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Polar bears tours in Svalbard

Svalbard, an independently governed Norwegian archipelago in the High Arctic, is one of the northernmost island groups on our planet. The territory is located well above the Arctic Circle and reflects the polar climate, landscape and wildlife. Yet, at the same time, it is not too far away from civilization and can be accessed via regular commercial flights. Svalbard’s biggest island is called Spitsbergen, with its main settlement, Longyearbyen, harboring both an airport and a cruise terminal.

Svalbard Polar Bear Tour

More than half of Svalbard is covered by ice, which attracts the world’s largest carnivores: polar bears. You can spot them from a distance onshore, but admiring their behavior close up only becomes possible from a safe distance on a small ship. For those wondering where to see polar bears in Norway and looking to make comfort and adventure meet during the trip, an Arctic expedition cruise is the perfect fit.

Reasons to go on a Svalbard polar bear cruise

While a polar expedition is so much more than just seeing the wildlife, that reason alone is enough to make the trip worthwhile. For centuries, indigenous people feared and worshiped polar bears and heavily depended on them for meat and skin. Today, seeing the symbol of the Arctic thrive in its natural habitat, unbound and free to hunt, run, and roar is an experience that can’t be replicated at a zoo or anywhere else.

What to expect on a Svalbard polar bear tour

  • A modern cruise ship with all the necessary amenities, attentive service and comfortable accommodations

  • Regular shore landings for personal encounters with the rugged beauty of the Arctic and prime wildlife viewing opportunities

  • Zodiac cruises for all passengers and optional kayaking for travelers who enjoy more active exploration

  • A haven for photographers: seeing polar bear cubs playing, a pod of whales feeding alongside the ship, or the sun shining over ice vistas at midnight are just a few of the special moments that can be captured on film

  • An itinerary designed to travel through the best possible places for polar bear watching (encounters can’t be guaranteed, but we follow routes that bears frequent the most)

What to expect on a Svalbard polar bear tour

When to see Polar Bears in Svalbard

Polar bears hibernate during the winter. In spring, mothers and cubs start to emerge from their dens, but the chances of spotting them are slim. During the summer, late May to August, polar bears actively hunt and travel along the pack ice. This is also when the weather and navigation conditions are best for a polar bear safari.

Polar bear population

The area north of the Arctic Circle up to the North Pole is the prime polar bear habitat on Earth! There are more polar bears in Svalbard and the Barents Sea than there are people living on the archipelago! With around 3,000 animals, their number exceeds the human population (of just 2,552) on the Svalbard archipelago as per 2022. Narrowing it down to only Svalbard, there are just 300 polar bears living and hunting year-round on the Arctic sea ice. Sometimes you may encounter polar bears close to Longyearbyen (the capital of Svalbard). With sea ice receding, polar bears in Svalbard have adapted their feeding strategies. While hunting ringed seals on the ice and near glaciers during the spring and summer season is still an important part of their routine, they also consume bird eggs and chicks. According to the WWF, polar bears in Svalbard may also occasionally turn to reindeer, which wasn’t observed in the past.

Safety on polar bear sightings

Although polar bears can look cute and friendly, they are indeed very strong and vicious, so keeping a proper distance from the animals is a requirement. During landings, a safety perimeter will be established and maintained by armed guides. We also don’t approach the bears too closely during Zodiac cruises.

Can polar bear sightings be guaranteed?

While our itinerary is designed to maximize polar bear sightings, wildlife and nature set their own rules. The beauty of expedition cruising is in seizing opportunities as they come.

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Expeditions

When planning your vacation for the summer of 2024, consider the different itineraries below. Keep in mind that booking well in advance helps you secure your favorite departure date and the cabin category of your choice, and lowers the cost of the voyage due to early booking discounts. Check our cruise plan for additional activities such as kayaking and make sure you book your spot ahead of time. To get the best deals, consider browsing the cruise schedule for expeditions in 2025 and booking early.

In-Depth Exploration in the Land of the Polar Bear

On this 14-day cruise, we attempt a full circumnavigation of Svalbard (weather permitting) with a stop at the remote island of Kvitøya. Your cruise starts and ends in Longyearbyen and airfare from Oslo to Longyearbyen and back is included in the cruise package! This cruise is perfect to see the best of Svalbard, the polar ice edge and incredible Arctic landscapes and to get prime opportunities to see polar bears roaming in their natural environment!

Arctic Wildlife Safari

This 10-day cruise that starts and ends in Longyearbyen (airfare from Oslo to Longyearbyen and back is included) lets you explore the entire western coast of the archipelago. This is a great voyage to see polar bears in Svalbard as we cruise far north to the polar ice edge, where polar bears live and hunt. With two departures available in 2024, it’s popular among travelers who want to see the most of Svalbard in a short amount of time.

Svalbard & Polar Ice Edge

This 12 to 13-day cruise not only takes you to the polar ice edge, but also attempts a full circumnavigation of the largest island of the archipelago: Spitsbergen. You start and end your trip in Longyearbyen (airfare from Oslo to Longyearbyen and back is included). As we visit remote parts of the archipelago and cruise to the polar ice edge, we’ll get prime opportunities to see polar bears in Svalbard and other iconic wildlife. In 2024 we have two departures, a regular cruise with our kayaking club and a specialized photo cruise for professionals and amateurs!

Arctic Odyssey

TStart in Longyearbyen (Svalbard), visit the best of East Greenland and end your cruise in Reykjavik (Iceland)! This 14-day cruise is perfect for expeditioners who want to see three Arctic gems in one cruise. We also have our kayaking club aboard, which is a great option for active travelers to explore at their own speed!

