NEW! Around Svalbard - A circumnavigation in the realm of the Polar Bear

Exceptional wildlife, scenery and history in the high Arctic

2023 Dates
  • 22 Jul - 02 Aug 2023
Duration12 Days
2023 Price
Based on sharing twin porthole cabin £6795 pp
No single supplement. Deposit £800

pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are inc.

This new Heatherlea cruise around Svalbard has a particular focus on Polar Bear, and we hope for a number of excellent sightings!

We travel around the entire archipelago, beginning and ending in the picturesque capital, Longyearbyen. We travel in late-July to give the best opportunity to see many bears, and the wonderful summer scenery and varied wildlife guarantee a fascinating tour.

Svalbard is one of the last great wildernesses, and one of the most dramatic places on earth. Just 600 miles from the North Pole, and warmed by the most northerly waters of the Gulf Stream, this is a spectacular land of rugged mountains, extensive Arctic pack-ice drifting offshore, and the blue ice of ancient, awe-inspiring glaciers. There is more too; nothing can prepare you for your first sighting of a wild Polar Bear, the undisputed king of the Arctic, and a key highlight of this fabulous adventure.

On this tour we seek birds and mammals in the high-Arctic wilderness, and target all available species. Spitsbergen is home to countless birds nesting on spectacular cliffs, though by the time of our voyage the breeding season is largely over. Many birds have left their nests and are found on open waters. There are huge populations of Little Auk, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Puffin, Razorbill and Kittiwake. Glaucous Gull, Fulmar and Black Guillemot. Snow Bunting, the only common passerine, are virtually everywhere. Purple Sandpiper, Red-throated Diver, Ptarmigan, Great and Arctic Skua, Long-tailed Duck and Common Eider are found widely, Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese breed on the many shoreline meadows where melting snows reveal vegetation, and Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua are usually seen. Ivory Gull are often found singly, breeding Sabine's Gull are rare though possible, King Eider and Red Phalarope are local but quite common, and we expect the unexpected, with occasional rarities including Pectoral Sandpiper. As well as Polar Bear, we also seek Walrus, Arctic Fox, Svalbard Reindeer and other marine mammals including the beautiful Beluga Whale, and Bearded and Harp Seals.

The days are still long at this time of year, and there will still be plenty of birds around. Be sure to spend time outside on deck at the end of the day and marvel at the low sun, lighting the mountains as the sea turns a vivid orange-pink. It may be some time before you make it back to your cabin! NB even in late-July, it may be impossible to circumnavigate Svalbard due to the accumulation of northern pack ice. Whatever happens, you will never forget the unique wildlife of this harsh, beautiful land, so join us on this experience of a lifetime!

Our vessel, the 80-cabin M/V Hondius, is ideal; full details below! Our friendly and experienced crew will be excited to share their knowledge and enthusiasm, and we will be flexible in our itinerary, paying close attention to weather and ice, changing course and using inflatable zodiacs amongst the ice-floes, and spending as much time ashore as possible. Expect a friendly, intimate atmosphere in a cosy and comfortable onboard environment.

CABIN PRICES (per person)
Quadruple               £5295
Triple                        £5995
Twin Porthole         £6795
Twin Window          £7195
Twin Deluxe            £7495
Superior                   £8295
Junior Suite              £8695
Grand Suite             £9595
All cabins have either window or porthole, private shower and toilet, desk and chair, flat screen TV, telephone and internet connection, hair dryer and ample storage space. Click here for full cabin information, including pics. We advise early booking to secure the cabin type of your choice. Single travellers are welcome, and if willing to be paired with another single traveller in a shared cabin, will not pay a single supplement. Cabins are available for single use at a supplement, beginning at an additional cost for Twin Porthole. It is much better value to share! 

Download the ship cabin plan here. Contact us to reserve the specific cabin of your choice!

We expect to see many if not most of these;

BIRDS: Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Fulmar, Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Common Eider, King Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Ptarmigan, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Grey Phalarope, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Great Skua, Sabine’s Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Ivory Gull, Arctic Tern, Common Guillemot, Brünnich’s Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Little Auk, Puffin, Snow Bunting.

MAMMALS: Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Svalbard Reindeer, Walrus, Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, Harp Seal, Common Seal, cetaceans including Beluga and Minke Whale.

