- 3 Min Read
- 12 Jan 2021
On Our Radar: Franz Josef Land
If you haven’t heard of Franz Josef Land, it’s time to put this incredible Arctic archipelago on your radar—and on your bucket list. Nestled at the top of the world in the icy Barents Sea, this far-flung chain of islands is ripe for pure, exhilarating exploration. Here are just a few reasons why:
Just 550 miles from the North Pole and accessible only by icebreaker a few months a year, Franz Josef Land is as remote as it gets! There aren’t many places left in the world totally untouched by human activity and exploring among these wild, rugged islands is truly unforgettable. Special permission from the Russian government is required to visit here, and Lindblad Expeditions was the first foreign-flagged, non-scientific expedition vessel to get approval back in 2011. When we next return, it will be aboard the brand-new National Geographic Endurance, allowing us to explore even farther into the ice in search of thrilling discoveries.
Wildlife reigns in all its glory here. Our naturalists have said, “coming here is like visiting some white Eden.” Ivory gulls, little auks, black-legged kittiwake, and a flurry of other seabirds swarm overhead; walrus, harp seals, bowhead and beluga whales, and narwhals traverse the seas; and polar bears and arctic fox stalk the rocky shorelines. Flowers and mosses are surprisingly abundant here too, thanks to the natural fertilizer provided by all the birdlife. To conserve this precious wilderness, the Russian government designated Franz Josef Land as part of the Russian Arctic National Park in 2016—a critical move that increased the protected area to 34,000 square miles and created the largest marine reserve in the Arctic.
Ice dominates the landscape here. In fact, 85% of the islands are completely covered in glaciers, while the surrounding waters are crowded with ice floes and icebergs in all shapes and sizes. Towering volcanic rock formations cut a dramatic silhouette against the bright white snow. This otherworldly combination makes for some of the most spectacular scenery in all of the Arctic. We have permission to Zodiac cruise along these wild shores and even step foot on the islands—giving you the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk on the vast, ancient ice sheets and marvel up close at this Arctic paradise.
Heroic explorer history
Join the ranks of the few and the brave! Venturing to Franz Josef Land will earn you major "bragging rights"—and put you in good company with some of history’s most intrepid explorers. While searching for the Geographic North Pole, several historic expeditions came across the archipelago, including most notably the first Fram expedition. After a failed attempt, Norwegians Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen were forced to overwinter in the harsh conditions. The fascinating remains of their makeshift shelter, made from walrus skins, rocks, and driftwood, can still be seen today at Cape Norway. On a trip to Franz Josef, you’ll also follow in the footsteps of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas expedition, which resulted in the first deep-sea footage of the rare Greenland shark.
Venture where few have ever gone on Exploring the Russian Arctic: Franz Josef Land & the Kara Sea, a 24-day adventure in the ice.