One of our favorite places in the world to visit is Svalbard, Norway. Located far above the Arctic Circle, this is one of the most extraordinary places to explore. If you plan on visiting this vast tundra, use this guide to help you decide on the best things to do in Svalbard.
13 Best Things To Do in Svalbard
There are so many different things to do in Svalbard from ATV tours to hot air balloon rides; it can be difficult to plan your itinerary. Here are our 13 favorite activities on this frozen archipelago:
1. Svalbard Whale Watching
You’ve come all the way to the Arctic; it would be a shame to leave Svalbard without catching a glimpse of the most magical creatures in the ocean.
Svalbard is the perfect place to see a wide range of whales including blue whales, beluga whales, and humpback whales.
In order to find whales in Svalbard, you’ll need to take a boat trip along the coast of the island. Whale watching boat trips can only be done in the summer months, so keep that in mind if this activity is at the top of your Svalbard bucket list.
I’ve heard amazing things about the Catch of the Day boat tour by Better Moments. You can book your whale watching expedition here: Visit Svalbard.
2. Go Hiking/Snowshoeing in Svalbard
In our opinion, one of the best things to do in Svalbard is to go hiking. Regardless if you visit Svalbard in the winter or summer, there are plenty of hiking opportunities.
The best part? Some of the best trails are right outside of Longyearbyen. This makes it easy for travelers to take half-day hiking trips.
We went hiking in Svalbard through the polar night. Although we left our Airbnb at 1pm, it was pitch black. Our hiking guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, which is much needed in such a harsh environment.
Our guide brought us up a glacier and deep into a glacial cave. We explored, ate cookies, and drank some black currant juice. It was hot, delicious, and just what our bodies needed in the cold weather.
Note: I strongly advise AGAINST hiking in Svalbard without a guide. Although it is legal to hike by yourself, you do not want to come face to face with a hungry polar bear. We heard horror stories from the locals about this so don’t risk it!
Another one of the best things to do in Svalbard is dog sledding. This was our first adventure upon arrival and we loved every second of it.
Not only were we able to catch a glimpse of life outside of Longyearbyen, but we learned so much about dogsledding and this way of life.
We went with a company called Green Dog and they did a fantastic job educating us on the daily lives of these dogs. We learned about the things they ate, how often they ran, and the behaviors of each dog. We even got to drive our own dogsleds!
The best part about dogsledding is that you can do it year-round. During the summer months, the dogs run on land using wheeled carts.
Note: If you’re lucky, you might even see the northern lights while you’re dogsledding.
4. Find Some Polar Bears
One of the things I really respect about Svalbard is their attempt to protect the polar bear population. Because of this, they have outlawed any polar bear expeditions.
Although you cannot take a tour specifically for finding polar bears, you can venture out on other tours and hope to get lucky enough to see these amazing creatures.
The easiest way to see a polar bear in Svalbard is by taking a boat tour along the coast. If you can find an expedition that lasts for several days, you’ll greatly increase your chances of seeing a polar bear.
Can you see polar bears in Longyearbyen?
Polar bear sightings in Longyearbyen are uncommon, but they certainly can happen. The locals told us that a few rogue polar bears make their way to town each year and are gently redirected out of town.
5. Go Snowmobiling Around Spitsbergen
If you’re a snowmobiling fiend and you’re looking for the best things to do in Svalbard, you’ve found it!
Snowmobiling is a great way to explore Spitsbergen and get out of Longyearbyen. This is also a great way to avoid light pollution and hopefully capture a glimpse of the northern lights.
You can find and book snowmobiling tours year-round at Visit Svalbard – Snowmobile.
6. Northern Lights
As soon as we made it to Svalbard Airport, we made it our goal to see the northern lights. It seemed like an easy task considering it would be dark 24 hours a day.
Unfortunately, we didn’t stay in Svalbard long enough to catch a glimpse of this magical show.
If you are planning to visit Svalbard during the winter, I recommend spending a lot of time outside, especially at night. Our friend was able to see the northern lights but he had to wait until 3am to finally see them.
How To See the Northern Lights in Svalbard
Based on what the locals told us, it’s best to get out of Longyearbyen if you want to see the northern lights. There are plenty of excellent excursions for chasing the northern lights. All of these tours will bring you outside of town in order to spot the northern lights without light pollution.
