Inter- and intra-annual velocity variations are well known on alpine glaciers, but their importance for Arctic glaciers has only been recognized more recently. This paper presents flow velocity data from Finsterwalderbreen, a 35 km2 polythermal surge-type glacier in southern Svalbard that is presently ∼100 years into its quiescent phase. Field measurements of glacier surface velocities are available from 1950–52 and 1994–97, and mean velocities for the last decade are estimated for the lower glacier using cables drilled to the glacier bed. These velocities show substantial seasonal variations indicating that basal sliding is an important component of surface velocities and interannual fluctuations of up to 75%, possibly indicating variations in subglacial water storage. Several lines of evidence indicate that this glacier has an extensive subglacial hydrological system, generally considered to be a prerequisite for surge-type glaciers, which is at least partly pressurized. Information on surface morphology from 1898 onwards shows that the glacier has experienced continuous retreat since the last surge in about 1910, and has now retreated ∼1.5 km further back than its previous pre-surge position in 1898. Tracking of moraine loops on terrestrial and aerial photographs acquired over a 100 year period indicates that the surge period of Finsterwalderbreen may be lengthening in response to climate changes.