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

A bear explores the tundra

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 Head of Swoop Antarctica

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

Svalbard Wildlife In-Depth

Travelling at the height of summer this 14-day trip is the longest of any Svalbard cruise - providing the best possible conditions for wildlife encounters. This circumnavigation of Spitsbergen includes huge glaciers, bird cliffs and ice choked channels. There's even…

  • 14 Days
  • $10,995
Svalbard Polar Bear Safari

This early season Svalbard voyage is a ‘classic’ providing ample time for near guaranteed polar bear sightings, alongside encounters with the region’s other plentiful wildlife and exploring its dramatic scenery. Phippsoya, 14th of July glacier and Hinlopen Strait are all…

  • 11 Days
  • $9,495
Into the Polar Bear’s Realm

This popular introduction to Svalbard is keenly priced and with early season departures guarantees plenty of ice. Sail onboard one of the newest ships in polar waters and spot bears from the plentiful deck space. Optional kayaking and hiking come…

  • 10 Days
  • $6,495
Svalbard In-Depth

Scouting Svalbard’s ice floes for wildlife by zodiac and on foot, cruising the magnificent 14th of July glacier and reaching the world’s most northerly settlement at Ny Ålesund are just some of this 10-day voyage’s many highlights. There's also the…

  • 10 Days
  • $5,148
Svalbard Quest

Guided by an experienced team who know the best places in Svalbard for wildlife encounters, make the most of each day’s local ice and weather conditions. Fully immerse yourself in this Arctic archipelago, exploring by zodiac and on foot. Optional…

  • 8 Days
  • -
Spitsbergen Circumnavigation

Maximise wildlife sightings with the chance to circumnavigate Spitsbergen island. Search for walrus, arctic fox, whales and of course the ‘King of The Arctic'. Sail through the Hinlopen Strait and visit abandoned trapping stations and experience glaciers up close all…

  • 11 or 13 Days
  • $10,539
Quest for the Ice Bear

Explore the fjords and ice of Svalbard keeping a close watch for polar bears onboard a choice of three truly exceptional small expedition ships. Spend time on deck, on land and in zodiacs with the hugely experienced guides learning about…

  • 9 Days
  • $6,090
Svalbard Explorer

Circumnavigate Spitsbergen onboard a choice of three small ships and in the company of specialist guides. Travelling in such small groups allows you more time to explore and some late season departures benefit from stunning autumn light. Ask about special…

  • 11 Days
  • $8,090

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

Northwest Passage: In Franklin's Footsteps

The big ice and small towns of West Greenland provide a stunning start to this trip before you sail across the Davis Straight to Baffin Island and enter the Northwest Passage. Blend history, scenery and wildlife; pay your respects at…

  • 17 Days
  • $11,995
Arctic Wildlife Safari: Northwest Passage

An all consuming introduction to the Arctic, with a strong focus on wildlife, this trip is hard to beat. Search for bears, narwhal, beluga, walrus and musk ox, marvel at Greenland's ‘big ice’ and learn about the early explorers as…

  • 12 Days
  • $7,595
Northwest Passage, Ellesmere & West Greenland

Traversing west to east this voyage takes you to iconic sites such as Cambridge Bay, Lancaster and Smith Sounds and Ellesmere Island, before exploring the fjords and towns of West Greenland. Bears, narwhal, musk ox, beluga and northern lights are…

  • 17 Days
  • $11,995
​Ultima Thule: Northwest Passage & West Greenland

Spending time exploring Canada’s historic Northwest Passage and West Greenland, we like this voyage’s balance and variety as much as exploring little visited spots such as Thule, one of the northernmost towns in the world, and Smith Sound. Big ice,…

  • 20 Days
  • $14,845
Greenland, Baffin & Northwest Passage In-Depth

This comprehensive westbound voyage stands out for its compelling combination of West Greenland, in-depth exploration of the east coast of Baffin Island and the historic Northwest Passage. Jaw dropping scenery, towering icebergs, thrilling wildlife encounters, Inuit community visits and fascinating…

  • 17 Days
  • $15,495

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

Classic Churchill Polar Bear Safari

Encounter the King of The Arctic up close, with an exceptionally high chance of sightings in October and November. Small groups explore the tundra in exclusive vehicles with a specialist guide when the bear migration reaches its peak. You will…

  • 6/7 Days
  • $7,295
Classic Polar Bear Photographic Safari

This polar bear photo safari provides the best possible opportunity and environment in which to capture images of the world’s largest living land carnivore. Three full days out on the tundra, near guaranteed sightings and the chance to observe these…

  • 7 Days
  • $8,195
Ultimate Polar Bear & Arctic Safari

For the ultimate polar bear and High Arctic experience, look no further. Two full days of polar bear spotting are combined with dog sledding, flightseeing by helicopter to a bear’s denning site and the chance to see the shimmering Northern…

  • 7 Days
  • $9,195
Churchill Polar Bear Adventure: Tundra & Town

Imagine waking up on the tundra in a mobile hotel with the very real chance of there being a bear outside your window! This trip offers the best of both worlds with two nights on the tundra and two in…

  • 7 Days
  • $9,995
Ice Bear Tundra Lodge Adventure

Experience one of the most immersive wildlife experiences on earth and stay out on the tundra among the bears for 3 or 4 nights in a mobile hotel provides unparalleled opportunities for prolonged observation of polar bears at close quarters…

  • 6 or 7 Days
  • $10,795
Churchill Polar Bear Encounter

Witness the annual gathering of polar bears in Churchill and spot them on the tundra from a specially adapted truck with your specialist guide. Also included is a chance to go dog mushing and learn about local customs and heritage.…

  • 6 Days
  • $4,951

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

Chukotka and Wrangel Island Explorer

For sheer remoteness and incredible wildlife encounters, this voyage is very hard to beat. Wrangel Island is not only a significant polar bear denning site, it also holds the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus - but this is to…

  • 16 Days
  • $10,400
Russia’s Northern Shores

Travel across the top of the world in the footsteps of Nansen and Amundsen on what is undoubtedly one of the most stunning and rare Arctic journeys. Explore Wrangel Island, cut through the ice edge, visit remote Russian outpost settlements…

  • 26 Days
  • $29,901

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

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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.

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