Wondering what to do in Svalbard in winter? These are the very best activities on the icy Norwegian island.
Also known as Spitsbergen (or Spitzbergen), Svalbard and Jan Mayen sit north of mainland Europe. The islands straddle the Arctic Ocean between Norway and the North Pole. And, as you can imagine, the island is a snowy haven filled with plenty of outdoor activities to get stuck into.
Ready to discover the best things to do in Svalbard in winter? Let’s explore.
What to do in Svalbard in Winter
Take a Snowmobile Safari to Pyramiden
Trips to Svalbard are not quite complete without heading to Pyramiden. Quite a bold statement, we know. But we’re sure you’ll agree that this glimpse into the USSR regime (quite literally frozen in time) is totally surreal.
The abandoned coal mining settlement was created by Sweden in 1910 and eventually sold to the Soviet Union in 1927, who ran it until 1998. Since then it has offered nosy tourists (us included) a fascinating day trip.
What remains are derelict buildings, wrecked ships, and signs that the USSR were most definitely there. And, we can’t quite think of a better way to explore than via a snowmobile safari. You’ll get to zip through the creepy island on your own noble snow steed.
Head on a Northern Lights Adventure
Wondering what to do in Svalbard in winter? As it’s so far north and practically free of any light pollution, it’s no wonder that Svalbard is an ideal place to spot the Northern Lights. Or the Aurora Borealis, if you’re feelin’ fancy.
While you can go about spotting them solo, we recommend opting for one of the many Svalbard tours for an optimal chance of marvelling at the lights. We love the offerings from Basecamp Explorer. They feature both short and long term trips where you’re pretty much guaranteed to snap that all-important photo for your Insta feed.
Want to know when the best time to spot the Northern Lights is? Check out this tracker.
Drink Beers at the Svalbard Brewery
Craft beer in minus temperatures? That’ll warm you right up. In fact, we think that coal miner and pilot Robert Johansen was onto something when he decided to open up a brewery in Svalbard. The Spitsbergen Brewery taster offering boasts five different beers, each brewed on 2000-year-old glacier water from Bogerbreen.
Sip the likes of an IPA, a Pilsner, and a Weissbier, or speak to the ridiculously friendly staff who will be more than happy to help you find your perfect brew.
Embark on a Polar Bear Snowmobile Trip
With around 3000 Polar Bears living in Svalbard during the winter, there’s no better place to head out and spot them. Though, we’ll warn you, this should only be done with a guide – Svalbard might just be one of the only places in the world where a gun is required by law to protect yourself.
Polar Bear attacks are fairly common in Svalbard, so you’ll want to head out on a tour with a knowledgeable guide who can help you spot the animals from afar. During this particular trip, you’ll also get to enjoy views of Barents and Edgeoya, two uninhabited islands off the coast of Svalbard and Jan Mayen.
Celebrate Christmas in Longyearbyen
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Svalbard is to spend Christmas in Longyearbyen.
From Mine 2B (known as the Santa Clause Mine) to the magical postbox in Nybyen, where children post their letters to Father Christmas, the island comes alive with festive activities during December.
You’ll want to time your visit for the first Sunday in Advent, where residents gather to walk around the main sights, guided by firelit torches. Keep your eyes peeled for the Northern Lights and soak in the Christmas atmosphere.
Go Dog Sledding
Wondering what to do in Svalbard in Winter? Dog sledding is one of the best things to do in Svalbard (and anywhere where the landscape is made up of snow).
You’ll get to admire the beautiful scenery as you’re pulled along by multiple pups, whizzing past Svalbard’s landmarks at rapid speeds. Or underneath the Northern Lights if you opt for an evening tour.
These kinds of Svalbard trips are abundant, but we particularly love the tours from Husky Travellers. Join the crew and 45 huskies for an adventure through the rugged frozen landscape.
Head Out on an Ice Cave Tour
Svalbard’s frozen landscape is peppered with glaciers and ice caves. And there’s no better way to spend winter in Svalbard than by exploring these impressive caverns.
Taking a tour of Larsbreen, one of the biggest glaciers in Svalbard, is the best way to get involved in the adventure. Equipped with crampons, a head torch and plenty of warm layers, you’ll get to traverse deeper into the frosty earth and explore what lies below.
Visit the North Pole Expedition Museum
For any avid explorer, one of the best things to do in Svalbard and Jan Mayen is to visit the North Pole Expedition Museum. This adorable black cabin is actually the northernmost museum in the world dedicated to aviation, which is quite the accolade.
This museum has a focus on the American, Norwegian, and Italian expeditions from Svalbard to the North Pole. And exhibitions include postcards, newspaper clippings, diary entries, and original footage of early expeditions.
What to do in Svalbard in Winter: Everything You Need to Know
How many days do you need in Svalbard?
We recommend at least three days for most Svalbard trips – this gives you time to tick off quite a few Svalbard activities on this list and also allows you to spot the Northern Lights.
What is the best month to visit Svalbard?
The winter months in Svalbard can be brutal; prepare for bitter cold and long, dark days. That said, December is a great month to visit Svalbard during winter – The Polar Night will have just settled in and Longyearbyen will be in full Christmas mode.