• Polar bear close up

where and when to go to see polar bears in svalbard...

The otherworldly northern reaches of Svalbard, with their icy landscapes, beautiful fjords and wonderful wildlife, are without doubt a huge attraction to the modern-day explorer. However, the main attraction in this remote region is, of course, the magnificent polar bears – the world's largest terrestrial carnivore. Throughout this page you will find useful info on when is the best time to see polar bears

Latest figures on the number of polar bears suggest that the Svalbard Archipelago and the Barents Sea are home to around 3,000 bears, with Svalbard acting almost as a refuge for the polar bear over the years. This is a huge positive, not just for the bears as a species, but also for specialist travel outfitters like NWS, as these days we are more than confident in regards to sightings. Some departures (on our smaller, more specialist vessels) have seen as many as 38 polar bears on an individual trip!


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Polar Bears Safari
Polar bear cub on snow

Our range of Svalbard polar bear tours and safaris take place between May and September, when the midnight sun reigns supreme and the ice encompassing the archipelago begins to melt, allowing us to navigate by boat. The contrast at this time between the pure white ice and the green of the fresh grasses when the snow has melted, with the flowers beginning to blossom, is well worth a visit in itself! Glaciers lean into the crisp ocean, ice floats past in massive chunks and as we push our way through we can see waterfalls pouring down sheer walls made of ice.

It is tricky to say when specifically it is best to see polar bears in Svalbard. Early in the season – during the month of May – conditions can be perfect, as the ice has not yet melted and thus the snowy white backdrops can make for a photographer's dream. Later in the season however – between August and September – the pack ice begins to melt, meaning you can push further north, cover more ground, and the polar bears are often more concentrated in the remaining icy areas. What is fair to say, is that we have led expeditions throughout the season from May to September, and that we have always spotted polar bears in the wild, putting our clients in the right place at the right time for incredible up-close encounters.

One element when planning your trip that you should not underestimate, is the size of the ship. We go further north than most expeditions owing to the small size of the vessels we use (just 12-18 passenger berths); this enables us to squeeze through tighter spaces, to navigate shallower waters, and explore wilder and more secluded areas, often allowing us to discover some of the favourite hideouts of the bears themselves.

If you're set on seeing polar bears in October and November, we also offer a number of expeditions to Arctic Canada, where these two months are the best time to see polar bears. The port town of Churchill – which calls itself "the polar bear capital of the world" – is a fantastic place for sightings during this time of year, as hundreds of bears move toward the shore and the the sea ice beyond as temperatures fall.

Polar bear with cub
Polar Bears Safari

Whilst an expedition to the far northern reaches of Svalbard often focuses on polar bears, whatever you see, you can be sure of an unforgettable experience. The colours, the wildlife, the views and the crisp air are unlike anywhere else on the globe. In fact, it’s a whole new world to explore; just don’t forget your thermals!

Kate Waite, Svalbard

Your Next Steps

Talk to one of our specialists for further details on travelling to Svalbard.