Ultimate guide to Alaska

In-house travel expert from the travel search platform HolidayPirates, Jon Johannsson, explains what makes Alaska such a special travel destination.

Alaska is on many travellers’ bucket list because of its awe-inspiring landscape. At six times the size of the UK, it's the biggest state in America and boasts an estimated 100,000 glaciers, the country’s 16 highest peaks, third-longest river, and two largest national parks.

But planning your once-in-a-lifetime trip can feel a bit overwhelming. This ultimate guide is a good starting point… 

 

Travel

how to visit alaska from britain
Photo by Bryan Goff

IcelandAir flies from three British cities (London, Manchester, and Glasgow) to Anchorage, with a stopover in Iceland.

Once there, there are several ways to travel around Alaska. Visiting the state as part of a cruise, or renting an RV for the ultimate road trip, are the most common.

"To truly immerse yourself in Alaska’s landscape and culture, though, it's best to travel around the state by train or car"

Alaska is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. This is because cruises will normally sail the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska, which is not accessible by car. Choose between a large or mid-sized ship, such as Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises, but make sure that you check their starting point, as many will dock from Seattle or Vancouver, not from a city in Alaska itself.

To truly immerse yourself in Alaska’s landscape and culture, though, it's best to travel around the state by train or car. Should you decide to do this, we'd recommend visiting Alaska for two weeks, so that you have enough time to see all its wonders.

driving through alaska
Photo by Steve Halama

There's a very scenic train route going through Alaska—you can hop on the train at Anchorage and it will take you through some beautiful landscapes and cities like Juneau. Anchorage is a central city, home to about 40 per cent of Alaskans, and is a great starting point for a car road trip. From there you can do a circular route to the cities of Denali, Seward, Homer, and Soldotna, or go completely off-peak into the wilderness. 

Most people will travel to Alaska during the peak season, which spans from May to September when the days are long and the temperatures are warm. If you want to cut costs, or if you are more interested in seeing the Northern Lights and enjoying winter sports, then dress warm and consider going during the low season, preferably February to March. 

 

See and explore

alaska
Photo by Rod Long

Alaska is the go-to destination for adventurous holidays, as you can hike an ice-age glacier, go bear spotting, and fish giant salmon, halibut, and king crab. The rivers and lakes also offer adventurous whitewater rafting and kayaking through field of icebergs and fjords.

Consider day excursions and guided tours if you want to discover the wilderness with a little guidance. There are many local options for this, so the best way to find the one that will suit you is to check out the city’s official tourism page.  

In terms of cultural visits, if you’re in Anchorage, make sure to visit the Anchorage Museum, which celebrates the history and ethnography of the state. The Alaska Native Heritage Centre is another great place to learn, through their recreated indigenous villages and storytelling. 

 

Eating and drinking

alaska reasons to visit
Photo by Darrin Henein

Alaska's beautiful landscape definitely opens up the cuisine to eating local and fresh food. The most popular items on the menu are of course Alaskan salmon, halibut, and king crab for fish, and moose, bear, and elk for meat.

While Alaska does have a Michelin restaurant: The Grill by Thomas Keller, the state is much more known for its food trucks and beer gardens, such as The Saltry by Homer, and Zach’s Restaurant in Fairbanks. Fairbanks is also considered as the best spot in the world to see the Northern Lights because it's directly located beneath the oval of the Northern Lights. 

In addition to locally-sourced food, Alaska is known for its boasting beer scene. It is currently ranked eighth in the nation for breweries per capita. Alaska Brewing Company is the largest, with 18 beers in total.

If you're an avid beer drinker, make sure to check out what the local beer is where you’re going. The Baranof Island Brewing Co. in Sitka is well-known and so is the coffee porter from Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in Anchorage. But with fresh water sources like those in Alaska, is it really a surprise that this is a beer haven?