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A harsh but beautiful wilderness within relatively easy reach, this archipelago above the treeline is an Arctic kingdom ruled by polar bears. Go in search of their paw prints when endless daylight melts the fjords, and as temperatures drop, switch to sleds or snowmobiles for a safari across frozen desert.

Poster boys for climate change, polar bears are in decline, and Svalbard is one of the few places offering a window into their secret world. Join expedition cruises for the best chance of sightings, encountering walrus haul-outs and sprawling cliff-side seabird colonies along the way.

But don’t let these headline acts steal the show. Wrapped with glaciers and outlined by dagger-edge peaks, the Arctic scenery is also supreme. And at a latitude of 78 degrees north, light takes on magical qualities – casting pink and blue hues during polar sunsets. In winter, the archipelago becomes an adventure playground, with snowmobile rides through steep-sided valleys and the chance to climb into a glacial cave.

Increasingly fragile, it’s an environment demanding great care, but there are ways to minimise human impact. Join an organised beach clean-up or opt for a sustainable sailing trip to help craft a positive future for a truly special place.

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Wonderful places to stay in Svalbard