Svalbard Church: Earths Almost
If you imbibe a little too much at the Svalbard Bryggeri and feel like doing some atoning, Longyearbyens local Svalbard Church is not far away.
The Svalbard Church used to be the northernmost church in the world until the St. Nicolas Church was built in Nagurskoye, Russia. But even so, Svalbards worship house is nothing if not a survivor: After being built in 1921, it was bombed in WWII, only to be rebuilt in 1956.
Also, the silver altar candlesticks and baptismal bowl in the Svalbard Church were gifts from King Haakon VII and Queen Maud, and can still be seen there.
Pjs wn , via Wikimedia Commons
See The Northern Lights
Svalbard isnt the best place to go to see the northern lights youd probably have a better chance of catching them in northern Norway or Iceland .
We didnt see them, which was a pity. However, there is a chance that theyll make an appearance, particularly during the winter time when the entire island is bathed in a darkness otherwise known as the Polar Night.
Seeing reindeer in the wild was pretty cool.
Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Svalbard In Winter
I think one of the reasons it took me so long to visit Svalbard is that it felt so remote. And I mean, it is. I visited Spitsbergen, the main island of Svalbard, and it turns out Spitsbergen travel is actually easier than I thought, especially if youre already in Norway. I definitely want to go back again soon.
It was also fun to visit Svalbard right after visiting the Falkland Islands both remote island archipelagos on opposite ends of the earth. But while Id say both make equally exciting destinations, planning a trip to Svalbard is a whole lot easier than planning a trip to the Falklands.
If youre wondering when is the best time to visit Svalbard, the main thing to keep in mind is the sunlight, or lack thereof. A lot of people want to visit Svalbard to see the polar bears, and youll definitely have the best chance of seeing them when there is daylight, from March to September. However Svalbard in winter is also incredible. If youre on the fence, here are some reasons to consider visiting Svalbard in winter.
Several years ago LC wrote a guest post about her trip to Svalbard in October, which sounded remarkably different from my trip in December. Now Ill just have to return in the spring and summer to give you the full picture of the best time to visit Spitsbergen. For now I can at least say that winter in Svalbard is magical.
And here are my tips for making your winter trip to Svalbard amazing:
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Best Time To Travel To Svalbard
Is there really a best time to travel to Svalbard? I am not going to encourage going one season over another. But, I will give some details below to allow you to pick your season based on your desires when visiting Svalbard.
Svalbard has three seasons, more or less. Summer is the warmest, of course, and has the midnight sun during its entirety. Summer in Svalbard is from May-September.
The second Svalbard season is the polar nights season from October until February. This is the best time to go see the northern lights in Svalbard.
The last season in Svalbard worth noting is spring. It is the time from March until April where the sun is above the horizon and you can see the very evident transition into spring.
Things To Know Before You Visit Svalbard
Megan Starr This site uses affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Are you planning to visit Svalbard one of these days? There is so much mystery around Spitsbergen and the Norwegian Arctic destination. This guide will help you out!
So, where exactly is Svalbard? Its so funny to see Svalbard becoming a popular travel destination because I have known about it for many years and I even visited Svalbard before it became trendy and slightly more commercialized .
For that fact, it is also a bit scary seeing tourism flock there in larger numbers in an attempt to see polar bears. There is a lot more to Svalbard than polar bears, trust me.
This is a guide for those that are truly interested in visiting Svalbard for whatever reason. This isnt to encourage larger numbers of travelers to go there, per se.
Traveling to Svalbard can leave footprints behind on one of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet- so please ensure you dont leave extra traces behind and are socially and environmentally conscious when you are there.
In this post…
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Visit Places Just Outside Of Longyearbyen
You can visit those places either with a taxi, with a rented car or with some kind of polar bear protection.
- Advent valley beautiful valley, that leads in the direction of the Svalbard East Coast. Here is the picturesque location of the polar bear sign, which is a must photo stop for tourists.
- Global Seed Vault Svalbard is home to the worlds largest secure seed storage. The seeds from around the world are kept here for safety in case of global disasters. It is not possible to enter the Vault, but you can see the entrance to it, which is an illuminated artwork called Perpetual repercussion made by the Norwegian artist. The Vault is located just next to the airport, on top of the hill.
- The hill with the Northern Lights Observatory and the active coal mine 7 the view from the hill stretches to the Advent Valley, Longyearbyen in the distance and the mountains around. The Observatory is not accessible for tourists.
Grocery Stores In Svalbard
There is pretty much one place to shop for groceries in Longyearbyen and that is Svalbardbutikken. This grocery store is more of a department store as it has all kinds of odds and ends. I even bought sunglasses there as well as stuffed animals to take home.
