An Arctic Expedition in Svalbard

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Svalbard is one of the most raw places you can visit on this planet. The location within the arctic circle brings this faraway island both beautiful and rough conditions. The following will be a guide to visit Svalbard, what to see in Svalbard and what you definitely should not be missing out on while you're there.

How To Get To Svalbard
There aren't many flights headed to Svalbard, but they do run commercial flights regularly from Tromsø and Olso in mainland Norway. Prices range around $150 - $200 one-way.

Svalbard is an entirely visa-free zone for visitors from all the countries who signed the Svalbard Treaty. Which means you can basically go work and live in Svalbard if your country is on the list. The tricky part for non-EU citizen is passing through Norway on the way up there.

Which Season Should I Visit Svalbard?
There are two main seasons in Svalbard; summer and winter.
Summer-time activities: Kayaking, fishing, sailing, hiking and watching the midnight sun.
Winter-time activities: Dog sledding, snowmobile, hiking and watching the northern light/aurora.
I visited Svalbard during winter-time and I'd give my biggest recommendations to be going there during winter, if you plan to visit Svalbard anytime soon.

What To Bring?
Warm clothes. Staying warm in Svalbard is aboslutely essential. Layers upon layers are very important, especially during the winter. Wool, fleece and other warm materials are all good choices.

Besides the layers you should bring a winter jacket, atleast two pairs of mittens and two pairs of innergloves. Beanies, skiing socks, neck gaiter (buff) and warm comfortable boots are also of high priority. You can choose to bring food too (canned food, musli bars, chocolate, nuts etc.), but there are shopping opportunities in Longyearbyen.

How Expensive Is Svalbard?
Compared to mainland Norway, Svalbard is relatively cheap. However for any non-scandinavians you'd might be surprised how much a meal is gonna cost you up here in the cold.

What really is gonna dry your wallet though, is the day trips you can do in Svalbard. Down below I've listed some of the winter opportunities and their prices.

Things To Do In Svalbard (During Winter)
First of all there's a certain set of rules to follow on Svalbard. The main settlement; Longyearbyen, has about 2.200 permanent citizens and leaving the town borders requires a permit from the Govenor of Svalbard (Sysselmannen). Along with that, you're gonna need a permit to carry a riffle, since every group leaving the borders of Longyearbyen are required to carry a flare gun and a riffle to scare off the potential threat of polar bears in the unlikely event of bumping into one. So if you're not a hunter, you're gonna have to join day tours and rely on local guides to protect you from any polar bears heading your way.

Longyearbyen has plenty of things to do, but don't spend all your days here - that would be missing out on the real Svalbard. This is the spot from where all day trips head out. Here's a shortlist of the options not to be missed in Longyearbyen inbetween your day tours.

Visit the Svalbard Museum
Stuffed Polar Bear at Svalbard Museum, Longyearbyen
They have stuffed polar bears! I mean... what more could you possibly want? Besides that, there's some great stories and material from the many expeditions which has taken place in Svalbard over the years. A great place to catch up on the history of Svalbard.

Take a trip to the International Seed Vault
The International Seed Vault near Svalbard Airport
The International Seed Vault is unfortunately clossed off for the public. Burried deep in the perma frost lies hundred of boxes of seeds from all around the world. Should doomsday arrive we could, in theory, replant the entire planet - pretty bad ass place. There's a beautiful artwork above the main entrance of the vault, which was unfortunately covered up for restoration during my visit.

Drink local beer at Svalbard Pub
Svalbard Beer at Svalbard Pub, Longyearbyen
There's nothing like a cold pint in a warm pub after facing the Svalbard winter. Make sure you try their locally brewed Svalbard beer.

Meet the Unnamed Miner
Unnamed Miner in Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Svalbard used to be mainly a mining facility, which has almost stopped completely (only the Russians are still mining). As a tribute to the fading history of Svalbard a statue of an unnamed miner has been placed in central Longyearbyen.

Take a photo with the Polar Bear Artwork
Poler Bear Mural in Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Also located in central Longyearbyen there's a wall art grafitti painting of a polar bear. Only about 3% of the people visiting Svalbard encounters an actual polar bear, but the mural one is a pretty awesome replacement to the real thing.

Take a stroll to Svalbard Church

Let me be honest, it's not the most prominent church I've ever come across, but there's something fascinating about a church in such a far away corner of Earth.

Enjoy Polar Bear Cake at Fruene

Fruene is a local Svalbard bakery and café. Enjoy their outstanding chocolate, their polar bear cakes and do not forget the much appreciated hot cup of coco.

Northern Lights/Aurora in Svalbard

The northern lights (or aurora) is probably the biggest tourist magnet in Svalbard. Though it's possible to adore this natural phenomenon in several other places in Scandinavia, Svalbard has a reputation of being one of the best places to gaze upon the moving light rays due to low to almost no light pollution. During November - February polar nights occur, covering Svalbard in total darkness - this is also the best season for watching aurora borealis.

Dogsledding in Svalbard

Dogsledding has been around in Svalbard forever, from the earliest expeditions until today, it remains one of the main ways of long distance transportation and exploration. There are several comapanies offering dogsledding tours and combining them with ice cave tours.

Ice Caves in Svalbard

Hiking ice caves is only possible during winter in Svalbard. Every year, new caves are formed and explored. You'll definitely need a guide, but it's quite the experience to climb these massive underground rooms of blue ice.

Hiking in Svalbard
There are plenty of peaks to climb in Svalbard. You can climb at different levels tregtrbrynhytnt

Trollsteinen an 8 hour hike in rough conditions. Especially during winter the chill factor can easily bring temperatures below -40 Celsius. But if you hit a clear day, Trollsteinen will be one of the best hikes you'll ever climb.

Svalbard Plataeu the mountain ridge enclosing the town of Longyearbyen. A hike by night will provide a beautiful view over town. Two women where once attacked by a polar bear here. One died from the attack the other jumped down the mountain and died from the fall.

Sarkofagen located right outside the border of Longyearbyen. This massive rocky hill is a great beginners hike and suitable for almost everyone.

Wildlife in Svalbard

Svalbard Reindeer

There are plenty of wildlife in Svalbard and one of the most common encounters is the Svalbard Reindeer, which you will definitely stumbled upon (even inside Longyearbyen from time to time). Other than that, Svalbard holds Artic Foxes and of course the Polar Bears, which are quite difficult and possibly dangerous to come by.

Bearded Seal

The bearded seal is the second largest spieces in the Arctic. They can be spotted throughout most of the year, but the numbers peak in June, which means the winter season isn't the best going on a look out for these massive creatures.

Atlantic Puffin

The atlantic puffin is relatively small. Unfortunately they migrate to somewhere in the north atlantic during winter and return to Svalbard for breeding in May, where they stay until August.

Svalbard East Coast

Going to the Svalbard East Coast during winter is a full day snowmobile trip, which is not for the faint-hearted. The landscape and riding the snowmobile on the frozen ocean is impeccable though - and in my opinion - not a thing to be missed.


Barentsburg is one of the Russian settlements on Svalbard. On snowmobile it's a full day to reach Barentsburg, have dinner, shop a few souvenirs and get back to Longyearbyen. But the cultural contrast is enough to make this trip worth the struggle.

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