Explorer's Guide: How to Get to Svalbard!

June 3, 2021

There are a handful of locations within the Arctic Circle that offer fascinating destinations to visit on northbound polar adventures. Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago that lies directly between mainland Norway and the North Pole, is one of those beautiful destinations. It’s a place renowned for its rugged terrain that’s accentuated by glistening sheets of ice, expansive glaciers and snow-covered landscapes that are home to one of the world’s most incredible wildlife species - the polar bear.

The archipelago is composed of nine main islands that were first discovered near the end of the Middle Ages in 1194. It wasn’t until 400 years later that Dutch explorers Willem Barents and Jacob van Heemskerck sailed north towards the islands and made claims to the land in the name of Norway. Over the centuries, Svalbard has been an important location for the whaling industry, and the archipelago gained greater recognition in later decades as a rich source of ores and minerals vital to the energy economy.
Quark Expeditions' fleet of small polar vessels can take travelers to remote regions of Svalbard that larger ships can't navigate

Quark Expeditions' fleet of small polar vessels can take travelers to remote regions of Svalbard that larger ships can't navigate, giving
passengers close-up of views of the pristine Arctic landscape. Photo: David Merron

Visit Svalbard with an experienced expedition team

If polar excursions and adventures in breathtakingly beautiful landscapes are on your bucket list, Svalbard should be at the top of your list of destinations to visit on your adventures. You can book passage on the Spitsbergen In Depth: Big Islands, Big Adventure voyage for a 14-day exploration of the largest of Svalbard’s islands.

Beginning in Oslo, you’ll fly northward towards Longyearbyen in the middle of the island of Spitsbergen. From there, you’ll spend the next 10 days exploring Spitsbergen by sea and land, immersing yourself in the tapestry of this northern polar adventure.

Why visit Svalbard

You might ask yourself, why should you bother visiting Svalbard since it’s so far away from much of the rest of the world? For starters, the wildlife species alone are reason enough to visit Svalbard. Svalbard is ideal for nature-lovers longing to see Nanuk, the Inuit word for polar bear, in its natural setting.

Best time to visit Svalbard, Norway
Quark Expeditions guests enjoy an off-ship cruises in Zodiacs, providing travelers with an immerse polar experience.

Quark Expeditions guests enjoy an off-ship cruises in Zodiacs, providing travelers with an immerse polar
experience. Photo: David Merron

The best time of year that you can visit Svalbard is anytime between the months of May and September, which are typically when the sun shines over the icy landscape, creating unforgettable scenery to photograph.

In addition to booking sea-faring expeditions to the archipelago, you’ll also have the opportunity to visit Longyearbyen,the world’s northernmost settlement and the largest community across the entire island chain of Svalbard.

Best ways to spend time in Longyearbyen

As the world’s most northern city, Longyearbyen is rich in history. It began as a mining colony, but it’s evolved into a tourist destination with a robust culture built around museums, art galleries, local pubs, and local cuisine that pay homage to northern way of life. Guests travelling with Quark Expeditions typically have time on their arrival or departure to check out the small settlement.

Boasting the largest port in Svalbard, you can book passage to and from Longyearbyen by hopping aboard the Intro to Spitsbergen: Fjords, Glaciers and Wildlife of Svalbard adventure  or the equally popular Spitsbergen Explorer: Wildlife Capital of the Arctic use the ports of Longyearbyen to launch their journey through the Svalbard archipelago

Best time to visit Svalbard to see polar bears

Located in the heart of the Arctic Circle, Svalbard boasts a healthy population of polar bears, one of the world’s most fascinating animals. Polar bears love to fish off the ice caps along the coasts of the islands and at the ice edge, and they roam across the archipelago in search of the most promising locations for their main food source, the seal.

Watching for polar bears in the snow-covered Svalbard landscape.

Watching for polar bears can sometimes take patience, and it helps to have experienced polar guides to provide tips on where to watch for the majestic marine mammal in the snow-covered Svalbard landscape. Photo: Acacia Johnson

There are many fascinating habits about polar bears that you can observe during your adventure to the islands. You can come to understand a little more about this elusive animal and appreciate why it remains such an important part of the northern ecosystem.

Best time to visit Svalbard to see the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are an incredible phenomenon that occur under specific conditions. They’re most visible in northern locations, far and away from urban cities that cloud the airways with humanmade light that hides the majesty of the northern sky.

If you’re travelling at sea, you may be in the best position to witness the northern lights. The Arctic Circle is largely unspoiled by manufactured light, providing the skies with the ideal conditions to observe the Aurora bBorealis as it lights up the sky. If you’re aboard Ultramarine or any seafaring vessel, it’s a safe bet you’ll find an opportunity to see the magical Northern Lights during your time at sea.

Svalbard expedition cruise

A Svalbard expedition cruise can also be expanded to allow you to visit other Arctic destinations on the same journey. Many travelers, upon choosing to travel to the Arctic, decide to visit various islands on the one trip.

The incredible voyage of the Arctic Saga: Exploring Spitsbergen via the Faroes and Jan Mayen adventure is one of the best expeditions to the region. The allure of this adventure is that you get to explore both Svalbard and the Faroe Islands north of Scotland all in one incredible journey. You’ll depart from Aberdeen in mainland Scotland and sail towards the Faroes where you’ll witness life on the most northern strip of land in the United Kingdom. Bird-lovers flock (pun intended) to the Faroes to observe the massive colonies of puffins. From there, you’ll sail towards the island of Jan Mayen on the cusp of the Norwegian Sea before arriving at Longyearbyen to explore the majesty of Spitsbergen.

An adventure to the islands of Svalbard archipelago will reward you with travel memories of a lifetime.

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