About Svalbard and Longyearbyen
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Located on top of the world, it contains endless areas of unspoilt, raw Arctic wilderness. Svalbard consists of all the islands, islets and skerries between 74° and 81° north latitude and 10° and 35° east longitude. The largest island is Spitsbergen, while the highest mountain is Newtontoppen (1,713 m above sea level).
Svalbardi literally means “the land with the cold shores”. Svalbarði fundinn was mentioned in traditional Icelandic accounts dated to 1194. However, we will never know for sure whether this mention refers to the discovery of Svalbard or another land area with cold shores.
The first undisputed discovery of the archipelago was an expedition led by Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz in 1596, during which he called the largest island Spitsbergen (“pointed mountains” in Dutch) after the mountains on the western side of the island.
Svalbard is home to about 2650 people, and most of these live in Longyearbyen, the administration centre for the archipelago. There is also a Russian community in Barentsburg, a research station in Ny-Ålesund, and a few people living in Pyramiden. Svea, in Hornsund, and on Bjørnøya and Hopen. All of the settlements are on Spitsbergen, with the exception of the meteorological stations on Bjørnøya and Hopen. Approximately 2100 people live in Longyearbyen, representing over 50 nationalities. Most of the inhabitants are from Norway, and the foreign nations with the highest number of people on Svalbard are Thailand, Sweden and Russia. The average time for someone to live on Svalbard is seven years, and at the start of 2016, one in four of the inhabitants had lived here more than ten years. The people living on Svalbard are young, and compared with the mainland there is a much higher number of people between 25 - 49 years old. Very few inhabitants are over 70 here.
Longyearbyen is situated in a valley on the shores of the idyllic Adventfjord, surrounded by steep mountains and several glaciers. There are only around 40 km of roads in Longyearbyen, which is divided into several “suburbs”, including the town centre and Nybyen (new town). Most of the hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops are in the town centre. Nybyen, which is located 2 km south of town, consists of charming miners’ barracks constructed after the war, as well as guest houses, a restaurant and gallery, not to mention beautiful views of the landmark mountain, Hiorthfjellet.
We only have one grocery store
We are used to living next door to reindeer
We still take off our shoes when we enter hotels and restaurants, a tradition that has arisen from the problem with coal dust in the old days.
All the mining infrastructure is protected and remains as surreal monuments in and around the settlement.
The streets in Longyearbyen have numbers instead of names.
Longyearbyen has a university centre with 300 students, all of whom must learn to use firearms.
Seeing whales swimming in the fjord from our lounge window is not an uncommon occurrence.
Midnight sun, climate and temperatures
The archipelago has an Arctic climate, but with a much higher average temperature than other areas at the same latitude, due to regular low pressure systems and the warm Atlantic Ocean currents. Today, the fjords on the west of Spitsbergen are ice free during much of the winter, but if you meet people who were here back in the day, they may tell stories of reaching Pyramiden and Barentsburg on foot over the ice. The average temperature is -16 degrees Celsius in January, and +6 in July, and there is generally little precipitation in Longyearbyen, although we can get a fair bit of stormy weather. At the coast, the permafrost layer reaches 100 metres below ground, and during the summer, its is only the first metre of so that melts. The polar night and the midnight sun rule the skies for much of the year, adding an exotic touch to your wilderness experiences.Longyearbyen experiences midnight sun from April 20 to August 23, and the dark season between October 26 and February 15.
Polar bears are probably the animal that most people connect with Svalbard, but there are many other animals that call Svalbard home, including walrus, harp seals, ring seals, bearded seals, beluga, bowhead whales, narwhals, Svalbard grouse, polar fox and Svalbard reindeer. The Svalbard reindeer is genetically distinct from other species of reindeer, with short legs and a fat layer that can be 10cm thick. The sea around Svalbard is nutrient-rich, and during the summer large numbers of sea birds flock to the archipelago. There are seven national parks and 23 nature reserves, which combined cover two thirds of the archipelago, and this helps to protect the untouched and incredibly fragile ecosystem found on Svalbard.
Tourism on Svalbard
Tourism has been on Svalbard at least as long as the mining industry. The first tourists who came to Svalbard were rich Europeans who came to hunt, and often wrote books about their experiences. These reports created interest, and paved the way for cruise tourism to the archipelago. In 1896, three years after he established Vesteraalens Dampskibselskap (which later became Hurtigruten), Richard With started the Sportsman’s Route, which was a voyage from Hammerfest to Svalbard. The same year, the company built a hotel with accommodations for 30 guests. This building was burnt down by the Germans in 1943, but had already laid the foundations for tourism in Longyearbyen. Commercial tourism began in the beginning of the 1900s, and since its small beginnings the industry has been growing over 100 years. Today, 450 - 500 people work in the travel industry, and it is one of the three main industries on Svalbard. In 2015 there were 130,000 guest nights of Svalbard, with over a third of these from foreign visitors.
How to travel to Svalbard
Svalbard Airport Longyear opened in 1975, making Svalbard accessible year-round. The airlines SAS and Norwegian both operate regular scheduled flights to Longyearbyen.