Svalbard in Winter: Things to Do + What to Know (in 2024)

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Are you looking at booking a trip to Svalbard in winter and want to know everything beforehand? I have been to Svalbard in every season (I have visited 5 times!).

And while I think winter may be my favorite season, there are some things you should know before booking a trip. This guide will cover it all! I will tell you the best things to do during the winter in Svalbard, what to wear and bring, the top places to stay, and more.

Are you planning your trip to Svalbard last minute?

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

❄️  Top winter tours and activities in Svalbard:

  1. Snowmobile to the land of the polar bear (my top pick; February–May)
  2. Ice caves snowmobile trip (beginner-friendly; February–May)
  3. Historic coal mine tour at Gruve 3

🛌  Top hotels and places to stay:

  1. Haugen Pensjonat Svalbard (my FAVORITE place to stay!)
  2. Basecamp Spitsbergen (unique lodging in the center)
  3. Coal Minerʻs Cabins (budget option)

I also include a section about the temperature and daylight hours just to give you a better idea of what to expect.

At the end of the guide, I quickly answer some frequently asked questions about a winter trip to Svalbard, including whether or not you will see a polar bear and when the best months to visit are.

Boat trip during winter in Svalbard
Boat trip during winter in Svalbard

If I missed anything in this guide, please send me a message or leave a comment below. I am happy to answer to the best of my knowledge. Thanks!

Should you visit Svalbard in winter?

Here’s the thing: Svalbard has three seasons, technically speaking. I have been there 5 times and while the seasons seem to correlate with the weather and daylight, I am going to break down the seasons for you in correlation to activities.

⛵ Season 1: Summer (usually from May until August/September). You can join several boat tours during this time and it tends to be more crowded than other seasons. There are 24 hours of daylight.

🕯️ Season 2: Cozy winter (October until December/January). These months are dark, and the boat trips have stopped, but the snowmobile trips haven’t fully restarted just yet. It is a laid-back time to travel, and some festivals and events are going on throughout this period.

❄️ Season 3: Adventurous winter in Svalbard (January/February until May). This is snowmobile season. It is cold, but the light returns in February, and it is colorful and beautiful. Most of the activities in this guide fall into this period.

Walrus on the winter ice in Svalbard
Walrus on the winter ice in Svalbard

While I believe visiting Svalbard in winter is a fabulous idea (or I wouldn’t be writing this guide!), I do think you need to figure out what type of trip you’re looking to have.

If you’re a foodie and just want to experience something different, the cozy winter is a good option for you. It is perfect for those who only have 3 days or so in Svalbard.

If you want to put your snowmobile skills to the test, you’re going to need to visit during the adventure winter (February–May).

What is the winter weather in Svalbard like?

Winter in Svalbard is cold. But it tends to be colder in February–April than in November–December, for example. Here are the average temperatures for Longyearbyen in winter:

  • Svalbard in October: high of -2C (28F), low of -7C (19F)
  • Svalbard in November: high of -5C (23F), low of -11C (12F)
  • Svalbard in December: high of -8C (17F), low of -14C (6F)
  • Svalbard in January: high of -9C (15F), low of -16C (3F)
  • Svalbard in February: high of -9C (15F), low of -17C (1F)
  • Svalbard in March: high of -9C (15F), low of -17C (1F)
  • Svalbard in April: high of -7C (19F), low of -13C (8F)
  • Svalbard in May: high of 0C (32F), low of -5C (23F)

Please keep in mind that Svalbard is a polar desert, meaning there is not much precipitation. The worst months (August, September, November, and December) only average 4 days of rain/snow.

Is there daylight during winter in Svalbard?

It depends on when you visit. Keep in mind that the daylight hour changes in Svalbard are some of the most dramatic in the world, and every single day is different from the next when there is a sunrise and a sunset. 

  • Midnight sun: starts April 19 and ends August 25
  • Polar night: starts October 26 and ends February 15
End of February in Longyearbyen
End of February in Longyearbyen

I would check out this website before you go to see the exact times of the sunrise and sunset before your trip. Do keep in mind that even if there is a sunrise or sunset, if there is little time between the two, you will experience dusk and it may not be completely dark.

