Svalbard is, without doubt, the most popular Arctic cruise destination. The stunning landscapes and epic wildlife keeps drawing travellers every year.
Below we have provided summary information on the most frequently asked questions we get from people looking to embark on a Svalbard cruise.
To help you plan your perfect Svalbard cruise adventure, we suggest reading all the information on this page and then following the links to sections you want to know more about.
Situated north of mainland Europe, Svalbard is an Norwegian archipelago of islands that range from 74° to 81° north latitude, and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The administrative centre of the archipelago is called Longyearbyen which sits on Svalbard's largest island - Spitsbergen.
Although part of Norway, the people of Svalbard have an elected government that sit in Longyearbyen. There are a number of coal mining communities dotted throughout the archipelago including Barentsburg and Sveagruva and also several research stations.
Although Svalbard has an Arctic climate, temperatures throughout the archipelago are actually significantly warmer than other areas at a similar latitude. The warmer temperatures and 'midnight sun' allow flora and fauna to thrive on the islands, making it a true unforgettable destination.
In the shoulder months and winter, the Northern Lights display vividly above the islands, dancing across the sky in blues and greens. This is one o the main draws for travellers, particularly landscape photographers who want to experience the Northern Lights in a majestic setting.
However, the major reason Svalbard cruises are so popular is thanks to the archipelago's abundance of Polar bears. With some 3,000 Polar bears scatted throughout the islands, a Svalbard cruise offers up just about the best chance to see a Polar bear aboard a cruise anywhere in the world.
When you also realise that walrus, reindeer, whales (including narwhal) and seals are also common, then you start to understand the region's popularity.
When cruising Svalbard, please respect the environment and follow the guideline set out by AECO and your guides.
The Svalbard cruise season runs during summer from May through to September.
This is the time when the ice has melted enough for the Svalbard cruise ships to explore the incredible coastline and search out wildlife.
The shoulder months around May and September are not 24 hours of daylight, however, you get to see some stunning sunrises and sunsets if you're lucky!
Summer is the tine of the 'Midnight Sun'. For a few shorts months, the summer sun shines for 24 hours a day, allowing optimum viewing potential.
The high season for Svalbard cruises is June - July. This is when temperatures are at their warmest, often exceeding 15 degrees celsius.
This is also the period when the wildlife is most active and the flora comes into full bloom. The warmer the weather, the more seals you'll see sun-bathing on ice-floats.
This is the best tine to see a Polar bear hunt. Most are unsuccessful though and you will be super lucky to see a successful predation.
For people wanting to take shore hikes, kayaking expeditions and dog sledding trips, the high season is the best time.
There is little rain fall and the higher temperatures will make the activities far more enjoyable. Most cruises offer these activities, just make sure you check with the operator.
During winter the ice freezes over, creating giant seas of white where Polar bears roam in search of prey.
Because of the influx of ice, Polar bears and other wildlife are almost impossible to find in the never-ending sea of ice.
There are no cruises to Svabard durng this period. However, there is the occasional Northern Lights cruise during the shoulder months of February and October when there is still daylight, but the nights are long and dark.
For peopke wanting to expereince Svabard in the dead of winter you will need to take a land-based expedition trip.
Although this may sound strange, ship sizes vary considerably and can change your experience quite significantly.
Smaller ships often feel slightly more like an expedition. You'll have less wait times for shore landings and your ship will be able to navigate smaller bays and channels.
However, you'll feel the motion of the sea more on a smaller ship and won't get the same level off comfort that larger ships offer.
Many of the budget cruises to Svalbard are offered on what is called 'research vessels'.
These are exactly what they say, old research vessels that have been turned into expedition cruise ships.
Although you won't get any luxuries, you'll get a real expedition feeling. Research ships tend to be fairly small, making them ideal for navigating smaller bays and inlets.
Expedition-style ships are the next level up.
Although not luxurious, they are better appointed than research ships and generally offer a great range of activites such as kayaking and camping.
Expedition ships are popular to Svalbard as many are purpose built for the task of finding wildlife.
Although expensive, luxury cruises are simply incredible.
Expect gyms, saunas, jacuzzis, restaurants, and mych more as you cruise around the archipeligo.
