Welcome to our Islands Series! This week we’ve been taking a closer look at islands in which to beat the summer heat. Check out our posts on the Orkneys, Faroes, and a bit further back, the Shetlands. Today it’s up, the north of the norths — Svalbard!
There are few islands to visit cooler than Svalbard!
The Svalbard archipelago is a group of islands that lie directly north of Norway. The name, “cold edge,” gives a hint to the climate of the region–in July averages are around 43°F, and in January they drop down to 4°F. As such, Svalbard enjoys peak tourist season during the summertime, from June to August. As the islands lie in the Arctic Circle, this is also the time of the midnight sun, when the sun never fully sets.
Only the main island, Spitsbergen, is inhabited–one town is even populated by mostly Russians–and the rest of the islands are nature reserves. Most of the towns’ festivals are during the cold part of the year–but for those around in early March (perhaps for the winter activities), you can catch the Sunfest Week, a celebration around the end of the polar nights.
Did You Know? Barentsburg and Pyramiden are home to the world’s two northernmost Lenin statues.
A few of our recommended vendors run small-ship expeditions up to Svalbard during the summer. Though Finnair has started a summer service from Norway, it is generally recommended (due to the often harsh environment) that visitors go with a certified guide/escort.
What’s An Expedition Like? Embark your ship in Spitsbergen and sail around ice-covered fjords exploring the wilderness on the lookout for Svalbard’s unique arctic wildlife. Depending on conditions, itineraries may differ–something to keep in mind that early season voyages often allow for the best wildlife viewing. Later in the season, more distance is covered as the ice begins to break up in the warming summer–and you may even see the remote regions of Nordaustlandet and Kvitoya. Small ship cruises are always accompanied by scientific and historical lectures on board, and zodiac trips out into the wilderness.
Snapshots: Expeditions to Svalbard
Svalbard Express — 7-day Longyearbyen roundtrip, which navigates the highlights of the Svalbard archipelago. G Adventures, famous for its casual, adventurous spirit, offers no strict itinerary and their ship tends to follow the best course for viewing wildlife and the fjords (which often changes due to the weather).
The Norwegian expedition cruise line offers a number of Svalbard itineraries, from 6- to 13-day cruises. Some embark in Reykjavik, Iceland, and others in Bergen, Norway.
Quark runs an impressive 13-day Circumnavigation and the even longer 15-day cruise from Edinburgh, which stops in the Orkneys and Shetlands. There is also the an award-winning Three Arctic Islands cruise available, which navigates a course from Scotsbysund (Greenland), Iceland, and Svalbard!
Lindblad, run by National Geographic, offers a plethora of Arctic itineraries, many of which that sail also to Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, in the footsteps of Viking sailors.
Photos Courtesy of Visit Norway and Visit Svalbard.