Best Things to Do in Svalbard in Winter

Take a Gruve-3 Mine Tour

I don’t tend to recommend taking a Gruve-3 mine tour during the summer months, as there are plenty of land activities that you can do if you’re a person who isn’t keen on the adventurous side of Svalbard.

But if you have time during the winter months, I do suggest booking a Gruve-3 mine tour if the history of the island fascinates you the same way it fascinates me.

🥶 GOOD TO KNOW: The mine is cold! It was just below freezing temperature-wise, and even though you’re walking inside of it, I would still dress warmly, or you will be miserable once you get deeper into the mine.

The Gruve-3 mine is Svalbard’s most famous mine and one that is located kind of close to the Global Seed Vault. It only closed down in 1996 and has since been converted into a museum.

Gruve-3 mine tour
Gruve-3 mine tour

You cannot visit independently (a tour is a must), and on the trip there, you can walk through around 300 meters (980 feet) of its extensive tunnel network.

Those on the tour will also get a briefing of what life was like in Svalbard before the tour and will also get to wear all the fun safety gear (helmets, etc) before heading into the mine.

You can read my full Gruve-3 mine tour review here if you want a breakdown of the excursion.

>> Click here to check Gruve-3 mine tour rates and availability

Go on a Snowmobiling Adventure

When you visit Svalbard in winter, you will automatically notice the number of snowmobiles, or snow scooters, as locals call them.

Locals use snowmobiles to venture to all parts of the island, and one of the top things to do when you’re there is to get on top of one yourself! 

This East Spitsbergen tour is my favorite thing to do in Svalbard in winter!
This East Spitsbergen tour is my favorite thing to do in Svalbard in winter!

Svalbard has a variety of snowmobile tours. I have joined one to an ice cave, one to see the northern lights, and one to the east coast of Svalbard.

🌨️ GOOD TO KNOW: The snowmobile season on Svalbard doesn’t really start until around February. There are a few tours available in January, but it is still dark out then, and you will want to plan a trip from mid-February until May if snowmobiling is something you want to focus on during your trip.

Snowmobile tours are a great way to see the landscapes of the island of Spitsbergen while embarking on an activity you (likely) can’t do back home. All gear is provided for your journey and you just need a driver’s license to drive one of the scooters. If you don’t have a driver’s license, you can ride as a passenger.

Here are the snowmobile trips I have been on:

I recommend them all but the one going to East Svalbard is definitely a bit more adventurous and will take up an entire day (and leave you exhausted afterward).

See the Northern Lights in Svalbard

While I haven’t met too many people stating they are visiting Svalbard solely to see the northern lights, I am sure they exist and while it isn’t the most ideal destination for the aurora (it sits above the ‘zone’), you can certainly still see it there!

Northern lights above Funken Lodge
Northern lights above Funken Lodge

I have seen the northern lights in Svalbard three times and all were during the end of September. I never saw them during February but it was cloudy throughout most of my trip then.

There are a variety of ways to see the northern lights from Longyearbyen: a snowcat tour, an evening at Camp Barentz, a snowmobile tour, or just to wander about the town on your own (the only way I have seen them).

Take a Boat Trip to the Billefjord

Due to climate change, the boat trips in Svalbard get earlier and earlier each year. The Isfjord used to completely freeze but in recent decades, it rarely freezes over.

As a result, Henningsen Transport has started operating their fjord trips earlier in the season (around February 15).

You will need to check their site to see if there is a tour operating throughout your trip. They are running three trips during the winter months: a fjord tour, a trip to Barentsburg, and a trip to Pyramiden.

The trips rotate, so not all are offered every day (which is important to know when booking your trip if this is a priority for you). I have taken all three of these trips (and the Pyramiden one, which I have done 4 times). Here are my notes:

Fjord Tour

The best one to book during the winter months. You will not be leaving the boat but will get to cruise through the Billefjord, or a fjord that is somewhat accessible.

Scenes from my fjord tour in February
Scenes from my fjord tour in February

On my trip, we could not make it into the Billefjord (too much ice), but we were able to get into another one, and it was a blast. The journey through the Isfjord (the beginning and end part of the trip) can be a bit rough and people will get a little seasick.


