Realm of the Polar Bear - North Spitsbergen & Beyond

The Aqua-Firma team have almost 60 years combined knowledge and experience of exploring and arranging travel in the polar regions.  We have explored North Spitsbergen in depth, guiding for more than 18 years to bring you immersive wildlife voyages  onboard small vessels from expedition cruise ships to sailing yachts. 

Contact one of our guides or scientists to share their on-location expertise.

This expedition cruise, over many years, has successfully fulfilled the ambition of those keen to observe a wide array of Arctic landscapes and wildlife, including polar bears. Depending upon prevailing ice conditions, we will head to North Spitsbergen and beyond in search of the Arctic Ice edge, where Polar Bears migrate in search of their main prey: the ringed seal, out onto the vast sea ice.

These special voyages will provide fascinating insights into the behaviour and breeding of polar bears and enhance your understanding of them through talks and presentations.

Polar Bear on Pack Ice - Bjoern Koth

In addition to polar bears, we often see walruses, ringed and bearded seals, Arctic fox, reindeer; and a great diversity of birds which include highly defensive Arctic Terns, Ptarmigan, Glaucous Gulls, Skuas and Grey Phalaropes.

Of marine life, we have been lucky in recent years to enjoy sightings of blue whales, humpbacks, fin, minke and the all-white beluga. Nothing is guaranteed, but with all eyes peeled on the horizon we have 24 hours when the sun never sets to see as much as possible.

Your base for this voyage will be a modern and comfortable ice strengthened research vessel. These small ships (108 or 170 passengers) are open to all; including decks at all levels and the ship's bridge from which you can enjoy awe inspiring panoramic views. The ship itself often provides the best vantage point for observing wildlife, especially as we move through sea ice.

Onboard expert guides will enhance your understanding of the Arctic through a programme of inspiring talks and recaps which might cover wildlife, birdlife, ecology, history, geology and conservation. You can also refer to the onboard library of Arctic natural history guides and reference books.

A full complement of rigid inflatable zodiacs provide opportunities to explore amongst the sea ice, close to dramatic glacier fronts and the shoreline of Spitsbergen. These can provide excellent platforms for photographing wildlife, such as bearded seals in the water or polar bears if they come within range. Whilst polar bears tend to be solitary in nature, the carcass of a whale or walrus can act as a attract larger numbers of these huge predators.

Glacier Calving - David Slater

Optional hikes at a length and pace to suite all will be taken to experience the Arctic on land, walking in places where we hope to avoid any contact with polar bears, but to experience the tundra, mountains and  dramatic fjords of Svalbard. Spitsbergen's historical sites may also be visited, where guides will focus on past human endeavour in the region and the woeful tale of a whaling industry, which once almost decimated seals and whale populations in these waters.

Snowshoe walking may be an option for the early season departures if conditions are right. This activity will require a brief introduction on how to use snowshoes which will be made freely available onboard. Kayaking is also offered on select departures.

We had an unforgettable trip on Ortelius. It was everything and more than expected. Lots of polar bears, some very close to the ship; walrus; blue whale; very, very rare sighting of bow head whale; beluga whale; minke whale; arctic fox; loads of birdlife; breath-taking scenery; excellent off ship trips. The ship was excellent with staff and crew to match.

I think you have got this one nailed!

J Woodburn

Contact our Polar Team to discuss voyage options


8 Day Sample Itinerary

This 8 day voyage explores the North & West coast of Spitsbergen in search of the King of the Arctic: the Polar Bear!

Day 1: Embarkation in Longyearbyen

Please note that our polar itineraries are written to provide a flavour of each voyage.  The actual route will vary according to choice of vessel, the captain and expedition team in accordance with prevailing ice, weather and sea conditions and opportunities to see wildlife and wilderness scenery.

Arrive in Longyearbyen, the administrative capital of the Spitsbergen. Before embarking there is an opportunity to stroll around this former mining town, whose parish church and Polar Museum are well worth visiting. We suggest you use the opportunity to visit the Svalbard Museum, which harbours an interesting collection on the history of Spitsbergen, the mining industry and polar exploration. In the early evening the ship will sail out of Isfjorden.

Day 2: Raudfjord

Sailing to Raudfjorden, on the north coast of Spitsbergen, you take in an expansive fjord spilling with glaciers – and maybe even visited by ringed and bearded seals. The cliffs and shoreline of this fjord also support thriving seabird colonies, rich vegetation, and the possibility of polar bears.

Day 3: Liefdefjorden & Monaco Glacier

Depending on the weather, you could sail into Liefdefjorden and cruise within sight of the 5-kilometer-long (3.1 miles) face of the precipitous Monaco Glacier. The waters in front of this glacier are a favorite feeding spot for thousands of kittiwakes, and the base of the ice is a popular polar bear hunting ground. If ice conditions prevent sailing here early in the season, an alternate route along the west coast of Spitsbergen can be implemented.

