Glacial ice up close detail with blue colors

Visiting a Svalbard Ice Cave: The Tour I Took & 4 Unique Others! [2024]

Of all my memories of the frozen world of my February visit to Longyearbyen, snowmobiling out to a remote ice cave in Svalbard was definitely the highlight of my trip.

… even though it was an activity I almost didn’t do because I was suffering from the most intense anxiety I’d experienced in the last decade during the entirety of my trip to the Arctic this year.

Luckily, my anxiety about wasting money is more significant than any other anxiety… because I somehow managed to push every alarm bell shrieking in my head to the background and go on my Svalbard ice cave tour regardless.

Snowmobiles on the way to the ice caves in Svalbard
The halfway point on our snowmobile ride to the ice caves!
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And by the end of the day?

Oh, I was so glad that I did: there’s simply no replacement for exploring this frozen wonderland with the thrill and freedom of a snowmobile!

Planning your Svalbard trip quickly? I’ve got you covered!

My Top Picks for Winter Tours (all personally experienced by me!)
1. Snowmobile Tour to an Ice Cave (reviewed in this guide!)
2. Wildlife Photography Tour (loved it; runs beginning in February)
3. Northern Lights Chase by Snowmobile (your best chance of seeing lights in Svalbard!)

My Top Picks for Where to Stay
1. Hotell Svalbard Polfaren (best overall!)
2. Funken Lodge (best boutique with great restaurant)
3. Coal Miners’ Cabins (best on a budget)

This guide to visiting the Svalbard ice caves will cover my experience on the tour I did and I heartily recommend the snowmobile ice cave tour run by Svalbard Adventures.

However, on this tour, I realized you could visit the ice caves differently, including by dog sled (I’m jealous!) and Snowcat.

And there are even more intense and unique ways to see the ice caves in Svalbard, such as ice climbing inside of them or even spending the night in one!

The Snowmobile Ice Cave Tour I Recommend!

The gorgeous striations in the ice cave landscape of a Svalbard ice cave tour and Allison Green wearing winter gear inside the ice cave
Inside the Svalbard ice cave on my February 2024 trip

Duration: 5 hours
Departure Time: 10:30 AM
Seasonality: February 15, 2024 through May 10, 2024
Approximate Cost: 2,390 NOK per driver (or $228 USD as per April 2024 exchange rate) and 1,190 NOK ($114 USD per passenger)
Where To BookCheck here for the best rates!

Our tour started at 10:30 AM, and we were picked up at our hotel (we stayed at Hotell Svalbard Polfaren, which I highly recommend!).

We were then transferred to the Svalbard Adventures office, where we received a safety briefing, picked up our necessary safety equipment, and were dressed in thermal gear to brave the cold temperatures we’d be facing outside.

Allison Green wearing a snowsuit, enjoying the winter cold while on a glacier ice cave tour in Svalbard
All kitted up in my borrowed winter gear for the ice cave tour!

Once we had watched the safety briefing (learning about how to use the snowmobiles, polar bear safety precautions, and specific things to know about the nature of ice caves), we headed outside to our snowmobiles!

If you book this tour via Manawa like I did, you can select each person to have their own snowmobile. Alternatively, if you want to save money as I did, you can book one snowmobile to be shared between two people (a driver and a passenger, and yes, you can switch it off!). 

If you are new to snowmobiling, don’t worry; they’ll give you a thorough briefing, and snowmobiles couldn’t be easier to operate.

A bunch of snowmobiles in front of the town of Longyearbyen, where you start the ice cave tour
Picking out our snowmobiles before the tour begins

I had only driven one once before—the night before, in fact, in the pitch black of Svalbard while we searched (fruitlessly) for the Northern lights!

We disembarked from the starting point, weaving our way through the vast expanse of Adventdalen, a river that freezes over each winter, creating an epic runway for all sorts of snow sports adventures. We even saw people kite-skiing out on Adventdalen, which I never knew people could do!

