Top reasons to go on a Svalbard expedition cruise

  • Venture into the lair of the polar bear – they outnumber humans up here
  • Hold your breath as you get thrillingly close to walrus, reindeer, arctic fox, seals and whales
  • Gaze up at soaring cliffs teeming with millions of nesting birds 
  • Sail among the sea ice through magnificent fjords and past creaking glaciers
  • Experience the wonders of the midnight sun as day blends into night
  • Daily scheduled flights via Oslo make Svalbard easier and cheaper to reach than almost any other Arctic region.

Choosing your expedition cruise to Svalbard

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Few places in the Arctic offer such a wide range of ships to choose from: tiny yachts, small ships with between twelve and sixty passengers, Russian vessels and some of the most luxurious expedition ships in the world. Cruises start in April when sailing ships start to navigate the ice. The expedition vessels arrive at the end of May, making the most of the summer months until early September.

Sea ice can be a fantastic opportunity to spot wildlife but can block narrow channels such as the Hinlopen Strait, so trips aiming to sail here leave later in the season. Ships with the highest ice-class ratings are most able to navigate through the channels, so favour these in your selection.

Choosing a vessel with large amounts of deck space, or even your own balcony makes a huge difference to your experience. The most popular cabins are in high demand and so booking 12 to 18 months in advance is recommended.

Introductory Svalbard cruises

As the name suggests these shorter trips (6-10 days) offer an excellent introduction to Svalbard, with daily off-ship excursions and good opportunities for wildlife sightings.

Svalbard in depth

These longer trips (11-13 days) not only improve your chances of wildlife sightings, but the later departures also offer the opportunity to do a full circumnavigation of Spitsbergen.

Trips to Svalbard & other regions

While Svalbard has more than enough appeal to keep you captivated, there are also some spectacular longer trips (13-24 days) which combine Svalbard with its near neighbours.

About Svalbard

Spitsbergen or Svalbard?

Head due north from Norway and equidistant between there and the North Pole itself you’ll reach this ice girdled collection of islands. The Svalbard Archipelago is composed of four main islands, of which Spitsbergen is far and away the largest; there are few more northerly habitable places on each.

With its easy access, rich history, more bears than people, and a myriad marine mammals and birdlife, it’s a perfect introduction to the Arctic.

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Wildlife on Svalbard

Few other areas of the Arctic offer such good chances of experiencing the Arctic’s wildlife as Svalbard. There are more polar bears here than there are people and while we can’t guarantee sightings you would be unlucky to not see a bear, especially on the longer trips.

Walrus regularly haul out at sites such as Poolepynten, and Brunnich's guillemots nest in their thousands on the vertiginous cliffs at Akerfeldt. Nesting sites attract arctic foxes and the open tundra, despite being in permafrost, is perfect for reindeer.

From the ship you are likely to spot king eider, fulmars and puffin too. Under the waves there is an ever present chance of beluga, humpback, minke and even blue whales while orca are also regular visitors.

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Svalbard ships

Svalbard is also unrivalled of the polar regions in the broad spectrum of expedition ships offered. While small yachts can be chartered, there are expeditions on small ships with cabins for just 12 passengers, as well as twin-mast schooners for between 16 and 32 passengers.

Larger, ice-strengthened ships fall roughly into three size categories: small (up to 70 passengers), medium (90 to 150 passengers) and large (200+ passengers).

It is important to consider the style of expedition too. Expedition teams operate in different ways on each ship, with adventures like kayaking or snowshoeing only available on specific journeys. Getting the right balance of all this is the key to getting the best out of your time in the archipelago.

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Landing sites on Svalbard

Getting off your ship and exploring key places of interest on foot and by zodiac are the real highlights of any Svalbard cruise. You can typically expect two landings per day, always accompanied by your onboard expedition team whose first job it will be to sweep every site for polar bears. 

Traveling by zodiac you might cruise across the snout of the 14th July glacier in Krossfjorden, explore the bird cliffs off Fugelsongen, or delve into hidden coves. Some of the best wildlife experiences occur whilst on these versatile little boats. For the even more adventurous, at many of these sites it is also possible to paddle in kayaks, snorkel, and dive.

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On shore you will be able to explore the Arctic tundra; keeping watch for arctic fox, hare and reindeer. Selected voyages may also allow you to don snowshoes or ski’s to travel across the snow.

The scenery of Svalbard is spectacular and dotted around the archipelago there are Russian mining towns, abandoned whaling stations and trappers huts dating back over the centuries. All of these make for fascinating landings when explored with expert guides.

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