect minimum standards. Accommodation will be primarily hotel based, although you could still find yourself camping, or the guest of a local family. Depending on the destination and itinerary, you’ll likely be travelling in a private vehicle, with occasional use of public transport. This is adventure travel with some of the rough edges smoothed out.

Itinerary

Take the Eurostar from London’s spectacularly-restored St. Pancras station to Brussels’ elegant Midi Station, designed by Victor Horta, a journey of just over two hours. With several departures a day, let us know at the time of booking what time you would prefer to leave. If you would like some time in Brussels to explore the city, then take a morning train. Otherwise leave later in the day if you are happy to simply break your journey, before heading on to Berlin and Moscow the next morning. In Brussels we have selected the Pullman Centre Midi as our preferred hotel, given its convenient location adjacent to the station. Overnight Pullman Brussels Centre Midi, or similar.

After a leisurely breakfast at your hotel travel by German Rail’s high-speed ICE train to Cologne, where you will see the city’s magnificent cathedral which stands right next to the station, before taking a connecting train to Berlin. On both trains you will find a bistro car serving full meals and drinks, and you can order from an English language menu. The route takes you through some of Belgium and Germany’s fascinating towns, whilst the modern architectural masterpiece that is Liege station is worth watching out for. You will arrive at Berlin’s huge Hauptbahnhof station at around 5pm and then you will have about a three hour layover before taking the Strizh (Swift) branded Russian Railway’s sleeper to Moscow. At the station you can choose from a wide range of bars, cafes and restaurants to have something to eat or drink before boarding the train. Settle in to your private sleeping compartment for the night-train lengthy trip to Moscow. Standard compartments are comfortable and equipped with a washbasin; alternatively, ask us about upgrading to a deluxe compartment complete with private en-suite shower and toilet. During the journey the train’s restaurant car will be open serving meals and drinks, and the English speaking staff will be pleased to take your order. Payment can normally be made by debit or credit card, although it is always a good idea to have some euros cash just in case. Overnight sleeper train (2 berth compartment). (B)

During the night the train will travel through Germany and Poland’s vast plains before reaching Belarus and the border town of Brest. At this point the train will run through the intriguing gauge-changing shed where the axles automatically adjust to the new wider Russian track gauge. From Brest the train crosses Belarus’s lowlands, with broad fields of crops stretching away under colossal skies as it heads onto Moscow. Very importantly it should be noted that most nationals, including UK citizens must obtain a Belarusian transit visa in advance of travel. And this will be in addition to a visa for Russia. For the remainder of the journey you can expect the scenery to be a patchwork of grassy rolling hills, tumbling birch tree forests, and the sudden emergence of villages of small wooden houses that peep out of the landscape and then are gone. Arrival at the incredible neo-classical grandeur of Moscow’s Belorussky Station will be at around 9pm, where you will be met by a driver and transferred to your centrally located hotel for a two night stay. Overnight Mercure Arbat Moscow, or similar.

Moscow

After a leisurely morning you will join your guide for a private afternoon city tour. Proceed to Red Square – one of Russia’s most iconic landmarks, replete with history at every turn. You will wander under the gaze of traditional Russian churches with their inimitable onion domes, many of them gloriously coloured, and go inside some of them. Later walk through the 130 year old GUM shopping mall, an exquisitely designed glass-arched department store whose style of mediaeval-cum-nineteenth century railway architecture is a true sight to behold. Then see the famous tomb of the first Russian communist leader, Lenin, followed by Saint Basil’s cathedral. Overnight Mercure Arbat Moscow, or similar. (B)

After a leisurely breakfast, enjoy a private tour of Moscow’s famous metro system. With your guide, ride the metro like a local and enjoy a personalised itinerary. Learn about the history of the subterranean system and admire the intricate design, including the compelling futurist architecture at the Mayakovskaya station. Hear stories about each station and choose to add additional stations to your tour. Later return to your hotel and enjoy a free afternoon. At around 10pm you will check-out (late check-out guaranteed) and be transferred to Moscow’s Oktiabrskaia station where you will board the ‘Arktika’ service for the 2,000km trip north to Murmansk. The train departs at around midnight with the promise of the far north hanging tantalisingly in the air. Settle in to your private compartment for the two night journey. Overnight sleeper train (2 berth compartment). (B)

