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Traveling seasons in Spitsbergen I Svalbard

No mat­ter when you come, Spits­ber­gen is always ama­zing. Nevertheless, the­re is an extre­me­ly strong con­trast bet­ween the sea­sons, regar­ding what you can see, do and expe­ri­ence.

Late win­ter

That is late febru­a­ry to april. Tem­pe­ra­tures are still most­ly below zero, espe­cial­ly in Febru­a­ry and March it can still be f….ing cold (tem­pe­ra­tures vary actual­ly a lot in the mari­ti­me Arc­tic and it can be thawing and rai­ny for a day or two at any sea­son in Spits­ber­gen, some­thing that is not get­ting bet­ter in times of cli­ma­te chan­ge).

Longyearbyen Camping, ice

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Cam­ping in the dark sea­son after a peri­od of mild wea­ther. Put your spikes on!

But in con­trast to the ‘real’ win­ter, the light is back again. In March, you will have a dai­ly rhythm not too dif­fe­rent from lower lati­tu­des.

Blue light in Adventdalen

“Blue light” in Advent­da­len.

First sunlight in Tempelfjord

First sun­light on Tuna­b­reen in Tem­pel­fjord.

In late Febru­a­ry and March, the light can be extre­me­ly beau­ti­ful, with end­less com­bi­ned sun­set and sun­ri­se, but it is still more or less dark during the night and it can be qui­te cold (down to -30°C, but that is very rare now at sea level).

Northern light near Longyearbyen

Nort­hern light near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

In late Febru­a­ry, the sun comes back, alt­hough it is not yet visi­ble from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, which is sur­roun­ded by moun­tains.

Sun over Adventfjord

Sun over Advent­fjord, late Febru­a­ry.

In March, the the light comes back at high speed; every day is visi­b­ly lon­ger than the pre­vious one. The light con­di­ti­ons are always chan­ging and often stun­ning. This can be a very inte­res­ting time for examp­le for pho­to­graph­ers. From 08 March the sun is visi­ble abo­ve the hori­zon also in Lon­gyear­ben. This is cele­bra­ted with several days of cul­tu­ral events (“Sol­fest­u­ke”).

Solfest i Longyearbyen

Sol­fest i Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

High sea­son win­ter

From late April in Spits­ber­gen the sun shi­nes 24 hours a day. The­re is often stun­ning light, no darkness any­mo­re and the risk of very low tem­pe­ra­tures is gra­du­al­ly decre­a­sing. All this makes April an ide­al time for all sorts of win­ter acti­vi­ties, be it with ski­es, dogs­ledge or snow­mo­bi­le. The­re is a lot of snow­mo­bi­le traf­fic in Spits­ber­gen, this sea­son is qui­te busy, the locals poten­ti­al­ly a bit stres­sed, hotels ful­ly boo­ked and no ren­tal scoo­ters avail­ab­le. This means you should eit­her come befo­re or after peak sea­son or book ear­ly.

Snow mobile tour, April

Out on tour in april (I).

Try dogs­led­ging or cross-coun­try-ski­ing in one of the snow­mo­bi­le-free are­as of Spits­ber­gen – extre­me­ly nice!

On tour in april

Out on tour in april (II).

Snow mel­ting peri­od

The win­ter sea­son comes to an end when the snow starts to melt. This hap­pens tra­di­tio­nal­ly around may, but it varies a lot from year to year. It tends to be ear­lier now, in times of cli­ma­te chan­ge. The sun is gai­ning a lot of power in May.

Snow melting at Longyearbyen Camping, mid April

Ear­ly snow mel­ting at Lon­gye­ar­by­en Cam­ping, mid april.

In recent years, the boat sea­son has star­ted as ear­ly as March or April, so day-trips with small ships to Bar­ents­burg or sce­nic crui­ses to on the of the bays in Isfjord beco­me avail­ab­le (Pyra­mi­den is usual­ly not acces­si­ble until sum­mer becau­se the har­bour is fro­zen).

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

Late spring to mid-Juni

This is a bit bet­ween sea­sons. The­re is not enough snow and ice any­mo­re for ski­ing or sled­ging (using dogs or fuel), but still too much for hiking or the boat sea­son. Accord­in­gly, the choice of acti­vi­ties is rather limi­ted, but it is a calm sea­son without too many tou­rists. On the other hand, the birds are qui­te busy, star­ting their bree­ding sea­son. The­re is usual­ly still a lot of snow in the land­s­cape, which will make wal­king dif­fi­cult, but it loo­ks very nice. It is a good time if you want to spend some calm days in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, and it can be rewar­ding and rich with dif­fe­rent expe­ri­en­ces and impres­si­ons. The mid­ni­ght sun is shi­ning bright­ly, the Arc­tic wild­life is most­ly busy (all birds are bree­ding), the first flowers make for some lovely colour dots in the tun­dra.

Geese in Adventdalen

Geese in Advent­da­len, late May.

Ear­ly sum­mer

About late June to mid-July. Slow­ly, the snow should disap­pe­ar, and it is get­ting easier to do some wal­king in the field, alt­hough it is still qui­te ear­ly for long trek­king tours (still some snow patches here and the­re, wet tun­dra, a lot of meltwa­ter in the rivers).