Crossing the Arctic Circle

If you’ve ever wanted to cross the Arctic circle aboard a real expedition ship, then this is your cruise. Starting in Edinburgh, this 13-day voyage will take you north (past the scenic Faroe Islands), crossing the Arctic Circle and visiting the remote and uninhabited island of Jan Mayen before reaching Svalbard. Disembarking in Longyearbyen, your ticket back to Oslo is included in the price.

Icebergs, Fjords, Polar bears and Arctic wildlife

This 14-day cruise combines an expedition to Svalbard and Greenland. This cruise starts and ends in Longyearbyen and airfare from Oslo to Longyearbyen and back is included in the cruise package! Explore the northwestern coast of Svalbard (look out for polar bears!) before heading to the beautiful wilderness of Northeast Greenland National Park.

Polar Bears in Norway

Itinerary

  • You can find detailed itineraries for the Svalbard cruises:

  • In the Expeditions section above On the All Expeditions page, where you can set filters for the wildlife you want to see in the Departures section below, with dates for the summer of 2022 ( and for the 2023 season - coming soon!)

Activities

Venture ashore in our nimble Zodiac boats, hike and enjoy wildlife photography. If you’re adventurous enough, join the polar plunge in the icy waters or go sea kayaking. Back on board, join our enrichment program with informative presentations on history, wildlife and other Arctic topics, as well as photography workshops, movies and dancing.

Visa requirements

Svalbard itself is a visa-free zone, but you might require a visa to travel through the mainland on your way to Longyearbyen. Check with your Norwegian consulate or embassy. Citizens of EU and EFTA countries and some other nations will not need it, but for all other passengers, we provide a support letter and help with the rest of the required documents.

Packing list

Things to pack for polar bear tours to Spitsbergen:

  • Layers of Arctic-quality clothing that you can easily take on and off: thermal underwear for the base layer, polar fleece for the middle, and waterproof trousers and a windproof parka with insulation for the top
  • Rubber-soled shoes for walking around Longyearbyen and on the ship’s decks and warm socks for Zodiac boat cruises and landings – we provide Wellington-style rubber boots for your excursions ashore
  • A warm hat, scarf and gloves

  • Sunglasses and sunscreen

  • Personal medication

  • A bathing suit for the hot tub on the ship and the polar plunge

  • A backpack

  • Camera gear

Things you don’t need to bring to Svalbard, Norway:

  • Dressy attire — informal, casual and comfortable clothing is perfectly suitable for your time aboard a Svalbard expedition cruise ship
  • A heavy parka or jeans / tight clothing for landings — We provide you with a warm wind- and water-resistant parka, and jeans won’t keep you as warm as layers can
  • Cheap sunglasses that do not protect you from UVA and UVB rays

Polar bear facts

Svalbard cruise ship

Refurbished in 2017, the Sea Spirit is a small 114-passenger expedition ship that offers a generous measure of comfort even in the high latitudes. Modern and spacious rooms, a restaurant and a bar, a library and a gym add to the atmosphere of polar discoveries. Each traveler can find the right cabin category for their preference: from moderately-priced triple suites to the luxurious owner’s suite.

Polar bear facts & information

An adult female is about 300 kg or 660 pounds, and her male partner’s weight is double that amount. Their average lifespan is about 25-30 years.

Polar bears mainly hunt seals, waiting for them to come up for air through breathing holes in the ice. They are nimble animals, reaching speeds of up to 6.5 km/h in the water and up to 30 km/h on land.

Polar bear range in Spitsbergen

Polar bear sightings in Svalbard are most common on the surrounding islands east of Spitsbergen. Bears rarely come close to the towns and settlements, but when you’re out in the wild, keep your camera and binoculars close, as a sighting can happen anytime, anywhere. The animals are frequently spotted on the ice but can also be seen on land, resting.

See the polar bear on our Svalbard cruises

A polar bear cruise in Svalbard will satisfy your wish to see the king of the Arctic in its natural habitat, but will also take you to the remote and rugged landscapes of the polar wilderness, and along the routes of early explorers and settlers. Svalbard is diverse, surprisingly accessible and welcoming to all types of travelers (you’ll find the perfect blend of comfort and adventure aboard the Sea Spirit). Enrich your holidays with an Arctic cruise from Poseidon Expeditions.

FAQs:

What is the food like on a Svalbard polar bear trip?

On the Sea Spirit, we offer international cuisine prepared by our talented chefs at the onboard restaurant. Typically, passengers have two or three dinner choices, as well as vegetarian options. Three meals a day are included in the cruise cost, as well as a 24/7 tea and coffee station.

What is the best month to see polar bears in Svalbard?

Generally, you can see them year-round (as they do not hibernate), but the best time to see them is between May and August. Sea ice around Svalbard recedes at that time enough for small expedition ships to cruise north toward the polar ice cap and the Arctic summer is prime hunting season for the bears. With a bit of luck, you’ll see polar bears hunting for seals and raising their cubs.

What other types of wildlife inhabit Svalbard?

Other than polar bears, you can see the Svalbard reindeer, Arctic foxes, whales, walruses and seals. This area is also great for birders, with a large population of rare sea birds such as little auks, Arctic terns, snow bunting, great skuas, kittiwake and Northern fulmars.

What will the weather be like on the tour?

A polar bear tour in Svalbard generally rewards travelers with mild, sunny weather. July is the warmest month, with average temperatures of 3 - 7 °C (37.4 - 44.6 °F).

What types of travelers are best suited to the tour?

There are no limitations based on the level of fitness, age, or travel experience when it comes to cruises. Keep in mind that the tour of Svalbard, Norway is more on the active side and would not be advisable for passengers with mobility problems. You also need to be ready to embrace possible itinerary changes rather than expecting the ship to follow a strict route.

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