View of the frozen river landscape overlooking Adventdalen in Svalbard
Looking onto the vast expanse of the frozen over Advantdalen river valley

After a certain point out in the wild of Adventdalen, we swung left into the hills and mountains, traversing a slightly more rocky and challenging terrain, though one still suitable for beginners. 

We arrived at the entry point for the ice cave after a little more than an hour of snowmobiling. However, we had some stops during that active snowmobiling time, taking the opportunity to take pictures and switch drivers if we wanted along the way. 

View of the mountains in blue hour with a slight bit of pink in the clouds
Some of the first pink tones of the 2024 year!

Once we reached the ice caves, we took in the beautiful landscape: it was still blue hour, that classic February aesthetic that is one of the most beautiful times of year in Svalbard, but a tiny tinge of pastel pink lit up the tips of the snow-capped mountains, signaling the end of the polar night.

We walked a short distance to the entrance of the ice caves, finding the ladder that had been placed there by previous tour operators.

Ladder leading up from the bottom of the ice cave
The rickety, icy ladder down to the ice cave in this Svalbard glacier!

The exact location of the visited ice cave changes each year—it is a natural and, thus, ever-changing phenomenon, after all.

Each year, the companies that run the ice cave tours work together to find the most impressive and safest glacier ice caves for travelers to explore.

The ice cave we got to explore this year (winter 2024) was utterly spectacular. This year, we went to an ice cave inside Tellbreen (or Tell Glacier, breen is Norwegian for glacier).

Person looking at the landscape in the svalbard ice cave
Admiring the beauty of the ice cave we visited in Svalbard

Everything was covered in thick layers of ice crystals that glittered in the shine of my headlight, and the fantastic ice formations were mesmerizingly beautiful. 

Time passed too quickly here: I could have spent hours reveling in the beauty of this spectacular, unique experience, memorizing the details in the ice right down to the air bubbles trapped in the glacial ice for thousands of years.

Glacial ice up close detail with blue colors
Detail of the glacial ice in the ice cave in Svalbard

After about 20-30 minutes of enjoying the ice caves—I really can’t tell exactly how long because I truly lost track of time and the outside world—we re-emerged from the depths of the ice cave up the same icy ladder we traversed down, back to reality.

We then ate some freeze-dried meals in a bag from Real Turmat, a Norwegian brand you’ll see everywhere. It was actually much tastier than it sounds!

Allison Green's hand holding a warm beverage as she drinks a cup of warm juice after her tour
A classic Svalbard drink – a hot Nordic berry toddy!

They had a huge variety of meals available, but let them know if you’re vegetarian or vegan in advance so they can ensure they have enough suitable options. 

The meal is hearty, but if you need to eat quite a lot of calories to feel full, you might want to bring some extra food. They’ll also give you cookies and warm drinks, though, if you need a sugary pick-me-up after your meal!

This was definitely a highlight of my winter Svalbard itinerary and I highly recommend it to anyone.

4 Other Fun Options to Get to the Svalbard Ice Caves!

Ice Cave Tour by Dog Sled

The dog sled tour arriving at the ice caves in mid day in February
We got to watch the dog sled tour arrive at the same ice cave as us on our tour!

Duration: Approximately 6-7 hours
Departure Time: 9 AM and 10 AM daily
Seasonality: January 10, 2024 through May 25, 2024
Approximate Cost: 3,390 NOK per person ($317 USD as per exchange rate in April 2024)
Where To Book: Check here for the best rates!

Another option for getting to the ice caves in Svalbard is a dog sledding tour. I didn’t know this was an option… until when, walking up to the ice caves, we stumbled across the temporary lines they installed to tie up the dogs! 

This tour is operated by Green Dog Svalbard, and you can find more information here. I have yet to personally do any tours with Green Dog, so I can’t speak to their practices. Still, I know they’re a highly reputable company that’s been in operation for nearly 15 years and that Svalbard places a really high emphasis on ethical wildlife tourism. 

Allison Green dog sledding in Alta wearing the expedition suit and with the sunset behind her
Dog sledding in Alta, Norway in February 2024!