This video was produced by our vessel operators, and gives a really good idea of what you will experience. The scenery, wildlife, and fun are unforgettable!

PS you aren't expected to take to canoes, comfortable zodiacs with helping hands are provided throughout!

Day 1: Saturday 22 July 2023                                                   Flights to Oslo
We fly from London - Oslo, then transfer to our comfortable hotel near the airport.

Day 2: Sunday 23 July 2023                                          Oslo - Longyearbyen
After breakfast we return to the airport for our flight to Longyearbyen, the administrative centre of Spitsbergen - the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. We will enjoy strolling around this colourful former mining town, whose parish church and Svalbard Museum make for fascinating attractions, adorned with Snow Buntings. Though the countryside round about appears stark and unforgiving, more than a hundred species of plant have been recorded on Spitsbergen, and at this time of year, we are likely to see quite a few as we are there in the middle of their short flowering season. We board the M/V Hondius in the afternoon, and by early evening our ship sails out of Isfjorden, where we might spot the first Minke Whale of the voyage.

Day 3: Monday 24 July 2023                                     North to Krossfjorden
Heading north along the west coast, we will arrive in Krossfjorden where we may board the zodiacs for a cruise near the towering blue-white face of the Fourteenth of July Glacier. On the green slopes near the glacier, colourful flowers bloom and hundreds of Kittiwake and Brünnich’s Guillemot nest on the cliffs, and some should still be present. We have a good chance of spotting an Arctic Fox scouting for food, or a Bearded Seal paddling through the fjord.

In the afternoon we continue on to Ny Ålesund - the northernmost settlement on Earth. Once a mining village served by the world’s most northerly railway – you can still see its tracks – Ny Ålesund is now a research centre. Close to the village is a breeding ground for Barnacle Goose, Pink-footed Goose, and the noisy Arctic Tern. And, for those interested in the history of Arctic exploration, we can visit the anchoring mast used by polar explorers Amundsen and Nobile in their airships, Norge (1926) and Italia (1928).

Day 4: Tuesday 25 July 2023                         The massive Monaco Glacier
Depending on the weather, we may sail into Liefdefjorden and cruise within sight of the three-mile long face of the precipitous Monaco Glacier. The waters in front of this glacier are a favourite feeding spot for thousands of birds, predominantly Kittiwake, and the base of the ice is a popular Polar Bear hunting ground. If ice conditions prevent sailing here, we may have to use an alternative route along the west coast of Spitsbergen.

Days 5 - 6: Wednesday 26 & Thursday 27 July 2023     The Seven Islands 
The northernmost point of our voyage may be north of Nordaustlandet, in the Seven Islands. Here we will reach 80° north, just 540 miles from the geographic North Pole. Polar Bears inhabit this region, so the ship may anchor for several hours among the pack ice to give ourselves the best chance of seeing these mighty predators before we wheel around west again. If the edge of the sea ice is a long way from the Seven Islands (as generally happens later in the summer season), we may spend a second day in this area. Alternatively (if the sea ice is nearer land), we may head to Sorgfjord, where we have the chance to find a herd of Walrus not far from some graves of 17th-century whalers. A walk in this area should produce close-up views of Ptarmigan with their young.

Day 7: Friday 28 July 2023          The Many Highlights of Hinlopen Strait
Today, if the sea ice allows, we sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to Bearded and Ringed Seals as well as Polar Bear. At the entrance to the Strait, keep your eyes peeled for gigantic Blue Whale. After taking an exhilarating zodiac ride through the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya, we will see Alkefjellet – a massive seabird cliff with its famous Brünnich’s Guillemot colony. Again, if the sea ice allows, we may attempt a landing on the east side of Hinlopen Strait where Svalbard Reindeer, Pink-footed Goose, and Walrus are likely sightings. We may also encounter Walrus on an (optional) coastline hike over raised beaches near Torrelneset, where the polar desert of Nordaustlandet can be found, next to the world’s third-largest ice cap. Highlights are plentiful today!

