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Svalbard Holidays – The Ultimate Visitors Guide

Svalbard Holidays – The Ultimate Visitors Guide

Sophie Dingwall image

Why take a holiday to Svalbard?

The Arctic has so much to offer, and if you’re torn about where to visit, a holiday to Svalbard, with the help of our Svalbard Guide, is a top contender. A trip to Svalbard offers everything you want from the Arctic and more.

To describe Svalbard as a realm of complex glaciers, perpetual sunlight, distinct icy landscapes, and home to beloved wildlife is all true. However, what makes this place unique is the feeling it delivers when you enter the fairytale destination. The combination of the land, sea, sky, and all that live here has the most astonishing power to evoke emotion and alter perspectives. Svalbard lays it out plainly – everything about this destination is a reminder of the extraordinary beauty and diversity of our existence.

“Visiting Svalbard is a real privilege – an insight into the natural world you cannot get elsewhere. You get the true sense that things are greater than you and that this force of nature far exceeds mankind. It’s a humbling feeling and I hope every human has a chance to witness.”

Lilliehöökbreen glacier in Svalbard

6 Reasons to Visit Svalbard 

People often ask if Svalbard is worth visiting. The answer is most definitely yes! Svalbard holidays are one of the most rewarding experiences and for many visitors it offers a life changing perspective. 

1. Explore Secret Atlas Expedition Micro Cruise or Photo Tour

Svalbard’s rough terrain, segmented by fjords, ice and mountains, makes exploring this wilderness tricky, but the best way to visit Svalbard and get the most out of your time in Svalbard is by small ship!  Today, traditional travel norms by cruise liners often feel outdated, as the benefits of travelling by a small ship on an expedition micro cruise have huge advantages and cannot be matched.

Expedition Micro Cruises offers the best guide-to-guest ratio with world-renowned expert guides and photographers, quick and easy access to land excursions and Zodiac cruises, and comfortable and spacious cabins and amenities. The most remarkable aspect is the chance to explore the unspoiled beauty of Svalbard, away from crowds and commercialism.

With small group sizes of up to 12 guests, you’ll enjoy an authentic, inclusive expedition with like-minded explorers. Our Expedition Micro Cruises are designed for true explorers, not tourists!

Micro cruise expedition in Svalbard

2. Experience Dog Sledding 

Svalbard holidays don’t get cooler than this! There’s a reason they’re called man’s best friend – not only are the dogs’ loyal companions and eager to work, but they play a key role in transportation around Svalbard in the winter. Various providers offer different types of dog sledding trips and lengths, from an afternoon to days or weeks! This is a fantastic way to explore Svalbard and make a new furry friend. Why not grab a coffee and chill out with the dogs that have retired from their dog sledding days and now live at the Husky Cafe?

Dog sledding in Svalbard

3. Drink at the World’s Northernmost Brewery

No Svalbard holiday is complete without a sample beer that’s said to ’embody the spirit of an explorer’ at the Svalbard Bryggeri. Unlike any other beer in the world, it’s brewed with water from the 2000-year-old glacier Bogerbreen, and a visit here is evidently desirable in the dark, cold winter months.

beer tasting in Svalbard brewery, Longyearbyen

4. The Wildlife (Our Favourite – The Polar Bear) 

A Svalbard holiday would not be complete without seeing the King of the Arctic. Svalbard is home to an abundance of wildlife, including the beloved polar bear. In fact, it stands as one of the most likely destinations to encounter these creatures in the Arctic.  Often found hunting on the sea ice around Spitsbergen, an Expedition Micro Cruise gives you the best opportunity to witness the animals in the wild.

Don’t forget to check out our Tours To See Polar Bears.

Polar bear at the ice edge in Svalbard

5. Visit a Russian Ghost Town

Curiosity gets the better of many of us and I’m sure the idea of a ghost town has already intrigued you. Pryrmiden was a Soviet coal mine and home to over 1,000 people. The town included a theatre, library, art studios and sports hall but in 1998 was abandoned almost overnight.

An eerie ambience fills the ghost town as the majority of Prymiden has been left untouched, but nonetheless, an intriguing insight into a major part of Svalbard’s history and a must-see during your visit to Svalbard.

Pyramiden

Where is Svalbard?

Svalbard is a remote Arctic archipelago that appears to be straight out of a fairy tale. Nestled between Norway and the North Pole, this enchanting destination is veiled in history, wildlife and raw wilderness.  Svalbard is situated at 74° and 81° north latitude and 10° and 35° east longitude and well inside the Arctic Circle. Find out more about Svalbard’s geographical location.

When is the best time to take a Svalbard holiday?

