Franz Josef Land Cruises, Expeditions & Tours
А Franz Josef Land Expedition in brief
Take advantage of this rare opportunity to visit the remote Russian Arctic Archipelago previously closed to tourism and only accessible to expedition ships
Explore the archipelago as a stand-alone expedition or visit it on your way to the North Pole
See the history of early Arctic exploration come alive at campsites, memorials and the remnants of polar expeditions
Experience an abundance of wildlife, including polar bears, walruses, various whale species and thousands of migratory seabirds
Marvel at geological wonders like glacier-covered mountains, basalt columns, sharp cliffs and giant stone spheres
High Arctic wilderness
Franz Josef Land, part of the Russian Arctic National Park, is a nature sanctuary. You can spot polar bears, walruses, endangered bowhead whales and other Arctic wildlife anywhere, anytime. Steep cliffs and scree slopes accommodate enormous colonies of nesting seabirds. 24-hour daylight allows us to exploit every opportunity for wildlife viewing in this unique polar ecosystem.
History of polar exploration
During our Franz Josef Land tours, we encounter a stark and enigmatic landscape steeped in the drama and heroism of early polar exploration. We have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen, Frederick George Jackson, Julius von Payer and other polar explorers. At Tikhaya Bay, we explore the ruins of a Soviet-era research facility that was also a major base for polar expeditions.
More of the Arctic
If you choose a Franz Josef Land expedition, you will get to experience the stunning scenery and abundant wildlife in Spitsbergen, Svalbard’s largest island. This classic Arctic destination is home to a large population of polar bears. For North Pole expeditions, the main highlight of the voyage is reaching 90°N, where all meridians converge and every direction is south.
About Franz Josef Land
Franz Josef Land is a 192-island archipelago in the Russian High Arctic above the Arctic circle. With no permanent population, only scientists, military personnel, and rangers live on the archipelago. This pristine area is part of the Russian Arctic National Park, which you can only reach via cruise ship.
The remote High Arctic islands were likely first discovered in 1865 by a Norwegian sealing captain. Official records credit the Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition led by Julius von Payer and Karl Weyprecht. The initial goal of the expedition was to traverse the Northeast Passage and travel to the Pole. However, the vessel soon got locked in the ice, and by August 1873, it had drifted to unknown land. The explorers named it in honor of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Josef I, and the cliffs that they spotted first were called Cape Tegetthoff, after their ship.
In the following decades, Franz Josef Land continued to attract adventurers to the edge of the world. Benjamin Leigh Smith explored the previously undiscovered southwestern islands, including Bell Island. In 1895-96, Norwegians Nansen and Johansen over-wintered in the north of the archipelago at a place they named Cape Norway. On a modern-day Franz Josef Land expedition cruise, you can visit historical sites that give silent testimony to the resilience of these early explorers.
Upon arrival at Franz Josef Land, travelers will have the opportunity to explore its islands, fjords and landing sites with daily shore excursions and Zodiac cruises. The exact route will be tailored to fit the weather and ice conditions. Our expert guides will brief you on the flora, fauna and geology of the area. Optional sea kayaking is offered for experienced passengers (not included in the cost). Be sure to join our daily educational presentations and programs aboard the Sea Spirit.
During North Pole expeditions, with more time at sea, you can learn how our icebreaker operates first-hand, attend lectures and events, and hit the onboard gym and sauna. Time, weather and ice conditions permitting, you will also experience breathtaking helicopter rides. Once we arrive at the Pole, we will celebrate on the ice with the northernmost barbeque on the planet.
Imagine the great photo ops on this trip! As a land of contrasts, Franz Josef Land boasts lush tundra oases amidst vast polar deserts, bird cliffs, glaciers and sea ice. You can capture it all with the benefit of 24-hour daylight. Our free photography workshops gives you the chance to learn and practice your photography skills – no matter your level of expertise – alongside a professional photographer.