I have done a lot of dog sledding—no, really, a bunch: in Alta, Tromsø, Rovaniemi, and Abisko, in fact—and it’s one of my favorite ways to see the scenery, so I’m certain this tour would be epic!

This dog sledding trip takes you to the same ice cave we visited deep in one of Svalbard’s glaciers — we literally saw them arrive after we got there on our snowmobiles. Like the snowmobile tour, this tour also includes a hot drink and a warm lunch after the ice caves.

Ice Cave Tour by Snow Cat

A woman wearing a hard hat while traversing an ice cave in Svalbard
This tour visits a different ice cave, closer to Longyearbyen

Duration: 3 hours
Departure Time: 9 AM, 1 PM, and 5 PM
Seasonality: February 12, 2024 through May 16, 2024
Approximate Cost: 1195 NOK per person (or $112 USD as of April 2024)
Where to BookCheck here for the best rates

For a shorter, less adrenaline-pumping tour that will give you that gorgeous ice cave experience, the Hurtigruten offers a tour by Snow Cat. 

The Snowcat is heated and traverses the icy landscapes of Svalbard expertly and comfortably, bringing you to the ice caves without much difficulty. However, you’ll still need to be fit enough to head down any ladders into the ice cave and navigate its internal twists and turns.

However, if dog sledding or snowmobiling presents a physical challenge for you, but you do want to see the ice caves, this is a great chance to see the underground ice caves for those with health or mobility limitations.

Note that this tour visits the closer glacier, the Longyear Glacier. In contrast, the tours by dog sled and snowmobile take you to a landlocked glacier further away, the stunning Tellbreen (Tell Glacier) deep in the mountains of Svalbard.

Ice Cave Tour (With Ice Climbing and Caving Deeper!)

Deep dark interior of a glacial cave with beautiful snow and ice
This tour lets you delve even deeper into the glacial ice cave’s mysteries!

Duration: 6 hours
Departure Time: 9:30 AM
Seasonality: February 9, 2024 through April 28, 2024
Approximate Cost: 4040 NOK per person (or $378 USD as of April 2024) 
Where to BookCheck here for the best rates

This unique spin on the Svalbard ice cave tour has you going further, past where others turn around! Equipped with ice axes, crampons, and climbing ropes, you’ll explore the interior of the ice cave system like a true explorer. 

If you’ve never ice-climbed before, don’t worry—you’ll have the proper equipment, and the guide is a certified climbing instructor who is prepared to teach absolute beginners. This is an intense and highly adventurous tour, so it’s only for the bravest among us! 

Also note that because you go deep into the cave system, the period where it is safe to explore this deep into the caves is shorter than it is for other tours, so the end date of the tours is much sooner.

Overnight in an Ice Cave

Another svalbard ice cave, this one with more blue tones in the snow
You can even spend the night in an ice cave!

Duration: Overnight, from 5 PM to 11 AM
Departure Time: 5 PM on Wednesdays and Fridays only
Seasonality: November 3, 2023 to May 15, 2024
Approximate Cost: 3900 NOK per person (or $378 USD as of April 2024) plus sleeping bag rental of 600 NOK ($56 USD). Additional fees of 1000 NOK ($94 USD) per person if your group size is only two, or 500 NOK ($48 USD) if your group size is only three.
Where to BookCheck here for the best rates

I just found out you could do this when researching this post, and now I feel compelled to share it because it is one of the most unique ways to spend a night in Svalbard.

Better yet, this is one of the very few tours that runs even during the polar night, so if you happen to be visiting Svalbard during one of the days of total darkness—and I do mean 24/7 darkness—you can still do this activity!

This tour involves snowshoeing from Nybyen (the new part of town) towards Longyearbreen (Longyear Glacier). You’ll climb up the glacier until you reach a plateau with an ice cave, where you’ll have a warm drink before continuing on a climb further up the mountain. 

You’ll spend the night in the glacier cave, enjoying a hot meal, a drink, and even a tasty breakfast the next day before you return to Longyearbyen by the next morning. 