Svalbard holidays are possible all year round and the best time depends on what you would like to experience. Svalbard is a location that has the best the Arctic can offer, and each season heavily influences the experiences available. Each season offers captivating experiences and traits, making choosing a time of year difficult but once you visit Svalbard and experience this unique location, you’ll be back for more. 

June – August is often the most popular time to visit Svalbard. It’s this time of year that the sea ice retreats, making it possible to reach areas that are often impossible and your best chance to spot polar bears in the midnight sun.

March – May marks the rise of the depths of winter and whilst temperatures are still low, daylight creeps back, offering spectacular sunrises against the snow-filled backdrops. It’s something out of the ordinary.

Still unsure when to visit Svalbard? Check out our in-depth guide to help make your decision.

The Best Time to Visit Svalbard Guide

How to get To Svalbard 

Getting to Svalabrd is easier than you might think. Despite it sitting 500 miles from the North Pole, flights to Svalbard are regular, significantly cheaper than other destinations in the Arctic and relatively easy to reach from anywhere in the world. 

Svalbard has only one commercial airport, Longyearbyen, which is notably the most northerly airport in the world and is easiest to reach from mainland Norway. SAS and Norwegian Airlines run regular services from Oslo and Tomso, which is around a 3-hour flight.

Once you’ve landed, everything is relatively close, and a taxi or bus ride is a short 10-minute ride into town.  The only other means of entering Svalbard is by boat, often departing from Northern Norway, Iceland or Scotland.

For everything you need to know about getting to Svalbard for, visit our detailed How To Get To Svalbard Guide.

Best Svalbard Holidays, Tours & Trips in the Summer

Swap your summer holiday to the beach for the Arctic and discover a new world of summer possibilities. Here’s our top 5 adventures for a summer holiday in Svalbard

1. Secret Atlas Expedition Micro Cruises and Photo Tours with just 12 Guests

Experience the wonders of Svalbard’s wildlife, including the majestic polar bear, on a Secret Atlas Expedition Micro Cruise and Photo Tour.

Our small ships offer the best chance to see wildlife in their natural habitat, get up close to icebergs, and hike amongst glaciers. If you are a photography enthusiast, our specialized Photo Tours are a must.

Led by world-renowned photographers, the itinerary is flexible and tailored to your needs and the environment. With only 12 guests, our tours provide an authentic and inclusive experience. Serious about developing your photography?

Check out this opportunity to explore with the remarkable, Paul Goldstein in Svalbard for 10 days! Spitsbergen Explorer Photo Expedition with Paul Goldstein

Micro cruise expedition in Svalbard

2. Dog Sledding 

Dog sledging is a fantastic way to explore Svalbard, and it’s best in the winter months, however you can take part in a trip through to the end of May. Excursions to glaciers, inside caves and so much more can be possible when you ride with the dogs!

To discover some of the choices available, check out Svalbard Husky.

3. Kayaking

Kayaking in Svalbard is an amazing adventure on the water. With plenty of fjords to choose from, you can get up close to bird cliffs, icebergs, and glaciers. You’ll feel the cold air off the glacier on your face and enjoy the serene arctic silence from the comfort of your kayak, all while being one with nature.

4. Hiking

The breathtaking landscapes make it impossible to refuse exploring Svalbard on foot. Spoilt with choice, hiking is possible almost everywhere and the views from the top are guaranteed to impress! Make sure you familiarise yourself with the guidelines on responsible travel and that you’re accompanied by a guide outside of Longyearbyen.

Glacier hike in Svalbard

5. Fat tyre Biking

Summer is a great time for a bike ride in Svalbard. It’s easier than ever before to reach summits with the eclectic bikes available and take in the spectacular views of the Arctic. Plus, the chance to spot wildlife along the way including reindeer, Arctic foxes and many of the birds that nest in Svalbard during the summer. Check out the biking tours available with Visit Svalbard here.

Best Svalbard Holidays, Tours & Trips in the Winter

1. Ice caving

Explore the icy underworld of the Arctic during the winter months and unlock the mysteries of Svalbard’s hidden caves. Glaciers are hard to miss in Svalbard but immersing yourself in the ice caves unveils an entirely new perspective. The natural formations, curving, sculpting, twisting and turning are a masterpiece in itself.

This is a chance to leave the familiar views of the surface behind and encounter the depths of the Arctic subterranean.

2. Snowmobile Trips

If you’ve got your driver’s licence, you’re good to go! Travel by snowmobile is a common means of travel for the locals, but you too can join them. Enjoy the freedom, jet setting across the Arctic wilderness but make sure you always pick an organised tour with a local guide. Nothing beats local knowledge when you’re at one with nature.

Snowmobiles in Svalbard

3. Dog Sledding

Not everyone can say they’ve sat back and taken in the Arctic surroundings whilst being powered by our four-legged friends! It’s a unique experience and the perfect winter activity! Day or night, you can admire the Arctic landscape and discover vast areas in the most traditional means of travel in the Arctic!

