As global warming is causing a significant reduction in the extent and the thickness of Arctic sea ice, a narrative for future large-scale commercial shipping in the Arctic has started to evolve. However, while most efforts have aimed to assess the financial benefits along with potential savings in greenhouse gas emissions, few studies have explored risk patterns and safety issues associated with Arctic shipping and its current commercial alternatives in a geospatial manner. This study aims at addressing this gap in the literature, by assessing the risk factors associated with Arctic shipping, in particular, risks along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) connecting European and Asian ports. Its main component includes a global least-cost analysis, aiming to assess global and Arctic risk factors associated with commercial shipping, to derive the least risk paths from 10 major ports in Europe to 10 in Asia. To project the results into the future, and thus assess the future potential of the NSR as a viable and less risky alternative, a dataset on predicted sea ice thickness within 2010–2099, restricted the analysis based on the penetration capabilities of three selected vessel types. Ultimately, the study concludes that maritime transportation, bound for East-Asia, commencing from most northern European ports, could benefit from the NSR, not just in terms of distance savings, cost reduction and less CO2 production, but also as a safer alternative. Lastly, two recommendations drawn from our results aim to assist decision-makers in facilitating future Arctic transportation by addressing accessibility and safety issues. Highlights We explore risk patterns and safety issues associated with Arctic shipping and its current commercial alternatives in a geospatial manner. We assess the future potential of the northern sea route (NSR) as a viable and less risky alternative for European-Asian shipping. We provide a discussion on pros and cons of utilising the NSR in terms of distance savings resulting in cost reduction as well as less CO2 production, and as a safer alternative.