Day 4: Hinlopen Strait

Today you sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to bearded seals, ringed seals, and polar bears. At the entrance there is even the possibility to spot blue whales. After cruising among the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya in the Zodiacs, you can view the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet with their thousands of Brünnich’s guillemots. On the east side of Hinlopen Strait, you may attempt a landing on Nordaustlandet. Here reindeer, pink-footed geese, and walruses are likely sights. You can take an alternate route if ice prevents entry into Hinlopen.

Day 5: The Seven Islands

The northernmost point of your voyage may be north of Nordaustlandet, in the Seven Islands. Here you reach 80° north, just 870 km (540 miles) from the geographic North Pole. Polar bears inhabit this region, so the ship may park for several hours among the pack ice before wheeling around west again.

Day 6: Sailing the Continental Shelf

While retracing your route west, keep watch for polar bears and elusive Greenland (bowhead) whales. About 40 nautical miles west of Spitsbergen, you sail the edge of the continental shelf. Here fin whales forage during the summer in the upwelling zones (where cold, nutrient-rich water wells up from below the sea’s surface) that run along the Spitsbergen banks. At the mouth of Kongsfjorden, you have a good chance of sighting minke whales.

Day 7: Forlandsundet & Alkhornet

Walruses sometimes haul out in Forlandsundet, your next stop. Alternatively, you might sail into St. Johns Fjord or south to the mouth of Isfjorden, landing at Alkhornet. Seabirds nest on these cliffs, Arctic foxes search below for fallen eggs and chicks, and reindeer graze the sparse vegetation. You arrive in Longyearbyen later at night.

Day 8: Disembark in Longyearbyen

Return to Longyearbyen and disembark for your transfer to the airport and the flight to Oslo then home.


Enquire / Book 06 - 13 Jun 2024 - from € 3,590

Longyearbyen - Longyearbyen (8 Days)
Comfortable expedition ship: 108 passengers

Enquire / Book 10 - 17 Jun 2024 - from € 3,590

Longyearbyen - Longyearbyen (8 Days)
Modern expedition ship: 170 passengers
Included Activities: Hiking & Snowshoeing
Special Voyage in search of Polar Bears & Bowhead Whales

Enquire / Book 13 - 20 Jun 2024 - from € 3,590

Longyearbyen - Longyearbyen (8 Days)
Comfortable expedition ship: 108 passengers

Enquire / Book 18 - 25 Jun 2024 - from € 3,590

Longyearbyen - Longyearbyen (8 Days)
Lloyds 1A Ice Class Expedition Ship: 108 passengers
Activities: Birding

Enquire / Book 27 Jun - 04 Jul 2024 - from € 3,590

Longyearbyen - Longyearbyen (8 Days)
Comfortable expedition ship: 108 passengers


Our price includes:
- Voyage as indicated in draft itinerary
- Free loan of polar boots
- Group airport transfers to & from the vessel (when arriving/departing on
  recommended group flight)
- All meals, snacks, coffee and tea
- All shore excursions and zodiac activities
- Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced
  expedition staff
- All miscellaneous services taxes and port charges throughout the programme
- Comprehensive pre-departure material
- Snowshoe walking (if applicable)
- Aqua-Firma automatically offsets the Carbon Emissions of your polar voyage
  and flights booked through us in getting to and from your voyage

Price excludes:
- Airfares
- Fuel surcharge where applicable*
- Optional activities (e.g. kayaking, diving) unless stated
- Pre and post land arrangements
- Transfers to and from the vessel (except when arriving/departing on
  recommended group flight)
- Cancellation and personal insurance
- Passports and visas
- Arrival and departure tax
- Meals ashore
- Items of a personal nature (alcohol, laundry etc)
- Tips (voluntary/anonymous)

Activity Level:
Low to Medium depending if you opt for longer hikes/kayaking options

Single supplement:
There is no single supplement to pay if you are willing to share your cabin with someone of the same gender. For a cabin to yourself the supplement is from 1.7 x  the per person rate

*Fuel surcharge:
The cost of fuel is currently volatile, so a fuel surcharge may be applied by the ship without notice. We will let you know if this applies to your booking and send you an updated invoice.



Small Ship Voyages to Spitsbergen (Svalbard)

  • Walrus at Aroneset, Spitsbergen - Jen Squire
  • Ivory Gull - Chris Dobbs
  • Little Auk - Ralph Pannell
  • Arctic Fox in Spitsbergen
  • Spitsbergen in Summer - Dennis Imfeld
  • Polar Bear Cub - Dennis Imfeld
  • Ringed Seal - Paul Ashton
  • Purple Saxifrage in Spitsbergen
  • Polar Bear - Stuart Ward

Svalbard (Spitsbergen)

Trip Reviews: North Spitsbergen & Beyond Arctic Wilderness Voyages

  • Svalbard Reindeer - David Slater
  • Humpback Whale - Sandra Petrowitz
  • Polar Bear - Michelle Pink
  • Reaching the Pack Ice - Bjoern Koth
  • Spitsbergen, Land of the Pointed Mountains - David Slater
  • Polar Bear - Jim & Sarah Kier
  • Walrus in Spitsbergen - Jordi Plana
  • Zodiac Cruise - Sandra Petrowitz
  • Polar Bear - Bjoern Koth
View all
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