Today the train will continue its epic journey north towards the dizzy latitudes of the Arctic Circle. The ride heads up parallel to the Finnish border, through the Republic of Karelia, a particularly lush region with numerous vast glittering lakes that contrast with the serrated pine-topped hills. Enjoy the contrasting sparseness of the scenery the closer you forge towards the Polar regions. Visit the train’s restaurant car, which is always a good opportunity to meet your fellow passengers, for something to eat and drink. In our experience, when travelling long distances by rail other travellers are always friendly and often curious. Sometimes a glass or two of vodka over a plate of calamari can even help overcome the language barrier. As the sun dips, late in the day, the patchwork of ‘ozera’ transform into silvery moonlit mirrors that lull you to sleep.  Overnight sleeper train (2 berth compartment)

Enjoy travelling by train

Arrival in the Arctic’s largest city will be late morning. After being met at the station you will be transferred to your hotel for a two night stay. The first glimpse of stolid Soviet-era architecture and the gritty port may not be the stuff of dreams, but beyond that, impressions simply get better and better. This lively city is surrounded by incomparable, often Spartan, but singularly striking Arctic scenery and is a playground for outdoor adventurers during the months of the midnight sun (late May to late July). During the winter darkness (late November to mid-January) the northern lights are often visible over the snow-covered landscape – an eerie, magical sight. After check-in, the remainder of the day will be free. Perhaps pursue some of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ symbolic sites, acquaint yourself with the compelling local history aboard the floating Lenin Nuclear Icebreaker Museum, learn about the polar wildlife at the oceanarium or wander the forest trails beside the river to view the breathlessly beautiful Lavna Falls. Overnight Park Inn by Radisson Poliarnie Zori, Murmansk, or similar.

After a leisurely breakfast your guide will meet you at your hotel and you will set-off for a private city tour to further see the main points of interest. You will learn about Murmansk’s history and about some of the great research expeditions of the most northern region of our planet. The city is a home port for the world’s most powerful vessels — icebreakers which are able to break channels through the thick Arctic pack. Murmansk is stretched along the coast of the Kola Bay, a large ice-free harbour encircled by many hills and lakes; the tour will finish with a visit to a viewpoint from where you can take in a beautiful panoramic view. Return to your hotel after which the remainder of the day is free. Overnight Park Inn by Radisson Poliarnie Zori, Murmansk, or similar. (B)

Subject to restaurant opening hours, enjoy an early breakfast at the hotel, before we switch to our second form of transport: taking the bus scheduled to leave daily at 7am, you set off for Kirkenes, in northern Norway. The bus conveniently departs from outside of the Park Inn Hotel, our preferred accommodation in Murmansk and will take around four hours to cover the 220km to Kirkenes. Along the way the bus will usually make a short stop in Titovka (small cafe and toilet available) before it passes the Pechenga Valley, home to one of Russia’s formidable military facilities. Continuing, you skirt the mining town of Zapoljarnyj, before the gently rolling hills, birch trees and broad lakes lead indefatigably on to the border with Norway. Once immigration formalities have been completed, it is just another 15 minutes or so to Kirkenes in the heart of the Finnmark region. Drop off will be outside of the Scandic Hotel, our preferred choice of accommodation here. It is likely that you will be too early to check-in right away, so ask the hotel’s reception to store your luggage whilst you explore the tumbling streets of coloured houses that make up the town. Subject to opening times, you may enjoy a visit to the Borderland Museum which is about a 20 minute walk away. Here you can view a host of themed exhibitions connected to local history: the museum presents the history of the settlement and development of the region, from its curious past as a common territory between Russia, Finland and Norway. There is also a war exhibition which contains, amongst other things, an Ilyushin Russian fighter plane. Once you have checked-in at your hotel, the remainder of the day will be free. Perhaps enjoy the hotel’s spa with swimming pool and sauna. Overnight Scandic Hotel or similar. (B)

