I suppose one of the reasons it took me so long to visit Svalbard is because it seemed so isolated. And I mean, it is.
I visited Spitsbergen, the main island of Svalbard, and it turns out Spitsbergen travel is much easier than I imagined, especially if you’re already in Norway. I absolutely want to go back again (and again and again) soon.
It was also wonderful to visit Svalbard soon after seeing the Falkland Islands — both isolated island archipelagos on opposite ends of the world.
But while I’d say both make equally fantastic locations, booking a trip to Svalbard is a whole lot simpler than planning a vacation to the Falklands.
If you’re wondering when is the ideal time to visit Svalbard, the essential thing to bear in mind is the sunshine, or lack thereof.
A lot of people want to visit Svalbard to view the polar bears, and you’ll surely have the best opportunity of seeing them while there is daylight, from March to September.
However Svalbard in winter is equally spectacular. If you’re on the fence, here are several reasons to consider visiting Svalbard in winter.
Several years ago LC published a guest article on her journey to Svalbard in October, which sounded surprisingly different from my trip in December.
Now I’ll just have to return in the spring and summer to give you the whole picture of the finest time to visit Spitsbergen. For now I can at least say that winter in Svalbard is amazing.
Packing for Svalbard: You can see my winter packing tips for Norway here, however on Svalbard make sure to bring additional woollen layers, reflectors, snow trousers, and some excellent quality insulated winter boots.
Travel Insurance: It’s always necessary to have travel insurance, but more so when you’ll be going to locations with plenty of snow and ice. I usually use World Nomads Travel Insurance, since I’ve had positive experiences submitting claims with them in the past (something I regrettably can’t say about some other insurance companies I used before them).
Svalbard is quite the tourist destination these days, plus a lot of polar tour guides come here to learn, so you’ll find tonnes of tours and guided activities on offer.
But don’t worry, owing to restricted flights and accommodation, even if Spitsbergen has become a tourist attraction you won’t find yourself amongst vast hordes of people. Not so many people know anything about going to Spitsbergen, so it still feels like an excursion off the main route.
And if you want to explore outside of Longyearbyen, you’ll need an armed guide, in case you encounter a polar bear. What’s more daring than that?
You can discover a vast choice of excursions on the Visit Svalbard website, but these are the ones I can personally suggest.
Oh and if you’re travelling on your alone, please be advised that most trips have a minimum of two people. Three of my tours were really cancelled since I was the only person signed up. But maybe if that happens you can easily join a new trip.
This was my favourite thing I did on Spitsbergen!
Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions offer a trip to an ice cave, which takes around two hours up the mountain and an hour down.
It’s the first mountain trek I’ve done in snow in the dark and it was surprisingly extremely pleasant! And it’s absolutely a unique experience to have on Svalbard.
Plus, our guide stated he sees the Northern Lights every time he exits the ice cave, and they were there when we exited.
You’ll need to be fit for this hike, but I did it without a gym membership. They supply helmets, ice grips, and trekking poles.
I adore husky sledding, and there’s no better way to feel like an Arctic adventurer than speeding through the snowy tundra behind your huskies.
I always select small, family-run husky experiences where I know the huskies will be cherished and cared for like family. Arctic Husky Travellers in Svalbard is one of the best husky experiences I’ve experienced in Norway.
When there isn’t enough snow, as Svalbard is an Arctic desert, they utilise wheeled carts instead of sleds. When I was there, we utilised wheeled carts instead of sleds. I liked that there was an alternative to cancelling the trip.
My electric snowmobile trip was cancelled, so I ended up doing a snowcat northern lights hunting excursion instead.
While I was disappointed to miss snowmobiling in Svalbard’s wildness, the snowcat carried us there while keeping us warmer than a snowmobile. The snowcat is a wonderful alternative to driving a snowmobile off-road (or ride on the back of one).
Even without northern lights, it was a delightful introduction to Svalbard.
Oh, and I’ve updated my northern lights booklet with Svalbard-related material. Can.
I’ve gone on several northern lights trips and they’re all quite identical. Either you go around in a minivan or bus and drink hot black currant juice around a camp fire, or you spend the evening in a lavvu tent sitting around a fire.