Day 8: Saturday 29 July 2023                         Barentsøya’s many bounties
The plan is to land in Freemansundet, and although the sea ice isn’t likely to be a problem, Polar Bear activity sometimes make this impossible! Other potential stops on the island of Barentsøya include Sundneset (for an old trapper’s hut), Kapp Waldburg (for its Kittiwake colony), and Rindedalen (for a walk across the tundra habitat). On Kapp Lee there is a Walrus haul-out, some ruins of old Pomor buildings, and maybe even the chance for a stroll around Edgeøya to admire the views, the botany and the peace and beauty of the Arctic environment.

Day 9: Sunday 30 July 2023                      Land of the Pointed Mountains
We cruise through the fjords of the Hornsund area of southern Spitsbergen, taking in the spire-like peaks: Hornsundtind rises to 4,700 feet and Bautaen is a perfect illustration of why early Dutch explorers named this island Spitsbergen, meaning ‘pointed mountains’. There are also 14 sizeable glaciers in this area, as well as opportunities for seeing several seal species, Beluga Whale and Polar Bear.

Day 10: Monday 31 July 2023 
                                              Bell Sund’s flora, fauna, and haunting history

The ocean currents in Bell Sund, one of the largest fjord systems in Svalbard, make this area slightly warmer than other areas in the archipelago. This slight change in ambient temperature and moisture shows in the relatively lush vegetation, and there are excellent opportunities to enjoy both history and wildlife. Ahlstrandhalvøya, at the mouth of Van Keulenfjorden, has piles of Beluga skeletons – a macabre relic of the area’s rich whaling history. These remains of 19th-century whale slaughter are a haunting reminder of the consequences of rampant exploitation. Fortunately, Beluga were not hunted to extinction, and we have a good chance of coming across a pod during the day. Bell Sund also has a healthy population of Svalbard Reindeer on the tundra, and Little Auk breed amongst the rocky mountains.

Day 11: Tuesday 1 August 2023                                   Back to Civilisation!
After witnessing the best of the high Arctic, we arrive back into Longyearbyen, where we disembark and, after bidding Svalbard fond farewells, we take onward flights to Oslo. Depending on flight times, we may spend one night in Oslo before flying back to the UK.

Day 12: Wednesday 2 August 2023                                    Arrival in the UK
If an overnight stay in Oslo is required, we will return to the UK this morning.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • full-board accommodation (as specified) during voyage. Includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and all excursions, talks and reports provided by Expedition Leaders.
  • return scheduled flight from London – Oslo and Oslo - Longyearbyen, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline-included limit.
  • airport transfers in Longyearbyen, ground transportation, accommodation and meals as specified.
  • overnight accommodation in Oslo on day 1, and day 11 depending on flight times.
  • the services of your Leaders.
  • A 'Heatherlea Beanie'! The first item on the menu of international fashion, this little article of headgear will come in very handy. Wear your beanie with pride!

What's not included in your holiday price:

  • holiday insurance, optional tips to ship's crew/other staff, drinks, and other personal expenses.
  • lunch in Oslo on day 1, and Longyearbyen on day 2
  • Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are not included on this holiday, we instead include two nights hotel, dinner and breakfast in Oslo.

More holiday information

Accommodation: is in comfortable cabins with en-suite facilities. See full details here. All hotel accommodation is included on the basis of shared rooms, please ask for detail of single supplement in Oslo, or Oslo + voyage.
Food: food on board is very good European cuisine, with a choice for all courses. Breakfast and lunch are usually an extensive buffet. There is a well stocked Bar run by the crew's Hotel staff, who are efficient, courteous and very helpful.
Mobility/Walking: is generally light/moderate, and an average level of fitness is required. There are no lifts on M/V Hondius, though if you are mobile enough to manage stairs, you should be able to enjoy all aspects of this holiday. Staff are patient and courteous, and assistance is provided at both ends of zodiac voyages, all of which are optional. Land conditions can be wet and slippery, with uphill and downhill gradients, though an option to engage in very little walking when ashore is usually available. When on land all participants will be under the management of the Expedition Leader and their team, and must take note of instructions which are there for your safety and benefit.
Weather: will be cold, though can be surprisingly warm and pleasant. we travel in late spring/early summer, though of course at this latitude bad weather is quite possible. Warm clothing is essential, though your large vessel offers more than adequate cover and heating. Daytime temperatures can be around 5 - 6'C .
Insects: biting insects are not expected, though there will be flies on the boggy landscape. Little other insect life is expected.
Group size: you will part of a ship's complement of up to 170 clients. There is no restriction to how many of these will be Heatherlea clients.
Flights: from London are included. Local flights can be arranged from any airport linked to Oslo, though a price surcharge may apply. We will of course be happy to make personal arrangements for your convenience.
Holiday Payment: deposit payment of just £500pp secures your booking. Please take appropriate personal Travel Insurance to cover the possibility of your cancellation.
Photography: Opportunities are good to excellent, particularly for bears, Walrus, some birds and above all scenery.
Your leaders: One from the Heatherlea team with more than 10 clients. The voyage will be under the supervision a resident on-board Expedition Leader, plus crew leaders of a very high standard. 

