Svalbard: Norway’s northernmost islands in the Arctic Ocean

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Svalbard: Many people associate it with mountains, polar bears and the Northern Lights. And these are just some of the things that attract travellers to the Arctic archipelago. Travellers who want to experience the Arctic in Europe often opt for Svalbard. Find out here what you should bear in mind on your Svalbard holiday and what there is to experience.

Why should you travel to Svalbard?

Svalbard is a dream destination for many people, which is mainly due to the beautiful nature of the Arctic archipelago. Several hundred polar bears live here, which can be observed in the wild under the guidance of guides. You can observe walruses and reindeer as well. Then there is the beautiful landscape: glaciers, pack ice and mountains invite you to go on tours across the various islands.

Spitsbergen: Svalbard Holidays
A holiday on Svalbard is an opportunity to experience the Arctic climate in Europe.

Where is Svalbard?

Svalbard is an archipelago of over 400 islands located between Norway and the Arctic, stretching approximately 450 kilometres north-south and 330 kilometres west-east. The main island is called Spitsbergen and is the only one that’s permanently populated. Other large islands include Nordostland, Barentsøya and Edgeøya. The group lies between 74 and 81 degrees north latitude and between 10 and 35 degrees east longitude, well north of the Arctic Circle.

Svalbard: weather

The climate on Svalbard is arctic. The average temperature is -7° Celsius. So you shouldn’t forget to wear warm clothes here. However, this is still comparatively mild for the latitude at which the island is located. This is due to the West Spitsbergen Current, which connects to the Gulf Stream and brings warmer temperatures. It is therefore generally somewhat warmer in the west than in the east of Svalbard. Nevertheless, you should expect harsh weather conditions, especially in winter.

What is the best time to visit Svalbard?

Spitsbergen: Best time to visit
There are also reasons to visit Spitsbergen in winter.

The best time to visit Svalbard is during the summer months from June to August. During this time there are the most hours of sunshine and average temperatures of around 5° Celsius.

During this time, polar bears can also be seen hunting seals in the north. However, there are also arguments in favour of travelling at other times. For example, if you want to see Arctic birds, you should travel in late spring. Whales are more likely to be seen in late summer.

The Arctic in winter is a special experience. This is a particularly good time to marvel at the pack ice, reindeer, ptarmigans and Arctic foxes. Further, you can experience the Northern Lights during this time or decide for one of many Snowmobile tours that are to be found.

Spitsbergen: the best sights

Most people travel to Svalbard because of its beautiful nature. There are numerous expedition tours for them to explore the wildlife and landscape on the archipelago. Snowmobile tours are particularly interesting, as they are the main means of transport away from the comparatively short road network.

Something else that should not be missing from your to-do list is the Magdalena Fjord in the north-west of the main island of Spitsbergen. It offers a breathtaking view that invites you to marvel and take photos.

Cities on Svalbard

There are actually no real towns on Svalbard. The largest town, the capital Longyearbyen, has just 2144 inhabitants. As the capital of such a remote archipelago, you can still get everything you need here and visit many interesting museums and tours.

The second largest town on the main island is a Russian mining settlement called Barentsburg. It is 55 kilometres from Longyearbyen, but there is no paved road connection between the towns. Transport is provided by ships, helicopters, snowmobiles and dog sledges. Barentsburg is also used as a research station.

Spitsbergen Sights: capital Longyearbyen
The capital Longyearbyen has just 2144 inhabitants.

The northernmost sushi restaurant in the world

A highlight for many is the Nuga restaurant in Longyearbyen, which is said to be the northernmost sushi restaurant in the world. It is located in the centre of Longyearbyen and is easy to find. If you feel like eating out on holiday, this restaurant is a good place to go. And who can claim to have eaten at the northernmost sushi restaurant in the world?

Museums on Spitsbergen

If you want to explore the culture of Svalbard, a visit to the Svalbard Museum in the capital of the archipelago, Longyearbyen, is well worthwhile. Here you can discover the history of the archipelago with over 3500 exhibits.

Another interesting museum is the airship museum, which is also located there. Here you can find out how explorers tried to reach the North Pole with the help of airships in earlier times.

Pyramiden: the abandoned miners’ town on Spitsbergen

Spitsbergen Sights: Pyramiden
Pyramiden has been virtually uninhabited for over 20 years.

The Norwegian ghost town of Pyramiden (“the pyramid”) at the foot of the mountain of the same name is a very special sight. The place was originally a mining town with a population of almost 1000 people, which has now been abandoned. However, the settlement has an interesting history.

In the late 1920s, the Soviet Union was granted rights to mine raw materials around Pyramiden, which was at times the northernmost settlement in the world. The settlement was inhabited until 1998, when the mining was shut down due to inefficiency.

Since 2007, a number of labourers have been working in Pyramiden every summer to prevent decay and vandalism and the local hotel is open to tourists again. In winter, two people stay in Pyramiden: one looks after the power station and the other looks after the hotel.

Holiday homes and flats on Svalbard

In addition to some hotels and guesthouses, there are also holiday homes and flats on Spitsbergen, the main island of Svalbard. So you can enjoy your holiday independently and comfortably and you will have your own cooking facilities. Even if there are restaurants in Longyearbyen, for example, it is generally cheaper and in many places the only way to cook for yourself.

Spitsbergen holiday homes
Many travellers are looking for accommodation close to nature.

Travelling to Svalbard

There are several ways to visit the island. If you only want to visit Svalbard or stay longer, we recommend taking a flight. A Nordland cruise is a good option for a stopover. There is no regular ferry connection.

Flights to Svalbard

There are no direct flights to Spitsbergen/Svalbard from the UK. However, there are regular flights to the archipelago from Oslo and Tromsø, making it easy to reach. The flight time from Oslo is 3.5 hours; from Tromsø you can reach the airport in the capital Longyearbyen in just 1.5 hours.

By ship to Svalbard

Many people decide to visit Svalbard as part of a cruise. This allows you to discover the Arctic from the water and visit more Scandinavian destinations than Svalbard. Several organisers offer a wide range of different options. Hurtigruten’s mail boat trips are particularly popular.

There is no regular ferry connection from the mainland. However, there are always expeditions and tours on offer that allow you to bridge the distance from the mainland to the Arctic islands. Just like a cruise to or around Spitsbergen, this is only possible in the summer months.

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