Visit Svalbard & Spitsbergen

78° 22' N

Known as the wildlife capital of the Arctic, Svalbard and its largest island, Spitsbergen is an archipelago of majestic glaciers and spiky mountains where polar bears roam.

Introduction

Svalbard has captivated travellers for over 100 years, drawn to its pristine beauty, abundant wildlife and the mystical midnight sun throughout the summer months. Its jagged landscape, 2,000 glaciers, steep-sided fjords, and sea ice allow explorers to witness all the highlights of the High Arctic in a single place.  

For wildlife lovers, Svalbard offers the best opportunities for animal viewing in the Arctic. It ranks as one of the best places on Earth to witness polar bears in their natural home, either hunting on the sea ice or scouting the remote shores for prey. Walruses haul out on remote beaches or rest on the sea ice. During the summer, abundant bird life migrates North, nesting in Svalbard’s colossal bird cliffs. 

For history lovers, Svalbard is full of sites of historical interest, from the remnants of early whaling stations to abandoned settlements and tales of North Pole exploration. The airship mast that Amundsen took off from to be the first to reach the North Pole still stands in Ny-Alesund today.

Ways to Visit Svalbard

Fly To Svalbard and Join A Cruise

Fly to the most northern airport on Earth and join an in-depth expedition cruise to explore Svalbard during the summer months for the best chances to see wildlife.

Cruise to Svalbard

Join an expedition cruise that visits Svalbard and other Arctic destinations such as Iceland, Greenland and Norway.
Svalbard Snow Mobile Tour

Fly To Svalbard and Join A Land Based Tour

Fly to Svalbard and participate in seasonal land-based activities such as dog sledding, hiking, or viewing the northern lights in the winter.

When to Visit Svalbard & Spitsbergen

Svalbard is accessible all year round, but the best time to visit is during the summer months between May and August when wildlife activity is at its peak, the temperatures are at their mildest, and the mountains are bathed in 24-hour sunlight. 

Expedition cruises explore Svalbard between May and September at the height of the Arctic summer when the passages around Svalbard are free of sea ice. Earlier in the season, May offers a chance to see Svalbard as it emerges from the winter. Expect frozen landscapes and shorter routes due to the remnants of the sea ice. June to August offer the best possibilities for wildlife viewing, including polar bears and hiking ashore. September offers glorious autumnal light as the snow reappears on the mountains.

It is also possible to visit Svalbard during the winter months. In October, the sunsets and doesn’t rise again until April, offering great possibilities to witness the northern lights. February, March and April offer the best months for winter activities, including dog sledging and snowmobiling. 

Please see our guide below for a detailed month-by-month overview of the best time to visit Svalbard.

Alkefjellet Bird Cliffs Hinlopen Strait on A Svalbard Cruise

Where is Svalbard & Spitsbergen?

Svalbard sign showing distances to Svalbard

Svalbard is an archipelago of Arctic islands between the North Pole and the mainland of Norway, approximately 450 miles to the south. Spitsbergen is the largest island in Svalbard and the location of Longyearbyen, the northernmost town on Earth. Svalbard also consists of eight other large islands and thousands of smaller islands, islets and skerries, all uninhabited and perfect for exploring on an expedition cruise. 

Due to its far northern location in the High Arctic above 78° N, Svalbard receives the midnight sun between the 20th of April and the 22nd of August. This is reversed in the winter when the Arctic is plunged into darkness. The polar night takes place between the 14th of November and January 29th, and the sun doesn’t rise more than 6 degrees beneath the horizon, causing a complete 24 hours of darkness. 

Although Svalbard is remote, it is easy to reach by daily flights to Oslo in Norway. When you step off the plane in Longyearbyen, you are standing at Earth’s most Northerly domestic airport.

Svalbard Wildlife

One of the main attractions to exploring Svalbard on an expedition cruise is to encounter the 

Diverse wildlife species can be seen on the shore, sea, and ice. 

