A remote outpost flung far out into the Arctic Ocean, the Svalbard archipelago represents the ultimate polar destination, its sparse townships the only permanent human habitations amidst the frosty sea. First tentatively settled by early whalers, miners and fishermen, the islands have never been fully tamed and mankind remains outnumbered here by polar bears, making a Svalbard holiday the best way to view these evocative and endangered animals as they prowl across frozen fjords and sweeping glaciers under epic pastel skies.
The Svalbard archipelago is synonymous with its largest island, Spitsbergen, which has captured imaginations since the Dutch first spotted pointed, craggy peaks piercing the sheet ice and the clouds. Here, the town of Longyearbyen serves as a comfortable base. A selection of cosy hotels join the colourfully-painted cabins spread along the sheltered shores of Adventfjorden, and the surrounding mountains provide protection from the worst of the wind. Somewhat surprisingly in an otherwise sleepy atmosphere, the town’s pubs and cafes add real vibrancy, and delicious and exotic Arctic delicacies abound on restaurant menus. Ride out of town on a snowmobile or dogsled and even more excitement awaits in the wilderness.
There is something about being so far removed from the rest of the world... high up at the top of the world, the summer sun shines all day and the winters are deep and dark, quiet and dazzling with stars. To get here from Oslo is a journey of 2,000 kilometres, but it epitomises the idea of appreciating journeys as much as destinations - Svalbard is the remote, as much as it is a real place with a heritage and rich landscape. The very fact of its remove is what makes it special.
Why we recommend travelling to Svalbard
- Reaching 81°N, the islands are among the northernmost landmasses on Earth
- Up to 3,000 polar bears have been recorded living on and around Svalbard, over 10 percent of the global population
- Most visitors reach the archipelago on cruise ships, or by air from Oslo - both fantastic ways to get to know the region
- Svalbard is home to three nature reserves, six national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries and a geotopical protected area, comprising 65 percent of the region