A Winter Adventure in Svalbard

Northern Lights, Polar Bears, Ice Caves, Glaciers, Arctic Reindeer, Snowcapped Mountains and Endless Blue Skies… Svalbard delivered the most incredible winter adventure!

Svalbard is a remote archipelago situated high above the Arctic Circle at 78°N between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Originally founded as a whaling and then mining outpost, today travelers can visit Norway by plane (3hrs from Oslo, 1hr 40min from Tromsø) or cruise. I traveled to Svalbard from Oslo after spending a couple of nights in the city visiting family.

Descending into Svalbard’s main airport, Longyearbyen, my face was pressed up against the plane window with giddy excitement peering down at my playground for the next 5 nights. The open sea met frozen ice that led to snow covered tundra with mountain peaks in the background against a pale blue sky. With a population of polar bears slightly higher than the human population of Svalbard, I searched the coastlines for a polar bear sighting, but sadly this proved a fruitless endeavor from such a high altitude.

The majority of accommodations in Svalbard can be found on Spitsbergen Island in the town of Longyearbyen. I spent my first two nights staying at the high-end Funken Lodge, a boutique hotel with an award-winning restaurant, cocktail lounge, fitness center and sauna. Funken Lodge is on a little hill overlooking the town below, making for incredible dining views from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the main restaurant. And, it proved to be an awesome location for spotting the Northern Lights!!

I spent my last three nights at Basecamp Hotel, which describes itself as a “modern-day Arctic trapper” hotel. The hotel felt like a high-end wilderness outpost decorated with animal skins, trapper tools, vintage Svalbard maps and Svalbard memorabilia from earlier residents. The main lounge doubled as the hotel lobby and bar and the one restaurant served daily breakfast. Basecamp Hotel enjoys a central location in the heart of Longyearbyen town making for easy access to the town’s robust offering of lunch and dinner spots.

For my first night in Svalbard I joined an evening Snowcat tour to hunt for the Northern Lights. Sadly, there was too much cloud coverage that night, but I did enjoy exploring the frozen Adventdalen Valley outside of Longyearbyen town.

The following day, I went on a Svalbard Photography Tour to visit the world renowned Global Seed Vault, see the last operational coal mine in Spitsbergen and tour around the town limits of Longyearbyen with its waterfront cabins and community-run husky dog kennels.

One of the highlight experiences was an evening snowmobile tour to Longyear Glacier. Armed with a helmet, crampons and headlight, we descended a tunnel to discover a spectacular ice cave. Navigating the ice cave had us crawling under boulders and squeezing through crevasses to reach caverns with frozen waterfalls and hanging icicles.

Another highlight was a half-day doglsledding adventure to Bolterdalen Valley. I learned how to harness my dog team to my sled and with my partner, I alternated between the exhilarating experience of driving my dog team and riding passenger on my fur-topped sled.

And lastly, there’s a daily full-day fjord cruise from Longyearbyen that travels through sea ice toward various glaciers and fjords. The ship journeys along the coastline to view the dramatic icescape and search for artic wildlife. In addition to spotting reindeer on land and walrus in the sea, the spotting of first a female and then a male polar bear at the water’s edge was unbelievably exciting made more so after learning that it was the first bear spotting of the season on February 27th, which happened to be International Polar Bear Day.

I had been wondered if visiting in February might be too cold or too dark. Dressing in wind and waterproof layers over my 100% wool base layer insulated me against the arctic chill proving the Scandinavian proverb, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” very true. As for amount of daylight, February marks the end of the Polar Night season in Svalbard where the sun begins to make its way back to the horizon. While the sun doesn’t actually appear above the horizon until March, there was daylight for about 5 hours each day and all activities and tours proceed regardless of the amount of daylight.

Visiting Svalbard had been on my bucket list for many years and this trip exceeded all of my expectations. As soon as I returned home I was already looking at my calendar to plan my return trip: a multi-day cross-country ski expedition through glaciers and mountains to a remote cabin to sleep under the Northern Lights.


  • Adventdalen Valley
  • Arctic Circle
  • Basecamp Hotel
  • Bolterdalen Valley
  • doglsledding
  • Funken Lodge
  • Longyear Glacier
  • Longyearbyen
  • Northern Lights
  • Polar Bear
  • Spitsbergen Island
  • Svalbard
  • Winter Adventure