Things to Consider

  • The best chances of sightings happen in our favourite 'polar bear hotspots': Svalbard, Canada's Northwest Passage, Churchill and Wrangel Island in the Russian Arctic
  • Polar bear distribution isn't uniform across the Arctic, and even in these hotspots sightings aren't guaranteed
  • Trips to Svalbard, the Northwest Passage, and Wrangel Island all involve expedition ship-based travel, observing bears in their natural environment
  • Bear viewing trips in the Churchill area are land-based with near-guaranteed bear sightings
  • While Greenland has a healthy polar bear population, they’re generally located in inaccessible areas and other regions offer better opportunities

When to see Polar Bears


March - April

Mothers and cubs begin to emerge from their winter dens after the birthing season, however seeing bears at this time of year is challenging; Wapusk National Park in Northern Canada is the only place where this is possible in very small numbers.

Polar Bear Tours


May - August

Svalbard during the summer months offers excellent chances of sightings as part of an expedition voyage. As summer progresses, the break-up of ice allows exploration deep inside Svalbard's fjords, while the best opportunities for bear sightings are in the pack ice.

By late August, Northern Canada’s Northwest Passage is also accessible for a few short weeks by ship. It’s common for polar bears to be sighted, typically collecting around areas of remaining ice or close to favoured hunting grounds where migrating whales are found.

During August, when the pack ice has retreated north, you can also choose to travel to the Russian Arctic and spot the bears on Wrangel Island, the polar bear 'Maternity Ward'.

Polar Bear Tours


September - October

Set against a background of autumnal colours, bears begin to descend on Churchill in Manitoba in October. As temperatures drop, more and more polar bears arrive in the area, all waiting for Hudson Bay to re-freeze. It’s the greatest concentration of bears on the planet for a few weeks only.

Bear sightings are done from specially designed trucks called ‘Tundra Rovers’ which offer an safe and warm mobile viewing platform as you search the tundra for bears.

Polar Bear Tours
Swoop Says background image

Alex says

The bears actually look quite vulnerable when you see them spreading their weight to walk on thinner patches of ice, but when you see them hunting you get a real sense of their power.

Alex Mudd Polar Specialist

Where are the best places to see polar bears?

How to find a Polar Bear

Video narration of a blog written by Swoop team member John on his extraordinary encounter with his first polar bear in Svalbard

Four top places to see polar bears

1. Svalbard

Combining an easily accessible destination with a healthy polar bear population, Svalbard is a great option for those keen to catch their first glimpse of the great white bear.

The high season in Svalbard runs from May through August, and with more polar bears than people, it's incredibly rare for a voyage not to successfully sight a bear.

Here at Swoop we love that Svalbard offers the best of the Arctic in microcosm; from glaciers and pack ice to wildlife and history, Svalbard has it all. Plus, with shorter distances between places of interest, you'll spend less time travelling and have more time to really explore all the island has to offer.

Polar Bear Tours

Svalbard Polar Bear Tours

2. Northwest Passage, Canadian Arctic

It’s very rare for an expedition voyage into the Northwest Passage not to sight bears; however they are widely distributed and highly mobile. Nonetheless, Northwest passage trips also often include known ‘polar bear hotspots’, which help increase the chances of success:

  • Coningham Bay - a favourite place for whales in the summer, making it a favourite amongst hungry polar bears too
  • Croker Bay - the stubborn pockets of ice in Croker Bay means that bears can often be found here
  • Lancaster Sound & Bellot Strait - bears are similarly attracted to these areas as they are used as key migratory routes for wildlife

For wildlife enthusiasts, polar bears aren't the only treat the Northwest Passage has to offer, in fact it is also the best place to see the 'Arctic Big 5' - polar bears, musk ox, beluga whales, narwhal and walrus'. With only a short season running from August to September, booking your Northwest Passage voyage early is advised.

Polar Bear Tours

Northwest Passage Polar Bear Tours

3. Churchill, Northern Canada

Polar Bear Tours

Bears can stop the traffic around Churchill

Churchill is the self-styled 'polar bear capital of the world’. For a short time only, during mid-October to mid-November, the world’s greatest concentration of bears collects in the area due to the unique local geological and climatic processes.

We can almost guarantee a polar bear watching in Churchill at this time - Swoop specialist Alex spotted an impressive 47 bears in 2 days. However, as ever with wildlife, it's not quantity but the quality of sightings that really matters.

In the controlled buffer zones on the edge of Wapusk National Park you’ll experience the unrivalled opportunity to observe the 'King of the Arctic’ and fascinating behavioural interplay at closer quarters. Specially designed bear-proof vehicles prove the ideal mobile viewing platform.

Churchill Polar Bear Tours

4. Wrangel Island, Russian Arctic

In spite of being a little known, remote island off Russia's north coast, which until recently had been closed off to visitors, Wrangel is one of the best and most consistent places in the world for seeing polar bears in their natural habitat. Just last summer, a beached bowhead whale provided unprecedented polar bear sightings as hundreds gathered for the feast. Often referred to as the 'Maternity Ward', it is thought that around 500 mother polar bears give birth on Wrangel each year.

Wrangel Island is only accessible during the height of summer - August only - because it's only at this time of year that the pack ice briefly moves north, allowing smaller ships to slide in - this is expeditionary cruising at its very best!

Polar Bear Tours

A polar bear on Wrangel Island

Wrangel island Polar Bear tours

Other places to see polar bears

North Pole While polar bears don’t regularly frequent the actual North Pole itself, those undertaking an icebreaker voyage to the roof of the world can be fairly confident of bear sightings during the journey.

Greenland Generally located in the less accessible northern and northeastern parts of Greenland, polar bears are much more elusive here than their counterparts in Svalbard or the Canadian Arctic. Though it is not unknown to spot a bear in East Greenland, their wide geographical distribution and caution around humans due to continued hunting means its very unlikely that you’ll see one.

Polar Bear Tours

It's a tradition to circle the pole

Polar Bears: FAQs

Discover the Arctic

Svalbard Cruises

Svalbard Cruises

North of the Arctic Circle and halfway between Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard’s dramatic coastline and fjords are largely ice-free during high summer providing incredible …

Discover More
Northwest Passage Cruises

Northwest Passage Cruises

This labryinthine waterway was long sought by early adventurers as a sea route linking the Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Canada's Arctic archipelago is therefore no …

Discover More


The centre of a polar bear migration in October and November, the worlds' best place to see northern lights from January to March and a gathering point for thousands of beluga …

Discover More
Arctic Cruises

Arctic Cruises

Expeditionary cruising is a very practical way to discover the Arctic, allowing you to comfortably explore often untouched areas of wilderness you can’t otherwise reach from …

Discover More

Arctic Guide

The Arctic is so vast and diverse that one of the biggest challenges is knowing where to begin. Our exclusive guide will help you get started with your travel plans.

Download Guide

Ready to Book Your Arctic Adventure?



We'll spend some time listening to your aspirations, then discuss the kind of experience that might suit you.



Next we'll discuss the options, shortlist the best trips for you and present you our impartial recommendations.



We'll place a 24 hour hold on your preferred option - without obligation - whilst we talk through the details.

Our team of experts are ready to help you with any questions about a trip to the Arctic.