Although luxurious, be aware that luxury vessels are generally quite large which may prevent certain shore landings in shallower bays.
Because Svalbard is a remote Arctic region in which specially designed vessels need to navigate ice-strew passages, cruise prices tend not to be cheap.
The minimum you should expect to pay is $2,000 for a basic cruise of 10 days on a research vessel. This price would also mean sharing a quad cabin with communal bathroom facilities.
If you were to have your own suite on the same itinerary you should expect to pay double.
Genrally, most Svalbard cruises tend to cost between $4,000 – $9,000. For luxury ship cabins on longer itineraries you could pay anywhere up to $30,000.
Booking as a group or family will reduce costs as you will be able to book out a quad or triple room to yourselves.
Beside the main Svalbard cruise cost, there are also a number of other cost factors to consider.
Travelling solo is often more expensive, however, you can generally find a shared cabin to reduce costs.
Although expensive, its important to realise that once your Svalbard cruise starts, there are very few added costs. All activities, food, drink and accommodation are included in the up front cost.
You will also need to consider before booking are flights and gear costs. Because Svalbard is remote, there is only one airport - Longyearbyen.
Flight costs are often not cheap and you should budget at least $1,000 per person. This varies considerably depending where you're flying from.
You may also be taking a Svalbard cruise that departs from Iceland, Greenland, Norway or Scotland. This is often a little cheaper as the airports are much larger.
Gear is another factor to cost. Svalbard is cold, even in mid-summer. Temperatures are generally around freezing.
Many operators will provide a parka -but not all. You'll also need layers, boots, hats, gloves etc.
Other cost factors to consider are hotels before and after your cruise, visas and vaccinations, drinks, laundry etc.
Although all these cots are fairly minor, they will build up.
Being one of the most popular Arctic cruise destinations, Svalbard now has a wide range of cruise options.
Because the itinerary, ship size and time of travel all play a major part, it can often be a little difficult deciding which cruise will suit you best.
The most important thing to decide before you go is 'what do you want to get out of your Svalbard cruise?'.
Do you want to see Polar bears? Epic glaciers? Do you want to kayak or dog sled? Just answering this question will help you enormously in deciding.
Certain cruises will be aimed at certain things, whilst longer cruises tend to offer a greater variety of sights and activities.
When you decide to sail will greatly alter your Arctic cruise expereince. For instance, Arctic cruises to Svalbard in summer are likely to see polar bears, whilst a winter cruise to Svalbard will provide you with some stunning Northern Light displays, but no polar bear.
However, due to pack ice and short winter days, 95% of Arctic cruises operate in the summer period. Saying that, when you cruise during this period will also alter what you see. The early summer cruises will see far more ice whilst the later summer cruises will get more wildife.
One thing to keep in mind is cruise duration. Do you have enough time to explore all of Svalbard, or should you take a shorter cruise around Spitsbergen?
Whilst most itineraries are between 10-13 days, there are shorter and longer ones depending on how much time you have. If you take a Svalabrd cruise that visits other regions such as Iceland, then this may add to the trip length.
Svalbard cruises are also offered in conjunction with other destinations such as Iceland, Greenland and Norway.
This is definitely something you should take into consideration when choosing. You'll find that adding another destination often does not increase the trip length, however, you will get less time in Svalbard.
If your main aim was simply to see polar bears, then choosing an itinerary that stays in Svalbard is your best choice. However, if you wanted to see musk ox and polar bears, then you would have to combine Greenland into the cruise.
Your itinerary choice will change considerably deending on the wildlife you want to see. For people wanting to see polar bears and walrus, an in-depth cruise around Svalbard is the best option.
For peopke wanting to see musk ox then Greenland will need to be incorporated into the itinerary. Iceland is great for landscapes and seabirds, whilst Norway offer some of the best fjords on the planet.
Hiking, dog sledding, caving, kayaking, camping, swimming etc. are all possibilities on a Svalbard cruise.
Make sure to diced what takes your fance and then make sure your itinerary offer it. Be warned though, it will come at an extra cost. Genrally between $500-$900.
Finally, there is your cabin. this will largely depend on your budget, but choosing the right cabin within your set budget is important.
The best advise we can give is to request photos from your specialist/operator prior to booking.
