Discovering Spitsbergen’s Natural Wonders

Here, deep inside the Arctic Circle, the midnight sun means that guided excursions into the tundra can stretch up to 10 hours.

Passengers on a Svalbard summer cruise take in a melting ice cap.

When the 16th-century Dutch explorer William Barentsz first sighted the polar archipelago of Svalbard while attempting to find a northern sea route to Asia, he christened it Spitsbergen, or “pointed mountains.” That name is now reserved for its largest island—more than 700 kilometers off the Norwegian mainland—where the former coal-mining town of Longyearbyen lays claim to the northernmost full-service hotel in the world.

While tourists arrive throughout the year, Spitsbergen’s natural wonders are best experienced in the summer months. Here, deep inside the Arctic Circle, the midnight sun means that guided excursions into the tundra can stretch up to 10 hours. Another plus? Retreating seasonal ice opens the way for voyages around the fjords in search of walruses, prolific birdlife, and—most enticing of all—polar bears on the hunt for prey.

Getting There
Scandinavian Airlines
 connects Longyearbyen with Oslo, which is serviced by nonstop flights from Bangkok aboard Thai Airways. Those coming from Hong Kong and Singapore will require an extra stopover in Copenhagen.

Where to Stay
With 95 comfortable rooms, two outdoor hot tubs, and a sauna, the recently renovated Radisson Blu Hotel Spitsbergen (47-79/023-450; doubles from US$182) is Longyearbyen’s premier address. Its restaurant now showcases Arctic produce in Asian-inspired creations like reindeer dumplings.

What to Do
U.K.-based outfitter Natural World Safaris runs nine- to 11-day expedition cruises in Svalbard from April to August, bringing up to 12 passengers per ship into the polar bears’ ice-bound domain.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2019 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Pole Position”).

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