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The Best Time to Visit Svalbard and Spitsbergen

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When is the best time to go to Svalbard and Spitsbergen?

The best time to visit Svalbard is in the summer between June and September as it is high season for Arctic cruises, the wildlife is active, the ice flows have melted, and the days are long. The long days of polar summer mean that the sun shines for most of the day and night, making spotting polar bears and other animals a full-time activity during the season.
An expedition cruise in Svalbard is only possible around summer, as the sea ice makes waters unnavigable in colder months. That said, these months may be more suited for certain outdoor activities. Wintertime from March to May is fantastic for snow sports like dog sledding and snowmobiling, while the polar night from October to February is the best time to see the northern lights in Svalbard.
At a Glance
Peak Tourist Season: April to August
Midnight Sun: late April to mid-August
Polar Night: November to February
Svalbard, Spitsbergen, and Jan Mayen
An archipelago found between Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard is right above the Arctic Circle. The archipelago experiences 24 hours of sunlight or darkness in certain months. Glaciers cover over half of the region. The largest of nine main Svalbard islands is Spitsbergen, where one-third of the three thousand residents of Svalbard live. The uninhabited volcanic island Jan Mayen is also popular among travelers.

Admire the colorful houses of Longyearbyen
Admire the colorful houses of Longyearbyen (Sasha Suzi)

Svalbard Seasons

Winter (March-May) – Best for Snow Sports
Sunlight returns after around two months of darkness in Svalbard, kicking off the “sunny winter” months when there’s still ice on the ground but the sun is shining in the sky. Temperatures rise, and days get longer through the months. It’s the best season for winter sports, with light snow offering superb conditions for dog sledding, snowmobiling, and glacier hiking.
March is the first of the sunnier months in Svalbard, with only a few hours of sunlight and the ice still pretty solid. Polar bear breeding season is from March to April, but it can be hard to find them with some routes still impenetrable. The midnight sun can start as early as late April, followed by the breaking of the sea ice and the arrival of the first expedition ships in Svalbard.

Shore landing in Svalbard
Shore landing in Svalbard (Secret Atlas)
Summer (June-September) – Best for Wildlife Viewing
Snow starts disappearing quickly by May, but summer truly begins in June when the landscape becomes greener and flowers bloom across the tundra. Temperatures hover around 40℉ (4.4℃), with cool sunshine the norm for summer days in Svalbard. Midnight sun, a phenomenon that sees the sun shining in the sky for 24 hours, runs from as early as mid to late April through August.  
With the warm and sunny conditions, summer is the only time to enjoy different warm-weather activities in Svalbard, like hiking, kayaking in the fjords, and wheeled dog sledding. Additionally, the winter snow and arctic glaciers have melted, and small ship cruises can navigate easily along the coast.
This season is also the best time to see polar bears in Svalbard, with expedition cruises passing by the hefty carnivores hunting on the ice. Wildlife viewing is the main attraction of traveling here in the summer. Besides the bears, travelers can spot whales, migratory birds, and seals. In the eastern region of Svalbard, cruises can also spot walrus, Arctic fox, and Svalbard reindeer.

Svalbard Arctic Fox
Svalbard Arctic Fox (Secret Atlas)
Polar Night (October-February) – Best for Aurora Borealis
In the Svalbard archipelago, the sun sinks below the horizon at the end of October and stays hidden for two to three months. The islands are cloaked in darkness from mid-November to the end of January. While these dark months aren’t typically recommended, it is the best time to go to Svalbard for travelers who want to experience the northern lights. Winter sports like dog sledding and skiing are available, but there are few Svalbard tours during this season. With the unnavigable pack ice and frozen landscape, boat trips aren’t possible at this time.


Known as “the wildlife capital of the Arctic,” the archipelago is one of the premier places in Northern Norway for animal encounters. It’s the main attraction on the islands and a highlight of any Svalbard cruise.

A sow and her cubs
A sow and her cubs
Polar Bears
March and April is breeding season for polar bears, but it’s still a challenge to track them down due to the pack ice. Polar bear sightings are more common from May to August, when the water isn’t too frozen and it’s easier to sail to the coastal regions where the bears frequent the sea ice to hunt.
Summer is also the Svalbard whale watching season. During this time, the pack ice has melted and broken up enough for travelers to spot the massive mammals in the water during Arctic expedition cruises. Some species spotted around the islands include humpback, fin, white, minke, sperm, bowhead, beluga, and blue whales.
Arctic Fox
Found all around the archipelago from the mountains to the coast, the Arctic fox is one of the main residents of Svalbard. It is easiest to spot Arctic foxes in the summer, but keep in mind that their fur is dark and brown in the warm season. During the winter months, their fur turns snow white—and it can be a novel sight to see them hunt lemmings when it’s winter.
It’s very easy to see walruses on the islands between June and September, so travelers visiting Svalbard in the summer are almost guaranteed sightings of this bumbling creature. Along with seals, groups of walrus lounge and sunbathe on the banks of the cool sea.
Birdlife also flourishes during the summer months, with millions of migratory birds coming to the archipelago to breed. Spitsbergen Island attracts colonies of tens of thousands strong, including species like the Arctic tern, the Brünnich's guillemot, auks, and gulls.
For more information about where and when to visit Svalbard islands like Spitsbergen and Jan Mayen, please contact our team of Adventure Life Arctic experts.

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