We really can't stress this enough, but please book ahead!
Many people beleive that last minute deals are the cheapest option. Yes, you'll get cheap (but limited options), however, booking 1-2 years in advance is generally cheaper.
The main reason people flock to Svalbard is to see the incredible wildlife that roam the icy land.
Standing above all others is the might Polar bear which has a stronghold in Svalbard with over 3,000 inhabiting the archipelago.
Below we have listed the wildlife that can be found in Svalbard.
Please note that certain itineraries have better chances of spotting certain wildlife. This is also true of what month you cruise in.
The most iconic of all Svalbard's wildlife, polar bear draws thousands of tourists every year. Most commonly seen in summer, the polar bear can be seen anywhere in Svalbard.
Saying that, they are most commonly spotted in the north-western and northern parts of Spitsbergen. They are also frequently seen on the east coast and on Nordaustlandet and the surrounding islands.
Always keep your eyes peeled for them in front of glaciers where seals bask in the sun.
Since being protected in 1952, the population of walrus in Svalbard has steadily increased with over 4,000 individuals now living here.
Fabulously charismatic creatures, walruses often become travellers favourites! They can be seen anywhere throughout Svalbard and tend to like hauling out on ice-floats and fast-ice.
Arctic foxes can be seen throughout the Arctic region including Svalbard where this a good population.
Shy creatures, the Arctic fox is fairly elusive. Keep your eyes peeled though and you may see one trotting along the shore line in search of bird eggs.
Whales are abundant around the waters of Svalbard. There are three types you should look out for; the bowhead, the beluga and the narwhal.
Few people ever spot the bowhead moving slowly through the waters. However, sightings of beluga and narwhal are a more common.
The striking spiralled tusk of the narwhal is an unforgettable sight, as is the bright white of the beluga moving through the blue waters.
The Svalbard reindeer is actually a sub-species of the traditional reindeer and is only found on Svalbard.
Sightings are basically guaranteed and you should be able to get fairly close, particularly around Longyearbyen.
There are three types of seal found in Svalbard. The ringed seal, the bearded seal and the harbour seal.
Sightings of these playful creatures is essentially guaranteed as they often inhabit the same area year after year.
Most commonly seen is the ringed seal where there is estimate of 100,000 individuals!
Huge numbers of bird species live and migrate through Svalbard every year.
These include puffins, red-throated divers, Arctic skuas, terns, northern fulmar, several types of geese and a number of waders.
Svalbard is definitely a birders paradise and you'll get some fantastic shots from the boat and during shore excursions.
Svalbard is a truly awesome location and there are plenty of things to see and do.
Although wildife watching is the main draw card, there are a number of ther activites to keep even the most season traveler active!
Below we have listed the top options.
The Northern Lights are certainly one of the most fascinating natural wonders on our planet.
The good news is that Svalbard is one of the best places in the world to see them. The bad news is that this is only possible during the winter when cruises do not depart.
There are several options here. Firstly, you can fly into Longyearbyen during winter and take a land-based tour of the island which will include a good amount of Northern Light watching. Or, if you desperately want to take a cruise to see the Northern Lights, you'll have to settle for the coast of Norway where plenty of cruise companies offer short coastal trips during winter to see the northern lights.
If you would like to know more about the Svalbard Northern Lights, please see our detailed page here.
Photography is a major draw for people looking to take a Svalbard cruise. The wildlife, epic landscape and gorgeous light make the archipelago an photographer's dream.
The 24 hours of daylight during high summer means photographers can literally go all day and many animals use this time to build up reserves for winter. If you're looking for predation shots then this is a great time to go.
Your Svalbard cruise guides will be trained in using photographic equipment and you'll be able to get some expert advise as you cruise through the islands. The guides will also know the best spots and best angles for fantastic shots.
For more information, please see our page on Arctic photography here. We provide all the tips and equipment you'll need for a successful Svalbard cruise.
Most Svalbard cruises aim to see as much wildlife as possible.
This means searching out walrus, seals, seabird and, of course, polar bears.
You will be unlucky not to spot all, so keep your binociluars at the ready.
No matter what Svalbard cruise itinerary you take, most days you'll be on a zodiac searching out the wildlife and taking shore excursions.
