Welcome to Svalbard, your gateway to Arctic adventures

Have you ever dreamed of visiting the high Arctic and following in the footsteps of intrepid explorers? We have the perfect Svalbard holidays for you.

Join Secret Atlas on a small expedition cruise to explore Svalbard . Together, we’ll discover an abundance of wildlife including polar bears, whales, Arctic foxes, and walruses and the magnificent landscapes Svalbard has to offer with daily guided shore landings.

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The Experience 

Our Svalbard holidays begin in Longyearbyen, the world’s most northerly town. From there, we’ll take you deep into Svalbard to explore unspoilt, uninhabited, and rarely-visited places. Be part of a group of 12-48 guests, plus a guide and expedition leader on an 8-10 day voyage trip. Each day is different, but you’ll get the opportunity to watch wildlife, wander ashore in a landing craft, and discover glaciers, tranquil fjords, and cultural remains left by early explorers.

Our highly experienced expedition leaders are here to share their passion and knowledge of this beautiful part of the world. Join Secret Atlas on a small ice-strengthened expedition vessel and experience a real exploration with an expedition leader and daily shore landings.

Wildlife Photography Holidays

Svalbard landscape by Chase Teron. You can join a photo tour with him here. 

 
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Get up close to Svalbard’s natural beauty in a small expedition vessel 

New expedition cruise ships can now take up to 350 passengers. Ours only take 12-48 guests, which is a real luxury for exploring this Arctic paradise. Smaller expedition vessels like ours can get closer to nature, offering you a more intimate experience of the region. You’ll get to make the most of your precious time there too, smaller expeditions mean no waiting around to go ashore. There’s space for everyone in the landing craft, so we can spend more time getting up close to frozen mountains, glaciers and sprawling fjords.

 

What you will see and do on a Svalbard holiday 

Svalbard is filled with stunning Arctic landscapes, important wildlife, and the remnants of centuries of human exploration.

Incredible Arctic landscapes 

Meaning ‘cold coast’ in Old Norse, Svalbard is a frozen desert filled with mountains and  glaciers.  Sea ice to the north of Svalbard extends all the way to the North Pole, that’s 800 miles ( 1050km)!  Huge areas of land are covered in ice all year round too. Arctic conditions such as short summers, and long, extremely cold and dark winters mean that trees can’t grow on the archipelago. These conditions also mean that Svalbard plants grow slowly, rarely reaching more than 10cm in height.

Glaciers cover close to 66 percent of the land on Svalbard. The archipelago is home to over 2000 glaciers, including Austfonna on the island of Nordaustlandet.  With an area of 3011 square miles (7,800 km2, it’s one of the largest in the world.  Sprawling fjords indent the north and east, and parts of the island are mountainous with sharp peaks and high cliff tops. It’s a good place to spot fossils too, all main geological periods are represented on Svalbard.

Our smaller groups and small vessels mean we can minimise our impact on this beautiful place too – so we don’t disturb any wildlife we encounter or their habitat.

shore landing by zodiac in svalbard
 

Wildlife to see on Svalbard 

The top three animals you can spot on a cruise to Svalbard are polar bears, walruses, and reindeer. Svalbard is one of the top places in the world to see polar bears – 3000 of them live on the archipelago. But, they’re also extremely dangerous to encounter on land, so it’s best to spot them from a small expedition vessel. In the summer, they can often be spotted on the north west of Spitsbergen, the largest island on Svalbard, although of course sightings can’t be guaranteed.

An estimated 4000 walruses live on Svalbard, with several haul out sites that we can visit on our micro expedition cruises. You can spot walruses on land or on water. They can be observed  ashore, by keeping a safe and respectful distance on the beach. You might pass them on the expedition vessels too, look out for them lying on ice flows or swimming in the Svalbard waters.

The Svalbard reindeer is special because it isn’t found anywhere else in the world. The subspecies have adapted to harsh Arctic winter, and they’re smaller than other types of reindeer. They’ve been on Svalbard for over 5000 years, and can be spotted all over the archipelago, roaming in non-glaciated areas. Overhunting in the 19th and 20th centuries reduced the population to near extinction, but they can be easily spotted along the coast.

Svalbard is also home to puffins, narwhals, Arctic foxes and Arctic terns as well as many more species of birds. There are 29 protected natural areas on Svalbard, including nature reserves, national parks, and bird sanctuaries. The largest two are Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve and Søraust-Svalbard Nature Reserve, which cover large parts of Spitsbergen.

wildlife cruise svalbard
 

Human history and settlement on Svalbard 

Svalbard is full of remnants from its rich history of Arctic exploration, and there are protected cultural remnants of expeditions across the archipelago. Part of our adventure together involves exploring the past.

From the Ny-Ålesund, the northernmost scientific settlement in the world to the eerie, abandoned Russian mining Town of Pyramiden – there are incredible stories to uncover. Our expert guide will take use to different sites to find out more.

We’ll also find out more about how human settlements have changed in the last century.  It’s a visa-free zone, and although there are fewer settlements now due to the closure of several mines, Svalbard is an important area for international scientific research

 

Why our Svalbard holidays are unique

What makes our Svalbard holidays unique?

