Midnight sun, ethereal natural lightshows and preening polar bears – welcome to the edge of the map.

A pristine natural Eden of mighty mountain peaks, awesome glacial structures and pretty much every shade of blue known to man, this winter wonderland sometimes seems too beautiful to be real. Polar bears, whales, reindeers and walruses dot the ice-strewn land and seascapes while wildflowers bloom on the inland plains. Come the seasonal equinoxes, Aurora Borealis throws up its dazzling display of lights. On some summer nights the sun never sets. Enchanting, stark and utterly removed from human civilisation, the Arctic Circle really is poles apart from the typical travel experience.

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About the Arctic

Best time to Visit 

Due to the North Atlantic Stream, the climate in Norway is noticeably warmer than what might otherwise be expected. During the summer season, temperatures hover between 4C and 6C, which is a good 20C higher than what one would typically encounter at similar latitudes in Canada or Russia. Mid-May to mid-August is the best time to go, while October through to April are the coldest and rainiest months. The Northern Lights are visible from parts of Norway, with September to April usually presenting the optimal conditions for viewing.

Geography and Environment 

Colourful architecture in Greenland, in the Arctic

The Svalbard region of the Arctic is a sparse and rugged landscape of craggy mountain peaks and gorges. Much of the land is covered under snow and ice year-round. The only kind of vegetation on the island is a brownish green moss that sprouts up in patches across the mountainsides, as well as some quite beautiful Arctic flowers that bloom during the year’s warmest months.

Top Picks

 
A native Walrus observes his territory in the Arctic

Top 6 animals to spot in the Arctic 

1. Polar Bear
The iconic symbol of Svalbard, the polar bear is not only the largest bear going around, it’s the world’s largest land carnivore. Some 500 polar bears are thought to inhabit the island at any one time. But don’t limit your spotting skills to land. As exceptionally good swimmers, polar bears spend more time at sea than on land, and have even been spotted paddling about in open seas 300 km from shore.

2. Arctic Fox
Spotting these fleet-footed puppies is easier during the summer months when their normally snow-white fur turns a dusty grey. Often living in a complex network of burrows that house multiple generations, arctic foxes have remarkable hearing that enables them to detect and dig through to prey scurrying about under the snow. While they can be found throughout Greenland, their wily ways make them a rare sight.

3. Sperm Whale
Despite having been hunted almost to extinction during the 18th and 19th centuries, these days sperm whales can often be spotted trawling the Svalbard archipelago’s waters for their diet of fish and squid. The sperm whale can grow to 18 metres in length and possesses the largest brain in the mammalian kingdom. Because females and their young usually travel in pods of up to 20 whales, if you see one of them, you’re likely to see a lot of them.

4. Walrus
True blubber-boys of the animal kingdom, the Arctic’s walruses can weigh up to 1700 kilograms, thanks in part to a six-inch layer of insulating tissue. Often spotted lolling about on the icebergs and rocky shores of Spitzbergen and Franz Josef Land, they’re conspicuous by their sizeable tusks which they use to haul their blubber butts out onto land.

5. Svalbard reindeer
With a population currently pegged at approximately 10,000, the Svalbard is the smallest subspecies of reindeer. Despite their slight size, these animals are highly mobile, often travelling up to 5000 kilometres in one year – the greatest known distance of any land mammal. Find them on Spitzbergen.

6. Seabirds
From the elegant thick-billed murrs that nest on the coastal cliffs of Inostrantseva Bay to the Northern fulmars that come ashore to breed in Spitzbergen, the hardy seabirds of the Arctic are enough to make anyone am amateur ornithologist. Their ability to mine the sea for food and raise their chicks in shore-based colonies is a wonderful example of evolutionary adaptation.  

 
 

FAQs on The Arctic 

Tipping is done on a voluntary basis in Norway and at the discretion of the customer. If the service in a cafe or restaurant is good, feel free to leave spare change or round up the bill.

Several public internet terminals exist in Longyearbyen, all with very good connections. Do not expect internet connectivity elsewhere.

There is good quality telephone coverage in Longyearbyen, though do not expect it elsewhere. Ensure you have global roaming activated before leaving home if you wish to use your mobile phone.

Western-style, flushable toilets are the standard around Svalbard, though at very remote outposts a pit toilet will likely be the go.

  • Beer = 5.5 USD
  • Pizza = 8.7 USD
  • Meal at a mid-range restaurant = 14.5 USD

The tap water in Svalbard is considered safe to drink. Surface water should be boiled before consumption because it could possibly contain tapeworm eggs.

Credit cards are accepted in Longyearbyen, though don’t rely on them for small purchases.

There is one ATM in Longyearbyen’s post office. It's best to withdraw your money on the mainland, however, in case it's out of order.

Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of your trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/booking-intrepid/our-services

Svalbard celebrates the same public holidays as the rest of Norway.

Health and Safety

Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:

From Australia?

Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From Canada?

Go to: https://travel.gc.ca/

From UK?

Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

From New Zealand?

Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From US?

Go to: http://travel.state.gov/

The World Health Organisation

also provides useful health information: 
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/

Responsible travel

Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.

A seal relaxes in the Arctic

How we're giving back

In Nuuk, Greenland, we stay at a local hotel that uses 100 per cent sustainable energy because as a travel company, we know we have a responsibility to protect the places we visit. That’s why we’ve been the world’s largest carbon neutral travel company since 2010, and why we’re on track to become climate positive by 2020. You can learn more about our climate policy here.

 

Further reading

Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk
The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule by Joanna Kavenna
Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places by Bill Streever
The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding
An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie

Handy links

www.lonelyplanet.com/norway/svalbard
www.visitnorway.com/en/Where-to-go/North/Svalbard
svalbard.nordicvisitor.com/travel-guide/
www.travellerspoint.com/guide/Svalbard

Read more about the Arctic