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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.

  • More about Spitsbergen (Svalbard)

  • Why go to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)?

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Island Princess
Island Princess (Photo: Princess Cruises)

33 Night
Transatlantic CruiseDetails

1,180 Reviews
Leaving:Fort Lauderdale
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
May 26, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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MSC Preziosa
MSC Preziosa

15 Night
Europe - Northern CruiseDetails

374 Reviews
Leaving:Hamburg
Cruise Line:MSC Cruises
Jun 19, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Cruise Critic Favorite
Zuiderdam
Zuiderdam

41 Night
Spitsbergen Icelandic Fjords & Viking PassageDetails

1,004 Reviews
Leaving:Rotterdam
Cruise Line:Holland America Line
Jun 11, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Le Boreal
Le Boreal

7 Night
Arctic CruiseDetails

57 Reviews
Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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14 Night
Arctic CruiseDetails

57 Reviews
Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant
Jun 23, 2024
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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16 Night
Europe - Northern CruiseDetails

1,180 Reviews
Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
Jun 12, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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14 Night
Europe - Northern CruiseDetails

1,180 Reviews
Leaving:Southampton
Cruise Line:Princess Cruises
Jul 26, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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Cruise Critic Favorite

21 Night
Spitsbergen & Icelandic Fjords ExplorerDetails

1,004 Reviews
Leaving:Rotterdam
Cruise Line:Holland America Line
Jun 11, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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15 Night
Arctic CruiseDetails

4 Reviews
Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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14 Night
Europe - Northern CruiseDetails

374 Reviews
Leaving:Hamburg
Cruise Line:MSC Cruises
Aug 6, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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11 Night
Europe - Northern CruiseDetails

57 Reviews
Leaving:Bergen
Cruise Line:Ponant
May 19, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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11 Night
Spitsbergen CruiseDetails

71 Reviews
Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Hurtigruten
Jul 2, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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13 Night
Europe - Northern CruiseDetails

108 Reviews
Leaving:Greenock
Cruise Line:Ponant
May 4, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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44 Night
World CruiseDetails

722 Reviews
Leaving:Copenhagen
Cruise Line:Oceania Cruises
Jul 23, 2023
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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7 Night
Arctic CruiseDetails

108 Reviews
Leaving:Spitsbergen
Cruise Line:Ponant
No prices currently available for this sailing.
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More about Spitsbergen (Svalbard)

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
Wanted to see polar bears!Read More
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Traveler4k
Very interesting place! Things you have never seen and heard before. We loved it!Read More
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Duffyhs
A great starting and finishing point to our cruise. I'd recommend day or two before your cruise to get into the arctic 'vibe'.Read More
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gerryvanderwalt
Easy to get off and walk around.Read More
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circum95

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