Depending on your itnerary, you'll also be given the opportuity to take a kayak trip. This will need to be booked prior to departure.
Onselect itineraries you'll be offered the chance to scuba dive or swim!
This is not as common, so you'll need to choose your cruise carefully. You will also need to be a fully trained diver with expereince in cold water.
Once underater you'll witness a landscaoe that few divers ever have. Just seeing an iceberg underwater is a treat!
Many itineraries offer extra activities like camping, skiing and climbing.
These all come at an extra cost and will need to be booked prior to departure.
We always recommend doing as many activities as you can as each one is a totally unforgetable expereince!
There is no denying that your Svalbard cruise will be cold. Conditions are frequently stormy and temperatures often drop below freezing. With the right gear though, you'll barely notice this!
Even if you are travelling in the height of summer, there are some pieces of clothing you'll still require for your Svalbard cruise.
Whilst some gear can be rented by your operator or prior to your trip, having your own clothing will be far more comfortable.
Despite the time of year you travel, there are a few key pieces of clothing you will need to bring. Items you'll need to consider before sailing are as follows:
Clothing: Weather conditions in Svalbard are far colder than most places. Temperatures are freezing and you'll need to wear layers. This includes a base layer, fleece and parka.
Footwear: The right footwear is critically important for your Svalbard cruise as you'll be making a number of shore landings. These shore landings are 'wet landings' and you'll need a special pair of rubber soled waterproof boots.
Headgear: Much heat escapes through your head, so bringing a good beanie is super helpful. You'll also want some UV sunglasses as the snow is seriously bright when trekking.
Gloves: Your hands will be the first part of your body to freeze. Therefore, it is critically important to get a good pair of gloves for your Svalbard cruise.
Bags and Daypacks: You'll no doubt have camera equipment with you. Bringing a good backpack is very useful for lugging it around on shore.
Important Accessories: From water bottles and sunscreen to spare batteries and filters, there are loads of accessories that will make your Svalbard cruise that much more pleasant.
Edgeoya, or Edge Island as it is more commonly known, is a 5,073 square kilometres (1,960 sq mi) Norwegian island. It's found to the southeast of Svalbard and has a resident population of polar bears and reindeer. There is also an epic ice field.
Part of the South Spitsbergen National Park, Bellsund is a 20-kilometer long sound located on the west coast of Spitsbergen. The area is characterised by towering mountains and seabirds nesting on cliffs. Very dramatic.
Located on the western side of the southernmost tip of Spitsbergen island, Hornsund is a 12 kilometres wide and 30 kilometres long. Jagged cliffs, icebergs and beautiful bays make up the geology of Hornsund. Seabirds are common in this area.
Longyearbyen is the capital of Svalbard and the hub of activity for the archipelago. Here you will find shops, restaurants, fantastic museums and a lot of snow mobiles! You can organise trips, take a day tour or visit the Global seed vault. Most Svalbard cruises start here.
Nordaustlandet or 'Northeast Land' is the second largest island in the Svalbard archipelago behind Spitsbergen. With an area of 14,443 square kilometres, much of the island lies under snow caps. Reindeer and walrus are common sites around Nordaustlandet.
Located on the major island of Spitsbergen, Ny-Ålesund is a research town in Oscar II Land. Owned and run by the Kings Bay company, the town hosts research facilities for 10 countries and is completely fascinating to visit as part of your trip.
Often called the Hinlopen Straight, the Hinlopenstretet is a 120km long straight that separates the two largest island in Svalbard - Spitzbergen and Nordaustlandet. The straight is often difficult to pass though thanks to the thick pack ice.
Monacobreen or 'Monaco Glacier' is a huge glacier that flows down into into Liefdefjorden (The Love Ford) in Spitsbergen. When icebergs break off the glacier you are treated to an incredible spectacle.
Krossfjorden is a 30 kilometre long fjord on the west coast of Spitsbergen. Towering cliffs and beautiful waters are just several reasons why this location is so popular for Svalbard cruises.
In our article – Arctic Travel Insurance – we have provide all the information you need to find your perfect insurance policy. Alternatively, you can get a quote straight away with our rcommended specialist below.
Below is a short video of a Svalbard cruise by Rich Reid. Enjoy!