Svalbard is an archipelago belonging to Norway, located halfway between the mainland and the North Pole. The main island is Spitsbergen, a name that is perhaps better known. While Svalbard has a winter tourist season based on dogsledding, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing, it is best known as a summer destination when cruise passengers arrive to see its mountains, glaciers, fjords, and wildlife.
What We Love
Svalbard Museum: Cruise ships generally stop at Longyearbyen, the only major settlement. Your time is well spent studying the exhibits at this museum that provide the foundations for understanding the wildlife, hunting, mining, and whaling history of the area.
Local Scenery: The small year-round population multiplies by many times in the summer, and the colorfully painted houses, small hillside chapel, abandoned mining machinery, and recreation center are worth a look.
Best Known For
Polar Bears: It’s the luck of the draw whether you’ll see one in the wild while sailing on a large cruise ship. The smaller expedition ships have the extra time and ability to get closer to the ice that the bears inhabit.
Sheer Beauty: Passengers on large or small cruise ships will enjoy the wild Arctic terrain that blossoms in the summer. Yet it still retains plenty of snow and ice to produce a year-round winter setting without the bitter cold.
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Who It's Best For
Wildlife and Wilderness Enthusiasts: This is the place to come for Arctic birds, polar bears, reindeer, Arctic fox and the bearded, ringed, and harbor seals on land and whales at sea. You will be overcome by the majesty of the creatures.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Polar Bear Danger: You need to listen when the guides say not to go beyond the edge of town (Longyearbyen). Polar bears have been known to attack people living and visiting here. They say there’s no need to be alarmed, though, if you see reindeer wandering about. Several herds are locals.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.