You have decided to embark on a beautiful and unique journey into the fascinating Svalbard islands?
Here you can experience a unique arctic adventure just over 1100 km from the North Pole, in the true wilderness of the archipelago. Discover the best things to do in Svalbard and experience life in the Arctic, home to 3000 polar bears.
A place where the sun never sets and there are more polar bears than people, Svalbard forms an archipelago and is part of the Arctic Ocean: it is the inhabited locality northernmost of all the planet Earth!
The inhabitants of these beautiful islands are under 3.000, everything else is nature and wildlife.
The symbolic animal of the Svalbard Islands is the polar bear and believe me when I tell you that there are far more polar bears than humans in these islands, especially (and fortunately) since hunting has been prohibited.
The climate you will find in the Svalbard Islands is decidedly polar: keep in mind that in summer temperatures never exceed 5/6 degrees, while in winter it can even reach 40 degrees below zero.
Many of the islands can only be reached by snowmobile in winter and by sea in summer.
Inside the islands the climate is more glacial, while on the coast, thanks also to the positive influences of the North Atlantic current, you will find a landscape much more similar to that of the tundra.
Keep in mind that more than half of Svalbard's territory is covered by ice for practically the whole year, but fear not: you can visit this northern northern European hermitage in any season.
Another important thing to know: things to do in Svalbard are different depending on the period in which you decide to visit them.
In winter you can experience the world-famous polar night and observe wonderful northern lights (but the rest of the time you will twist your thumbs, what else do you want to do at -40 ° and with 24 hours of perennial darkness?)
In summer, however, you will have much more choice: in addition to the beautiful views, you will have the chance to spot polar bears, puffins, reindeer and many species of seabirds.
Here is also the so-called Seed Bank, or the Global Seed Vault, a true genetic collection center for an incredible variety of plants, to protect them from catastrophes and climate change.
However, if you are wondering what to do and what to see once you land on the islands, here are some suggestions for spending a wonderful holiday!
- 1 - Visit the main cities
- 2 - See the ghost town of Pyramiden
- 3 - Take a cruise in the Fjords (summer only)
- 4 - Spot the polar bear
- 5 - Take a snowmobile trip
- 6 - Take a sled dog ride
- 7 - Visit the Isfjord radio station
- 8 – Hiking
- 9 - Visit the northernmost brewery in the world
- 10 - Other unmissable things to do in Svalbard
- What to keep in mind when planning a trip to Svalbard
1 - Visit the main cities
To start your tour, what could be better than finding out which cities are the most important?
The most noteworthy locations of the Svalbard Islands are Longyearbyen, Barentsburg e New Ålesund.
To understand where they are, look at the map below:
At Artalis /
A Longyearbyen, the most important both for population density and because it is considered the main city of the Svalbard Islands, there are about 2.000 people, or almost all the inhabitants of the islands!
It is the seat of the governor, the Governors, of the Svalbard Islands thus becoming the administrative seat of the entire archipelago.
It is a respectable town where you can find any service such as an international airport (LYR), hospital, bank, school and university, as well as shops and restaurants.
There are three museums to visit, the ethnographic Svalbard Museum,Airship Musem - dedicated to the flight of the Dirigible on which finds and documents can be consulted - and the North Pole Expedition Museum, which tells of the great expeditions in the ice of the Arctic.
Here, just one kilometer from the center, is the Global Seed Vault of the Svalbard Islands, which helps to preserve the botanical genetic heritage by keeping the seeds of numerous varieties of plants, preventing any climatic catastrophes. It is designed to be resistant to any external attack, even the nuclear one.
A Longyearbyen you will find good accommodation facilities (but book well in advance, there are not so many and in the summer it could be a problem), tour operators and tourist guides for your trips, as well as leisure and entertainment.
By Rubeus Olivander /
With just under 500 inhabitants, Barentsburg ranks as the second most populated town of the Svalbard Islands.
Despite being less than 60 kilometers from Longyearbyen, this town, mostly inhabited by Russian and Ukrainian miners employed in the local mine, can only be reached by snowmobile in winter and by boat in summer.
