Arctic Wildlife Tour in Svalbard: My Experience, Photos, & Tips

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One thing many people don’t realize about Svalbard until they get there is that most summer tours involve hiking or boating, and most winter tours involve snowmobiles or dog-sledding.

There is very little in between, and I am here to tell you that there is one Arctic wildlife tour in Svalbard that is worth it and gives you a break from the more ‘adventurous’ side of Svalbard.

I have been on this Svalbard wildlife tour two times: once in June and once in February. I had different experiences in both, but I would highly recommend taking it regardless of the time of year you’re visiting Svalbard (the tour doesn’t run during polar nights, however).

Are you planning your trip to Svalbard last minute?

If youʻre booking your trip to Svalbard last minute, we have you covered. Below are some of the top tours, and more!

❄️  Top tours and activities in Svalbard:

  1. Svalbard wildlife photography tour (reviewed below; I loved it!)
  2. Speedboat tour to walrus colony (one of my summer favorites)
  3. Nature and wildlife tour on a boat (a Svalbard top-seller in summer)

🛌  Top hotels and places to stay:

  1. Haugen Pensjonat Svalbard (my FAVORITE place to stay!)
  2. Radisson Blu (good base for activities!)
  3. Coal Minerʻs Cabins (best budget accommodation)

It is, without a doubt, one of the best land tours in Svalbard and one that allows you to drive the entire length of the roads around Longyearbyen. You, essentially, get to see everything!

In this guide, I will review this wildlife tour on Svalbard (operated by the company See & Explore), tell you how to book it, and give you some tips to make the Longyearbyen excursion one of your favorite parts of your trip!

Arctic wildlife tour in Svalbard: An Arctic fox I saw
Arctic wildlife tour in Svalbard: An Arctic fox I saw

Did I miss anything about seeing wildlife in Svalbard on this tour? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!

About the Wildlife in Svalbard

Svalbard is home to so many Arctic animals, and it never gets old when you see any of them (the seagulls can be a little less impressive, but hey!).

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of seeing ptarmigans, seals, walruses, little auk, eiders (both common eiders and king eiders), Arctic foxes, reindeer, whales (mostly beluga and minke), puffins, kittiwakes, Arctic terns, Northern fulmars, and more.

Little auk in Svalbard in summer
An Arctic tern in Svalbard in summer

And, yes, I have also been fortunate enough to see a polar bear in the Billefjord in September 2023 on a boat tour.

I saw many of those animals on this very tour. Here is a quick breakdown of what I saw in the different seasons:

  • June tour: Arctic fox, reindeer, little auk, king eiders, common eiders
  • February tour: Arctic fox, reindeer, ptarmigans, walrus

While other animals are living in Svalbard and its surrounding waters, you will likely see birds and land animals on your tour.

You'll almost definitely see Svalbard reindeer though.
You’ll almost definitely see Svalbard reindeer though.

But there is no guarantee! That is just how nature works.

Arctic Wildlife Tour in Svalbard (Quick Review + Highlights)

Duration: 3–4.5 hours (depending on daylight and season)
Season: all months except November, December, and January (it is pitch black!)
Meeting Point: they will pick you up from your hotel (or Svalbard Tourist Info Center)
Language: English

I booked my tours through a trusted partner of mine, Manawa. They work directly with See & Explore and will organize your day and excursion for you!

I book almost all of my tours in Svalbard through Manawa, as it puts everything in one place and they have a good group of tour companies that they work with and put their trust in.

See & Explore is a fantastic company!
See & Explore is a fantastic company!

After you receive confirmation about your tour, you will be given the start time. It may change from season to season depending on the activity of the wildlife as well as the daylight situation (you don’t have much to work with during the winter months).

📸 GOOD TO KNOW: Your tour itinerary will be determined on the day of the tour. If there are rumors of a certain animal somewhere, you may head there instead. It all depends on what you see when you’re out there.

My summer tour started in the early afternoon, and my winter one started at around 9am.

Once we were picked up in a van (these are small group tours), we headed to the far end of Longyearbyen to a place called Bjørndalen (Bear Valley). It is situated around 8 kilometers (5 miles) southwest of Longyearbyen.

On the way to Bjørndalen
On the way to Bjørndalen

After arriving, you will either drive close to the valley if the roads permit or park in an area and walk the rest.

In summer, we drove all the way there, and in winter, we had to stop a bit outside the valley, and it involved a 15-minute walk through the snow.

So, while this tour is mostly driving, that part could be a bit challenging for those with a poor gait or who have mobility issues (let the company know upon booking, and they may be able to accommodate you depending on your group size).

Walking back from Bjørndalen
Walking back from Bjørndalen

When we arrived at Bjørndalen, we had a chance to walk around with our guide and see what wildlife was hanging around.

There were reindeer in the valley both times, but we steered quite clear of them during the winter tour because they don’t have a lot of energy in the winter and need to use it to dig for their food.

Reindeer in summer
Reindeer in summer

I saw Arctic foxes both times, and both times the fox that appeared was a research subject for the university, hence the collar around the neck. I often wonder if it was the same fox in summer and winter!

Arctic fox in winter
Arctic fox in winter
Arctic fox in summer
Arctic fox in summer

During the winter, I also had a chance to see some beautiful ptarmigan in the valley. We wandered around for a bit and then headed back to the van.

A little ptarmigan party in Bjørndalen
A little ptarmigan party in Bjørndalen

When you are going to and from Bjørndalen, there is a place where Little Auk hang out on a hillside.