I have only done the Barentsburg trip during the summer months but I spoke to the crew and they said it was accessible during the winter months.

You can even dock there and explore if conditions permit. This tour sails along the coast, and the seas tend to be calmer on this tour.


You will not get to Pyramiden on this tour if you go during the winter months. I think they have even put a disclaimer on their site indicating this, but I am telling you: YOU WILL NOT GET TO PYRAMIDEN this early in the season.

I have been on this tour 4 times (February, May, June, and September) and could only dock in June and September. Even at the end of May, we couldn’t get to port. You stand no chance in February.

We barely made it into the Billefjord on the tour. But it was worth it!
We barely made it into the Billefjord on the tour. But it was worth it!

So should you book the Pyramiden tour? If you have a day in Svalbard that you can get on their fjord tour instead, do that. It is cheaper and essentially ends up being the same as a Pyramiden tour since all you do is cruise around an icy fjord anyway.

But if your days don’t align with the fjord tour schedule, do this one and just expect to stay on the boat all day. The views are honestly worth it.

Visit an Ice Cave (by Snowmobile, Snowcat, or Dogsled)

Svalbard is made up of 60% ice and these glaciers give the island of Spitsbergen some nice little ice caves! Some of them are safe and can be visited, so I think one of the best things to do in winter is to join an ice cave tour in Svalbard.

The ladder down to the ice cave
The ladder down to the ice cave

There are a variety of ways you can do it, including hiking, but my top picks are:

The easiest one is the snowcat excursion and the most adventurous one is the dog-sledding. You can learn more about how to visit these ice caves in Svalbard here.

Check out the Svalbard Museum

This is the best museum in Svalbard and it contains over 28,000 digital images of Svalbard throughout the years.

The Svalbard Museum documents its history as a mining region and also has an area showcasing the special wildlife that calls Svalbard home.

Inside the Svalbard Museum
Inside the Svalbard Museum

Despite its small size, it is one of my favorite things to do in Longyearbyen and I have been there on every trip except one. Another perk is that the museum is open daily, so you can generally squeeze it into your itinerary, even just for an hour or two.

💡PRO TIP: One of the most frustrating things about visiting the Svalbard Museum in the summer months is that it is extremely crowded when cruise ships are in port. In winter? The museum is peaceful and empty. This definitely makes the museum an itinerary must!

There is a gift shop inside where you can also purchase some good reading materials, Svalbard souvenirs, and more.

Have a Cup of Coffee at a Cafe

There are three cafes in Longyearbyen and I love them all for different reasons. 

Cafe Huskies has dogs. That is all I need to say. 

Okay, there is more. They have extremely good coffee, cool Svalbard-made gifts, vegan and vegetarian food options, and events.

The cafe is run and operated by some retired sled dogs (and a few humans) and is one of my favorite places to visit in Longyearbyen.

Fruene is the OG of cafes in Longyearbyen and it is a wonderful stop for an affordable lunch and coffee. They have a coffee loyalty card (good to know if you’re sticking around the island for a bit).

Coffee will help your energy levels during winter in Svalbard!
Coffee will help your energy levels during winter in Svalbard!

I went there on my first trip to Svalbard (2014) and numerous times on my last trip (2024). They have delicious sandwiches, cauliflower soup, and more.

Be sure to pick up a piece of their artisanal chocolate before leaving. It is the northernmost chocolaterie in the world!

Nordover Cafe is newer and is located inside the Nordover Gallery in Longyearbyen. Honestly, it is forgettable but shouldn’t be (the building reminds me of a bank so I passed it for an entire trip and never went inside).

They have delicious coffee and a quiet setting that not many people hang out in. If Fruene is too busy, head here!

Join a Dog-sledding Tour with Green Dog

Svalbard is home to many activities and one thing that you should definitely do when there is to go dog-sledding with Green Dog!

Operated by Martin Munck and Karina Bernlow, the company is based in Bolterdalen after being in the east of Greenland for many years. The dog’s welfare is their top priority and they live at the kennel year-round with the pups.

Visiting the ice cave with a dog-sled team
Dog-sled team on Svalbard

Green Dog offers a few types of trips on Spitsbergen in winter. You can see them below:

  • Dog-sledding to the ice cave (January-May)
  • Half-day trip dog-sledding around Bolterdalen (January-May)
  • Sledding in the polar night (November-December)
  • 3-day dog sled expedition (January-May)

You can check out their website for additional information regarding the trips they offer.

