Svalbard is the world’s northernmost civilisation and one of the most enchanting and awe-inspiring places on earth. Imagine a region set in darkness for months on end that abruptly switches to months of endless light with bright sunshine spread out over snow scattered wilderness. Where the only dangers facing humans are polar bears and mother nature. You won’t need to look for long when searching for reasons to visit Svalbard.

Christmas folklore has created a real magical atmosphere around the north pole and the arctic circle, and the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway definitely delivers on everything you could possibly imagine and so much more.

Things to do in Svalbard

Svalbard is one of the wildest parts of the world, and its epic winter landscape makes for a host of bucket list activities!

An in-depth shortlist of the best things to do in Svalbard will need a whole article on its own, so I’ll just briefly mention some of the highlights:

  • Go on safari
  • Watch the northern lights around a camp fire
  • Explore an ice cave
  • Explore the wilderness on a snow mobile
  • Visit the global seed vault
  • Go dog sledding

Here are 11 reasons to visit Svalbard this year:

1. Polar Bears

For those passionate about wildlife, Svalbard’s premier attraction is its population of roughly 3,000 majestic, snow-white polar bears. As one of the planet’s most emblematic and captivating creatures, polar bears significantly boost Svalbard’s appeal, providing unparalleled opportunities for observation.

The polar bear, the largest land carnivore globally, is categorized as a marine mammal due to spending most of its existence on the sea’s drifting ice floes. Wildlife excursions by boat venture into the ocean, allowing you to watch and capture images of polar bears in their natural habitat.

11 Reasons To Visit Svalbard
Polar bear on the sea ice in Svalbard by Lightrocket, Getty Images | 11 Reasons To Visit Svalbard

Females construct dens in the ice to birth their young, who typically stay by their side for two years. The ringed seal, their main food source, is abundant in Svalbard, enhancing your chances of spotting one.

While sightings are more frequent around the islands near Spitsbergen, it’s wise to always be prepared for a possible encounter, even within town limits. Polar bears do not recognize humans as anything other than potential food.

Predicting the optimal time for polar bear sightings is challenging since they traverse the area without constraints, capable of covering vast distances quickly. Likewise, pinpointing the best spots for observation is tough. For the best experience and up-to-date information on polar bear locations, it’s highly recommended to participate in a guided tour with a knowledgeable local guide.

2. The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, have captivated humans for centuries, inspiring a mix of scientific explanation and mythological interpretation. While theories about their origin vary, one universally acknowledged fact is that witnessing the Northern Lights is a key draw for visitors to Svalbard.

These spectacular lights are the result of solar winds interacting with gaseous particles from the sun. When these particles collide with Earth’s atmosphere at altitudes of 90 to 180 kilometers, they generate electromagnetic radiation visible as the colorful display known as the Northern Lights.

11 Reasons To Visit Svalbard
The Northern Lights, Svalbard | 11 Reasons To Visit Svalbard

To fully enjoy the Aurora Borealis, you need complete darkness, free from any artificial light sources. Locations outside urban centers, like the town of Longyearbyen, offer prime viewing conditions under the natural light of the moon, stars, and aurora itself.

The optimal viewing times are during the night, especially in the darkness of winter. Svalbard experiences the Polar Night during winter months, a period when the sun does not rise for extended periods, providing unique opportunities to observe the aurora at any hour.

Local tour operators in Svalbard provide various ways to experience the Northern Lights, including snowmobiles, dog sleds, boats, or on foot with snowshoes. For those seeking an enhanced experience, premium tours combine the awe-inspiring sight with delicious meals and fascinating tales about the lights’ cultural and historical significance.

3. Global Seed Vault

Tucked away within a mountain in a secluded area of Svalbard, the Global Seed Vault stands as the ultimate backup for global agriculture, safeguarding over 2.5 billion seeds. Designed to withstand both time and the extreme conditions of its environment, the vault is a testament to humanity’s foresight, preserving the most extensive assortment of crop diversity in the world

11 Reasons To Visit Svalbard
The Global Seed Vault © Heiko Junge/NTB scanpix/Zuma | 11 Reasons To Visit Svalbard

Hidden beneath the Arctic’s permafrost, the vault contains nearly a million distinct seed varieties, a marvel unknown to many and a fascinating anecdote for travelers.

While the Global Seed Vault itself might not be the sole reason for a trip to Svalbard, since access to its interior is restricted, the exterior alone, especially under favorable weather conditions, offers a unique photo opportunity that could be the highlight of your Instagram feed.

 4. Dog Sled Adventures

Navigating the expansive Arctic terrain on foot can be challenging, particularly for covering great distances. This led to the innovation of the Dog Sled, a practical mode of transportation across the icy expanses of the polar regions.

A dog sledding experience | 11 Reasons To Visit Svalbard

Dog sled tours offer an immersive experience on a sled built for two, giving participants the opportunity to play the role of both musher (the driver) and passenger. Driven by a team of enthusiastic huskies, these tours glide through the vast wilderness at a gentle pace, allowing ample time to admire Svalbard’s stunning landscapes and perhaps even catch sight of local wildlife such as reindeer or arctic foxes.

Available options range from brief day excursions to more extensive journeys, including overnight stays in igloos. At the tour’s conclusion, participants have the chance to assist in settling the dogs into their kennels as a gesture of appreciation for their service, followed by a moment to warm up with a hot beverage and snack.

5. Ice Cave Experiences

Svalbard’s countless glaciers contain a plethora of long natural passages leading to incredible ice caves, which you’ll find hard to believe aren’t man made.

Exploring an Ice Cave | 11 Reasons To Visit Svalbard

Armed with a headlamp, crampons, and a helmet, you’re ready to delve into the glaciers, navigating through an intricate network of meltwater channels and caves at your own pace. This tranquil, silent realm is adorned with icicles and snow crystals, bathed in shades of white and blue.

You can reach these glaciers through several methods, such as incorporating them into your dog sledding or snowmobile adventures. Tour operators in Longyearbyen can offer guidance on the optimal itinerary for you, taking into account the season and current weather conditions.