Essential Information


The Group will gather in Oslo, where we overnight at a comfortable hotel near the airport. Dinner, bed and breakfast is included in your holiday price. The main point of departure will be London, though flights to Oslo from other UK/International airports can be arranged - please get in touch with the Heatherlea office for more details. Supplements may apply. On this holiday pre-flight hotel and Airport VIP Lounge are not included, though these can be arranged if requested at the time of booking.

We transfer to Oslo Airport in the morning for our flight to Longyearbyen and enjoy a couple of free hours exploring the town, where lunch can be taken at your leisure. We board M/V Hondius, our home for the next 9 nights, in the mid-afternoon.


Hondius is the first-registered Polar Class 6 vessel in the world, meeting the latest and highest Lloyd’s Register standards for ice-strengthened cruise ships. Surpassing the requirements of the Polar Code adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), 

Hondius is one of the most environmentally friendly vessel on the polar seas. Hondius uses LED lighting, steam heating, bio-degradable paints and lubricants, and state-of-the-art power management systems that keep fuel consumption and CO2 levels minimal. This means that when you sail aboard Hondius, you get to enjoy the exotic landscapes and wildlife as much as possible while impacting them as little as possible.

Hondius offers high-quality accommodation for 170 passengers in six grand suites with balconies (27 square meters, 291 square feet), eight junior suites (19 to 20 square meters, 205 to 215 square feet), eight superior cabins (20 to 21 square meters, 215 to 226 square feet), 11 twin deluxe cabins, (19 to 21 square meters, 205 to 226 square feet), 14 twin window cabins (12 to 14 square meters, 129 to 151 square feet) as well as 27 twin porthole cabins, two triple porthole cabins, and four quadruple porthole cabins that vary in size from 12 to 18 square meters, or 129 to 194 square feet. One deck consists of a large observation lounge and separate lecture room, which are reserved for a wide variety of interactive workshops, exhibitions, and performances particular to Hondius. 

Your Leaders

One from the Heatherlea team, plus Oceanwide Expeditions has a team of resident onboard expedition staff. 


Field Notes

Summer at this latitude features generally settled weather, with light winds and perhaps a little rain. Temperatures should be between minus and plus 5 degrees Celsius. Sea conditions are unlikely to be adverse. Days are still long as we head into late-summer, and you can expect wildlife to appear at any time. We expect more than one sighting of all key birds and mammals including Polar Bear, so you shouldn’t miss anything. You will need waterproof boots, gaiters and wellies, and can expect maximum walking distances of around three miles, over moderate terrain (though of course most of the holiday is spent on the vessel). Biting insects are not expected. Due to the light, the dramatic landscape, and the quality and quantity of wildlife, this is an ideal location for photography.

The itinerary is given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of our captain and crew, and elements beyond our control, especially weather, pack ice and sea states.

A quick note about Spitsbergen and Polar Bears
Polar Bears make their way across the Arctic pack ice to Svalbard in winter, and our voyage to this northerly archipelago gives us excellent chances of seeing them. Frequently the pack ice melts in summer, isolating bears on the islands, and there is an obvious danger to Polar Bears if this recent trend continues. Bears need frozen sea ice to hunt seals, and although none of us can be sure of the future, it seems very possible that the Polar Bear may become much harder to find if the Arctic Ocean continues to warm. If you haven’t been here yet, put Svalbard high on your wildlife holiday agenda!

Other birding and wildlife holidays in Arctic

Other birding and wildlife holidays in Norway

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

Trip Reports

Coming Soon

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248