Explore the Longyearbyen Restaurant Scene

Longyearbyen has one of the best restaurant scenes in Europe for its size. I have been saying that for years and I stand by that after every visit!

I have had the pleasure of eating at every single restaurant in Longyearbyen and here are some of my favorites:

  • Huset: best for fine dining and luxury. Michelin-star quality food inside a historic building. Has one of Scandinavia’s best wine collections. About $200-$300 per person. Reservations required.
  • Gruvelageret: a fine dining experience inside a rustic cabin-like building. You must take a taxi there (it is outside the polar bear protection zone). Uses local ingredients when possible. Reservations required.
  • Kroa: affordable lunch and dinner options. A Longyearbyen favorite for years. Reservations are encouraged but not required (you can usually get in!). Also has a pizza menu.
  • Stationen: amazing burgers and stays open late as a pub in the evenings. No reservation is needed.
  • Vinterhagen Restaurant: located at Mary-Ann’s Polarigg, this restaurant is teeming with greenery, and it takes you out of the treeless polar desert for a bit and into something with a little more life. Their menu is diverse, and it is a great place to try some local Svalbard ingredients (i.e., seal). Reservations encouraged.
Fresh fish at Polfareren Restaurant
Fresh fish at Polfareren Restaurant

I could go on and on with how delicious places are in Svalbard. Some other favorites of mine are Funktionærmessen Restaurant (Funken Lodge), Restaurant Polfareren (Hotel Polfareren), Nansen Restaurant (at the Radisson Blu), NUGA Sushi & Noodles (located inside of The Vault), and Barentz Gastropub (pub food inside Radisson Blu).

Join a Beer Tasting at Svalbard Bryggeri (Svalbard Brewery)

Svalbard Bryggeri has a cool story about how it got started and you will learn all of that (and more) by booking a beer tasting there when you’re traveling to Svalbard.

You can read my Svalbard Bryggeri beer tasting review here but I do recommend this, especially for those traveling during the winter.

Beer tasting at Svalbard Brewery
Beer tasting at Svalbard Brewery

It is conducted in both Norwegian and English, lasts 1.5 hours, and is offered every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 6pm. You can book directly on their website.

At the tasting, you will get to try a few of their beers and learn about the brewing process and how they create a unique beer with water from 2,000-year-old glaciers.

Warm-up (and Jump in the Arctic Ocean!) at SvalBad

On my last trip, I was unable to visit SvalBad, a sauna located right on the fjord, as they did not have open hours.

However, I highly recommend those visiting book a group or private sauna session there if you’re looking for something unique to do in Longyearbyen.

The sauna was built using materials from demolished residential areas of the town and is operated by the Longyearbyen Port. The facilities include a dressing room, drinking water, toilets, and showers. Bring a towel with you!

SvalBad only opens hours month by month so it is not something you can book super far in advance. Check their website for more information.

Spend an Evening at Camp Barentz

Looking for something a bit more tame than the adventure trips I already mentioned? Then Camp Barentz is the perfect experience to consider. I have only been during the summer months (well, September) but I have known people who have gone in winter and enjoyed it.

Camp Barentz is located a short distance out of the town and you will be picked up by bus at your hotel on the evening of your trip.

Cozy night at Camp Barentz
Cozy night at Camp Barentz

The night will be calm and relaxing as you sit by the fire in a wooden cabin listening to stories about Svalbard’s history and the northern lights. Then, you will have a chance to step outside and see if they have shown up for you! 

This is a very easy excursion, but one of my favorites. It was the perfect evening trip to pair with a morning of dog-sledding or snowmobiling. You can read my Camp Barentz review here.

>> Click here to check Camp Barentz rates and availability

What to Pack for a Winter Trip to Svalbard

This deserves a whole separate post, but I will make a quick list of some things to consider bringing to Svalbard on your winter trip.

Things to pack for Svalbard
Things to pack for Svalbard

One thing to know before is that if you do a snowmobile tour or a dog-sledding excursion, they will provide you with polar suits.

