How to get to Svalbard: sky or sea?

Svalbard. It’s literally on top of the world. Discover how to get to Svalbard and make the most of your time in this fascinating archipelago.

Sign outside Longyearbyen airport which has the distance of different cities throughout the world from Svalbard. Discover how to get to Svalbard.
You’ll see this sign out the front of Longyearbyen Airport.

Wondering how to get to Svalbard? This arctic archipelago at the top of the world seems almost impossible to reach.

However – this is not actually so. It’s surprisingly east to get to Svalbard and you can do it by plane or boat.

The most common route to Svalbard is to fly there from Norway. You’ll land in Longyearbyen, the main town on Spitsbergen (the largest island of Svalbard).

While there’s no regular ferry or boat service to Svalbard, you can choose to travel there as part of an expedition cruise.

Sounds pretty fun, right?

Read on to discover how to get to Svalbard and choose the option that best works for you.


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Brightly coloured houses in Longyearbyen.
Brightly coloured houses in Longyearbyen.

The best way to travel to Svalbard

As you start planning your trip to Svalbard, perhaps it’s a good idea to start with the basics.

You may here people talking about Spitsbergen and Longyearbyen, when referring to this northern archipelago. So, which is which?

Svalbard

This is the name of the entire archipelago, including all three of the main islands.

It wasn’t always known as Svalbard. Norway renamed it in the 1920’s, after the signing of the Svalbard Treaty, which grants access to the archipelago by around 40 other countries.

Previously, the entire area was known as Spitsbergen.

Spitsbergen

When people are talking about Spitsbergen nowadays, they’re referring to the largest of the islands. The other two are called Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya.

Most of the towns and settlements are on Spitsbergen, including the capital, Longyearbyen.

Longyearbyen

This is the world’s northernmost city and where you will base yourself during your stay in Svalbard.

It is possible to explore other settlements in the warmer months, but this is where most of the archipelago’s inhabitants and facilities are.

With that out of the way, let’s explore the best ways to travel to Svalbard.

A sign on the outskirts of Longyearbyen featuring a picture of a polar bear and the text 'gjelder hele Svalbard', which means 'applies to the whole of Svalbard'.
A sign on the city outskirts stating that polar bears roam throughout Svalbard. You’re not allowed to leave the city limits without a gun – eek!

How to get to Svalbard by plane

There are two airlines offering flights to Svalbard:

You’ll have to fly from wherever you are in the world to Norway, to catch a flight to Longyearbyen.

Direct flights leave from Oslo (which takes around 3 hours) and Tromsø (about 1.5 hours).

Prices vary depending on the time of the year. Late spring and summer through to early autumn (mid-May through the end of September) is generally the most popular time to visit Svalbard and flight prices will reflect this.

Book in advance if you are travelling during this period of time. While there are daily flights, they can book out.

I have been there in October and highly recommend it. Granted, I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted (such as taking a boat to Pyramiden, still my heart’s main desire) and it did rain rather than snow… in an arctic desert. Concerning.

However, it isn’t unbearably cold at this time of the year by any means and there is still plenty of daylight to enjoy most activities. Plus being so far north led to extended sunrises and sunsets – no complaints here.

You can of course, choose to travel to Svalbard in winter. It would be rather cool, in more than just the most literal way.

Winter in Svalbard brings with it the polar night where it is dark, dark, dark, baby! Plus you may see the Northern Lights, which is an awe-inspiring experience.

Mountains in Svalbard at sunset.
Travelling past Svalbard’s mountains and fjords by boat would be unreal.

How to get to Svalbard by boat

The other option for travelling to Svalbard is via sea. However, there are no regular ferry services to Longyearbyen from anywhere.

You can however, travel to Svalbard as on an expedition cruise. Talk about your epic trips of a lifetime.

As you can probably imagine, this is not the cheapest way to get to this part of the world, with cruises costing thousands of dollars.

Plus the journey itself can take anything from 1-2 weeks.

However – what a journey it would be! If you have the funds and really want to immerse yourself in this part of the world, I say go for it. It’d be an unforgettable experience.

Cruise ships tend to leave only in the summer months and can book up well in advance.

So if you decide that this is how you want to get to Svalbard, then reserve your spot, pronto!

Longyearbyen at sunset.
Longyearbyen’s town centre.

Should I fly or should I cruise my way to Svalbard?

It’s entirely up to you.

If you have the time and the finances, travelling to Svalbard and Longyearbyen by boat would be the ultimate arctic adventure.

Short on time and trying to make every dollar count in what is already an expensive part of the world? Then flying is probably the best option for you.

View of Longyearbyen's 'Old Town' out a hotel window.
View of Longyearbyen out a hotel window.

Do I need a visa to get into Svalbard?

Theoretically, you do not need a visa once you reach Longyearbyen Airport.
This is due to the Svalbard or Spitsbergen Treaty, which has been signed by over 40 countries, Australia, the USA, the UK, China, Argentina, Lithuania and South Africa.

While the archipelago is considered part of Norway, any passport holder of a country who signed the treaty is allowed to become a resident of Svalbard and has the right to fish, hunt, mine or trade on the island.

Yet, you will have to enter Norway to fly on to Longyearbyen. And this is where it gets a little more complicated.

If you are an EU/EEA national travelling to Norway, you’ll need an identification document or passport.

If you are a non-EU/EEA national you may need a visa. It gets a bit complicatied with Schengen entry requirements, depending on your nationality.

Make sure you check the requirements for entry to Norway for your passport before making any concrete travel plans.

It is a good idea of course, to have your passport or identity card on you, no matter where in the world you’re coming from.

Where should I stay in Longyearbyen?

I recommend two hotels for your stay in Svalbard.

Spitsbergen Basecamp Hotel is great if you’re after a ‘cabin core’ experience in Longyearbyen.It’s cosy and littered with maps and artefacts and some weird taxidermy. What more could you ask for?

Radisson Blue Polar Hotel is another great option. Centrally located, there’s a bar attached to the hotel and a large dining area with massive windows, which look out onto the nearby mountains. It had a bit of a Twin Peaks vibe, which I wholly dug.

There you have it – the best ways to travel to Svalbard. Would you rather travel by boat or by air?

For more information, check out these tips for travelling to Svalbard. And if you’re into your Nordic countries, you might want to check out my content on the Faroe Islands.

Planning a future trip to the arctic north? Pin this post. 📌

Wondering how to get to Svalbard? You have two options for travelling to this arctic archipelago – by either plane or expedition cruise.

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