Springtime in Svalbard – the Arctic awakens
Witnessing the Arctic archipelago come to life in the spring is something very special. PolarQuest's Lillemor Främberg had the chance to experience this when she joined one of our May expeditions in Svalbard with M/S Quest 2023. In this interview, she takes us on a journey through a crisp pastel-coloured landscape where day and night merge under the rays of the midnight sun. She describes magical animal encounters, the infinite silence and the privilege of spending time in one of the world's most remote wildernesses.
Spring is probably the time that most symbolises the image of Svalbard. The tangible light finds its way into every fjord mouth and mountain crevice and awakens what has been dormant during the darkness of the polar night. The fjord ice is thick and the mountain peaks are covered in a white blanket of snow. For PolarQuest's Lillemor Främberg, who has visited Svalbard six times, three of them on expeditions, 2023 was the first time she travelled in the early season. Despite her extensive knowledge and years of experience as a polar travel consultant, the trip exceeded all her already high expectations.
"The crispness, snow and ice glistening in the fjords is so beautiful. We even got the chance to walk on the ice, which was a very special feeling. The incredible light and the fact that the sun never sets also makes it a unique experience."
In addition to a fairytale landscape, Lillemor and her fellow travellers experienced many wonderful animal encounters. The king of the Arctic, the polar bear, was seen wandering across the ice, curious walruses came swimming and the Arctic fox peeked out in its winter fur. The midnight sun also made it possible for the guides and guests to scout for the unique wildlife of the Arctic almost around the clock.
"It's very special. We chugged past some walruses sleeping on a nearby ice floe. It was late and we passed slowly without waking them up – they didn't even notice we were there."
Another memorable experience was when, from the ship a few hundred metres away, they witnessed a young, playful and fearless polar bear approaching some resting walruses.
"The polar bear, who you could say was a teenager, boldly approached the clearly annoyed walruses, disturbing them again and again. We watched in fascination for a long time; it was truly entertaining to witness this spectacle."
Spring in Svalbard offers a unique exclusivity, as few ships have arrived so early in the season. In addition, travelling on a smaller ship like M/S Quest allows you to reach most places and have a more flexible itinerary.
"You feel a bit alone in the wilderness, which is a powerful feeling. Then the guides are fantastic at keeping track of the weather and always striving to maximise the experience for the guests. If the itinerary needs changing, they always find something else to see."
Exploring the pack ice north of Spitsbergen offers a truly extraordinary experience. Few ships make it up to this frozen, dynamic world of ice, which adds to the sense of adventure.
"It was fun to make Zodiacs cruises through the cracked ice and see all the beautiful ice formations and colours. We also saw some animals – such as puffins, seals and ivory gulls. The latter is typical of the Arctic and only found here. Many find it even more captivating than the iconic polar bear."
On the expedition Lillemor took part in, there were several different nationalities, all with a common interest in nature. The fact that you share so many fantastic experiences creates a natural sense of community when you sit together in the evenings and discuss the day's adventures. The panoramic lounge is a popular spot for socialising or for a bit of peace and quiet with binoculars and a view of the fantastic polar landscape that is passing by. Another thing that Lillemor believes contributes strongly to the family feeling on board is the dedicated guides and crew.
"We are a fairly small company with relatively few guides, which means that everyone is always involved and available. The bridge is always open, and you can talk to the captain who also possesses incredible knowledge."
The traditional polar plunge was another highlight of the trip. Lillemor didn't join the crowd dipping into the near-zero degree water but was impressed by all the enthusiasts who happily jumped in.
The silence in Svalbard is palpable. The absence of digital connection also makes it possible to just be in the moment without distractions. This was something Lillemor found very pleasant.
"There was no media noise, just the sound of the wind and water. Just being in the moment and socialising was liberating. I would say it's an almost spiritual experience."
An expedition day in the spring can look different depending on weather and ice conditions. Sometimes landings are possible, while at other times a Zodiac cruise might be more suitable.
"Often the guides have scouted in the morning – where can we go, what is the weather like, what is there to see? It can be a nature experience or an animal encounter, but we can also go ashore at a historical site."
Lillemor describes the landings that were made during the expedition as both adventurous and carefully adapted to one's abilities.
"We went ashore but didn't do very long hikes. Usually, we were divided into different groups so that you could choose how long and challenging you wanted the hike to be. Or you could choose to just walk along the beach, which was also a nice experience."
Lillemor sometimes finds it difficult to describe the grandeur of Svalbard to someone who has not been there. Much lies in the experience itself – the feeling of total silence and being surrounded by such magnificent nature.
"I like the freshness. There are no scents – just pure air. Then the opportunity to see the iconic Arctic animals is amazing. The feeling of seeing a small polar bear far away on a big ice floe and knowing that they live here. It's their home – we are really just visitors."
Lillemor sees the opportunity to spend time in such a pristine wilderness that is both accessible and inaccessible in its own way as a tremendous luxury.
"There are not many places like this left that we have access to – you and I. Researchers and those working on film productions can come to remote places and be alone, but for us 'ordinary' people there are not so many opportunities. It's a very beautiful experience to have."
M/S Quest 50 passengers9 days 7 nights on ship USD 6 090LanguagesDepartures: May 2025
- USD 400 Discount
M/S Stockholm 12 passengers9 days 7 nights on ship USD 9 590LanguagesDepartures: May / June 2025
- USD 400 Discount
M/S Sjøveien 12 passengers9 days 7 nights on ship USD 9 090LanguagesDepartures: May / June 2025
- USD 400 Discount
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 50 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.