Mid-morning, you will walk about 20 minutes, or, you if you prefer, take a taxi, to the Hurtigruten passenger terminal, in time for your third mode of surface travel, the departure of daily lunchtime voyage to Tromsø. As the ship starts the voyage south, you can enjoy spectacular views from the deck or Panorama lounge. By the afternoon the ship will return to Norway’s easternmost harbour, Vardø. If the weather is good you will be invited to participate in an intrepid, but invigorating ice bathe in the Barents Sea. Lectures are held about birds along the coast in the spring, and in winter local divers come up on deck and relate more about life in the sea. Continue sailing along the Varanger Peninsula, punctuated by graceful flooded glacial valleys, as far as Båtsfjord. As you head along the coast, perhaps put your newfound birding knowledge to the test: in winter, vast rafts of stunning wintering Stellar’s eider duck can be spotted in the colder months, whilst the spring and summer offers the great spectacle of tens of thousands of cliff-nesting species, such as puffins, razorbills and guillemots streaming out to sea to fish. The sharp-eyed may even catch views of imperious white-tailed sea eagles powering across their territory. In the evening the ship docks in the remote haven of Berlevåg, interestingly, the hometown of Norway’s most famous men’s choir. Overnight Hurtigruten ship (2 berth outside cabin). (BD)

In the middle of the night the ship will dock in Mehamn, a former whaling port nestled around the fjord against the distant backdrop of the rising mountains. In winter you can enjoy an optional snowmobile safari to Kjøllefjord to chase blazing Northern lights over the night sky – a thrilling experience! Later at Honningsvåg you can start your day with breakfast at North Cape and experience the most obscure and uncelebrated wilderness expanses of Finnmark. On the journey towards Hammerfest in the winter, the ship serves an “energy coffee” on deck and you can expect a quick introduction to Melkøya – the world’s northernmost natural gas plant. In the autumn you will be invited to taste dried reindeer meat on the deck. Hammerfest, founded in 1798, was Norway’s polar capital, and a base for hunting expeditions in the Arctic and remains the world’s most northerly town. Here you can see the Meridian column which was erected in 1854 in memory of the Struve international land measurements of the earth, and currently on the UNESCO Heritage list of cultural monuments. Be sure to watch out for the town’s ubiquitous and brazen reindeer population, locally viewed as a growing pest. Your voyage continues south to Øksfjord and after crossing the open sea, the ship docks at the old trading post of Skjervøy. In spring your vessel sails further into the beautiful Lyngenfjord, where you can enjoy the views of majestic mountains.  Enjoy dinner on-board before the ship docks late in the evening in Tromsø where you will stay for two nights. After disembarkation, make your own way to your hotel, located a 5 minute walk from the Hurtigruten terminal. Overnight Scandic Grand Tromsø, or similar. (BD)

We have set today aside for you to explore Tromsø on your own, or simply to relax and enjoy the largest city in northern Norway. Your hotel is centrally located and most places of interest can easily be visited on foot. Alternatively optional excursions can easily be arranged locally or if you prefer in advance through Undiscovered Destinations. Tromsø has many attractions including a cable car, the idiosyncratic Arctic Cathedral and several museums such as the Polar Museum, Tromsø Museum, The Science Centre and Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum. Explore the rugged history of polar explorers, sample local beer at Mack Brewery and watch seal feeding at the Polaria aquarium. Overnight Scandic Grand Tromsø, or similar. (B)

After breakfast, make your own way to the ‘Prostneset’ bus stop located close to the Hurtigruten terminal for a scheduled bus, the number 100, and a four hour scenic ride to Narvik. Stepping off at the final stop in Narvik, ‘Rutebilstasjonen’ is located about a 20 minute walk from the town’s railway station. Make your own way to the station where you will board Swedish Rail’s sleeper service to Stockholm which departs just before 4pm. Depending on the time of year that you are travelling and the hours of daylight, you will have stunning views as the train travels over the Ofoten Line – a 43km journey along Norway`s northernmost railway route from Narvik to Kiruna, built originally to cater for the burgeoning iron ore trade in the inaccessible north. This incredible stretch of line takes you over seven bridges, through 23 tunnels and past five stations, testament to the engineering skills of its architect and determination of the conscripted navies who forged this amazing artery across some of Europe’s most unyielding landscapes. Indeed, the train threads through the imposing, raw and historical Arctic landscape, where you will be greeted by dizzying mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls. Overnight sleeper train (2 berth compartment). (B)

If you are travelling at a time of year when this journey would normally be covered during the hours of darkness we can amend your itinerary to ensure you do not miss out on the spectacular scenery. By staying one night in Tromsø (rather than two nights) and one night in Narvik, this means you will able to take a morning train to Kiruna and onto Boden where you will connect with an overnight sleeper to Stockholm. Please ask for further details at the time of booking.

