Highlights and main attractions of SpitSbergen

The Svalbard archipelago is Europe’s largest wilderness, a fascinating collection of islands within Norway that are closer to the North Pole than they are to the capital city of Oslo. The northernmost human settlements on earth are found here, specifically on the largest island of Spitsbergen, where the ‘cold edge’ of Svalbard (its literal meaning) is tempered by the moderating Gulf Stream, making it a more habitable environment. 

It is nonetheless estimated that here there are more polar bears than there are humans, and this is prime territory for some enthralling polar bear quests.

Where is Spitsbergen?

Location and activities

When Spitsbergen was first discovered by the Dutch explorer William Barents, it was named so for its jagged peaks. Whilst the other islands of Svalbard are nature reserves and therefore inaccessible without gaining special permission, Spitsbergen, which broadly includes its group of surrounding islands Barentsøya, Edgeøya, Nordaustlandet and Prins Karls Forland, is where the modest population of the area – approximately 3,000 - go about their daily lives, and also is the starting and finishing point for your voyages of exploration into this arctic wilderness.

Longyearbyen is Spitsbergen’s (and, by extension, Svalbard’s) only town and is the main base for expeditions, accommodation and tourism. Literally meaning ‘Long Year Town’ it was named after John Munroe Longyear who founded the town’s coal mining industry, which has mainly ceased operation and slowly been replaced by increasing interest in tourism activities in the area. The modern town is set on the Longyearelva River and is surrounded by mountainous backdrops, with colourful homes contrasting with the arctic scenes.

Itineraries on our expedition ships in this area are wholly dependent on ice and weather conditions, and require some flexibility to account for being in this constantly changing environment. Popular spots to make landings on include the beautiful Kongsfjorden area and the scientific settlement of Ny Alesund, where you can see wild reindeer grazing, and where heroic expeditions to the North Pole were pioneered by Amundsen and Nobile. The spectacular fjords of Liefdefjorden, Krossfjorden and Raudfjorden are where you can witness the iconic, creaking sculptured glaciers, whilst north of Spitsbergen the icy landscape intensifies, and sailing along the ice floes the chances of meeting the King of the Arctic the polar bear increases.


Our small and intimate expedition trips are able to navigate these pristine and remote areas of the arctic to place you in the heart of the polar activity.

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