  • Base layers: I use Kari Traa but anything that is 100% wool should do the trick. Pants and tops are both needed.
  • Wool sweater: Look for 100% wool. Devold of Norway has the best heavy-duty ones you can purchase. While I love Dale of Norway, avoid them for polar temperatures; they are more suitable for going out to eat or light activities. If you have a hand-knitted one that is thick, even better!
  • Wool socks: I think it is best to wear a thin sock with a thick wool sock over it. Devold of Norway also makes thick wool socks and I swear by them (even around the house).
  • Snow boots: You will be given boots for most tours, but you will need your own for strolling around the city. I have been wearing Fubuki boots for a while and I love them because they are lightweight (I recommend the taller pair for Svalbard).
  • Prescription glasses/goggles: If you are on a snowmobile or dog-sledding tour and have your own goggles or prescription glasses, bring them with you.

Some other things to consider bringing are hand warmers (can buy in Longyearbyen if you need to), mittens (I prefer mittens over gloves), a thick hat, and a neck gaiter. Neck coverings are essential because the winter can be windy.


How many days do you need when visiting Svalbard in winter?

I would honestly say it depends on which month you go, as well as your adventure levels individually. 

If you are going from October until January, I would say 3–4 days is plenty. You can take a northern lights tour, eat at some delicious places in Longyearbyen, etc.

Svalbard in the late afternoon in mid-February
Svalbard in the late afternoon in mid-February

If you are adventurous and are traveling from February until May, I would recommend spending 4 to 5 days.

You can take an all-day trip to East Svalbard by snowmobile (my favorite tour ever), an all-day boat tour to the Billefjord, a 5-hour trip to an ice cave, etc.

There are many snowmobile and dog-sledding options during this time and I think adding in an extra day or two is worth it because you will get tired.

Will you see a polar bear in Svalbard during the winter months? 

Probably not. They are around and do not hibernate (mother cubs may den for a while, though), but you will likely not be in an area where you will see a polar bear.

But your best chance is to join a snowmobile trip to eastern Spitsbergen. There are more on that side of the island than around Longyearbyen.

How do you get to Svalbard?

There are fewer flights during the winter months, but you can fly up from Oslo or Tromso. I have flown both routes, and it is an easy connection up that way.

Flying back to Tromso from Longyearbyen
Flying back to Tromso from Longyearbyen

Do know that you will need to go through passport control in either Oslo or Tromso because Svalbard is not part of the Schengen zone.

So, if you hold a passport that requires a visa for Norway but not for Svalbard, you will still need to obtain a visa for Norway beforehand (perhaps just a transit visa).

Best Places to Stay in Svalbard

I have stayed at nearly every place in Longyearbyen except Mary-Ann’s Polarigg (I have been there two though) and one of the places in Nybyen.

Here are my top picks:

  • Funken Lodge: the most luxurious hotel in Longyearbyen. Slightly outside of the city center but a short walk in. All tours pick up from here, so you won’t need to venture into the city unless you want to explore.
  • Polfareren Hotel: located in the town center and has a nice restaurant inside. The rooms are nice, and the lobby has a cozy fireplace you can hang out at.
  • Basecamp Explorer: rustic cabin-style accommodation. Situated in the center, but the rooms may not be for everyone. A bit pricy, but unique accommodation, nonetheless.
  • Coal Miner’s Cabins: budget-friendly accommodation in Nybyen. It’s a bit of a walk from the city center, but worth it if you’re looking to save money.
  • Haugen’s Pensjonat: my favorite place to stay in Longyearbyen. It is located by Funken Lodge, so is not directly in the town center, but it is clean and affordable. Has mini-apartments and dorms.
Polfareren Hotel in Svalbard
Polfareren Hotel in Svalbard

If you want additional information, head over to my Svalbard accommodation guide!

Do you have any questions about visiting Svalbard in winter? Please let me know in the comments (or by sending me a message).

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Are you planning to visit Svalbard in winter this year and are looking for the best things to do, places to stay, tours and activities, and more? This guide contains all that, plus some Svalbard winter weather tips and information, as well as what to pack. Whether you're visiting Svalbard in February or in November, this guide contains everything you need to know (from someone who has been there 5 times!).

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