4. Northern Lights

If you want to witness the allure of the Northern Lights in Svalbard, the long dark winter months offer the best opportunity. However, seeing the phenomenon with your own eyes can be challenging as it requires the perfect conditions for the vibrant colours to appear. To increase your chances of seeing the lights at their best, we recommend a tour with expert guides who know the best spots. 

Our favourite destination is from the deck of our small ships, anchored in a remote location, far away from civilization.

Northern Lights in Longyearbyen

Best Svalbard Holidays, Tours & Trips in the Spring

Spring in Svalbard is a season that is often underestimated. However, this brief period of transformation offers a unique opportunity to witness the transition from winter to summer. As the snow begins to melt, the mountains that were once covered in white become adorned with fresh greenery right before your eyes. The drastic change within a week is astonishing and a special experience.

Snowmobile tours and dog sledging are still popular in the Spring up till May and there’s still a chance to witness the Northern Lights. However, here are some extra special adventures worth discovering in Spring!

1. Photo Tours in Svalbard

Picture this. Fog kisses the sea ice, creating a skirt along the foot of the sheer mountains in the distance. Crepuscular rays break through a corner, allowing golden hues to light the forefront of your view, and icebergs shimmer like stardust. The silence is heavy, your breathing slows to fit in with your surroundings, and in the distance, there’s movement. Far from civilisation, you know, whatever’s moving has to be wild… You don’t dare blink, afraid you’ll miss this moment. As it gets closer, a silhouette of a large polar bear appears, the outline of its blinding white fur creating the perfect contrasting outline. This might sound like something out of a movie, but it’s a real possibility in Svalbard’s spring season. With the typically foggy conditions and the golden hues of the prolonged sunrise and sunset, the lighting is the most exquisite for photography. The majority of the snow is still visible, adding to the beauty of your Arctic photography. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out, our Photo Tours are for everyone of any ability. You can rest assured that the expert photographers who will be leading an expedition are the best. Discover our tour with the super-talented Florian Ledoux, whose work has most recently been featured on BBC ‘Frozen Planet II’ and Disney’s ‘Polar Bear’.

Arctic photo tour

2. Ski and Sail

This is something for the adrenaline junkies! This challenging and extravagant skiing expedition is perfect for those who love a thrill – and the best part is you can usually ski here until the end of June.

Explore the pristine, treeless wilderness free from crowds. This combined experience means you can not only hit the slopes but explore the pack ice in zodiac cruises and shore hikes.

Secret Atlas offer group bookings and private charters for ski and sail.

Top Tips for Booking a Svalbard Holiday

  • Book early! 

Svalbard is most popular during the summer and to avoid disappointment make sure to book early as the limited flights and accommodation available in the small town of Longyearbyen can get booked up in advance. 

  • Svalbard is remote – don’t take any chances. 

Make sure to take out comprehensive insurance before your trip – an excellent provider is Global Rescue

  • Svalbard cash or card?

There are no ATMs in Svalbard but card is widely accepted, however it’s best to take some cash for tipping. 

  • Svalbard currency is Norewegian Kroner (NOK)

What is the Best Way to See Polar Bears in Svalbard?

If you want to see polar bears in their natural habitat, Svalbard is one of the best places to do it. They hunt mainly along the coastline or on the pack ice, so your best chance of spotting these fascinating creatures is by a small ship expedition. Learn all about how to view polar bears in Svalbard here

As an explorer, you have a dedication to make mindful choices. Svalbard is one of the countries that protect the polar bears by law. Unlike other destinations in the Arctic, you won’t find polar bear safaris or hunts here. The bears are free to roam Svalbard, and when you see them in nature, they are wild and free – there is no better way to witness these fascinating creatures. By travelling on a small ship or an expedition micro cruise, you are making a low-impact decision to explore nature, making the experience more authentic for you, better for the environment and the wildlife. We offer expeditions to Svalbard for this purpose. Discover more about the benefits of expedition micro cruises.

Here you will find our best trips to view polar bears.

Svalbard Wildlife

The small archipelago located just outside the North Pole, might not look like much on the map but it is teeming with wildlife. If you’re in search of wildlife in their natural habitat, away from crowds and captivity Svalbard is the place for you.

The harsh environment on land, sea, and in the sky is home to a variety of flora and fauna and it’s this destination showcases the extreme resilience of our planet’s plants and animals.

Walrus among the ice floes

Polar bears

Polar bears – the nation’s favourite. These bears are one of the world’s largest carnivores and are considered marine mammals due to the amount of time spent on the sea ice. Naturally, they are fantastic swimmers and their paws can reach around 30cm in diameter. An expedition micro cruise, on board a small ship is a fantastic way to witness these magnificent creatures in the wild. 

