Svalbard. A destination rich in adventure, exploration, and natural wonders. A place where you can see polar bears in their natural habitat, watch impressive glaciers calve, stand in awe of dramatic fjords, and discover Svalbard’s rich expedition history. With 30 years’ experience leading polar expeditions, we share all the secrets and wonders of this Arctic archipelago.
While Svalbard could be considered a secret in itself, a destination for the in-the-know adventurers and curious travellers, the Norwegian archipelago has plenty of lesser-explored attractions. Ones that are often overlooked on a short-stop fly-in, fly-out holiday.
Aboard our Aurora Expeditions sailings, however, we take you deep into Svalbard, offering immersive experiences that don’t just leave you with fabulous photos (those are almost guaranteed), but with a sense of true connection to this remote Arctic haven, too.
With nine main islands, Svalbard is the world’s northernmost place you can visit. Since 1920, Svalbard has been under Norwegian treaty, and yet when you visit, you’ll actually be closer to the North Pole than Oslo.
Svalbard is twice the size of Belgium at 61,000 km² (23,550 m²), but with less than 3,000 residents. There are both more polar bears and more snowmobiles than residents!
Svalbard translates to Cold Coast – a fitting name for a place where temperatures rarely reach double digits. While the temps may not run high, the sun is out and shining 24/7. Why? Because the sun rises in Svalbard on the 19th of April and doesn’t set again until the 23rd of August! That’s 126 days of midnight sun. All Svalbard sailings allow you to experience this incredible phenomenon.
Longyearbyen is Svalbard’s largest town with 2,400 residents. It’s the gateway to Svalbard, and it’s here that you’ll embark on our Svalbard Odyssey and Svalbard In Depth expeditions. A great first stop is the informative Svalbard Museum, where the islands’ culture and history are laid bare.
An unusual hidden gem: the Svalbard Seed Bank is a vault-like storage facility with the capacity to conserve up to 4.5 million seed samples. While it may sound like the ultimate doomsday prepper facility, it doesn’t take much to eradicate a seed species (weather, fungus, pests). The bank can be a backup for original crops for up to 20,000 years into the future.
Can beer get any more refreshing than one that’s made with water from a 2,000-year-old glacier? We think not! Svalbard Bryggeri, the country’s first, produce five different types of beer, and you’ll be able to sample some before embarking on your Aurora Expedition’s Svalbard adventure.
Known as the wildlife capital of the Arctic, no visit to Svalbard is complete without a journey around Spitsbergen. Thanks to its unique geology, Spitsbergen, Svalbard’s largest island, is an attractive haven for many unique Arctic species. While once a former hunting ground with whales, polar bears, and arctic foxes all considered fair game, it’s now a protected space for all wildlife.
Follow in the footsteps of polar explorers like Roald Amundsen, who used Spitsbergen as a base. Our in-depth expeditions, like our 24-day Arctic Complete, take you to the northwest corner of the island, at Nordvest-Spitsbergen National Park. Stay alert for the arctic foxes and reindeer in the distance, as well as the lumbering walrus on the shoreline. Amsterdam and Ytre Norskøya islands offer an introduction to giant glaciers, plus insights into the 19th-century whaling trade.
A visit to the world’s northernmost settlement is as exciting as that first time you stood on the equator, another travel first to put in the memory bank. In Ny Ålesund, the 120 residents are there for scientific research. In winter, when temperatures drop to –16c (3f), only a third (sensibly) stay. The settlement has an airport, café, souvenir shop, and the world’s most northernmost post office.
Ny Ålesund is on the southern bank of Kongsfjorden, considered one of Svalbard’s most impressive fjords with two equally impressive glaciers – Kongsvegen and Kronebreen. If conditions allow, you’ll be the judge of whether it’s worthy of the most impressive title. Ny Ålesund was another departure point for polar explorers.
To the northeast of Spitsbergen, you’ll find Nordaustlandet, Svalbard’s second largest island. Completely uninhabited, most of the island is covered in ice caps, with two jaw-dropping mammoth ones – Austfonna and Vegafonna. Taking a Zodiac ride along the sheer face of Austfonna’s ice cap is exhilarating; its scale and glacial waterfalls leave everyone speechless.
Across Nordaustlandet, several geological sites reveal different periods in time, including an old crystalline basement in the north. Our knowledgeable crew will impart all the details while you scour the distance looking for a roaming polar bear or walrus colony.
TEdgeøya (Edge Island) is the archipelago’s third largest island with reindeer and walrus residents. Catch reindeer wandering the tundra; spot walruses lazing on the shore.
Edgeøya, found in the Hinlopen Strait, got its name from the 17th-century English whaler, Thomas Edge. See evidence of the whaling industry on a hike across the island, along with its unique geology of Edgeøya.
The Hinlopen Strait also gives access to Barentsøya (Barents Island). While the polar bears enjoy Barentsøya’s stark and glaciated land, humans do not. Or not enough to live there, anyway. Kittiwakes, gentle-looking pelagic gulls, also enjoy a little time on the island.
Interesting fact: Barentsøya was named after Dutch explorer, Willem Barents, who never even saw the place!
One of the most spectacular kinds of landscape you’ll witness on your Svalbard expedition is the fjords – and there are loads of them! Magdalenefjord is particularly impressive, with a reflective corridor that welcomes you into Madeleine Bay, duplicating the vast glaciers and snow-capped craggy mountains in the distance.
Another standout is Isfjorden, Svalbard’s largest fjord. Exploration by Zodiac affords an up-close vantage point along the fjord’s bays, and opportunity to check out the Nordenskiöld glacier. Isfjorden is also home to Alkhornet, a mountain where reindeer and arctic foxes walk the tundra below, while puffins, gull, and pink-footed geese swoop and soar.
While Svalbard on land is fabulous, several exciting moments happen offshore – it’s why an expedition cruise with a flexible itinerary is the ultimate way to explore here. It’s often at sea that our passionate expedition team will be able to help you tick your Arctic wildlife checklist. Whether it’s seeing a polar bear in its native environment, witnessing a barrel-bellied walrus between the ice caps, or hearing the call of puffins, guillemots, and little auk, Svalbard wildlife wows.