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Polar bears, puffins, whales, fjords, Northern lights, the midnight sun – Svalbard and Norway's coastline have so much to offer anyone in search of an Arctic cruise or tour of the Norwegian fjords. Get the most out of your dream cruise and find out what you can see and do where.
You know you're in the Arctic when you land in [Svalbard.](https://www.polartours.com/destinations/northwest-spitsbergen) With its dramatic icebergs, glaciers, and snow-covered peaks, this archipelago is every Arctic explorer's dream. Halfway between Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard is home to a very international population of less than 25,000, welcoming citizens from all over the world who can live there with zero visa requirements.
The arrival point for many cruises around Svalbard, Longyearbyen is the world's most northerly year-round settlement and a fascinating city in its own right. Perhaps a little scruffy from the outside, this former coal-mining town lays claim to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing backup copies of over 40% of the world's seeds, the Svalbard Museum, which charts the history of the archipelago from whaling and mining to World War II, as well as the North Pole Expedition Museum, which documents the expeditions made by the likes of Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Peary, Salomon August Andrée and Roald Amundsen by airship, skis, dog sled, or boat. Longyearbyen is also the perfect base for modern-day snow expeditions to ice caves or into the great white yonder on snow-mobile or husky sled.
Depending on the time of year, you might venture into Northern Svalbard, normally surrounded by pack ice for much of the year. Furthest north and not far from the rugged coastline of Nordaustlandet lies Sjuøyane (meaning Seven Islands), a small archipelago of hard granite islands where you can spot walrus, polar bears as well as plenty of seabirds during a Zodiac excursion. It was close to here that Nobile's airship, the Italia, crashed on its return from the North Pole. Nearby, on the islands of Storøya and Moffen, there are large colonies of walrus to be spotted, while on the nearby island of Lågøya, you might also see the striking Sabine’s Gull. The most remote point in Northern Svalbard however is the "white island" of Kvitøya, a bleakly beautiful, rocky ice cap, which as well as a good spot to see walruses and polar bears, also houses a memorial to Andrée and his crew, whose remains were discovered here 33 years after their disappearance in 1897 – testimony to the island's remoteness.
The first stop in the Northwest Spitsbergen National Park is most likely Raudfjorden, or "Red Fjord'', named after the rugged sandstone mountains and believed to be the location that gave Spitsbergen its name (by 16th century Dutch explorer Willem Barents). Rounding the northwestern corner of Spitsbergen, you'll have a chance to see Virgohamna by Zodiac on the desolate island of Danskøya – the starting point for many a North Pole expedition, including Swedish adventurer Salomon Andrée and American explorer Walter Wellman, who attempted to reach the pole three times aboard an airship. As well as remains from the golden age of Arctic exploration, there's also a small 17th-century graveyard and three blubber stoves used to render whale fat into oil. In the fjords around Smeerenburgfjorden, you'll also see further remains of the Dutch whaling industry, with more opportunities to spot walrus and elusive polar bears. Surrounded by tall peaks and tidewater glaciers, the beautiful blue-green Magdalenefjord is one of the most stunning bays in Svalbard. And further south, you'll also have the chance to visit Kongsfjorden for another chance to spot polar bears. There are many lakes and pools in the area, which also attract several sea birds, including long-tailed jaegers that breed on the island of Ny London in the fjord. Krossfjorden, close to the Fjortende Julibukta (14th July Bay), is another highlight here with stunning glaciers, regular iceberg calvings, a wide variety of birds (including kittiwakes, puffins, and thick-billed murres), and some beautiful Arctic flowers. King's Bay and the town of Ny Ålesund are also both well worth a visit. The mast for Nobile's airship still stands at the water's edge here, and there are also often Harbor seals to be spotted, as well as whalers' graves, Svalbard's earliest whaling station, a German telegraph office, and the stunning Lillehöökbreen tidal glacier.
Sailing southwards past the long and thin island of Prins Karls Forlandet, a protected national park where walruses, seals, and sea lions come to breed you'll then head towards Vårsolbukta, a noisy haven of wildlife, with thousands of Little Auks as well as Arctic foxes, geese, and reindeer on land, and beluga whales in the bay. Venture through the narrow Mariasundet on your way towards Bellsund, into the Van Mijentfjorden to spot more wildlife and past Akseløya renowned for its spectacular mountain scenery. Once an important whaling site, where both Dutch and English whalers hunted beluga, the now abandoned Bellsund is dotted with piles of whale bones and upturned boats and is a great place to see Arctic mammals in the tundra as well as Purple Sandpipers and Red Phalaropes on the shore. Your ship may well cruise past the spectacular Hornsund on its way to Gåshamna with its incredibly photogenic abandoned hut, used by Norwegian trappers right up to the 1930s who would overwinter there.
Nearly 1,000 kilometers further south but still within the Arctic Circle, the Norwegian coast soon gives way to the Lofoten Islands. From the gateway city of Tromsø with its dramatic Arctic Cathedral and panoramic vistas, you can sail round the islands of Andøya and Bleiksøya, both great places to spot puffins and whales (even orcas!) on your way to the Lofoten Islands, selected by National Geographic Magazine as one of the most appealing destinations in the world. Separated from the mainland by the Vestfjorden, the five islands of the Lofoten are home to fewer than 25,000 people but have been inhabited for centuries. Sailing past the red wooden cabins against a dramatic backdrop of mountains that soar to 1000 meters, you'll spot stockfish hanging out to dry on traditional wooden frames and in Svolvær, you'll have the chance to visit the Lofotpils Brewery and the World War II Museum and bunker. You’ll have the opportunity to get out and hike Goat Mountain, or head out onto the fjords to do some sea kayaking or surfing. You can also visit the Lofoten Viking Museum, or the Lofoten Museum situated in a traditional fishing village, that documents the importance of fish to the islands. Other popular activities include walking the Lofoten Heritage Trail, a visit to the picturesque village of Henningsvær, excursions to the bird island of Gimsøya or the spectacular Trollfjord as well as the UNESCO World Heritage listed Nusfjord to spot sea eagles, seals, and otters.
Further south and beyond the Arctic Circle, you'll also have the opportunity to see some of Norway's most spectacular landscapes as well as visit some of its most historical cities and towns. Sail to the UNESCO-listed island of Vega and spot great colonies of birds, especially eiders, visit the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, where all of Norway's kings have been crowned (or consecrated) and the place where St Olaf is buried, eat fish and chips in the island city of Kristiansund, or enjoy a walk through the Art Nouveau streets of Ålesund, gateway to the Norwegian fjords. From here you can enjoy trips to the dramatic Romsdalsfjord and Hjørundfjord, the stunning UNESCO World Heritage listed Geirangerfjord with dramatic waterfalls, and sail Norway's longest and deepest fjord, the Sognefjord up to the stave church at Urnes. Further south, you'll also find the unusually narrow Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord, from where you can take one of the world's most beautiful railway journeys, the popular Flåmsbana, or head south towards Bergen via the lush, green Hardangerfjord and the beautiful Lysefjord, where you can set your heart racing with visits to the gravity-defying Preikestolen and Kjerag Boulder. Most tours of the Norwegian Fjords will either begin or end in the heart of the fjords in the UNESCO city of Bergen, which, with its brightly colored wharf and charming cobblestone streets, makes for the perfect place to unwind and reminisce on the epic Arctic adventure you’ve just had.