7. Check Out Pyramiden and Barentsburg
Pyramiden is an extinct coal-mining town in Northern Spitsbergen. Prior to 1998, it was a thriving mining town but has since been shut down and abandoned. In 2020, it is a ghost town and it’s very eerie (and neat!) to visit.
The easiest way to visit Pyramiden is via boat tour. They also have many snowmobiling tours to Pyramiden, but you’ll need to prepare for an overnight trip.
Another really neat town to explore in Svalbard is called Barentsburg. Barentsburg is a small town just west of Longyearbyen.
This is another mining town that should be added to your Svalbard itinerary. Luckily, it’s much easier to get to Barentsburg than it is to get to Pyramiden. And they have a brewery- that’s always a plus!
8. Brewery Tour
Want to visit the northernmost brewery in the entire world? You’ll find this brewery in Longyearbyen.
In order to get in, you’ll need to make an appointment, but you can do that here: Visit Svalbard – Brewery.
Not keen on a brewery tour? You can enjoy fresh Svalbardi beer at Svalbar; continue reading below for more information about this restaurant.
Note: There is also a brewery located in Barentsburg. Both are highly recommended.
One of our favorite places to visit in Longyearbyen was Svalbar. We loved the cosy feeling, the crisp beer, and the delicious food from Svalbar. We spent many nights sitting at Svalbar while playing cards and enjoying a local brew.
Remember! Prices in Svalbard are pretty expensive. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll spend hundreds of dollars on beer, liquor, and food.
If you’re trying to visit Svalbard on a budget, I recommend keeping your restaurant visits to a minimum.
10. Take A Boat Trip
One of the best ways to see Svalbard is to take a boat trip around the coast. This is your best opportunity to see a polar bear in the wild and you’ll be blown away by the unexpected sights you’ll see during your trip.
If you’re on a mission to find icebergs, walruses, or incredible sea life, don’t hesitate to sign up for a boat tour.
During the summer, there are plenty of boat trip tours to choose from in Svalbard, each offering their own unique activities and routes. During the winter, there are far fewer boat trips, if any.
11. Visit the Svalbard Museum
Svalbard is one of the most unique places in the entire world. If you’re interested in learning more about the land and culture of Svalbard, don’t miss out on the Svalbard Museum.
12. Kayak in the Arctic
So you’ve kayaked in amazing places all around the world, but have you ever kayaked in the Arctic? If not, this is something that must be added to your itinerary. Kayaking in the Arctic is one of the craziest things to do in Svalbard.
Kayaking day trips are organized during the summer months. This is your opportunity to get close to glaciers and icebergs.
These day trips are usually accompanied by lunch and a very knowledgeable guide. You can book your kayaking excursion here: Visit Svalbard – Kayak.
What About the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard?
The Global Seed Vault in Svalbard is one of the most important places in the world. At the Global Seed Vault, you can find seeds from every known plant in the entire world. How cool, right?!
Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to visit the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard (if we could, that would be one of the best things to do in Svalbard BY FAR).
Instead, many visitors choose to go to the Global Seed Vault and admire it from the outside. In my opinion, there isn’t much to see. I would spend your time exploring other parts of Svalbard.
Is Svalbard Worth Visiting?
This Arctic archipelago is definitely worth a visit. There isn’t a shortage of unique things to do in Svalbard; these are things you wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else in the world.
What is the Best Time to Visit Svalbard?
Some argue that the best time to visit Svalbard is in the summer based on the weather and 24 hours of daylight. You can enjoy more activity opportunities in summer including boat trips due to the melting sea ice.
On the other hand, we visited Svalbard in the winter and had a blast exploring this Arctic tundra despite the cold weather. Experiencing 24 hours of darkness was incredible and we were able to explore ice caves and go dogsledding on freshly fallen snow.
Based on what the locals told me, the best time to visit Svalbard is in March because you’ll get the best of both worlds; you’ll be able to experience Svalbard in daylight and darkness. This is also the time of year when expeditions and tours start to become more frequent.
The Wrap-Up: The Best Things To Do in Svalbard
If you have the chance, don’t hesitate to visit Svalbard; you won’t find anything like it elsewhere in the world. Be sure to get the most out of your Svalbard trip by adding these 13 best things to do in Svalbard to your itinerary.
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