When is The Best Time to Visit Svalbard on an Expedition Cruise?
A question we are frequently asked is when is the best time to visit Svalbard?
The answer is that each month in Svalbard offers something different from frozen landscapes at the beginning of the season, 24-hour daylight in the summer and to beautiful sunsets in the autumn. So the best time to visit depends on what you would like to see and experience.
Travel in Svalbard is divided into 3 main seasons which are the Polar Summer (mid- may – September), Northern Lights (October – February) and then the sunny winter (March – mid May)
The best season for wildlife viewing in Svalbard is the polar summer between May and September which is when we run our expedition cruises. From mid-May the sea ice surrounding Svalbard opens up and the areas around the coast become navigable.
All the months we operate our expedition micro cruises offer extraordinary experiences. Below you will find an overview of each month and what to expect. Each of our trips is an expedition into nature and on all our previous expeditions we have been very fortunate we can never guarantee any particular sightings.
Early in the season, the shores of Svalbard are still snow-covered and it is a chance to see the landscapes at their most beautiful.
As spring gets underway in Svalbard a visit in May offers the best of both worlds with snow still covering many of the landscapes and 24 hours of daylight with the best chances of clear skies.
By May the temperature increases with an average high of -3, so you will need to wrap up warm. The cool temperatures often create clear skies and there is less chance of cloud and fog than in the warmer months. May also has the lowest levels of rainfall with only 13mm.
Towards the end of May, the sea ice towards the north of Spitsbergen opens up making longer trips possible. May is a great month for wildlife photography as polar bears can be spotted on the sea ice and it is possible to encounter walruses hauling out on remote beaches.
Hiking ashore will often require wearing snowshoes which we will provide on all our early season voyages. Spectacular snow-covered landscapes are the reward for braving the lower temperatures.
As Svalbard emerges from the depths of winter, the shores are still frozen and this is a great month for adventurous photographers looking to capture the spirit of the Arctic in cold temperatures.
Temperatures are at their lowest with an average of -9c, so wrap up warm. During April parts of Svalbard are still blocked by sea ice and our passage will follow a shorter route. April is a great month for photography and a chance to capture Svalbard as it emerges out of the depths of winter with frozen landscapes, sea ice and glaciers. Polar bears can be seen hunting on the sea ice. Shore landings are harder due to the ice and more time is spent exploring by Zodiac.
At the end of May, the shores are still snow-covered and there is the best chance of blue skies.
As summer starts in Svalbard, June offers a great chance to encounter wildlife, including 3 million migratory birds that flock here during the summer months.
As the sea ice retreats north and the snow on the landscapes melts Svalbard becomes a haven for wildlife during the summer months. Hiking ashore it is possible to encounter Arctic foxes and Svalbard Reindeer. Plankton blooms lure whales to the water and provide nourishment for a variety of birds and seals.
Shore landings become easier and it is possible to cover longer distances when hiking shore. It is possible to navigate further north in the areas that polar bears roam and the sea ice to the north is usually still within a reachable distance.
During May we run our Natural Wonders of Svalbard expedition cruises.
June is a great month to encounter wildlife in Svalbard.
July & August
During the peak summer months temperatures are usually consistently above freezing and is a perfect time to do longer expeditions as the sea ice around Svalbard opens up and circumnavigation of Spitsbergen becomes possible.
During the long 24 hour summer days we explore the far most reaches of Svalbard on our Svalbard Pioneer Cruise. Although the sea ice varies from season to season, July and August offer the best chances to circumnavigate Spitsbergen, the largest of Svalbard’s islands. It gives us the chance to visit rarely visited places under the expertise of our expedition team.
The summer months offer the best opportunities for hiking ashore as the landscape is clear of snow and more places are accessible. Exploring during the summer months is warmer than most people imagine and on a day when the sun is out, it is quite possible to be hiking in just a base layer.
The sea ice can be further away during the summer months so if you want the best chances of visiting the sea ice an earlier trip is recommended.
If you are interested in bird watching, most migratory birds depart Svalbard in the middle of August so a cruise before this time is recommended.
The summer months are perfect for exploring the farthest corners of Svalbard.
As the 24 hours of sunlight comes to an end and autumn beckons, beautiful light returns to Svalbard making September a great month for landscape photography.
The sea ice is at a minimum during September so reaching far off places becomes easier. Temperatures also begin to drop and September is cooler than the summer months.
During September we run our Svalbard photo tours.
During September gorgeous colours can be observed as the sunsets return and autumn approaches.
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