Things to know about Svalbard
- It’s located very far North - in fact its one of the world’s northernmost inhabited places
- Svalbard is the name of the archipelago, while Spitsbergen refers to the largest island
- The author Philip Pullman helped put Svalbard on the map as home to his ‘armoured bears’
- It’s got a relatively mild climate compared to other areas at the same latitude, in spite of four months of winter darkness
- 60% of Svalbard’s landmass is permanently covered by ice and less than 10% has any vegetation
- Svalbard is a sovereign territory of Norway but the majority of inhabitants are Russian miners
- The Svalbard Archipelago is approximately the same size as Ireland and sits halfway between the top of Norway and the North Pole
Svalbard with Swoop Arctic
Guide to Svalbard travel
One of the Arctic Regions ‘wildlife hotspots’, alongside around 3,000 polar bears and the indigenous Svalbard reindeer, during the summer months arctic fox, walrus, seals and whales can be seen.
Activity peaks during high summer when the island plays host to a coterie of migratory wildlife, including millions of birds who come to breed on Svalbard’s famous bird cliffs.
In spite of its northerly latitude and proximity to the North Pole, Svalbard has a mild climate due to the moderating influence of the Northern Atlantic gulf stream, which passes to the west of the archipelago.
- July is the warmest month with average temperatures between 3 - 7 °C (37.4 - 44.6 °F)
- It’s not uncommon to have long periods during the winter where temperatures drop between -20 and -30 °C (−4.0 °F)
- Periods of fog are quite common during the summer and autumn
- Svalbard is technically an “Arctic desert” with annual precipitation of only 200–300 millimetres
- The weather on Svalbard can change quickly and the south is warmer on average than the north
Svalbard’s landscape is marked by its variety and the stark contrast between the different areas of the archipelago. Spitsbergen’s west coast has dramatic fjords and mountains rearing to over 1,000m/ 3,280 ft rising from sea level, while other parts of Svalbard tend to be more wide and open.
60% of the landmass is covered in ice, less than 10% has any vegetation, and trees are totally absent.
Nearly two thirds of Svalbard is protected and consists of several nature reserves, national parks and bird sanctuaries. An advantage of it being so off the beaten track is that the majority of the land is still pristine and unsullied by either roads or other human activity.
The best thing about Svalbard? Once you are on the ship you are on the expedition. There's no long sea crossing to conquer, you are straight into looking out for bears.
Jon Goldsmith Head of Arctic
There are many things to consider when planning a trip to Svalbard. We think these are some of the most important.
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 …
In the absence of hotels and infrastructure once you depart Longyearbyen, an expedition ship offers the best means to explore Svalbard's ragged coastline, while acting as both your…
Svalbard Landing Sites
Expedition cruising is all about active exploration - trekking the arctic tundra, watching for wildlife, studying Svalbard’s history or sailing through sea ice, and accompanied …
Svalbard is first mentioned in Icelandic texts in the 12th century, yet it was Dutchman Willem Barentsz who officially discovered the archipelago in 1596 while searching for the Northeast Passage.
Whaling: News of healthy whale and walrus populations soon got out following Barentsz’ discovery, triggering the first ‘oil rush’. The strong European demand lasted from approximately 1600-1750 and took bowheads whales to the brink of extinction.
Trappers: Russian Pomors from the White Sea area followed the whalers. Hardy to Arctic conditions, they exploited the winter furs of arctic fox and polar bears from the early 18th century to the mid-1800s. The 71 remains of the trapping stations are the most visible traces of that period.
Explorers: The remains of former expeditions are some of Svalbard's most famous cultural heritage sites. Of the 35 sites, of particular interest are the bases from where early explorers set out to attempt to reach the North Pole. Remains from the various balloon expeditions can still be visited, while the 1926 mooring mast for Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile’s semi-rigid airship Norge still stands at Ny-Alesund.
Mining: Not even Svalbard’s remote location left it immune from coal miners during the demands of the industrial revolution. Heavy setup costs and the short operating season caused many projects to fail, leaving impressively sized installations still very much visible. A few mines still operate today.
The extraordinary light on Svalbard can be categorised into 3 phases, as the year progresses:
- The Polar Night (26th October - 14th February) when there’s 24-hours of darkness and its possible to see the Northern Lights in the middle of the day
- Twilight period between the seasons when the area experiences an eerie, blue light
- The Midnight Sun (15th April - 26th August) describes the phenomenon of 24-hour daylight
Solfestuka marks the return of the sun after the dark winter is celebrated. The whole town gathers on the steps of the old hospital at 12:15 to await the first rays peeping over the mountains.
Svalbard is a place where nature still rules. Scoured by abrasive glaciers, buffeted by the polar winter and inhabited by more polar bears than people, it really is the edge of the habitable world.
What are the main places of interest on Svalbard?
A selection of our favourite Svalbard trips
There are many trips to Svalbard to choose from, varying in length and route as well as size and style of ship. Why not contact us for more options?
What our customers think
I will tell my grandchildren that we had a barbeque on the front upper deck and got to 82 degrees north!
Dianne & Jim Spry United Kingdom July 2018
Plan your trip to Svalbard
When to visit Svalbard
While Svalbard may be an almost year round destination, the changing weather, number of daylight hours, amount of ice and snow conditions through the year all have a marked effect …
Getting to Svalbard
One of the world's most northerly inhabited places, geographically closer to the North Pole than to Norway its nearest neighbour 1,000 km away, getting to Svalbard may seem …
Spitsbergen & Longyearbyen
The largest and only permanently populated of Svalbard’s islands, Spitsbergen is where all the activity and life happens. The beating heart of Spitsbergen itself is the town of …
At the height of summer when wildlife populations and activity are peaking on Svalbard, there are few other parts of the Arctic which offer the same combination of easy access and …