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Cruises to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) (Photo:Aleksandra Suzi/Shutterstock)

About Spitsbergen (Svalbard)

Svalbard is the official Norwegian name for the island archipelago located 600 miles north of Norway's North Cape, but most of the outside world knows the place as Spitsbergen, which is, in fact, the name for the largest island in the chain. Svalbard attracts a considerable number of visitors in the height of summer. They come for the scenic mountain wilderness of ice and snow that is home to a great variety of wildlife on land, in the sea and often in the air.

The islands were named Spitsbergen ("sharp-pointed mountains") by a Norwegian, Wilhelm Barentz, in 1596 and were soon after visited in 1605 by Henry Hudson, who reported an abundance of whales. A whaling industry established by the Dutch, English, Norwegians and Russians began almost immediately and expanded to include the trapping of walruses and seals. Today, only Norway engages in whaling in these waters.

The islands also became a base for polar research, as they lie halfway between the top of Norway and the North Pole. A number of expeditions by sea and early 20th-century airship flights left from Spitsbergen. In 1906, an American entrepreneur named John Monro Longyear established a coal-mining industry there, and he named what would become the island capital, Longyear City (now officially Longyearbyen). Norwegian and Russian interests also established mining claims, and the Russians still operate a mine at Barentsburg.

At the Treaty of Versailles, Norway was handed administrative rights to Spitsbergen, and it assumed official oversight in 1925, changing the archipelago's name to Svalbard in the 1920s. Since the turn of the century, Svalbard has achieved a measure of local rule, administered by a locally elected Longyearbyen County Council.

Longyearbyen (population: 2,200) replaced mining with tourism as the primary industry when regular air service was established in 1975. The town then transformed itself from a rough mining center to the attractive, colorful, small frontier town we see today, with many families settling there to engage in tourism, research and government services. Evidence -- some picturesque -- of now-abandoned coal mining facilities is still extant in a perimeter around the capital.

Sixty percent of the islands are designated as national parks or nature reserves, and the landscape and wildlife are protected. The most numerous species of wildlife seen are polar bears, Arctic foxes, Svalbard reindeer, walruses, bearded and ringed seals, fin and blue whales, little auks, kittiwakes, fulmars and a variety of wading birds. The landscapes of mountains, fjords, glaciers, snow, sea ice and tundra are breathtaking.

Two kinds of cruise ship passengers visit the islands in summer. Those who arrive by large cruise liners on long voyages often make a single call at one of the three permanent settlements -- Longyearbyen, Ny-Alesund (a research station) or Barentsburg (a Russian mining camp) -- and then cruise the fjords and coastline without landing. Expedition cruise travelers arrive in small purpose-built ships and use Zodiacs to get close to the glaciers and wildlife or for hikes across the tundra. Some expedition vessels are based at Longyearbyen for all or part of the summer tourist season (June through August), while others embark passengers in mainland European ports.

The eastern side of Svalbard experiences far more heavy ice conditions; hence, most cruise and expedition ships concentrate on the west side's coastline and fjords. The summer climate, when most tourists visit, is quite mild for an area so far north, with daytime temperatures often above freezing and possibly rising to just above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall is low, but summer months may experience fog. The midnight sun lasts from mid-April to mid-August.

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Island Princess
Island Princess (Photo: Princess Cruises)
Island Princess

34 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

1,190 Reviews
Leaving:Fort Lauderdale
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
$5,679
$5,579*pp
$164/night • inside Cabin

Princess

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L'Austral
L'Austral
L'Austral

14 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant

CruiseWise

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Island Princess
Island Princess (Photo: Princess Cruises)
Island Princess

16 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises

Princess

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MSC Preziosa
MSC Preziosa
MSC Preziosa

14 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

371 Reviews
Leaving:Hamburg
Cruise Line:MSC Cruises

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Azamara Journey

18 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Azamara Voyages

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Le Commandant Charcot

15 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant

American Discount Cruises

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MSC Preziosa

14 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Hamburg
Cruise Line:MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises

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Le Boreal

7 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant

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Le Commandant Charcot

15 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant

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Silver Wind

9 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

188 Reviews
Leaving:Tromso
Cruise Line:Silversea Cruises

Silversea

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Silver Cloud Expedition

13 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Reykjavik
Cruise Line:Silversea Cruises

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MSC Orchestra

14 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Hamburg
Cruise Line:MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises

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Cruise Critic Favorite
L'Austral

7 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant

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L'Austral

8 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Tromso
Cruise Line:Ponant

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Seabourn Venture

25 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Tromso
Cruise Line:Seabourn Cruise Line

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Silver Wind

6 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Silversea Cruises

Silversea

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Le Boreal

10 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant

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Silver Cloud Expedition

9 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Tromso
Cruise Line:Silversea Cruises

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Le Boreal

11 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Bergen
Cruise Line:Ponant

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Silver Wind

13 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Tromso
Cruise Line:Silversea Cruises

Silversea

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Silver Cloud Expedition

6 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Silversea Cruises

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Hanseatic Spirit

17 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Europa

18 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

9 Reviews
Leaving:Kiel
Cruise Line:Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Silver Wind

9 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Silversea Cruises

Silversea

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Silver Cloud Expedition

14 Night
Cruise to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)Details

Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Silversea Cruises

Silversea

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Why go to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)?

Pros:

Catch the midnight sun (from mid-April through mid-August) in this stunning Norwegian archipelago

Cons:

Passengers shouldn't head outside of town -- where polar bears roam -- alone

Bottom Line:

Spitsbergen is home to a historical frontier town, and is the gateway to untold adventures in the Arctic wilds

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) Cruise Port Facilities?

There are no facilities at the piers, as the town is very close.

Good to Know?

No one should go beyond the edge of town because of real danger from polar bears. If you venture out of Longyearbyen by any means of transportation or on foot, you must be accompanied by someone who knows how to use a rifle. That rule is simply a given, and there are no exceptions. When you do walk around town, you may come upon small Svalbard reindeer, as they often come into the edge of the settlement to graze.

Getting Around?

On Foot: It's a short walk into town, and most places there are reachable on foot.

By Shuttle, Bus or Taxi: If you do not wish to walk from the pier into town, you can take a bus shuttle, tour bus or taxi. Once you're in town, most places are walkable.

By Bike: You can also borrow a bike for free from the tourist office in the center of town (47 79 02 55 50).

There is no local transit, and there are only 30 miles of roads. No roads lead from Longyearbyen to any of the other settlements, such as Barentsburg and Ny-Alesund. Travel to these destinations is by plane or boat in summer and snowmobile and dogsled in winter. In summer, the dogs are kept in an open kennel compound at the edge of town.

If you're taking an expedition cruise that departs from Longyearbyen, you can find flights from Tromso and Oslo (Bergen) in mainland Norway. A bus transfer is provided between the airport and hotels or guesthouses.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

Currency is the Norwegian Kroner (NOK), but the shops in Longyearbyen will also accept euros. Major credit cards are fine, and there are ATM machines at the Spare Bank next to the post office in Longyearbyen. For up-to-date conversion rates, go to www.xe.com.

Language?

The official language is Norwegian, but most Norwegians -- and certainly those with whom you will be in contact at Longyearbyen -- speak very good English.

Where You're Docked?

Longyearbyen has three uncovered piers. If there is more than one large vessel in port, one will have to anchor off with a very short launch transfer. Two of the three piers are within reasonable walking distance of the center of Longyearbyen, but buses will likely provide a shuttle service from any of the three.


Spitsbergen (Svalbard) Cruise Reviews
nice... Read More
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ochealaaf
Just a hike on semi defrosted permafrost and soft ground. And we've seen sled dogs before... Read More
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GoldenSailor
Very interesting place! Things you have never seen and heard before. We loved it!... Read More
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Duffyhs
On Monday morning, July 24, the ship anchored off shore near Pyramiden, an abandoned Russian/Soviet mining town. After breakfast, I boarded a tender, and went ashore. It truly is a ghost town, and the first Russian... Read More
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jlajr

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