Small ship cruises in Spitsbergen

The average small ship cruise around Spitsbergen, the main island in the Svalbard archipelago, lasts around eight days – although options of between five and 15 days are available. The vessels vary in style, from a converted expedition ship that can take you further afield into icy waters, to an elegant 100-year-old schooner. They could have anything from 50-200 passengers on board. The first thing that you need to shed from your mind, however, is any concept of floating mega hotels, black tie and after dinner cabarets. The class acts here are the wildlife and the outfits are outdoor protective ones so that you can partake in activities. These include Zodiac rides into the fjords and sea kayaking in the inlets alongside whales and walruses. Experienced – and intrepid – divers can book a specialist scuba trip, and be amazed and the amount of life in the icy waters. Some cruises spend more time ashore than others, giving you time to trek up mountains, enter ice caves, trek across glaciers or, in winter, try snow shoeing or sledging – pulled by your own pack of huskies. Find out more about whether an expedition cruise is right for you.
Small ship cruises around Spitsbergen will often have a naturalist expert on board, as wildlife in these superb natural habitats is what it’s all about. It’s rare to visit a place where wildlife reigns, but Spitsbergen is still very much at the mercy of Mother Nature’s weird and wonderful creatures. Keeping an eye out for polar bears is a fundamental part of any Spitsbergen wildlife holiday – whether for your photo album, or for your own safety – but your cruise could be re-routed to bob along beside a blue whale, or you could be called from your cabin in the middle of the night to coo at fluffy Arctic foxes hunting on the ice.
As they only venture out during the Arctic summer months of May to August, the days are never ending, so you have plenty of chances to see whales, dolphins, Svalbard reindeer, Arctic fox, seals and walruses. There are also plenty of sea birds during this time including the Svalbard rock ptarmigan, the common eider, black guillemot and fulmars. Lectures, a fully stocked library and informal chats about wildlife and conservation are all par for the course on these trips. Read more in our Arctic wildlife cruises guide.

Our top Spitsbergen Holiday

Arctic icebreaker cruise, Spitsbergen

Arctic icebreaker cruise, Spitsbergen

Wildlife-focused, expert-led small ship Arctic cruises

From £3160 to £20195 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2024: 10 May, 15 May, 20 May, 22 May, 28 May, 1 Jun, 6 Jun, 7 Jun, 9 Jun, 10 Jun, 13 Jun, 14 Jun, 15 Jun, 16 Jun, 17 Jun, 19 Jun, 21 Jun, 22 Jun, 24 Jun, 25 Jun, 26 Jun, 29 Jun, 30 Jun, 3 Jul, 4 Jul, 5 Jul, 7 Jul, 8 Jul, 10 Jul, 12 Jul, 13 Jul, 15 Jul, 19 Jul, 20 Jul, 21 Jul, 22 Jul, 23 Jul, 27 Jul, 28 Jul, 30 Jul, 31 Jul, 2 Aug, 6 Aug, 8 Aug, 9 Aug, 11 Aug, 12 Aug, 22 Aug, 1 Sep
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Spitsbergen or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Going onto dry land
People get all excited about going out on the Zodiacs and go a bit camera crazy. Resist the urge and just breathe it all in. You will have a much more emotional connection that way.
Some small ship cruises spend more time ashore than others, giving you time to hike up mountains, enter ice caves, trek across glaciers or, on higher ground, try snow shoeing or sledging – pulled by your own pack of huskies. This gives you a chance to explore landscapes that are out of sight of boats, and vice versa, and really get a feel for the sublime wilderness of Spitsbergen. There is always with an armed guide on hand, of course as polar bears rule the land as well as the waters here.
Photography paradise
Paul Goldstein, expert wildlife photography guide with our leading Spitsbergen supplier, Exodus Travels:
"The more spiritual and patient you are the better your photographs will be. Patience isn’t a virtue; it’s a must with wildlife."
Landscape and wildlife photographers will be torn between wanting to click all the time in Spitsbergen and just putting their cameras down and gasping in awe. Some Spitsbergen wildlife cruises have expert photographers on board as well as naturalists to guide you through the wonders. Some even have celebrated ones such as Mark Carwardine. Read our tour operator interview for more details on this special trip.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: Anette Holmberg [Bow of ship: Christopher Michel] [Minke whale: Rob Oo] [Walruses: claumoho] [Guillemots: Rob Oo] [Reindeer: Christopher Michel] [Hike over ridge: Kitty Terwolbeck] [Polar bear with cub: Paul Goldstein] [Fox: Paul Goldstein]