Inside the grocery store, you will also see the only alcohol shop in Svalbard called Nordpolet. As noted above, alcohol has lower taxes in Svalbard and is slightly cheaper than the mainland.
You will find pretty much a ton of Norwegian grocery items inside of the shop. I will note now to not expect the produce to be the freshest under the sun as it is imported from the mainland. You can get decent cucumbers and bell peppers there, however along with packaged cheese and freshly baked bread, so making sandwiches Norwegian-style is quite easy.
Be sure to pick up a tote bag in Svalbardbutikken! They have durable totes with the store name and a large polar bear on them they are a great Svalbard souvenir and are good for you to use while there to alleviate so much waste!
A side note- shopping at the grocery store in Norway is considerably cheaper than buying from a kiosk or convenience store. If you see a small shop inside of the plaza that sells candy and hotdogs and what not, it will be more expensive than heading to Svalbardbutikken.
Svalbardbutikken is open 7 days a week but opens much later on Sundays .
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Where To Stay In Longyearbyen
Basecamp Hotel. Warm, cozy, and rustic, this is just what you would imagine an arctic hotel to look like. The hotel offers lots of different excursions, the included breakfast is awesome, and the hotel has a fantastic location right in the center of town.
We spent two nights here, staying in the family room. We had two bedrooms, a loft, a bathroom, and a small living area. We loved it here.
Radisson Blu Polar Hotel. The Radisson Blu is the largest hotel in Longyearbyen. This had a totally different vibe than the Basecamp Explorer. This seemed to be where all of the tour groups stayed. It did not have that quiet, cozy, rustic feel like Basecamp Explorer but our room was amazing.
We stayed in the Ulf Prytz suite. This place was huge and our view across Adventfjord to Hiorthfjellet was spectacular. Tyler and Kara slept on pull out sofas in the living room and Tim and I slept in the bedroom. Breakfast was also included.
We disliked the crowded, touristy feel of this hotel. If it werent for our awesome suite and its amazing view, I think we would have disliked it here. Our hotel room was located in a separate building so we only had to join the crowds when we ate breakfast.
Svalbard Hotell. This modern hotel is located in the center of Longyearbyen. The rooms are beautifully decorated and complimentary breakfast is provided. This hotel is also home to Polfareren, a gourmet restaurant we loved.
Looking back at Longyearbyen during our hike up Hiorthfjellet.
Nv: What Else Should Visitors Do In Preparation For A Trip To Svalbard
Sindre: “Get wool clothing and then some more wool clothing! You really need warm clothing from top to bottom, and no layers can be skipped.
- Read more about packing plenty of layers for Svalbard
“Besides polar bear protection, the tour guides also provide you with necessary safety gear and outerwear for your activities. But underneath the snowmobile suit and helmet, you need to come prepared.
“Watching BBC’s Frozen Planet is also a fun way to get an understanding of where you are going. This is not just winter, it’s 78 degrees north in the Arctic.”
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Why Not Bring Your Own Impressive Stories Back From Svalbard
You don’t even have to sleep in a tent to do it. If you like the looks of Sindre’s trip but want to stick to sleeping in hotels, then check out Nordic Visitor’s 4-day Svalbard Winter Tour package for all the details.
If you have something else in mind, contact us for an exciting and customisable selection of travel packages to take you to Svalbard.
Svalbard Museum: Longyearbyens Glimpse Into The Past
Opened in 1979, the Svalbard Museum is probably the most extensive of the four museums on the island of Spitsbergen, composed of over 1,700 art works, photos, and books.
The Svalbard Museum is a great way to whet your appetite for your Arctic expedition, offering fascinating insights into 400 years of Spitsbergen history. Its exhibits explore European whaling, bird migration, Pomor culture, and various topics concerning the local ecosystem.
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You May Encounter Polar Bears In Spitsbergen
You may already know that polar bears are also abundant in Svalbard. While polar bears are more common in the less-populated islands of the Svalbard archipelago, you can certainly see them in Spitsbergen from time to time. These majestic animals are naturally curious, and while they’re not all that interested in humans as food, they can be dangerous. You ought to make sure you venture out into the wilderness of Spitsbergen only with a knowledgeable guide, and that you’re aware of the precautions you should take in the case of a polar bear encounter.
Things To Do In Svalbard During Polar Night
Svalbard is quite the tourist destination these days, plus a lot of arctic tour guides come here to train, so youll find lots of tours and guided activities on offer. But dont worry, due to limited flights and accommodation, even though Spitsbergen has become a tourist destination you wont find yourself amongst huge crowds of tourists. Not that many people know much about travel to Spitsbergen, so it still feels like an adventure off the beaten path.