Arrive in Stockholm at around 9am (or at about 7am if you have taken the morning train from Narvik). Make your own way to your hotel, conveniently located very close to the station. As it will be too early to check-in, leave your bags at the hotel and feel free to explore the ‘Beauty on the Water’ city on your own. Alternatively partake of some breakfast (not included in the cost of your tour) and relax in the hotel’s lounge until your room becomes available. The time in Stockholm will be yours to enjoy as you wish. For many visitors the most striking thing about the city is its gorgeous waterfront promenades and harbours. Stockholm is comprised of 14 islands where the freshwater Lake Mälaren flows out into the Baltic Sea, and in addition there are the 30,000 islands, skerries and rocks of the Stockholm Archipelago, a short ferry ride away. Enjoy your day in in the Swedish capital, but of course you may wish to have longer to discover this delightful city. Just ask us at the time of booking if you would like to extend your stay – this can easily be arranged. Overnight Radisson Blu Royal Viking Stockholm. (B)

After breakfast make your way back to the station and board Swedish Rail’s 125 mph tilting X2000 train that links Stockholm and Copenhagen. Visit the on-board self-service bistro car which serves a range of meals and drinks. Enjoy the scenery as the train dashes south towards the Danish capital, and look out for the impressive Öresund Link, a huge bridge and tunnel that connects Sweden with Denmark. You will reach Copenhagen at around 1pm, and, given that the layover will be a couple of hours before taking an onward train to Hamburg, you will have time for lunch. A wide range of eateries can be found on the station. Later join a Danish inter-city train for Hamburg, a journey time of about 4½ hours. Or, should you prefer, take the opportunity to break your trip in Copenhagen with an overnight stay or longer. Please ask for further information at the time of booking. Assuming that you have made the same day connection in Copenhagen, you will arrive in Hamburg at around 8pm, where you will stay overnight. Make you own way to your hotel, conveniently located very close to the ‘Hauptbahnhof’ or main station. Overnight Intercity Hotel Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. (B)

With up to seven departures a day from Hamburg to London via Cologne and Brussels you can opt for the time that would you like to set off. For example if you leave Hamburg at 11am you will reach London St. Pancras the same day at just before 8pm. Whichever option you choose, it will involve a German Rail’s Inter-city train to Cologne and then onto Brussels on a high-speed ICE train, and finally Eurostar to London. Alternatively why not mark the end of your adventure with a longer stay in Hamburg? Seated on the River Elbe between the North and Baltic seas, Hamburg is proud of its mediaeval history as a Free City and a key member of the venerable and influential Hanseatic League. The city was also an important port of departure for immigrants to the New World, and its trade routes still stretch across the globe. Hamburg is, and always has been, a worldly, cosmopolitan, and diverse city with much to offer to its citizens and guests. (B)

We offer this tour for private departures only

Prices start from £3,100 per person, based on two people travelling.

Call us to book.

Tour Notes

Single Supplement from £1,100.

Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?

Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.

Arctic Explorer No Flying Rail Adventure Tour Map

For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
well-travelled team.

+44 (0)191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA

Tour inclusions.

  • All accommodation
  • Transfers as per itinerary with a private car or minibus
  • Rail travel based on 2nd class seats for day time journeys and private sleeping compartments for overnight journeys. Please contact us for details of first class upgrades
  • Hurtigruten cruise – 2-berth standard outside cabin (with window)
  • Private guided sightseeing tours as per itinerary in Moscow and Murmansk, with the services of an English-speaking guide or driver/guide
  • Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, D – Dinner)
  • Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Tour exclusions.

  • International flights
  • Any airport taxes
  • Travel Insurance
  • Visas
  • Services, Meals and Drinks other than those mentioned in the itinerary
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Tips

Thanks for arranging our rail trip in Europe. We hope to do another one of your long distance trips.

Amanda Clarke, Australia