Spitsbergen seasons: Summer in Woodfjord (Andøyane)

Ear­ly sum­mer: Pur­p­le saxif­ra­ge on Andoya­ne, Lief­defjord.

The ship­ping sea­son has begun, and during a several day ship-based jour­ney you are likely (not gua­ran­te­ed, though) to see qui­te a lot of drift- and fjor­di­ce. If you want to be sure that you can sail around the who­le main island of Spits­ber­gen, you should rather come a bit later, other­wi­se the ice may get bet­ween you and your dreams. Also for lon­ger hiking tours (for examp­le from Lon­gye­ar­by­en to the east coast of Spits­ber­gen and back), it may still be a bit ear­ly.

Mid- and late sum­mer

Sommertur Mushamna

Sum­mer hike towards the end of July in Mus­ham­na, Woodfjord.

About mid-July to late August.  Snow at sea level should most­ly have disap­peared, and the tun­dra is get­ting dri­er. This is ide­al for lon­ger trek­king tours as well as ship-based trips to the more remo­te parts of Sval­bard, even though fiel­ds of drift ice can still get in the way, espe­cial­ly in the nor­the­as­tern and eas­tern parts – nobo­dy will give you a gua­ran­tee that you will be able to reach a cer­tain desti­na­ti­on. But chan­ces should be good to get around, and con­di­ti­ons for lon­ger hikes are good (dry ter­rain, no snow, less bree­ding birds). In August, flowers are get­ting scar­ce, and the tun­dra gets a nice, brow­nish-red­dish colour (more inten­si­ve in Scan­di­na­via and Green­land than in Sval­bard).

Last midnight sun in Longyearbyen

Last mid­ni­ght sun in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, late August.

Ear­ly autumn

Ear­ly to mid or late Sep­tem­ber. A rela­tively dry sea­son, usual­ly still good or excel­lent for lon­ger trek­king tours. Most flowers will be gone, but the tun­dra has a nice colour and is very dry. It is get­ting dar­ker again during the night, and the low sund can pro­vi­de a beau­ti­ful, warm light for hours on end. Most birds have left, and at some point the first storms will come with strong winds and snow­fall and make the Arc­tic less attrac­ti­ve again for tou­rists.

Fine mid September day in Raudfjord

Fine mid Sep­tem­ber day in Raudfjord.

Late autumn

October/early Novem­ber. The days are get­ting shor­ter, more stor­my and cold, but the light of the low sun can still be extre­me­ly beau­ti­ful. Opti­ons for acti­vi­ties are rather limi­ted, but if you want to spend a while in Lon­gye­ar­by­en without too many other tou­rists around, it can still be a good sea­son for you. Chan­ces to get in touch with some locals can be bet­ter, and with some luck you may see the first nort­hern lights (see below).

Fine late September day in Sorgfjord

Fine late Sep­tem­ber day in Sorgfjord.

Polar night

Late Novem­ber to mid-Febru­a­ry. The sun does not show abo­ve the hori­zon from late Novem­ber to mid Febru­a­ry. It will not sur­pri­se you to read that it is most­ly dark and cold, alt­hough tem­pe­ra­tures around or even slight­ly abo­ve free­zing and some rain may occur every now and then, some­thing that can actual­ly be very boring.

Blue light in Adventdalen

Blue light in Advent­da­len.

If you want to expe­ri­ence the polar night, then it may not be necessa­ry to tra­vel to Spits­ber­gen to do so; a win­ter night some­whe­re in the moun­tains of Scan­di­na­via will pro­vi­de a simi­lar expe­ri­ence, whe­re you will also find bet­ter infra­st­ruc­tu­re and at least some hours of weak day­light, allowing for more acti­vi­ties to be enjoy­ed, with a lower risk of sud­den­ly being eaten by some big ani­mal.

It should be men­tio­ned, howe­ver, that a clear night, with stars and the Auro­ra Borea­lis cas­ting some bleak light over the sno­wy land­s­cape, is beau­ti­ful bey­ond ima­gi­na­ti­on. Hotels make attrac­ti­ve offers during this most­ly rather quiet peri­od and tour ope­ra­tors are incre­a­singly crea­ti­ve to offer acti­vi­ties. Many local say this is the most beau­ti­ful time. Ever­ything is a bit cal­mer in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the dark peri­od, so it is a good time to meet peop­le or to enjoy cul­tu­ral events such as the Dark Sea­sons Blues Fes­ti­val and others. It is an idea to rent a car for a day or two to be able to get out of Lon­gye­ar­by­en into Advent­da­len or towards Bjørn­da­len (depen­ding on the wea­ther, the roads may be blo­cked by snow drifts at times). If you move around on foot, it is essen­ti­al to attach reflec­tors to your clot­hing and ruck­sack to be visi­ble for car dri­vers. Other­wi­se you are in for risk and the anger of local dri­vers. It is ama­zing how often peop­le think the midd­le of the road is a good place to set up a tri­pod, but it isn’t. And while we are at it, it is real­ly a good idea to bring a tri­pod, a fast aper­tu­re len­se and a flash­light in the dark sea­son.

Northern light over Sarkofagen near Longyearbyen

Nort­hern light over Sar­ko­fa­gen near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

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last modification: 2019-04-30 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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