Top 10 bear watching holidays in Europe

Bear watching holidays in Europe are a great way to unlock the continent’s wilderness regions in the company of local experts. This is your chance to camp out in bear hides, check camera traps and track brown bears using radio technology and good old-fashioned backwoods know-how. Or you can set off on an expedition cruise to the Arctic, where polar bears hunt the ice. From Romania’s Carpathian Mountains to Finland’s Wild Taiga and the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria – read about our best bear watching holidays in Europe.

1. Volunteering with bears in Romania

Situated in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, Libearty is the biggest sanctuary for brown bears in the world. Volunteers are needed to work alongside local staff and animal experts to ensure rescued bears have a chance to rehabilitate and be released into the wild. If they can’t be released, the wild forested enclosures provide the perfect place for brown bears to live out their days in peace.
Staying within the medieval city of Brasov, volunteers will have a chance to go bear watching in the Transylvanian woods and learn more about the sanctuary’s conservation and rehabilitation programmes. With opportunities to prepare food and observe everyday behaviours close-up, this is a really rewarding hands-on experience.

2. Polar bear expedition in Norway

Spend eight days searching out polar bears in Norway’s Svalbard – the best place to see them in Europe. You’ll travel on a small expedition ship of between 50 and 180 passengers, shoving off from Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen island and sailing through the surrounding archipelago. On-board guides will teach you about the calving icebergs, glaciers, ice floes and basalt cliffs you sail and hike past, as well as the walruses, huge seabird colonies and whales that share the polar bear’s fragile and shrinking territory.

Our top trip: Arctic icebreaker cruise
See all our trips: Bear watching holidays
Read more: Polar bear watching in Norway guide

3. Bear photography around Spitsbergen

If you want to get even closer to polar bears, consider a specialist photography trip. Photography and bear watching are natural companions - after all, both require patience, stillness, and an eye for beauty. Travel in summer, when there’s perpetual daylight, for maximum bear-spotting time, and go by ship and zodiac, so you can get to remote spots and catch your quarry out on the pack ice. You might get a picture of them sniffing the air - they’re smelling you - and you’ve just captured on camera how close you came to being their dinner.

Our top selling trip: Spitsbergen wildlife photography cruise
All our trips: Bear watching holidays
Read more: Guide to polar bear watching in Norway
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Europe wildlife or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

4. Bear watching in Finland

One of the best ways to go bear watching in Finland is from the comfort of a purpose-built hide. Not only will you be able to take advantage of the hide’s excellent camouflage, but you’ll also be accompanied by an expert wildlife watching guide. A kettle, compost toilet and sleeping bags provide a few home comforts but, other than that, you just need to be patient and wait for the moment the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and someone whispers, “There’s one!”
This is also an amazing opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of Europe’s top predators. Wolverines, wolves and lynx are all known to inhabit the wilderness of north-east Finland, along with elk, wild reindeer and white-tailed eagles.

5. Polar bear cruise in Spitsbergen

One of our travellers called cruising in Spitsbergen “an emotional rollercoaster”. Small ships have panoramic bridges, open deck areas for wildlife viewing, a library and lecture programme, and a fleet of small Zodiac boats at the ready for landings on ice shelves and seal beaches. And where there are seals, there are polar bears. You’re in excellent hands here, guided by marine and natural history experts.

Our top selling trip: Arctic icebreaker cruise, Spitsbergen
All our trips: Spitsbergen holidays
Read more: Polar bears in Norway guide and Spitsbergen travel guide

6. Bear watching in Bulgaria

The forested foothills of the Rhodope Mountains lie to the south-east of Sofia. This is about as far from the busy Black Sea resorts as you can imagine – which is good news for anyone keen on bear watching in Bulgaria. Join a small group and enjoy a whole week of bear tracking both day and night.

Accompanied by a brown bear watching expert, this is a great way to get to know an area of Europe that’s still wild. The densely forested Bulgarian wilderness provides protected habitat for wildcats, wolves, badgers, pine martens and Balkan lynx, as well as a good number of brown bears. You’ll stay high up in the mountains in the village of Yagodina, where you can access the trails, hides and cave systems of the Rhodopes as well as the rural traditions of Bulgaria.

Our top selling trip: Brown bear watching holiday in Bulgaria
All our trips: Bulgaria holidays
Read more: Bulgaria bear watching travel guide

7. Bear tracking in Wild Taiga

Head up to Finland’s Wild Taiga border region and you’ll come face to face with protected wilderness areas that few people get to see. This is where you can go bear watching from secret forest hides and find out more about traditional Finnish culture as you stay in a lakeside village and learn about life here. Your guide will also encourage you to remove your bear blinkers and look out for signs of wolverines, wolves, lynx, elk and wild forest reindeer.

Our top selling trip: Finland wildlife short break
All our trips: Finland wildlife holidays
Read more: Finland bear watching guide

8. Bear photography, secret location in Finland

If you go with a specialist photography company into Finland’s forests, they will take you to a secret location, scouted out and chosen for its high proportion of bears. It means the bears remain undisturbed - even with you there, as you’ll be hidden from view by a specially built photography hide. These hides are a great place, not only to see bears, but also wolverines and wolves. Animals normally come out from the afternoon onwards, and you’re guaranteed to spot bears, and almost certain to see them every night. That’s a whole double album's worth of snaps!

Our top trip: Bear photography tour in Finland
See all our trips: Wildlife holidays in Finland
Read more: Guide to bear watching in Finland

9. Rewilding & bears in the Italian Apennines

Rewilding is the conservation buzzword of the minute – but what is it? You can find out about it for yourself on this wildlife holiday in the Italian Apennines. Expect unbeatable insights from the people leading the charge on rewilding in Europe. They’ll teach you how boosting the tiny population of Marsican brown bears in the Apennines all depends on enriching the ecosystems they live in, from the smallest insects that pollinate the clover meadows to the tallest beech and yew trees that lend shelter.

Our top trip: Italy rewilding holiday in the Apennines
See all our trips: Rewilding holidays
Read more: Rewilding in Europe

10. Cultural tour of Transylvania (with bonus bears)

Short on time? This five-day adventure introduces you to storied castles, the cities of Bucharest and Brasov, and the near-gothic forest reserves of the Carpathian Mountains. Deep in the forests, in the gloaming twilight hours, you’ll get the chance to snoop on bears from a hide. This is the best time to see bears in Transylvania as they wake up from their daytime nap to forage for food.

Our top trip: Transylvania small group short break
All our trips: Transylvania holidays
Read more: Romania bear watching guide
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Gary Bembridge] [Polar bears: Riviera Travel] [1. Volunteering with bears in Romania: Julien Lavergne] [4. Bear watching in Finland: Gary Bembridge] [10. Cultural tour of Transylvania (with bonus bears): European Committee of the Regions]