In summer the town has a strong tourist vocation and the residents make every effort to make it welcoming and attractive for visitors. Here too you will have the opportunity to access a museum dedicated to Pomory (Russian settlers) and choose whether to stay in a hostel or hotel.
You can also visit the Barentsburg Orthodox chapel which recalls the 140 miners of the city who were victims of a plane crash, while the Russian influence is also found in a statue of Lenin, placed right in front of the apartment building located in the northernmost part of the world.
3. New Ålesund
New Ålesund, located in the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, the island of Spitsbergen, is well known for its scientific station of international importance: here is the most important geological and meteorological observatory in the world and the Arctic station Dirigible of the CNR which houses the researchers.
This town can also be reached by snowmobile during the winter, by ship in the summer or with an internal flight.
Here the polar bears are at home and their population density far exceeds the human one: it is not allowed to cross the permanent city limits by the local authorities without being adequately armed, this exclusively to avoid unpleasant inconveniences.
Ny Ålesund boasts some firsts: the northernmost post office in the whole of Planet Earth as well as the northernmost hotel in the world.
You may also remember this place for having seen it on the big screen: did our compatriot Checco Zalone set some scenes of his film Quo vado? right in the science base located in Ny Ålesund.
2 - See the ghost town of Pyramiden
By Dmitry Chulov /
Unmissable destination for the Svalbard tourist, pyramids it is one of many semi-abandoned cities after being exploited as hunting or quarrying areas.
It has been exploited for its coal mines for a long time and, since 2011, has been inhabited again after a forced depopulation in the late XNUMXs.
Pyramiden is home to very few inhabitants today, but a hotel is still available here and the town can be reached in both winter and summer.
A plan is currently underway to improve its tourist attractiveness and even a museum has been opened.
3 - Take a cruise in the Fjords (summer only)
Di Ondrej Prosicky /
You can't go all the way to the Arctic Ocean without it take a tour of the typical and famous fjords, without sighting the polar bear and without enjoying the fantastic landscapes of which these islands are part.
During the summer, the ice on the sea melts, which allows for boat excursions. They only operate in the summer period from May to August and can take you to various places around Svalbard, depending on your availability of money and time.
It is a great way to see some wildlife such as walruses, whales, and different types of birds.
Recommended agencies: Better Moments, Spitsbergen Adventures
4 - Spot the polar bear
In Himanshu Nerves /
When people think of Svalbard, only two things come to mind: snow and polar bears.
While the former is fairly easy to find (and in fact unlikely to be avoided), seeing polar bears isn't so obvious, even though there are plenty of them.
That shouldn't stop you from trying anyway - I don't think there's anything more beautiful than being able to see the largest carnivore on this planet in its natural habitat.
You will need a good guide, you will have to be in the right place at the right time and you will need a lot of luck because as you well know nature does what it likes.
In Longyearbyen, there are agencies and guides who can arrange bear watching tours for you, either by ship or by snowmobile (the first option is better).
Bear in mind that polar bears migrate throughout the year - your guide will be able to take you to the places where you are most likely to spot bears at that time.
I have found that the best season to actually see a polar bear is between March and April.
Cruises usually take place in June and July when most of the ice melts and the bear habitat is greatly reduced (but also very far away and not accessible by land).
In recent years (and with increasing ice melt), boat trips along Svalbard's fjords are actually (and sadly) the easiest way to spot polar bears.
5 - Take a snowmobile trip
There are hardly any cars on Svalbard. The reason is quite simple: few motors are suitable for withstanding winter temperatures.
Furthermore, Spitsbergen, the largest island of the archipelago, it is covered in snow for most of the year and there is basically only one main road.
In Svalbard people travel by snowmobile, each inhabitant has at least one parked in front of the front door. If you really want to experience Svalbard, you should definitely try driving one.
To be fair in winter, without snowmobiling, you won't be able to go anywhere except for a short walk around the main settlement of Longyearbyen.
Recommended agency: Arctic adventures
6 - Take a sled dog ride
Di Yongyut Kumsri /
Snowmobiles may be the fastest, safest and easiest way to get around Svalbard, but they are certainly not the oldest and most traditional way.
In the epochs preceding the advent of motor vehicles, in fact, the easiest way to get around was with sleds pulled by huskies and still today the inhabitants carry on this tradition.