I had a chance to see them in the summer months (there were thousands!) and in the winter months, I had the opportunity to see a walrus out on the water. I wasn’t able to grab a good photo, but it was still incredible to see.

You can also see kittiwakes on the way to the valley
You can also see kittiwakes on the way to the valley

When your time at Bjørndalen is up, depending on your guide, you can choose what to do next.

We headed to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault just to get a view over the fjord and to see it up close and personal. The seed vault is located right beside the Gruve-3 Mine (which is another cool tour to consider).

Global Seed Vault in Svalbard
Global Seed Vault in Svalbard

From there, we had extra time and headed to the other side of Longyearbyen and drove to where the road ended.

You will pass an important bird area (it only has birds during the summer) before driving on the road that will take you to Mine #7, which overlooks Adventdalen.

Hanging out in Adventdalen (June 2023)
Hanging out in Adventdalen (in June)

We grabbed photos of the landscape and then also a few of the famous polar bear sign before calling it a day.

Polar bear sign in Svalbard
Polar bear sign in Svalbard

The entire wildlife adventure took about 4.5 hours both times. We had hot drinks (a black currant juice) and cookies both times and were able to ask questions and get as much information as possible about the creatures that call Svalbard home.

Delicious solbær toddy (black currant juice)
Delicious solbær toddy (black currant juice)

But, wildlife aside, what I loved about this tour is that you get to see everything around Longyearbyen that can be seen by road.

You see, outside of the city center, you can’t walk on your own without polar bear protection or a guide. So, this is truly the only way to see everything! That alone makes the tour worth it.

Driving outside the town with See and Explore
Driving outside the town with See and Explore

Pair that with the ability to see Arctic foxes, Arctic birds, walruses, and more, and it makes for one heck of a day!

Tips for Your Wildlife Tour in Svalbard

Here are a few tips for your trip (based on my own experience and mistakes!):

Never underestimate the weather! Winters are cold and windy, and summers are chilly and windy! In summer, I dressed well, but in winter, I completely underestimated the walk from the van’s parking spot near Bjørndalen to Bjørndalen itself. I froze.

There are no bathroom breaks, so make sure you go beforehand or are comfortable going out in the open.

Respect the wildlife. Don’t get too close, and don’t chase it. Especially during the winter months. The reindeer (and even foxes) need to use all their energy digging for food under the snow and ice, and scaring them away by getting too close depletes the little energy they have.

Baby Svalbard reindeer in the winter
Baby Svalbard reindeer in the winter

Bring a camera, if you have one! This is essentially a wildlife photography tour, and you will make plenty of stops to take photos. Zoom lenses are great!

What to Wear (and Bring) on a Svalbard Wildlife Tour

If you’re visiting in the summer, dress in warm clothing and prepare for a bit of wind. Winter is a bit harsher, and here are some things I think you should bring with you.

What to Wear

  • Thermals. Wear a pair of wool leggings under a pair of pants. Also, wear a base layer up top with a sweater over it (and a parka on top).
  • Mittens. And don’t keep taking them off like I did!
  • Snow boots. We had to walk through the snow around Bjørndalen. It wasn’t deep, but snow boots with good grip are essential. Make sure your snow boots are not tight; wear a thin pair of socks with a pair of wool socks over them; and allow yourself plenty of room. The tighter the boot, the colder you will be.
  • Beanie. Your head and ears will get cold, especially if there is wind.
I dressed poorly! Allison did better.
I dressed poorly! Allison did better.

What to Bring

  • Hand-warmers. Controversial but an easy way to quickly warm up if you do take those mittens off; I use electric ones, but the one-time-use ones are okay too if you have those. If you bring the electric ones, pack them in your carry-on! They confiscate them in checked baggage!
  • Power bank. Your phone may drain its battery in the cold. I always suggest bringing one to Norway in the winter.
  • Binoculars. If you have your own pair; otherwise, the guide should have a pair.

FAQ about this Svalbard Wildlife Photo Tour

Can you see a polar bear on this Svalbard wildlife tour?

So, no tours in Svalbard are actual polar bear ‘tours’. It is not legal, nor do you want to end up on one of those tours, as it would compromise the safety of your group.

This Svalbard wildlife excursion will likely not see a polar bear.

My guide always had polar bear protection with her.
My guide always had polar bear protection with her.

The bears don’t tend to frequent the area around Longyearbyen more than just a few times a year, and if there is word that one is in the area, it is better to give it its space, not only for the safety of your group but also because it is the ethical thing to do for the bear.

While you will likely not see a polar bear, your guide will still have polar bear protection with them at all times, and you will take all precautions to ensure the safety of your group (and the bear).

Can you go inside the global seed vault? 

No, it is not permitted to go inside. You can see it from the outside, and you are permitted to take as many photos as you want there!

Book your Svalbard wildlife tour here!

Do you have any questions about booking a Svalbard wildlife tour? Let me know in the comments!

More Svalbard Travel Guides

Pin this Svalbard Wildlife Photography Tour Guide

Are you looking to book an Arctic wildlife tour in Svalbard? This guide details my photo tour in Svalbard, where I got to see Arctic foxes, ptarmigans, reindeer, and more! | Arctic fox in Svalbard | Reindeer in Svalbard | Polar bear in Svalbard | Arctic tern in Svalbard | Kittiwake in Svalbard | Little auk in Svalbard | Walrus in Svalbard | Eider in Svalbard | Things to do in Svalbard


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