Walruses

You can usually smell them before you can see them! (You’ve been warned) The walrus colonies often land on beaches in groups over 100 strong and can be seen basking in the midnight sun.  Their favourite snacks are shellfish which they find along the sea floor using their charming whiskers. 

Svalbard Reindeer

Easily identified by their large antlers, reindeer roam the lower mountainside during the summer months munching on fresh vegetation. Reindeer shed their antlers every year, but during their growth, they are covered with soft fur that protects them while they’re growing.

Arctic Foxes

These camouflage connoisseurs can be tricky to spot, and cleverly change their coats to suit the seasons. In summer they morph into shades of grey, brown, blue and black whilst in the depths of winter they turn an iconic white. However, they can often be found hanging around bird colonies on the hunt for a snack.

Beluga Whales

The belugas are most known for their ivory colouring, however, it can take them around 8 years to turn completely white. As one of the smallest species of whales, these are preyed upon by the polar bear and ocra in the Arctic regions. For more information visit our ‘Animals of Svalbard Guide’

Fun Facts about Svalbard 

1. Svalbard is a desert 

Svalbard is technically considered a desert due to its dry climate. In fact, its humidity levels are comparable to those found in the Sahara.

2. Svalbard holds the world food supply 

Svalbard is home to the Global Seed Vault – a facility that stores over 1,214,827 seed samples to safeguard our future food supply.

3. You can bear arms in Svalbard

It’s not unusual to carry a gun in Svalbard. In order to leave town out of the ‘safe area’ you must be armed with a gun and the knowledge of how to use it due to the risk of a polar bear encounter.

4. Anyone can move and work in Svalbard 

You don’t need a visa to work or move to Svalbard, however, unemployment is most definitely frowned upon. You’ll need a job, a place to live, and enough funds to purchase a ticket out of Svalbard to make it work.

5. Cats are banned in Svalbard 

Cats are considered an invasive species and are banned in the whole of Svalbard – this is to ensure the large bird population is protected.

Discover 50 of the best facts about Svalbard

Places To Stay in Svalbard

If you’re planning a trip to Svalbard, it’s important to secure your accommodations well in advance, especially if you’re travelling during the busy summer season. Longyearbyen offers a variety of accommodation to fit different budgets and preferences. Splash out on luxury hotels, or unique boutiques and enjoy the view from your hot tub. Alternatively, cosy down in a humble hostel but remember, regardless of where you decide to stay, the views from the town are always breathtaking. For recommendations on the coolest places to stay in Svalbard, check out our ‘Guide to Accommodation on Svalbard’

Visiting Longyearbyen

Have you ever considered visiting Longyearbyen? Located in Svalbard, this town serves as the gateway to the Arctic wilderness and is the world’s northernmost town. In fact, many businesses have the title ‘most northerly’ including the world’s most northerly fish and chip shop and the world’s most northerly airport. Despite the harsh environment, the 2,400 residents of Svalbard lead extraordinary lives surrounded by raw nature and wildlife and Longyearbyen offers all the regular amenities you would expect from a town. This includes a supermarket, pubs, restaurants, a school, a hospital, and even a university.

The university plays an important role and has significantly contributed to the economic and status growth of the town, especially since the mining industry stopped. The Svalbard Museum is situated within the university and is a must-see during your stop in town.

With our comprehensive Longyearbyen travel guide, you can discover all the best things to do during your visit to Longyearbyen and plan the perfect trip to this extraordinary destination.

How Much Does it Cost to Visit Svalbard?

Whilst Svalbard holidays are not considered cheap it is a worthwhile investment to explore one of the world’s top polar regions.

A budget put forward for Svalbard cannot be compared to a cheap and cheerful getaway iconic tourist destination to sunny Spain, but there’s a reason behind this. Keep in mind that this destination offers unparalleled natural beauty, but it can come at a premium price due to its harsh conditions and remote location.

While it’s hard to pinpoint an exact figure for the cost of a Svalbard visit, it’s safe to say that it can be expensive, significantly depending on what activities you choose to participate in. Excursions and cruises are among the pricier options, but the unique experience they offer is 100% worth it.

Accommodation can also be at a higher price point, but budget-friendly hostels are available and you can expect dining and alcohol prices to be similar to those in Norway.

The memories and emotions you’ll leave Svalbard with are worth every penny, leaving an unforgettable impression on all who visit. We call it the ‘Arctic bug’, of which there is no antidote, only the desire to reunite with the beauty of Svalbard once again.

Stories of those ‘bitten by the ‘Arctic bug’

For your chance to explore Svalbard in a small group of just 12 guests please check out our Expedition Micro Cruises & Photo tours.

Svalbard Holidays & Tours with Secret Atlas

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