Over 2,000 Polar Bears live in the Barents Sea area, and during the summer months, polar bears are frequently sighted hunting seals and walruses on the ice flows to the North of Svalbard or patrolling the rocky coastlines and beaches. 

Walruses known for their giant tusks are seen throughout the archipelago during the summer in haulouts on the beaches, swimming or resting on large ice flows.  

On land, Svalbard Reindeer, a species native to Svalbard and identifiable by its smaller body than a regular reindeer, can be seen in herds grazing in the tundra. Arctic foxes live throughout the landscape and can often be seen searching for food at the foot of bird cliffs. 

Whales, including the elusive white Beluga, Blue, and fin whales, are often seen sailing through Svalbard’s fjords. During the summer months, they gather to feed on the nutrient-rich waters.

Please see our guide below to learn more about Svalbard’s wildlife and the best months to see different types of wildlife.

Walruses-and-wildlife-in-Svalbard

Svalbard Weather and Climate

glaciers in Svalbard and Spitsbergen

Svalbard has a polar climate, known for cold temperatures, long winters, and relatively short summers. The high-latitude location and the Gulfstream greatly influence the weather and climate throughout the seasons.

During the summer cruising months, Svalbard is milder than most people expect, with low temperatures little more than a Northern European winter. In May, visitors can expect temperatures between 0°C and -5 °C (23°F – 32°F). At the height of the summer in July, temperatures vary between 5°C and 10°C (41°F – 50°F), and on a sunny day, it is quite possible to be hiking in just a base layer. 

In the winter, the temperatures plummet due to the absence of sunlight, and temperatures -20 °C to -10 °C (- 4°F to 14°F) are frequent at the height of the winter in January. 

It is worth noting that the summer weather in Svalbard can change rapidly, and it is essential to dress for every occasion. We supply a detailed packing list at the time of booking.

Please see our guide for a month-by-month breakdown of Svalbard’s weather and temperature.

Svalbard History

From its origins in 12th-century Norse history to its role in the race to reach the North Pole, Svalbard has a historical past that will fascinate any history lover.

The exact date of the discovery of Svalbard remains unknown, but it is believed to have been explored during the Viking age, where it is referred to as Svalbarð in the old Norse Sagas. 

During the 16th century, Dutch and English whalers and explorers ventured into the region. Today, the remains of blubber ovens are still visible at Smeerenburg, a Danish and Dutch whaling settlement founded in 1619.

In 1926, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen made the first flight over the North Pole in an airship that departed from Ny Alesund on Spitsbergen. Today, the airship mast still stands along with a statue of the revered explorer. 

To learn more about Svalbard’s history, please see our guide.

Svalbard history statue of Roald Amundsen

Frequently Asked Questions

The distance from Svalbard to the North Pole is approximately 600 miles (970 kilometres) from the northernmost point of Spistsbergen. The area between Svalbard and the North Pole is the Arctic Ocean, mostly covered by sea ice.

Svalbard is under Norwegian sovereignty and is an integral part of the Kingdom of Norway. However, certain international treaties govern the status of Svalbard and provide certain rights and access to other signatory countries.

The Svalbard Treaty of 1920, also known as the Spitsbergen Treaty, grants certain rights to signatory countries to engage in commercial activities on the archipelago without discrimination. The treaty, signed by several nations, including Norway, recognizes Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard while ensuring equal access to economic activities for all signatory countries.

Despite the international nature of the Svalbard Treaty, Norway retains complete control over the archipelago’s internal affairs, security, and environmental regulations. Longyearbyen, the largest settlement, serves as the archipelago’s administrative centre.

Travelling to Svalbard is generally safe, but it’s essential to be well-prepared due to the harsh Arctic environment and specific conditions on the archipelago. Here are some considerations:

Polar Bears

Svalbard is home to polar bears, and encounters with these animals can be dangerous. Be bear-aware and take precautions, such as carrying appropriate deterrents and staying informed about the local guidelines for dealing with polar bears.

Extreme Weather

Svalbard experiences extreme Arctic weather conditions, including cold temperatures and long periods of darkness during the winter. Travellers should wear warm, layered clothing and be prepared for challenging weather conditions.