  • No crowds or delays to go ashore – we all fit on the landing craft
  • Just 12-48 guests, with 1 leader for every 6 guests to guide (ready to share their knowledge and expertise)
  • A rare chance to follow a real explorer (and discover what previous explorers left behind)
  • Experience nature in a close-up, peaceful and intimate way – savour the Arctic silence
  • Smaller trips create less of an environmental impact on the Arctic

But if you really want to know what makes Secret Atlas micro cruise expeditions to Svalbard to special, ask our guests:

“I woke up in the middle of the night to see the landscapes around me in 24 hours of daylight. It is a landscape that is so totally different from what you’ve seen before.  I have travelled a lot in South America, Africa and Europe, but this is an experience for everybody. You must go there once in your life.” Anna from Italy

“For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in the wilderness and that we were the real guests not in control of anything. When you visit ashore you see the traces of human artefacts and you see the impermanence of humans.” Pancrazio from Italy

“It is impressive to not see anyone else, be fully disconnected and really soak in the beauty of your slowly changing surroundings. I think we only saw one other boat in the ten days.” Julia from Switzerland

micro cruise in the arctic
expedition cruise to svalbard
longyearbyen cruise expedition
 

Our Svalbard holidays in 2022/2023  

Deciding to come to Svalbard is the easy bit, now you have to decide what type of mini-cruise to go on. Let’s help you plan:

Natural Wonders of Svalbard – 10 Days

See Svalbard in the bright, Arctic summer months with a nine-day cruise in 24hr daylight. Our two expert guides will take 12 guests to explore the incredible natural and historic places including the north-west coast of Prins Karls Forland. We’ll witness calving glaciers, spot an abundance of wildlife, and explore onshore.

polar bear in Svalbard in Norway

Svalbard Explorer – 10 Days

Explore Svalbard on a small ship expedition cruise with just 48 guests in total. This expedition takes place on the newly refitted Polar Pioneer, one of the smallest and most rugged expedition cruise ships visiting Svalbard, perfect for visiting the ice edge. On this expedition we will venture to the northern wilderness to explore the beautiful landscapes, wildlife and glaciers of north west Spitsbergen, home to an abundance of polar wildlife. Every day is an adventure and we will use the Zodiac landing craft to explore various sites of interest and to take short hikes ashore in the nature. This is an intimate small group experience with the minimum of one guide for every 10 guests.

Guiding is provided in English and German.

sea ice in svalbard in norway

Svalbard Photography Holidays

Want to capture your expedition to the Arctic like a pro? Join one of our Svalbard photo tours, where our photographers will take you incredible locations for you to document your adventure. In Spring, expedition photographer Rick Tomlinson will take you on a journey to Svalbard’s frozen coast where you can capture the transition to spring. We’ll make our way along the north-west coast of Spitsbergen past snowy mountains, glaciers, and there’s a good chance of spotting polar bears on this trip too.

Come along in the Summer for 24hr daylight, perfect for capturing the natural frozen wonder and Arctic wildlife of Svalbard. Our photographer Chase Teron will guide you through the north coast of Spitsbergen, helping the 12-person party of Arctic photographers find a perfect shot. The expedition vessel is equipped with a landing craft, so you can get up close to nature.

What is the best way to see Svalbard?

There are no roads connecting Svalbard’s islands. The best way to see it is from the coast, on a small expedition vessel during the summer on one of our Svalbard holidays. That’s because sea ice recedes in the summer, so it’s more accessible to ships. Smaller vessels like ours can reach places larger ships can’t travel to – like some fjords.

Travelling by a small ship on our Svalbard holidays makes it easier to explore to the coast, increasing our chances of spotting wildlife like polar bears, walruses and other marine life as we cruise along. One of the reasons we started Secret Atlas was to offer the alternative way of seeing Svalbard: up close, away from crowds, and with the opportunity for a real adventure. The way it deserves to be seen, which isn’t possible in the same way on a large cruise ship with hundreds of people. Visitors on our expeditions often describe our trips as once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Why go on holiday to Svalbard?

People join our Svalbard holidays from all over the world. We have people from all walks of life joining our tours, and they have different reasons for wanting to come to this incredible place. For some, it’s a one-off opportunity to see Arctic wildlife and nature up close. Others are looking for escapism, hiking. Some are fascinated by Arctic exploration and human history. Whatever they come for, they all have the chance for an amazing adventure.

When is the best time to go on holiday in Svalbard?

Our Svalbard holidays run in spring and summer (April-August) which is the best time to see Svalbard from the coast. Conditions are better for ships to pass, and of course, we can take advantage of more daylight for better visibility of the coast and the spectacular landscapes.

There is a fair bit of variation in weather and opportunities to spot particular wildlife across these seasons, so here’s what you can expect to experience during different times of the season.

April is actually a peak breeding time for polar bears on Svalbard, but they’re easier to reach and spot towards the end of the month, or in May. Temperatures rise slightly in April too, as the archipelago transitions to spring with an average minimum of – 6°C and maximum temperatures of -9°C, but let’s face it, you’ll need decent warm gear all year round on Svalbard.

If you’re coming for the Arctic flora and fauna, then travel from May onwards. Migratory birds won’t have returned from wintering further south in the early season. Heavy snow and ice cover make shore landings more difficult earlier in the season too, but it does offer the chance to sport polar bear mothers with their cubs.

By mid-summer, the tundra regions are in bloom with the arrival of Arctic flowers. This also when the migratory birds return to Svalbard, look up to the iceberg and soaring bird cliffs and you might spot Arctic terns. The skies above Svalbard will also be filled with other seabirds including thousands of kittiwakes and guillemots.

The 24hr daylight of late summer is perfect for Arctic photography – make the most of the amazing light and clarity.  Migratory birds will head south towards the end of August, so go earlier if you want to spot them.