Right on top of the globe, directly above Norway, is an archipelago known as Svalbard. Around 1,000 people live in its capital of Longyearbyen – the world’s northernmost town! Here are some of the most unique things to do in Svalbard, a place like no other!
Longyearbyen, the capital city, is a place of contrasts. In the summer, it is flooded constantly by the light of the midnight sun. Winter brings with it complete darkness, with the settling in of the Polar Night.
And in the shoulder seasons (when I visited) you’ll be delighted by constant soft light, as sunrise bleeds seamlessly into the sunset over the course of a six-hour day.
Thanks to affordable flights via Norwegian Air, it isn’t as hard to reach the top of the world as you may think. And not surprisingly perhaps, there’s a pretty unique array of activities on offer.
From dog-sledging, to learning about local biology and consuming perhaps the most delicious hot chocolate of your life, here are just a few things to do in Svalbard, focusing in the town of Longyearbyen!
Things To Do in Svalbard / Longyearbyen
Have an ATV Adventure
The particularly daring amongst us might fancy layering up, jumping onto a quad bike and navigating up Longyearbyen’s nearest mountain on an ATV adventure.
The tour takes you outside the city limits and along icy paths, stopping to view a plane wreck from seven decades ago.
From there, you’ll drive up to the top of a mountain where you’ll view an abandoned mine.
Longyearbyen was once a mining town. Many of the nearby mines, which were Norwegian owned and operated have now closed, however some of the Russian mines are still in operation.
If you’re lucky, you might see some local wildlife. I mean reindeer, not polar bears. As cool as it would be to see a polar bear, I think it would definitely be best done from a lengthy distance.
Unsure what to pack for your adventures? This post on what to wear should help!
The world’s northernmost chocolate factory
Chocolate company Fruene was started in 2013 in Longyearbyen and make handcrafted chocolates that are inspired by the Arctic. Think miniature polar bears, or chocs displaying patterns that are interpretations of the northern lights, amongst many other delicious things.
You can sample treats there, or buy choccies to bring home to loved ones.
Or just escape inside to enjoy a cup of hot choc in the warmth of their cafe.
Eat a reindeer pizza inside Svalbar
No, that’s not a typo. Longyearbyen’s local bar and site of revelry is known as Svalbar. Brilliant, no?
It’s located right within the city centre and has a lovely ambience to it. Not only that, they make downright amazing pizzas. I thoroughly recommend the one with reindeer meat for a topping, if you’re so inclined.
Visit the Svalbard Museum
The Svalbard Museum is located in the capital of Longyearbyen and provides plenty of background information about this unique and somewhat eccentric archipelago.
Here you can learn about Longyearbyen’s past as a mining town, alongside other strange bits of information.
For example, did you know that all locals need a license to drink? That people can no longer be buried in town? Or that you can’t step outside of the city limits without a gun, due to the possibility of a polar bear attack?
There are plenty of other odd facts about Longyearbyen. It sure is a special place.
Check out the Global Seed Vault
The Global Seed Vault might be one of the most fascinating aspects of Svalbard, if you’re a biology nut like myself.
The vault was installed in 2008 by representatives of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. It’s essentially insurance for the planet, as the vault contains seeds from countries all over the globe.
This vault exists in case there was ever a worldwide incident where crops were wiped out. The seeds ensure that we humans can continue to feed ourselves.
You sadly can’t enter the vault as a tourist (I GUESS it makes sense) but you can learn about the history of the seed bank and how crops are grown in the arctic north. Yep… there are greenhouses in Svalbard!
Chase the Northern Lights
Longyearbyen is an ideal spot for viewing the Northern lights (being so far north and all), which may be seen on display between October and March.
There is a tour on offer which will take you outside city boundaries (do not attempt this yourself due to the aforementioned gun vs. polar bear law), in the hopes that the lights will make an appearance.
I wasn’t so lucky when I went, but I was fed reindeer casserole in a small cabin and pumped full of coffee and tea, which kinda made up for it.
When it became clear that the lights were not going to be seen that night, we learnt about polar bears instead. I still felt like I got my money’s worth, despite nature’s letting us down. Chasing northern lights are most people’s main reason for travelling here and one of the most magical things to do in Svalbard!
As a mad dog woman, this was my favourite activity of all on offer in Longyearbyen. However, due to weather conditions (a distinct lack of snow, very unusual for this time of year), not everything went to plan.
We couldn’t go dog sledding, so we went dog carting instead. The dogs were essentially attached to a cart on wheels and enthusiastically ran along the ground, being stopped often to be watered.
Our guide was quite knowledgeable as well and delighted us with even more random facts about the area.
At the end of the tour we were given a hot beverage, which was gratefully received. Darkness was starting to set in and the cold along with it! One of the most unique things to do un Svalbard and an experience you’ll never forget!
Take a boat tour to the local town of Pyramiden
During the warmer months you are able to hop on a boat and journey up to the ghost town of Pyramiden.
It was once a settlement for Russian miners, but is now largely a ghost town, apart from the occasional tourists.
Fun fact – it’s home to both the world’s northernmost swimming pool and statue of Lenin!
This isn’t all that’s on offer. Many activities are dependent on the time of the year, but you can hike glaciers, go kayaking, or snow-mobiling, weather permitting!
Svalbard is only going to continue to grow as a hotspot for travellers the world over, as it becomes more and more accessible. With such an array of things to do in Longyearbyen and easy accessibility… well, why wouldn’t you plan a trip?