When to go to Svalbard

Advice on the best time to visit Svalbard and where and when to explore the Arctic north with ATOL Bonded Natural World Safaris.

the best time to go to svalbard

the best time to go to svalbard

Essentially, the best time to visit Svalbard to see polar bears is the summer, between May and September. This is when the ice melts enough for ships to be able to navigate the still icy waters and explore all the wildlife there is to offer.

Outside of these summer months, the archipelago freezes over, becoming solid with thick ice and, in the depths of winter, completely thrust into the darkness of the polar nights. At this time, the polar bears head out further across the ice in search of food, making it near impossible to find them, let alone get to them.

When to go

This is a guide for the country as a whole, indicating good times to plan a holiday, taking into account popular places to visit, wildlife encounters and overall weather. Please remember that where in the country will vary depending on month of travel.

Text

when to go by season

A short overview of when to go to Svalbard. We look at the polar nights, northern lights, polar bear tracking, and the best times to see Svalbard's wildlife!

May - September

These summer months are the best time to go to Svalbard. This is the warmest time to visit, and most suited to some of the outdoor activities you can enjoy such as snowmobile tours, skiing, dog sledding, hiking, and boat tours. More importantly, it is also the best time to see polar bears - these hulking carnivores are the main draw for all those travelling to Svalbard! Melting sea ice allows our small expedition ships - which we utilise on many of our expeditions - to navigate close to shorelines and ice floes where the bears are often found hunting. It is not uncommon to have periods of fog during this time and weather in Svalbard can change very quickly. This is also the period of the Midnight Sun phenomenon, when the sun doesn't dip below the horizon, resulting in constant daylight. Many of our chosen expeditions operate during these months to maximise wildlife and polar bear sightings.

Read more about each month on the following pages:

October - February

During the polar night between late October and mid-February, most of the archipelago is frozen over and the area is plunged into total darkness, but this is also the best time to see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, where you can see a unique explosion of colour and movements as a result of electrical and magnetic forces. Snowmobile and dog-sledding safaris are a great way to experience Svalbard's interior from mid-February onwards, when the polar night comes to an end. Unfortunately this doesn't time well with seeing the polar bears, but combining the two isn't impossible if you head to Churchill in Arctic Canada The boutique hotel of Lyngen Lodge in northern Norway is another great option for Northern Lights viewing during the winter months.

Read more about each month on the following pages:

March - April

This time is ideal for those who want to experience more light and snow, and it is a peak time for winter sports, so may be considered as an alternative time to travel. This is not a peak time for wildlife.

Read more about each month on the following pages:

Text

Wildlife highlights by season

The best time to see wildlife in Svalbard is during the months of May to early September. It is worth noting, however, that your wildlife sightings will differ depending on when you choose to travel during the Svalbard “season”. In the early season, for example, most migratory birds will not yet have returned from their wintering grounds further south. Due to the likelihood of heavy snow and ice cover, shore landings will be more difficult, which means zodiac cruising is more of a feature than it will be in later months. Bear this in mind if you’re especially keen on trekking across tundra to see reindeer or Arctic fox. You will be unlikely to see walrus haul-outs on beaches, again because of the weather conditions, but the chance to see polar bear mothers with their cubs is enough to make anyone travel to Svalbard!

As the summer months draw on, the mid-season heralds the arrival of Arctic flowers across the blooming tundra. Walruses may start to be seen on beach haul-outs, and migratory birds will now have returned to the archipelago. You’ll have a good chance of seeing Arctic terns perching on icebergs, while the spectacular bird cliffs – Alkefjellet being the most well known – will be alive with activity. The sight of thousands upon thousands of kittiwakes, guillemots and other species flying through the air is one of Svalbard’s most remarkable natural spectacles. Polar bears can be seen throughout the Svalbard season, so keep an eye on ice floes and shorelines for the chance to spot the King of the Arctic.

The latter part of the season provides amazing light for photographers. With temperatures consistently above freezing for a few months now, expedition ships will have to voyage further in search of ice, but this time of year does offer the chance to circumnavigate Svalbard. In the more southerly latitudes, polar bears will often be seen on rocky beaches or prowling across the tundra, but further north, you can still spot them on the pack ice. The migratory birds of Svalbard will depart for warmer climes towards the end of August, so if you’re a keen twitcher, you may want to travel during the mid-season.

For those interested in marine mammals, there is good news: Svalbard is home to no fewer than 11 species of whale! Most of these are summer residents, travelling further south when growing ice cover makes surfacing for air difficult. Whale sightings vary from season to season. In 2019, for example, we observed a number of blue whales congregating towards the north of Svalbard during the mid- to late season. Meanwhile belugas, which are often seen swimming along the edge of the ice, are more likely to be seen during the early season. The where, when and what of whale sightings changes each year, but on a ship-based expedition you are likely to see at least some flukes and whale blows from the deck of your vessel, or even from your zodiac.

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