What to Know Before Doing an Ice Cave Tour in Svalbard

It’s not for the claustrophobic.

A person squeezing through a tight part of the ice cave in Tellbreen glacier on our tour
This was the narrowest part of the ice cave on our February 2024 tour

My close friend and travel buddy Megan joined me on this tour, and she struggled a bit due to her claustrophobia. Wearing the giant polar suits on the snowmobiles already triggers her claustrophobia. So, by the time we reached the ice cave, she was already a little mentally overwhelmed by the prospect of the ice cave and its tight passages.

I told her I’d go in and take a look for her. The beginning of the ice cave portion was fine, but there got to a part where there were relatively narrow passages where you really had to squeeze to fit in between the gaps in the ice.

I concluded that she wouldn’t have enjoyed the ice cave portion of the tour due to her claustrophobia. However, she truly enjoyed the snowmobiling parts of the tour and didn’t regret going. 

So if you have just one person in your party who is claustrophobic, but everyone else wants to see the ice caves, there is still enough for them to do even if they don’t feel like braving the tight squeeze of the air caves.

You should be in decent physical shape to visit the ice caves.

A person wearing their polar suit with a hard hat helmet and a headlamp on inside the ice cave
Visiting the ice caves does require some decent fitness!

While this is by no means an extremely physical activity, there are a few things that you should be aware of before booking a Svalbard ice cave tour.

Number one, riding or driving a snowmobile is quite jerky at times, and if you have back problems, this would be a fantastic (read: highly unpleasant) way to trigger some back pain.

I wouldn’t recommend it if you have pretty ongoing severe back problems. I have mild recurrent back and shoulder pain from a years-old injury, but the pain was in remission during my snowmobile tour, and I was okay, and I didn’t further aggravate any old injuries.

Number two, you need to be comfortable going up and down a rickety, icy ladder about 15 feet tall (~4 meters).

It’s not dangerous, but you have to be somewhat comfortable with heights and OK with tight enclosures for this tour to be a comfortable experience. In general, you’re in poor physical shape, you will likely not enjoy the tour.

Be prepared for extreme cold.

Allison Green taking a selfie in the ice cave wearing a headlamp and backpack
Selfie time in the ice cave — it’s warmer in the cave (-2° C) than outside!

We were somewhat lucky in that it was not particularly cold when we did our snowmobile tour—it was only a few degrees below freezing on the day we did our tour.

However, temperatures of -20° Celsius (that’s 5° Fahrenheit) are quite common in Svalbard, especially in March, which tends to have the most cold days of the year (so be aware when picking when to visit!). Weather conditions vary greatly here, so be prepared for Svalbard winter conditions in all their extremes with the right warm layers!

You will be given extra warm clothes to wear as your outer layer… but that doesn’t negate the need for your own high-quality thermal underwear or base layers. (Read my packing guide here!)

For women, I recommend Kari Traa thermals and a separate layer of a wool sweater on top and some warm pants on the bottom. Over that, you’ll layer the thermal suit you’ll be given, as well as the mittens, balaclava, some solid hiking boots, and other protective gear that will be given to you by the tour operators.

Don’t expect to see a polar bear.

A polar bear sign in the arctic territory of svalbard, a famous photo spot, showing 'caution: polar bears present everywhere" in norwegian language
The polar bear you’re most likely to see in Svalbard is the one on the famous sign!

I know, I know, Svalbard markets itself left, right, and sideways with polar bears. But the reality is that you are extremely unlikely to see a polar bear during a land-based tour of Svalbard (your chances go up if you are doing a multi-day circumnavigation-style expedition boat cruise).

That said, encountering a polar bear is always possible on Spitsbergen… this island is home, after all! During your tour, your guide will carry a flare gun and a loaded (or half-loaded) rifle for polar bear protection.

You must be comfortable around a visible firearm if you are doing this tour (or any tour) on Svalbard. However, the guides are highly professional and will always explain what they are doing with their firearm, so it’s not frightening.

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