Mid-February, Visit Svalbard invited me to discover the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean. Svalbard is the northernmost settlement in the world with a permanent civilian population. Longyearbyen, the largest settlement (2100 inhabitants) on the island of Spitsbergen is located 1338 km (831 mi) from the North Pole and 2313 km (1437 mi) from Oslo. Since Svalbard is located north of the Arctic Circle it experiences polar night in winter. In Longyearbyen, polar night lasts from October 26 to February 15. During my visit, February 18-22, it wasn’t possible yet to see the sun as it was blocked by the mountainous terrain. It takes until March 8th before the sun reappears in the sky, an event which is celebrated by the locals during Sun Fest Week in Longyearbyen.
Belgian blog readers might know Spitsbergen from Flemish TV program Reizen Waes. I was fortunate enough to experience a number of activities which Tom Waes also enjoyed on Svalbard:
- Dog sledding – Svalbard Husky
- Ice Caving – Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions
- Snowmobile trip to Barentsburg
- Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Pic: My new friends from Spitsbergen, Svalbard!
Spitsbergen offers vast landscapes with almost no vegetation due to permafrost and badlands. This made my dog sledding trip quite different from what I experienced in Lapland (Northern Finland) back in 2005.
One of the more adventurous activities was discovering the inner formations of a glacier near Longyearbyen. After hiking the glacier, we descended into it via a narrow tunnel formed by meltwater during the summer months. Check the video!
Pic: Snowmobile trip from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg
Another fantastic adventure was our full day snowmobile trip from Longyearbyen to Russian settlement of Barentsburg. Around 350 people live in this small coal mining community. Russia maintains a consulate in Barentsburg, the northernmost diplomatic mission of any kind in the world! I haven’t visited Russia yet, but this settlement gave me a first impression of how the communist era must have been.
Pic: Svalbard Global Seed Vault
840,000 seed samples from around the world are stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The seed vault is an attempt to insure against the loss of seeds in other genebanks during large-scale regional or global crises. The permafrost on Svalbard ensures the seeds remain protected even when the cooling system fails which keeps the seeds at−18 °C (−0.4 °F). The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located just 5 minutes away from Longyearbyen airport by car. Svalbard Maxi Taxi is the easiest option to get there.
More activities & sights:
Svalbard Museum: Small but beautiful contemporary museum providing an overview of Svalbard’s history. In 2008 Svalbard Museum was awarded the Council of Europe’s Museum Prize for best European Museum. Check this video to get a first impression.
Huset: Fantastic restaurant with one of Northern Europe’s largest wine cellar with over 20.000 bottles including a spectacular collection of Prestige Cuvée Champagnes!
Camp Barentz: Dinner away from the lights and sounds of Longyearbyen at Barentz Hus, a traditional northern Norwegian style of building. Host Alexander is an amazing storyteller and makes a very special kind of coffee!
Getting there: Flights to Longyearbyen
Flights from Brussels or Amsterdam to Longyearbyen don’t come cheap. Budget around ~500EUR for your roundtrip. Both Norwegian and SAS service Longyear airport (LYR) all year round. Norwegian doesn’t serve Brussels Airport but they do fly from Schiphol Amsterdam Airport to Lonyearbyen via Oslo. Some of the SAS flights make a stop at Tromso Airport (TOS). I flew both Norwegian and SAS on my trip to Svalbard and was impressed by low cost carrier Norwegian. Their B737-800 planes are brand new and offer free wifi and live TV & entertainment streaming to your personal devices. You can also book your flights to Lonyearbyen using miles e.g. BRU to LYR with SAS requires 30K United MileagePlus miles + 75.36EUR. An even better deal would be to add LYR to your longhaul award booking. Note that Finnair will start serving Longyearbyen from Helsinki as of June 1st 2016, another option to redeem miles.
Where to stay: Hotels in Longyearbyen
Hotels don’t come cheap on Svalbard. Budget around 200EUR per night for a double room. Most hotels in Lonyearbyen are owned by local tour operators. Therefor you might find a better deal combining your hotel reservation with booking some local activities. I had the pleasure to stay at the brand new Svalbard Hotell which is owned by Svalbard Adventure Group. A more budget friendly option is hipster hideout Coal Miners’ Cabins. Alternatively, you can redeem your Club Carlson points at the Northernmost chain hotel in the world: Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, Spitsbergen. With 70,000 points for a free night, this only makes sense when rates are high.
More information? Questions?
Want more information about Svalbard? Check this excellent Visit Svalbard brochure or leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to assist you!