How to get to Franz Josef Land
Franz Josef Land tours start and end in Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s main settlement on its biggest island, Spitsbergen. You can get there via regular commercial flight from Norway. North Pole expeditions start in Murmansk, Russia. Look for flights with stopovers in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Airfare is not included in the cruise package, but we can suggest the best routes and refer you to our airline booking partners. . Upon arrival, you will be greeted by our staff and transferred to a hotel (first night included in the cruise package).
To cruise to Franz Josef Land, you need a valid Russian visa. Refer to your local consulate or embassy to obtain it, or choose a commercial visa service to assist you. We provide a support letter and advise on the necessary documents. For cruises that start in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, citizens of some countries might need a Schengen visa as well to travel through mainland Norway on their way to the embarkation port.
Franz Josef Land Ships
Poseidon operates two cruise ships that voyage to Franz Josef Land. Amenities onboard the 114-passenger Sea Spirit include a restaurant, bar, spacious suites, lounges for lectures and entertainment and an outdoor bistro with a jacuzzi. The vessel has an ice-strengthened hull, a fleet of Zodiacs and a set of retractable fin stabilizers for smoother sailing.
North Pole cruises take place aboard a nuclear-powered icebreaker called 50 Years of Victory. Even though it was designed as a research ship, it offers comfortable accommodation and delicious cuisine. Meet like-minded travelers in the ship’s spacious lounges. The vessel also has a small salt-water pool on a lower deck and two adjacent saunas.
When to visit Franz Josef Land
During most of the year, the archipelago is only accessible via icebreaker due to the heavy ice sheet and harsh weather that make trips suitable only for research or containership assistance purposes. The Franz Josef Land travel season is set in July and August. During these months, the icebreaker is used by Poseidon and a regular ice-resistant ship like our Sea Spirit can also get closer to the islands and inlets where wildlife is plentiful. Ice is still plentiful here, and icebergs, glaciers and pack ice sparkle under the 24-hour sunlight.
You can expect temperatures of 3 - 7°C (37.4 - 44.6°F). Having the right clothing and gear is an essential part of a comfortable trip. Make sure to purchase Arctic-quality clothing that comes in layers you can easily put on and take off. We will provide a warm, windproof parka and rubber boots for shore excursions.
Facts about Franz Josef Land
For a long time, the number of islands in the archipelago was 191. However, in 2012, a strait broke the Northbrook island into two parts, so the official number is now 192.
The islands cover an area of 16.134 square kilometers, and 85% of the archipelago is glacier-covered.
The islands have been a nature sanctuary since 1994 and became part of the Russian Arctic National Park in 2012.
At Tikhaya Bay, you can send a postcard back home from the northernmost post office in the world.
What’s included in the cruise package?
Important: A Russian visa is required for a Franz Josef Land cruise. Itinerary, landings and wildlife sightings during the cruise depend strongly on ice and weather conditions, and are subject to the decisions of the expedition leader and the captain of the vessel. But rest assured: they want a great trip – filled with wildlife and adventure – as much as you do!
Where is Franz Josef Land?
Franz Josef Land is located in the northeastern Barents Sea (in the high Arctic), only 900 kilometers from the North Pole. It is the northernmost territory of Russia.
Which expedition should I choose?
We have two types of cruises that go to Franz Josef Land. One focuses entirely on the exploration of the archipelago, with a few bonus days in Svalbard. The other is a trip to the North Pole, pausing in Franz Josef Land on the way back.
Will we see polar bears during the cruise?
Polar bears, as well as other Arctic wildlife, are frequently spotted around the archipelago. In July and August, they hunt in this area, following the pack ice and give birth to cubs. Sightings are likely, but not guaranteed.
What is sea kayaking like in Franz Josef Land?
Poseidon’s Sea Kayak Club participants have the opportunity to paddle where very few people have paddled before. The chance to see walruses and seals up close make this a wildlife lover’s dream.