Tourism

HOLIDAY ON ICE

Zodiac cruising in front of a glacier

Tourism is increasing rapidly on Spitsbergen. People come to see one of the worlds last unspoiled wilderness areas or want to see Polar Bears before it’s too late.
However, Spitsbergen isn’t really a place to go without preparations. Hotels might be full (and you won’t have another place to drive to) and if you want to go out of the main settlements you have to take precautions against Polar Bears. On this site I try to give an overview of the options you have in summer and what you might expect.
There are of course also possibilities for tourists in other seasons (mainly late winter/early spring), but I’ve never been there in that period, so I can’t say a lot about that. So this website is only about summer tourism. Activities in winter can be completely different and will also need different preparations.

A reindeer with a cruise ship

BEING THE IDEAL TOURIST
“Take nothing besides memories and photographs, leave nothing but footprints” is a good motto for your stay on Spitsbergen. The Arctic is a very fragile ecosystem and most plants and animals have a hard time surviving. A seemingly small interference can already have large consequences for nature. Leave flowers and Reindeer antlers where they are. The latter are being reused by animals as a source of chalk. Try not to disturb animals, breeding birds really have a hard time keeping their eggs warm without you disturbing them. Click here for the common sense rules for Spitsbergen tourists.
Being the invisible tourist is impossible, but it’s definitely worth trying!

THE POLAR BEAR DANGER

Polar Bears can also be found on land!

For many people Polar Bears are the no. 1 reason to come to Spitsbergen. I’ve seen quite a few of them and I can understand those people. But they can be dangerous animals, so a warning is in place.
In summer the best place to find Polar Bears is on the north or east coast, but they might show up every where on Spitsbergen. Inside one of the settlements you can safely assume a bear will be spotted soon, but as soon as you leave one of the settlements you have to be ready for an encounter. This means that you should never (I repeat NEVER) leave the settlements without a rifle and knowledge of using it. If you don’t feel safe using one, book a tour with a guide. All guides are trained and know what to do when they encounter a Polar Bear. Don’t think that you won’t find one just outside the settlements, the last person that was killed by a Polar Bear, was killed on Plateaufjellet, just outside Longyearbyen at the hight of summer.
Seeing a Polar Bear is really a great experience, but it is even better if you are able to tell the stories when you get back home.

THE CLIMATE AND CLOTHING

cruising in Liefdefjord

Spitsbergen has a surprisingly mild climate for its high Arctic position. Due to the warm Gulf Steam the temperatures are, especially in summer, not as low as one would expect. The average temperature in Longyearbyen in summer is between 5ºC and 10ºC.
On a yearly basis Longyearbyen receives only 200 mm precipitation, most of which falls as snow in the winter. In summer precipitation falls as rain, but heavy showers or long periods of rain are quite rare, but it can drizzle for a longer period.
Most of the time there are low clouds, but it can also be sunny for sometime. Fog can come in very sudden and can persist for a longer period as well.
For long-term data on the weather in Adventdalen, see this website.

As you can see, the weather isn’t as extreme as could be expected. This of course has an effect on the clothes that are needed. As the weather can change rapidly, it is always advised to wear several layers. If it gets warmer, you can always take of one or two layers and put them on again if it gets colder again. A woolen hat and gloves can also be useful, depending on what you are doing.
Waterproof clothes (both jacket and trousers) are recommended if you go out for a longer period. For footwear I always use rubber boots. There are hardly any paths outside the settlements and the tundra can be very swampy. You will also have to cross streams sometimes, which is easier in rubber boots.

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