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Svalbard is known as the realm of the polar bears and for good reason – this magical Arctic archipelago is home to a large polar bear population and is one of the best places to see these magnificent animals. Aside from this, a trip to Svalbard offers amazement and wonder at every corner – from the rustic ruins of the coal mines at Longyearbyen, to the immense glaciers and pristine Arctic landscapes.
To take a trip to Svalbard, you must first look at the best time to visit. Generally, there are three main tourist seasons – May to August for the Midnight Sun, October to February for Northern Lights, and March to May for bright sunny conditions. Consider this together with what you want to see and do – do you want to see the Northern Lights? Do you want the best chance to see polar bears? Maybe you want to photography epic sunlit Arctic landscapes?
Once you have chosen a suitable time, look at what you want to do and how you want to travel. Svalbard is best traversed using a cruise company – you can see much of the islands and cover more sights. Finally, you should look at other potential destinations to visit like Iceland, Greenland, and the east coast of Norway. Planning a trip to Svalbard is part of the fun so enjoy the process! Furthermore, an adventure to this Arctic wilderness offers an experience like no other.
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Where to start
Svalbard sits high in the Arctic Circle and is one of the northernmost destinations in the world. This archipelago is like no place else – huge mountains scarred with coal veins reach to the skies. Moreover, immense glaciers calve into the icy waters and form icebergs that drift for miles. It is a winter paradise – a remote location that offers adventure, and excitement. Furthermore, it is home to a large polar bear population and therefore one of the best locations to see these awe-inspiring animals.
Planning a trip to Svalbard requires forethought – you must look at the best time to visit due to the adverse weather conditions. You must plan how you want to travel around the islands and the things you would most like to see and do.
Look at the best times to visit Svalbard
As with any High-Arctic destination, the weather conditions vary in Svalbard. Winters have minimal daylight and temperatures plummet below freezing. Adversely, during summer, you can experience the Midnight Sun and warmer temperatures. The following provides a breakdown of the different tourist seasons in Svalbard:
- May to August: Midnight Sun
- October to February: Northern Lights
- November to January: Polar Night
- March to May: Sunny winter
Think about what you want to do and see
Svalbard is a wondrous place that offers so many opportunities – you could fill each day with a different activity and see some amazing places. We advise looking at the different activities and locations available – this will help tailor your trip and ensure you make the most of your time here. Examples of locations and activities include:
- Dog sledding in Longyearbyen
- Hiking excursions
- A visit to the Russian settlement of Barentzberg
- A visit to the Monaco Glacier
If you take a cruise, you are limited to what excursions you can do as this will be dictated by the cruise itinerary. This is why spending time in Longyearbyen could be beneficial.
Find a reputable cruise company
Cruising is the best way to visit Svalbard. Cruises typically leave from the main port in Longyearbyen and circumnavigate part or all of the archipelago. During the journey, you will stop off at different destinations and take shore landings in zodiac boats each day. Research the different cruise companies and look at which itineraries look appealing. The following are some reputable cruise companies:
- G Adventures
- Oceanwide Expeditions
- Polar Quest
- Fred Olsen Cruises
Consider extra days in Longyearbyen
The capital of Spitsbergen is Longyearbyen. This fascinating town has an extensive history and is the main economical hub of the islands. Whilst a cruise around Svalbard is an amazing experience, staying in Longyearbyen provides additional scope for adventure. Look at some of the hotels, and consider extending your trip before and/or after your cruise. The following are some of the sites and things to do in Longyearbyen:
- Svalbard Museum
- Svalbard Global Seed Vault
- North Pole Expedition Museum
- Boat tours
- Bird watching
Consider other destinations like Iceland and Norway
As with any trip, if you are traveling long distances, it makes sense to look at extending your adventure. Although positioned high in the Arctic Circle, Svalbard is a great location to combine with other destinations like:
Many cruise companies offer an extended trip to Svalbard that starts off in Iceland or Norway and travels to both Greenland and Svalbard. This gives you the opportunity to see multiple destinations in a convenient manner. Don’t simply settle for a Svalbard cruise – see what other destinations you could explore!
Find flights to Longyearbyen
Unless you are starting your cruise from another destination, you will have to fly to Longyearbyen. Svalbard Airport is located a short drive from the capital. To get to Longyearbyen, there are usually transfer buses waiting to collect flight passengers (the price is often included in your tour).
Aside from a small number of seasonal flights from Paris, Svalbard is only accessible from Oslo in Norway. Oslo-Gardemoen is the main airport and will easily facilitate international flights from your starting destination.
Look at weather conditions and the need for protective clothing
The weather in Svalbard is rarely warm – even in summer months, the temperatures aren’t particularly high. Therefore, look at the time you are visiting and consider relative clothing options. The following are potential clothing items you may need:
- Thermal socks, leggings, and t-shirt
- Durable hiking boots
- Waterproof trousers
- Parka overcoat
- Waterproof hat
Choose a suitable cruise package
We have discussed that a cruise is the best way to visit Svalbard. You must therefore choose a suitable cruise company and package that meets your requirements. Companies like Hurtigruten and Quark Expeditions offer a range of cruises around the islands, stopping off at different destinations on the way. Look at the options available, and choose a cruise that allows you to do and see what you want.
Plan your time in Longyearbyen
We advise spending additional time in Longyearbyen – it is a fascinating town with a colorful history. There is a range of quality hotels in Longyearbyen that are accessible from the airport. Consider spending one or two nights in the town, before or after your cruise. You can then see some of the brilliant sites like the old coal mine buildings, the Svalbard Museum, and Camp Barentz.
Create an essential packing list
Finally, due to the varying weather conditions and the landscape of Svalbard, we advise creating a packing list beforehand. You must look at taking protective clothing for low temperatures and snowfall. Furthermore, you must consider suitable footwear like quality hiking boots.
About the Author
Paul specializes in travel and photography. His passion for travel spans back to his childhood and has been a life-long obsession. He has seen much of the world including cold climate destinations like Antarctica, Greenland, Svalbard, and Iceland. This combined with a thirst for knowledge, and a love of literature, has allowed him to craft a successful career as a writer. Through his writing, he loves to empower readers to see the world just as he has.
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