Svalbard is an assault on the senses. This wondrous archipelago is the world’s most readily accessible bit of the polar north and one of the most spectacular places imaginable. Vast icebergs and floes choke the seas, and icefields and glaciers frost the lonely heights. But under close scrutiny, the harsh conditions reveal tiny gems as the Arctic desert soil, however barren-looking, manages to sustain lichens, miniature grasses and delicate little flowers. The environment supports larger creatures too: whales, seals, walruses, Arctic foxes, squat Svalbard reindeer – and polar bears aplenty, outnumbering us humans for the moment.
Svalbard doesn’t come easy – especially on the pocket. It’s nearly a 1000km flight from the nearest major airport on the mainland and budget accommodation is very much at a premium. The independent traveller is a rare sight on islands; the vast majority of visitors arrive on an organised tour. We recommend signing up for group visits once arriving in Longyearbyen, the usual point of independent entry.
Don’t discount a winter visit. There are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you rosy-cheeked and you’ll get more of a feel for Longyearbyen as a living community with a raison d’être of its own.
What really bumps the cost up is the price of organised tours and activities. Since travel outside Longyearbyen is difficult at best and can be downright dangerous, you miss out on a lot if you don’t sign up for one or two. So, when you’re doing your pre-holiday sums, budget for a glacier walk, a boat trip or a mine visit and see if you can still make ends meet.
Top 17 experiences in Norway
Norway is a once-in-a-lifetime destination and the essence of its appeal is remarkably simple: this is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's guide to Norway we recommend the top sights and experiences for visitors.
Svalbard destination guides
Life near the North Pole
Approaching the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is like crossing some unseen frontier of the mind. Jagged natural ramparts, serpentine fjords and vast ice sheets stretch to the horizon, seemingly to the ends of the earth.
Realm of the Polar Bear
From close-up encounters with icebergs and glaciers to the region’s plentiful wildlife, this is a voyage of non-stop highlights. Always on the lookout for exotic animals, you’ll explore this landscape not only by ship but also on foot and via Zodiac.
Realm of the Polar Bear in Depth
Similar to our 'Realm of the Polar Bear' itinerary (XVRPNX), you'll enjoy three additional days of exploring. Scour the ice and tundra in search of the elusive polar bear and encounter even more icebergs, glaciers and unique wildlife than you ever thought possible on this 11-day expedition.
Norway: come for the sun, stay for the light show
When it comes to spotting natural phenomena, it's hard to go past Norway. From August, you'll catch the end of the midnight sun and, if you're lucky, the start of the dancing light show put on by aurora borealis. And when that's not happening you'll have your sense of perception challenged.