Svalbard

Travel Guide
Svalbard

A largely untouched Arctic wilderness awaits you in these islands far north of Norway, east of Greenland and surrounded by icy seas.

Svalbard means “cold coasts” but that is an exaggeration of the conditions in these Norwegian islands. Despite the far north location halfway between Norway and the North Pole, the islands have above-freezing temperatures for most of the summer, enabling a burgeoning tourist industry. Visit to see the pristine nature, unusual wildlife and records of human history in this remote region.

The mountains, glaciers and wildlife of Svalbard are the biggest attractions for visitors. Here polar bears roam along the tops of tall ice ridges. Nearly 60 percent of the area’s land is covered with ice. See the Isfjorden fjord on Spitsbergen and views of Austfonna, one of the world’s largest ice caps, on the island of Nordaustlandet.

The main settlement of Longyearbyen at 78 degrees north latitude is home to about two-thirds of the region’s population. Despite the village’s small size, these 2,000 or so people have created a community with amenities rivaling the quality of those of mainland cities.

Longyearbyen has more than a dozen restaurants, ranging from one-of-a-kind burger and pizza spots to fine dining. Try some of the local specialties, including whale, reindeer and clipfish. For variety, you can even find homemade chocolates, sushi and Thai specialties.

At the Svalbard Museum, learn about the discovery of the islands by Willem Barents. Understand the area’s history of whaling, mining and hunting from the museum’s displays of tools and full-sized preserved polar bears, Arctic foxes and reindeer.

Join some of Svalbard’s special events, including a German-themed Oktoberfest at the end of September. October’s Dark Season Blues offers concerts and other events to prepare for the sun’s 4-month disappearance from view. Celebrate the midnight sun with locals during the March Sun Fest Week when the sun returns in the spring.

Fly from Oslo or Tromsø to Longyearbyen. Consider joining a guided tour of Svalbard, at least for your first trip, to be sure of a safe journey that maximizes your opportunities to see a broad cross-section of this wilderness wonderland.

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