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The weather conditions are extreme in the Arctic from 24 hours darkness in the depths of winter to 24 hour light at the height of summer and everything in between. What it is possible to do in the Arctic is heavily seasonal and you will need to plan your trip carefully to make sure what you want to do and see is possible. The year can be roughly split into four seasons.
This is between mid-May and the end of September with 24-hour daylight until mid-August. It is the main cruising season in Arctic waters as the sea ice has melted sufficiently to provide access to some of the more remote areas. It is also the busiest time of year for towns like Longyearbyen whose population swells with tourists and the town is abuzz with people getting ready to embark on their voyage or having just returned.
In direct contrast to this is the polar winter between October and the end of February with a two and half month period from mid-November to late January with 24-hour darkness. Cruises don't run but if it is the northern light that you are after then it is the time to visit.
A fine time to visit the island of Spitsbergen and town of Longyearbyen is during the period after the dark winter but before the main peak season, this is between early March and mid-May. Conditions for photography are stunning as the sun starts to creep back to bathe the dramatic scenery and there is still a chance of seeing the northern lights as well as being able to explore further afield in daylight.
Although the cruise ships are not quite operating yet as there is still too much ice in the water it can be fantastic time to visit without the crowds of the summer. The Arctic emerges from its wintry slumber and springs to life and the sun rises above the horizon once again. Enjoy dog sledding, skiing, snow mobiling or hiking trips between some of the great lodges and outposts on the island of Spitsbergen.
It is the start of the cruising season in the Arctic but you will be some of the first visitors breaking the ice so it can be a wonderful time to visit with the environment looking crisp and fresh. Polar bears will be hungry after a long winter and if you are lucky you might get to glimpse their attempts at hunting seals on the remaining ice floes.
This is the peak season for trips to the Arctic with most cruise ships operating during this window. It is therefore the busiest time to go, however you get experience 24-hour daylight up until around the middle of August. With the constant daylight wildlife sightings can take place constantly and it is a great time of year of whale sightings, along with seabirds, polar bears, seals, dolphins and walruses.
Darkness once again comes to the Arctic and as the length of the nights increase you have a chance of seeing the northern lights. The cruising season comes to an end and if you are planning spend some time on the island of Spitsbergen then you might like to coincide this with the World's northernmost beer festival which normally takes place at the end of the month.
As the days shorten and the nights lengthen chances for seeing the aurora borealis increase. October is also a wonderful month to visit for festivals taking place in Longyearbyen, including Taste Svalbard in early October and the Dark Seasons Blues Festival in late October.
The polar winter with its 24-hour darkness commences around the middle of November through to late January so it is time to visit for a chance to see the northern lights. There are no cruises at this time of year and some of the more remote lodges on Spitsbergen are closed however Longyearbyen still provides a cosy getaway and there are a number of activity options on offer from the town as well as the incredible ever present culinary scene. There is also an art festival called KunstPause Svalbard in November.