And if you want to venture outside of Longyearbyen, youll need an armed guide, in case you encounter a polar bear. Whats more adventurous than that?
You can find a huge range of tours on the Visit Svalbard website, but here are the ones I can personally recommend. Oh and if youre visiting on your own, just be aware that most tours have a minimum of two participants. Three of my tours were actually cancelled because I was the only person signed up. But hopefully if that happens you can just join a different tour.
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Interesting Facts About Svalbard
About 2,100 people from 50 countries call Svalbard home. Norwegians are the largest group, but you can also meet a fair amount of people from Sweden, Russia, and Thailand.
The streets in Longyearbyen have numbers rather than names.
Cats are banned in Svalbard since they hunt and kill the native birds.
Its illegal to die in Svalbard. Actually, its not really illegal to die here, but if you do, you wont be buried here. The ground is made of permafrost, so bodies that are buried here do not decompose. So yes, there still are perfectly preserved bodies in Svalbard cemetery from 100 years ago.
Giving birth is out of the question, too. Three weeks before a womans due date, she must return to the mainland in order to give birth. The medical facilities on Svalbard are not equipped to handle an emergency should one arise during labor and delivery.
Its customary to remove your shoes when entering hotels, shops, and restaurants in Longyearbyen. This is a tradition that dates back to the coal mining days, as a way to prevent coal dust from being tracked into the buildings.
If you plan to leave town, make sure you are carrying a rifle, just in case you cross paths with a wandering polar bear.
Is Svalbard Wheelchair
Unfortunately, it is not the most wheelchair-friendly place in Norway as many tours and excursions tend to require mobility.
There can also be harsher conditions in the winter which make it more difficult to navigate the mean streets of Longyearbyen. But, the buildings are mostly accessible as are most hotels.
If you are traveling to Svalbard and have limited mobility, the following tours state that they are wheelchair-friendly. Please do double check prior to booking just to make sure!
Another tip is to ensure that your hotel is in the center of Longyearbyen. Some of the guesthouses and hotels are located a bit out and you will have to walk a kilometer or so to get into the town center! I recommend staying at Radisson Blu, Svalbard Hotell Polfareren, or Basecamp Spitsbergen.
Alternatively, you can check out my list of the best hotels in Svalbard for more details.
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How Old Are You
These are modern fossils, just 50 million years old.
She laughs. Because 50 million years would make most people grey-haired. She then stands up in front of the class, and asks the pupils to do the same.
Imagine your body is the total time the world has existed. The sole of your feet is when the world came to existence.
She points at her knee.
This is when the trilobites lived.
At her torso.
The first dinosaurs started walking around on earth.
And this, and she points at the very tip of her hair.
This is when people evolved. Weve just been around for a very, very short time.
Can we see the rocks now? someone chirps.
Can You See The Northern Lights In Svalbard
Technically, yes. But is it the best place in Norway to see the northern lights? Not particularly.
Svalbard is located very far north and it actually is not in the most optimal of locations to view the northern lights. They do come out, however but dont be surprised if you visit Svalbard during the polar nights in winter for a few days and never see them.
The best months to travel to Svalbard to see the northern lights are from October until April. Here are some northern lights tours available in Svalbard :
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Head Out On A Polar Bear Safari
Svalbard is one of the best places in the world to see polar bears. There are about 3,000 or so polar bears on the island and they actually outnumber people as Svalbard is only home to around 2,000 residents.
Its not a guarantee that youll run into a polar bear, despite the rule of having to be armed when leaving town just in case you bump into an angry polar bear. Your best chance of seeing a polar is bear is by going out on a boating safari as the polar bears tend to hang out in the fjords and along the shoreline so they have easy access to their hunting grounds, the sea.
Its not just polar bears you might see on your boat safari. The cliffs of Svalbard are covered in seabirds nesting during the summer and, if youre lucky, you might even see an arctic fox hunting for chicks along the top. There are also tons of walruses that live along the shore in the summer and youre likely to see whales and dolphins too.
Even if you dont get to see a polar bear or an arctic fox, the cruise around the fjords and past ice burgs are one of the best things to do in Svalbard anyway. The sheer beauty and drama of the wild landscape are hard to grasp on a hike but from the sea, you can see it in all its glory.
How Much Money Should You Bring
Let me be blunt, designing your Svalbard Itinerary is pricey! Half-day trips start at $100+. A normal lunch will be $15/$20. Hotels start at $100 with shared bathrooms. Getting here is cheap, but once there its pricey. Booking an expedition means you pay in advance and dont pay anything when youre here. I prefer it like that.
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