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Top Reasons to Visit Svalbard

28 November, 2023

Polar bear encouners in Svalbard expedition cruises

Key Takeaways

  • The Norwegian archipelago Svalbard is located around 2,000km (1,270 miles) north of Oslo and just around 1,300km (807 miles) south of the North Pole.
  • Visit during peak season (May-September) when the tundra is blooming, wildlife viewing is at its best and the midnight sun gives you plenty of daylight to explore.
  • Choose to cruise – the best way to discover the Svalbard archipelago is aboard a small expedition cruise that can get you to the most secluded spots.
  • Tourists love the remote archipelago for its prime polar bear sightings, incredible sea ice, northern lights, exclusive wildlife tours, abundance of bird species (such as Arctic terns and Pink-footed geese) and the Svalbard Bryggeri (the world’s northernmost craft beer brewery).

Why is Svalbard the Most Popular Arctic Cruise Destination?

Svalbard is the number one tourist destination in the High Arctic for a variety of reasons. Firstly, its main settlement is easily accessible via its commercial airport and cruise terminal. In addition to being the perfect representation of the pristine polar environment in most people’s imagination of the Arctic, this wilderness is home to an unparalleled abundance and diversity of Arctic wildlife. Incredible opportunities for photography and activities like sea kayaking add to the appeal. But more than any single reason, it is the unrivaled combination of these attractions that makes Svalbard the top choice for travelers to the Arctic.

Top Reasons to Visit Svalbard

The most accessible High Arctic settlement

Despite being one of the most northerly island groups on the planet, Svalbard is surprisingly accessible. Longyearbyen, the main settlement and administrative center of Svalbard, is served by the most northerly airport to receive regularly scheduled flights. You can easily book your flight to and from Svalbard online in a few minutes. Virtually all cruises in Svalbard use the port of Longyearbyen for embarkation, disembarkation, or both. So, it’s convenient that the port is located in Isfjorden, on the west side of the island of Spitsbergen. Despite its name meaning “the ice fjord”, Isfjorden is usually ice-free throughout the summer months, thanks to warm ocean currents from the south. Nevertheless, cruise-goers looking forward to ice-filled polar vistas and ice-dependent wildlife won’t be disappointed, as plenty of ice can still be found nearby in other parts of the archipelago.

Zodiac boat cruising in Svalbard

An abundance and diversity of Arctic wildlife

Svalbard is arguably the best place to observe polar bears in the wild. The territory is also home to other iconic mammal species such as reindeer, Arctic Fox, walrus, ringed seal, bearded seal, harp seal, and many cetacean species including bowhead and beluga whale. In addition, 203 bird species have been recorded in Svalbard and adjacent waters. Arctic seabirds breed here in very large colonies, sometimes representing significant proportions of global populations. Of course, Svalbard is not the only place to see Arctic animals. For example, if your only goal for your Arctic trip is to get close-up photos of polar bears playing in the tundra (and doing only that) then you might also be considering going to Churchill, Manitoba. And if you only want to see reindeer, probably it would be more convenient to see them on game farms in Norway or Scotland. However, if you want to see polar bears and reindeer and many other Arctic animals behaving naturally in a truly wild and protected environment, then Svalbard is clearly the best choice of destination.

Svalbard reindeer encouners in expedition cruises

Top 5 Things to Do in Svalbard

See polar bears:

Whether you visit in summer on in the winter months, be prepared for polar bear activity. A trip to Svalbard is a perfect way to encounter them, but always listen to your guides and do not leave the city limits of Longyearbyen without a professional tour guide.

Boat trips and cruises:

Nordic countries are perfect to discover from aboard a ship! Cruise the Arctic Ocean to see secluded bays, fjords and beluga whales!

Explore Longyearbyen:

Tourism in Norther Norway gives you the perfect insight into the harsh life of the locals living amid the frozen tundra during the long polar nights. The Svalbard Museum, with its beautiful collection of historic artifacts, and the North Pole Expedition Museum offer a perfect start to learning more about this region.

Day trips to Pyramiden:

Explore this abandoned Soviet coal mining settlement, a ghost town and outdoor museum, in Arctic Norway.

Dog sledding and snowmobile riding:

Get around like the locals and try a fun way to explore the region!

Top-5 things to do in Svalbard

Something for everyone

The variety of attractions in Svalbard makes it the ideal Arctic destination for travelers with diverse interests. In addition to world-class wildlife viewing, there are many fascinating historical sites to be explored. With a varied landscape including tidewater glaciers, mountain ranges, flowering tundra, polar deserts, and huge ice sheets, Svalbard is undoubtedly one of the world’s premier destinations for nature photography. Active travelers can even take advantage of some of the most exciting paddling opportunities in the Arctic with optional sea kayaking. If you are planning your first trip to the Polar Regions, the ease of accessibility and a wide spectrum of activities make Svalbard a great place to start your explorations. Of course, the best way to experience the myriad attractions of Svalbard is with a convenient and comfortable expedition cruise. Book your Arctic cruise to Svalbard today!

Expedition landings in Svalbard


What is the best time to visit Svalbard?

The best time to visit the Svalbard islands is during the Arctic summer from May to September. The sea ice is receding and expedition cruising becomes possible. If you attempt to board a circumnavigational cruise of Svalbard, summer is the only time when sea ice is not blocking the route.

What are the best things to do in Svalbard?

Visitors love the wild nature of the archipelago with its beautiful fjords, mountain ranges, Arctic deserts and glaciers, as well as seeing iconic wildlife such as polar bears, seals and arctic foxes.

Is it worth visiting Svalbard?

Visiting Svalbard should be on any avid traveler’s list! The High Arctic offers completely different scenery and a contrast to other places on the mainland of Northern Europe. And for those who want to see polar bears, this is one of the best places to see them.

How many days should you spend in Svalbard?

If you plan to book a cruise, we recommend at least two weeks. This will give you plenty of time to see all the major gems and get a feel for the region and local culture.

How do you get to Svalbard?

You can either catch a flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen, or choose one of our cruises, which leave from Edinburgh and sail north across the Arctic Circle.

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