Some agencies, in addition to the classic sleigh rides, offer tourists special courses in which you will be taught the basics to become a real musher (driver of a pack of sled dogs). Eventually you will be able to ride your sled with your dogs - although a guide will always be nearby to make sure nothing happens (to you or the dogs).
The beauty is that this activity can be done all year round: no, you don't need snow to ride the dog sled! Sled dogs must be trained all year round and tours are also done in summer on sleds ...with wheels.
I have tried theexperience with sled dogs in Lapland and it was truly an experience I will never forget.
Recommended agency: Husky Travellers
7 - Visit the Isfjord radio station
In the westernmost part of the lower part of Spitsbergen (called Kapp Linné), there is a radio station, once the only way to communicate with the mainland. Today trovi who a boutique hotel which also functions as a restaurant for tourists who visit it during the day.
The hotel is actually one of the most beautiful on all the islands, so consider spending a night or two here. Comfort and elegance will surprise you. From here you can also organize many excursions.
8 – Hiking
Di Tetyana Dotsenko /
You absolutely cannot visit Svalbard without experiencing the spectacular nature that surrounds you and what better way to do it than ahike in the mountains of Longyearbyen? You can even take a hike to see the puffins up close!
Keep in mind, however, that you are not allowed to do this on your own (unless you have a rifle and know how to use it), but in the city you will find a local guide who can accompany you.
9 - Visit the northernmost brewery in the world
I didn't believe it either, but Svalbard produces beer and right here you can discover the story of how the northernmost brewery in the world was born.
Il Birrificio Svalbard was founded in 2011 by Robert Johansen and produced its first beer in August 2015. Six years of effort have been made to change the law that has banned the production of alcohol in Svalbard since 1928.
Now you can visit the brewery, learn about its fascinating history and taste locally brewed beer made with 2000-year-old glacial water from the Boge Glacier!
10 - Other unmissable things to do in Svalbard
Here is a list of other things to do once landed in the land of bears.
1. Visit Adventfjorden and Tempelfjorden
Two branches of the second largest Norwegian fjord, theIsfjorden, where you can enjoy breathtaking landscapes, perhaps taking a trip on a snowmobile, crossing glaciers and mountains.
2. Go hunting for the Northern Lights
Choose one of the many alternatives proposed by tour operators and get your camera ready to immortalize this magical moment!
You can choose to combine this unique experience in the world with a dinner at Camp Barentz, a field located about ten kilometers from Longyearbyen in the middle of… nothing!
3. Stay awake to watch the midnight sun
If you choose to go to Svalbard in spring and summer you will be able to enjoy this particular spectacle of nature, when the sun never goes below the horizon.it never gets dark.
4. Stay on a glacier at Nordenskiold Lodge in Spitsbergen
Spot polar bears after a quiet (very quiet) night of sleep: it will be incredible to be able to photograph this splendid specimen symbol of the Svalbard Islands!
5. Book a tour to the coal mines near Longyearbyen
Find out more about the life of the northernmost miners in the world!
6 - Visit the ice caves
Di Kuznetsova Julia /
Svalbard's cold climate means its glaciers are solid. This allows, fortunately for us, to be able to visit the numerous passages and ice caves that were formed inside.
Equipped with crampons and helmet, you can enter this calm and silent world and see the beautiful colors with a thousand shades of blue, the formations of ice and snow crystals.
Di Yongyut Kumsri /
Regardless of whether you decide to visit Svalbard in summer or winter, there are some things you need to keep in mind to spend a fantastic holiday.
- Accommodation options are limited and they tend to sell out quickly, especially in summer!
Make sure you book your hotel room in advance.
- You are not allowed to leave town without a gun (or a tour guide with a rifle) due to the danger of polar bears - and that's no joke.
- Svalbard is a very sensitive environment, therefore be sure to treat the landscape with respect, for example do not leave litter, do not feed animals and do not vandalize buildings!
- All tours booked are subject to weather conditions, which can change quite quickly in the Arctic. Tours are also best booked in advance.
The Svalbard Islands offer many opportunities for leisure, culture and tourism, as well as a unique and unforgettable landscape: don't forget your camera, you will need it!