Remote Location

Svalbard is remote and sparsely populated. Travelers should be self-sufficient, carry necessary supplies, and know that medical facilities are limited.

Regulations and Permits

Visitors must adhere to local regulations and obtain necessary permits. It’s crucial to respect the fragile Arctic environment and wildlife.

Transportation

Transportation options to and within Svalbard can be limited, and weather conditions may affect schedules. Travelers should plan accordingly and be flexible with their itineraries.

Health Precautions

Ensure adequate health insurance coverage for your trip, and consider vaccinations or medical advice before travelling to Svalbard.

Before planning a trip to Svalbard, it’s recommended to check for travel advisories, consult local authorities, and gather information about current conditions. 

Here at North Pole Cruises, we only work with carefully selected partners with an outstanding safety and sustainability history in the polar regions.

As of 2024, the population of Svalbard was 2 596 people. 

The largest settlement in Svalbard is Longyearbyen, where most of the archipelago’s population resides. Longyearbyen is located on the western coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago. It is the administrative centre and the region’s central hub for economic and cultural activities.

In addition to Longyearbyen, there are other smaller settlements on Svalbard, including Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund. Barentsburg has a significant Russian presence, and Ny-Ålesund is a research settlement with an international community of scientists conducting various Arctic studies.

It’s important to note that Svalbard’s population is relatively tiny, and settlements are scattered across the archipelago. The harsh Arctic climate, limited infrastructure, and remoteness of the region contribute to the sparse population distribution.

Yes, it is possible to visit Svalbard. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago located in the Arctic Ocean, and it is open to tourists. Longyearbyen, the largest settlement on the islands, serves as the main gateway for visitors via its port for cruise ships and airport with daily connections to Oslo in Norway. Tourists come to Svalbard for its unique Arctic wilderness, stunning landscapes, wildlife, and the opportunity to experience the polar 

environment.

Keep in mind that even though Svalbard is an open destination for visitors, there are some regulations and considerations to be aware of. Visitors should be prepared for the harsh Arctic climate, follow guidelines to minimize their impact on the environment, and be mindful of safety measures due to the presence of polar bears. It’s advisable to plan your trip carefully, considering the specific conditions and regulations of the region.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, often called the “Doomsday Vault,” is located on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago. More specifically, it is situated on the edge of Longyearbyen, close to the airport. The seed vault is built into a mountain on the island. It is designed to store a wide variety of seeds from around the world in a secure and remote location, ensuring their preservation in the event of global or regional catastrophes. The Norwegian government and the Crop Trust operate the facility, with the Global Crop Diversity Trust managing the seed collections.

The Svalbard Seed Vault is closed to visitors due to the sensitive nature of its storage. It is, however, possible to visit the exterior of the seed vault.

Svalbard was likely known to various Arctic peoples and explorers over the centuries, but its formal discovery is often attributed to the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz. Barentsz led three expeditions in search of the Northeast Passage, and during his third expedition in 1596, he is believed to have sighted the western coast of the archipelago.

Barentsz’s first recorded sighting of Svalbard occurred on June 17, 1596. However, it’s important to note that even before Barentsz, occasional visits or knowledge about the archipelago by indigenous peoples or other explorers might have existed. Still, these events were less extensively documented.

After Barentsz’s expeditions, other explorers and whalers started to visit the region more regularly, contributing to Svalbard’s gradual mapping and understanding. The archipelago became a base for various Arctic expeditions and commercial activities in subsequent centuries.

No, Svalbard is not a separate country. Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, and it is under Norwegian sovereignty. It is an integral part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 grants Norway sovereignty over the archipelago, but it also provides certain rights to signatory countries to engage in commercial activities on the islands without discrimination.

Svalbard is subject to Norwegian law, and its largest settlement, Longyearbyen, serves as the administrative centre for the archipelago. While Svalbard is not a separate country, it has a unique status with certain international agreements that allow various countries to establish research stations and economic activities.

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