31st December 2018
Svalbard, as you may know, is most commonly associated with polar bears and expedition cruising, which is undoubtedly the best way to see polar bears during the summer months. But, this inevitably means most tourists rarely venture out of Longyearbyen, where the cruise ships depart.
Unfortunately, that's their loss as Svalbard is also a great destination to visit on land during the summer (late May to late September), twilight winter (February) and sunny winter seasons (March to May).
Choose to explore Svalbard on land as a stand-alone trip or as a great extension to your polar cruise.
Overlanding via snowmobile or husky sledding
Svalbard in winter has plenty of snow, of course, and with more daylight from March to May, that means an abundance of activities.
Choose to explore the surroundings of Longyearbyen via snowmobile or husky sledge, or go on an expedition to a more remote lodge such as Isfjord Radio Station, set within, you guessed it, an old radio station.
Luckily, it's still possible to go dogsledding in Svalbard even in the summer! So there's really no excuse to miss out on this exhilarating adventure.
That wild life
You can still see the wildlife of the archipelago without the need to queue for a zodiac, like on cruise boats. Just grab your kayak, or embark on the zodiac waiting for you on the shore, and off you go.
The advantage of kayaking is you are much quieter than crunching through snow and therefore you're less likely to spook wildlife, allowing superb animal sightings and photography opportunities.
On land, you are likely to see arctic foxes and Svalbard reindeer all year round, and occasionally a polar bear. During summer (May-Sept) there are thousands of birds hatching in and around Longyearbyen, and bird cliffs are packed from late May to early August.
Common species are guillemots, puffins, geese, arctic terns and eider ducks. This also means you have a good chance to see the arctic fox hunting for eggs in these areas.
In the summer, the flora of the tundra is incredibly beautiful, and your guide can explain how these hardy little plants have adapted to such harsh conditions.
Many imagine the landscapes of Svalbard to be barren, but the endemic flowers create a far more visually stunning landscape than you'd expect from this ice kingdom.
Some people like the idea of travelling on a cruise boat, but for those that don’t want to be tied to a ship, there are some fantastic accommodation options in Svalbard.
In Longyearbyen, you can stay at Basecamp Hotel, which is a cosy hotel built using driftwood and furnished with arctic bric-a-brac, creating a unique, rustic look and casual atmosphere.
Only 10 kilometres out of Longyearbyen, Trappers Station is a husky farm and old hunting station. Coming just this far out of town will ensure great views of the Northern Lights due to the lack of light pollution.
You can go on husky adventures from the station or choose to stay warm in a wooden tepee. With no running water or showers, this is not a luxurious experience, but it certainly is different.
Travelling to more remote accommodations like Isfjord Radio or Nordenskiöld on a snowmobile/husky expedition during winter, or by boat in summer, you're guaranteed to be spoilt by undisturbed views.
Knowing that there's more likely to be a polar bear somewhere in the distance than another human being, allows you to really feel as if you're in another world.
Isfjord Radio Station, the most northerly boutique hotel, is a unique property with a sauna overlooking the open sea. For a more private experience, stay at the Nordenskiöld Lodge which is situated in a fantastic location right next to Nordenskiöld glacier, providing incredible glacier hiking excursions.
Do it for the thrill!
In Longyearbyen, you can walk or cycle around on your own. On both sides of the settlement, there are polar bear warning signs. Do not wander past those signs without an experienced guide and a rifle.
Some people may not like the idea of roaming bears, but the danger certainly makes staying on land more exciting!
In the winter, when staying in a remote location such as Svalbard, there's nothing more exciting than climbing to the top of a mountain and skiing down through virtually unspoilt snow.
The views are phenomenal, and the crowds non-existent, allowing you to carve your own piste all the way down the mountain.
So much time for activities
Although you won’t travel as far from Longyearbyen as you would with a cruise, you will spend more time on land, therefore increasing your chances of wildlife sightings in the area you are based.
Cruises do include land excursions, but only for a limited time before heading off to the next destination.
When you're based on land, you're able to sit and wait for wildlife to come to you, like arctic foxes who'll be on the hunt for nest eggs.
In summer, the advantage of the midnight sun is that, should you fancy it, you can take part in activities pretty much all day long!
There is a glorious variety of different hiking terrain in Spitsbergen, from snowy mountains to arctic tundra and icy glaciers. You really are spoilt for choice.
A popular hike for the outstanding views is to Troll Stone mountain, which goes from the highest point of Longyearbyen and over a glacier to the top of Trollsteinen.
For something a bit different, go on a fossil-hunting hike to discover how wildlife has evolved over millions of years in this archipelago.
Go beer tasting
If you need some time to thaw out, you can take the time to visit the world’s most northerly brewery, which uses glacial water to create a truly fresh taste. Take a tour before enjoying a beer tasting to truly round off your arctic adventure.
Photos by Basecamp Explorer