Set high in the Arctic Ocean is the remote and untouched Svalbard archipelago, covering an area roughly the size of Ireland and is dominated by the island of Spitsbergen. Not as cold or as inaccessible as people might think, Spitsbergen offers the adventurous visitor a truly Arctic experience, on the edge of the inhabitable world.
Our collection of Spitsbergen holidays allow you to sail along the dramatic rugged coastline on a small ship cruise holiday, part of our Arctic voyages programme, with land excursions by Zodiac to explore more of this barren beauty.
Alternatively, you may explore at your own pace on a land-based adventure, staying in pre-arranged accommodation and adding activities and excursions as you please.
The Svalbard archipelago extends between 74 and 81° North, about halfway between Tromso in Norway and the North Pole. It is the northernmost place in Europe and is the farthest north people can visit by means of a scheduled flight. The island is rich in minerals, particularly coal, and visitors can travel to settlements rich in mining history and still involved today. The fishing and whaling industry of the past have also left their mark and remnants can be found and photographed in many locations - the message is always the same however - visitors may look but not touch!
Quite simply, Spitsbergen is spectacular. Unlike ‘High Arctic’ cousins at this latitude - northern Canada and Siberia, which are mostly flat and covered by tundra, Spitsbergen has the greatest variation of natural features. The nine main islands are a mixture of wild and rugged mountains, glaciers, vast icecaps, endless open tundra and, along the north and west, beautiful fjord indented coastlines. There are no trees although there are bushes as well as a wide variety of Arctic wildflowers, lichen and moss, offering patches of colour among the breathtaking but sometimes stark landscapes.
Drift ice or shimmering icebergs floating in impossibly dark blue/green waters provide superb photo opportunities for visitors opting for boat trips – a great way to explore. There are no roads outside of the main settlements which help to maintain the all important 'unspoilt' quality. It isn’t difficult to discover that the lure of the landscapes is irresistible.
Wildlife & nature
There are only three species of large mammal on Spitsbergen – polar bear, reindeer and Arctic fox. The chance of a sighting of any of these species is good but can never be guaranteed. However, marine species are more plentiful and include walrus, ring and bearded seal, white-nose dolphin, narwhal and orca, to name a few. Over 100 types of birds and surprisingly for this high latitude, a much greater number of plants and lichens thrive here.
Fortunately, with the influence of the Gulf Stream keeping the west coast ice free during the summer months, even this far north shipping operates regularly, including that of the tourist variety. However, year round pack ice is never far from the north coast and ice sheets cover around 60% of the land area. Although the average summer temperature is around 6°C, it can be a low as freezing bringing snow flurries, or as high as 20°C.
Spitsbergen can be described as having an 'Arctic desert' climate - very little rain is experienced and although the summer days are brisk, they are often blessed with glorious sunshine. Being this far north, it enjoys the midnight sun from mid-April to mid-August, the long days allowing more time to enjoy its rugged natural beauty.
Holidays at a glance
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The highlight was the patience of the captain battering his way through the pack ice under the midnight sun.Virginia Feeney, Around Spitsbergen