When is the best time to visit Svalbard on an Expedition Cruise?

Andy Marsh image

Svalbard offers something different each month from frozen landscapes at the beginning of the season, 24-hour daylight in the summer and beautiful sunsets in the autumn. So the best time to visit Svalbard depends on what you would like to see and experience.

Travel in Svalbard is divided into 3 main seasons which are the Polar Summer (mid- may – September), Northern Lights (October – February) and then the sunny winter (March – mid May)

The best season for wildlife viewing in Svalbard is the polar summer between May and September which is when we run our expedition cruises. From mid-May the sea ice surrounding Svalbard opens up and the areas around the coast become navigable.

best time to go to svalbard Polar Bear

Early in the season between mid-March and mid-May is the best time to encounter Svalbard’s ice and frozen landscapes.

All the months we operate our expedition cruises offer extraordinary experiences. Below you will find an overview of each month and what to expect. Each of our trips is an expedition into nature and on all our previous expeditions we have been very fortunate we can never guarantee any particular sightings. Early in the season, the shores of Svalbard are still snow-covered and it is a chance to see the landscapes at their most beautiful.

Mid March – April

As Svalbard emerges from the depths of winter, the shores are still frozen and this is a great month for adventurous photographers looking to capture the spirit of the Arctic in cold temperatures and stunning winter light.

  • Ideal for landscape photographers looking to capture the true Arctic.
  • Expect frozen seascapes bathed in gorgeous winter light.
  • Long sunrises and sunsets create perfect photo opportunities.
  • Expeditions follow a shorter route due to the amount of sea ice.
  • Polar bears are less frequently sighted due to the amount of ice. 

Temperatures are at their lowest with an average of -9c, so wrap up warm. During April parts of Svalbard are still blocked by sea ice and our passage will follow a shorter route. April is a great month for photography and a chance to capture Svalbard as it emerges out of the depths of winter with frozen landscapes, sea ice and glaciers. Polar bears can be seen hunting on the sea ice. Shore landings are harder due to the ice and more time is spent exploring by Zodiac.


As spring gets underway in Svalbard a visit in May offers the best of both worlds with snow still covering many of the landscapes and 24 hours of daylight with the best chances of clear skies.

  • Wildlife returns to the sea ice and polar bears and their cubs can be observed on the fjord ice.
  • The midnight sun has commenced with 24 hours of daylight until mid-August.
  • A good month to encounter sea ice and snowy landscapes. Ideal for landscape and wildlife photographers.
  • Shore landings can be restricted by the amount of ice on the beaches and we spend more time exploring by Zodiac.

By May the temperature increases with an average high of -3, so you will need to wrap up warm. The cool temperatures often create clear skies and there is less chance of cloud and fog than in the warmer months. May also has the lowest levels of rainfall with only 13mm.

Towards the end of May, the sea ice towards the north of Spitsbergen opens up making longer trips possible. May is a great month for wildlife photography as polar bears can be spotted on the sea ice and it is possible to encounter walruses hauling out on remote beaches.

Hiking ashore will often require wearing snowshoes which we will provide on all our early season voyages. Spectacular snow-covered landscapes are the reward for braving the lower temperatures.

During May we run our Natural Wonders of Svalbard expedition cruises and our photo tours with Florian Ledoux. At the end of May, the shores are still snow-covered and there is the best chance of blue skies.

Polar Bear in Svalbard in the frozen fjords


As summer starts in Svalbard, June offers a great chance to encounter wildlife, including 3 million migratory birds that flock here during the summer months.

  • As the sea ice recedes it is possible to reach the north coast of Spitsbergen and longer length expeditions become possible.
  • As the snow on the beaches reduces it becomes possible to do more shore landings and longer hikes.
  • Wildlife returns including over 3 million migratory birds.
  • Polar bears and walruses are frequently sighted on Svalbard’s shores.

As the sea ice retreats north and the snow on the landscapes melts Svalbard becomes a haven for wildlife during the summer months. Hiking ashore it is possible to encounter Arctic foxes and Svalbard Reindeer. Plankton blooms lure whales to the water and provide nourishment for a variety of birds and seals.

Shore landings become easier and it is possible to cover longer distances when hiking shore. It is possible to navigate further north in the areas that polar bears roam and the sea ice to the north is usually still within a reachable distance.

During June we run our Natural Wonders of Svalbard expedition cruises.

Visit Svalbard Glacier Zodiac Cruise

July & August

During the peak summer months temperatures are usually consistently above freezing and is a perfect time to do longer expedition cruises as the sea ice around Svalbard opens up and circumnavigation of Spitsbergen becomes possible.

  • The best months for bird watching with a good chance of reaching Alkefjellet, a major bird cliff that is home to around 60,000 pairs of breeding Brünnich’s guillemots. 
  • Less sea ice makes it possible to reach the furthest regions of Svalbard.
  • Less snow and ice make it suitable for longer hikes and exploration ashore. 
  • Good wildlife opportunities including polar bears, walruses, Arctic foxes and Svalbard Reindeer.

During the long 24 hour summer days we explore the far most reaches of Svalbard on our Svalbard Pioneer Cruise. Although the sea ice varies from season to season, July and August offer the best chances to circumnavigate Spitsbergen, the largest of Svalbard’s islands. It gives us the chance to visit rarely visited places under the expertise of our expedition team.

The summer months offer the best opportunities for hiking ashore as the landscape is clear of snow and more places are accessible. Exploring during the summer months is warmer than most people imagine and on a day when the sun is out, it is quite possible to be hiking in just a base layer.

The sea ice can be further away during the summer months so if you want the best chances of visiting the sea ice an earlier trip is recommended.

If you are interested in bird watching, most migratory birds depart Svalbard in the middle of August so a cruise before this time is recommended.

During July and August, we run our Natural Wonders Cruise and an in-depth 14-day Svalbard circumnavigation cruise. The summer months are perfect for exploring the farthest corners of Svalbard.

Reindeer Svalbard Expedition Cruise

September – Mid October

As the 24 hours of sunlight comes to an end and autumn beckons, beautiful light returns to Svalbard making September  and October great months for landscape photography.

  • Long sunrises and sunsets offer dramatic light for landscape photographers.
  • Polar bears and walruses are still frequently sighted, but birds have migrated south.
  • The snow returns to Svalbard offering great photography opportunities.
  • Longer length photography expeditions offer a chance to visit the waterfalls of the Austfonna ice cap.

The sea ice is at a minimum during September so reaching far off places becomes easier. Temperatures also begin to drop and September is cooler than the summer months.

During September we run our Natural Wonders Cruise. Gorgeous colours can be observed as the sunsets return and autumn approaches.

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