We drove to Camp Barentz, away from Longyearbyen’s lights, and ate reindeer stew in one of their cottages. Even if the northern lights don’t appear, the trip will be entertaining. The stew was wonderful, and there was plenty of aquavit, because Norway.
Even though that was my favourite part of the evening, the northern lights were so bright that I missed much of the meal and the lecture about Svalbard and the northern lights. During our entire visit, we saw the northern lights.
Coal mining and Global Seed Vault
So, I didn’t get to do one of these. My coal mine trip was postponed because I was the only one who signed up, but there was a large storm and we couldn’t get to the mine.
Svalbard’s mining history is fascinating, therefore I would have enjoyed to visit a mine there. The mine is near the airport, so you may complete the tour in the morning and be dropped off.
I’d want to visit the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. I’ll have to visit Svalbard.
I enjoyed the best 7-course meal at Huset Restaurant. You’re definitely visiting Svalbard for the nature and animals, but learning about the local gastronomy culture helped me feel like I knew Svalbard better. Huset was ideal for this.
An American and his son run Polar Permaculture in Svalbard, where they cultivate microgreens for restaurants and compost the leftovers to decrease waste and better manage resources.
I went to their greenhouse, but you can also do their Arctic Tapas bus tour and explore more of the island while eating.
I ate at Nansen because it’s in the Radisson hotel, but the meal was wonderful. Aside from that, it’s
Barentz Gastropub, located in the Radisson, was one of Longyearbyen’s nighttime hotspots. I got a delicious pizza from here during a snowstorm, albeit I didn’t eat it in the restaurant. I brought it to my room to watch a movie with dinner.
And if you prefer beer, you must try Svalbard Bryggeri’s samples! Svablard has beer. Again, I felt that this was a terrific approach to get a closer sense for Svalbard life.
Svalbard is accessible via cruise, although flying into Longyearbyen is simplest.
SAS and Norwegian serve Svalbard. Svalbard is part of Norway, but it has a distinct border, so you’ll need to go through immigration to get there. I almost forgot my passport since I thought I was travelling within Norway, but I didn’t.
Speaking about immigration, Svalbard is unusual in that it is visa-free for all citizens. Svalbard is a visa-free zone.
Norway’s mainland is not visa-free and part of Schengen. If you have a layover in Troms from Oslo, you must pass through immigration in Oslo before boarding your domestic aircraft. Depending on your citizenship, you may need a Schengen visa.
The Svalbard Airport Bus will transport you to your hotel. Adults pay 75 NOK, students 50 NOK, and children 25 NOK. You may also take a cab into town, which may be cheaper depending on your party size.
Mary-Polarrigg Ann’s was my favourite because of its personality and quirks. I spotted the northern lights from the parking lot on my first night, so I’ll always remember my stay.
Mary-is Ann’s a former miners barracks turned into a hotel with odd elements including a red miners bus that serves as a smoking shelter and a polar bear wearing boxing gloves.
My last two nights were spent at the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, which has the finest downtown location. It has big rooms and an amazing breakfast buffet, like other Radisson Blu hotels in Norway. Also, sauna and jacuzzi.
The rooms are strangely dim. I don’t know if there’s a rationale, like drinking hot drinks in hot weather. Maybe being in a dark room helps the arctic night feel less dark? Or maybe the lighting was average and I craved the sun’s brilliance.
Mary-is Ann’s quirkier and offers a more authentic Svalbard experience than the Radisson. I’d prefer the Radisson for its good room quality and convenient downtown location with two eateries.
Svalbard is mild for its latitude because to the Gulf Stream, although it’s still cooler than much of Norway. While it’s 4 degrees C where I am on Vega in Helgeland (northern Norway), it’s -20C on Svalbard. Brr.
Follow my Norway winter packing recommendations, but add extra woollen layers, a heavy parka, and appropriate snow boots. Also, bring reflectors because it’s dark outdoors!
I propose a longer coat that covers your bum for increased warmth.
I love my Sorels. The textured soles are super gripping and elevate your feet off the ground, which helps keep your feet warm. Always leave room in your boots for wool socks. Not squeezing your feet inside your boots makes them warmer.
This journey requires snow pants. I wore mine everywhere. Most trips supply overalls, heavier boots, caps, and mittens, but it’s nice to have your own snow trousers.