The Norwegian Polar Institute has a lot of scientific and other useful info on their web pages. Gives loads of info on Svalbard. Check it out.
The Polar institute has an office in the Local Government building in central Longyearbyen.
In use until the late 1970ies, the ropeways from the various mines converged here at the exchange. It is now maintained as a museum piece, quite interesting to see, and the place gives a good overview of Longyearbyen, too. It is a good evening stroll. Don't go much beyond here without some polar bear defence. With a gun, you can safely walk the Burma Road (yes, it is called so) toward the airport, nice stroll with a view, no cars.
In the same area is a sundial - of course the northernmost in the world etc.... not much use for it half of the year...
Then there is the column monument to the victims of WW2 on Svalbard in the same area.
Svalbard reindeers are tame as puppies, and hunters who go for them during the season (there is some culling) are talking about how bad it feels to walk up to the Rudolfs and shoot them point blank...
They are seemingly tame because they have no history of beeing much hunted or chased by people and thus humans do not constitute any hazard to them. But they are wild, not herded or deliberately tamed like on the mainland. As an ecological adjustment the Svalbard race of reindeer are plump and stocky, which ensures survival in very cold conditions and with limited food supply to heat a big, lanky body.
So, reindeer is one of those things you can see at Svalbard - easily. And take some good photos, too. Could be one at the airport terminal as you arrive?
I was curious about this myself, and did a bit of research ... with some disappointing news:
Yes, saltwater fishing is free and available to all, but there may not be that much to be caught from land, by a rod. Adventfjorden and parts of isfjorden are silted by glacial waters, not good for fishing...
There is one exception - arctic char: it is an anadrome fish (lives in saltwater as well as freshwater), and can be caught by rod. But, sorry, it's mainly for people who actually live on Svalbard and they also need to have a permit issued for char fishing. The issuing authority is Sysselmannen/the Governor in Longyearbyen. The available info says only a few permits/licences are issued each year, and then only for specially interested people. Apparently, regulations aerre thawing up a bit as not so many locals go fishing, so new regulations will make it possible for visitors to come for fishing, too. But still it will entail some distant travels from Longyearbyen.
Go to Greenland, Iceland or Northern Sweden/Norway to do easier arctic char fishing...
Maybe you have aquaintances who do fishing in Svalbard and then you should be able to join. If not, have some char as served by Nansen restaurant or Huset in Longyearbyen...
While flying to Svalbard can be done cheaply, it is less of a chance to stay and do sightseeing on the cheap. Nevertheless, here are some suggestions:
1) Walking the peripheral roads of Longyearbyen on a photo safari
2) Check what's on offer in the tourist office or on internet event calendars, and read up on their general info
3) Visit the Svalbard Museum
4) Eat good food at the café at Huset - the restaurant there is expensive
5) Buy a cheap bottle of wine (still good quality!!!) or a six-pack of beer and some food and have a midnight bonfire picnic (summer....)
6) Visit a husky or greenland dog kennel, maybe the owners will take you in for a show?
7) Read a book on the coal mining history (check the tourist office, Svalbard Museum or the library) and walk to some of the mines and check for yourself.
8) Rent a gun (100 NOK shared among some persons) and go for hikes outside the settlement; Lia, Sarkofagen, Platåberget, Nordenskjoldfjellet, Bjørndalen).
9) If you camp for cheap at the campsite near Hotellneset, rent a bike to get around.
10) Eat the dish of the day at Busen in Lompen Senteret.
11) Visit the church (free, and they have cheap coffee and waffles)
12) Search for fossils at the morene of the Longyear glacier.
13) Watch sea birds and polar foxes in the bird cliffs.
These are some of the key places to see/visit in Longyearbyen, without having to bother about joining some very expensive tours. This list will definitely fill a weekend or easily more of you go hiking, too.
Svalbard Kirke is the world's Northernmost church.
It's the only church I've visited, where the church porch (in Norway called weaponhouse) actually is used for storing weapons (because carrying weapons into the sanctuary is prohibited).
It's the only church I've visited where the vicar greeted us all to find out how many different nationalities and languages present. The Church is Lutheran, but both Roman Catholics and members of the Russian Orthodox Church took part in the service, when we visited.
Mine 3 is located in the mountain-side, just above the airport outside Longyearbyen. This coal mine was closed in 1996, and now parts of it is open to visitors. An ex-miner was our guide, and he shared his knowledge and stories with us. I found it very interesting.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is also located at the site. We got to see an example of the tubes stored in the vault, but the vault itself is not open to public.
The staff at our hotel booked the tour for us, and we was picked up at the hotel.
The tour-companies offers several trips. Some short - some longer. We opted for a short trip, and it ended up even shorter. The weather got so bad we had to abort and return to Longyearbyen, for safety reasons.
But it was fun as long as it lasted!
Be prepared to drive your own snowmobile. Bring you driving license.
For a dog-lover like me, this was the perfect day.
We drove out of town, to where the dogs are located. We got to spend some time with the dog, learned how to put the harnesses on and make them ready for the ride. We teamed up in pairs - and off we went!
The ride itself goes to the snowmobile-free Bolter-valley. All you could here was the panting dogs. On our day, the weather was wonderful and made the experience even more memorable.
When we returned to the kennel, all I wanted was to go for another ride.
We were driven to the Longyear Glacier in a tracked vehicle (bumpy). After admiring the views, we descended down into the glacier. Walking and crawling through the tunnels made by melting water.
The ice and rock formations are amazing!
Not for people suffering from claustrophobia....
The only place in Svalbard that is NOT "off the beaten path" is the main town, Longyearbyen--and even that is way off the beaten path when it comes to the rest of the world. But of course you don't want to travel all this way just to see this small town with its few shops and houses, you've got to also see some of the wonderful nature which makes Svalbard so worth visiting. If you're coming on a large ocean vessel, most ships stop only at Longyearbyen or go a bit further north to Ny Alesund and the Magdalena Fjord. Ny Alesund is the northernmost settlement in the world with a population in summer of about 100, but in winter just 30-40 persons when the whole bay and sea is frozen.
Just a tad bit north of Ny Alesund, you find the beautiful Lilliehöök Fjord and Glacier, which you can see in the photos. This place is absolutely incredible--the snow-drenched mountains dropping dramatically to the sea, bits and pieces of ice floating swirling around whatever expedition vessel you might be on, and the glacier itself, an amazing sight that words can't describe.
This is one of many fjords and glaciers to be seen and you should at least see one, so why not the Lilliehöök Fjord? there are no roads to get here, the only way to get here is by boat/ship in the summer...or maybe, dog sled or snow mobile from Ny Alesund.
It's recommended to rent your own snowscooters and take a trip from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg or even longer to the Isfjord Radio.
When you drive down the backside of Longyearbyen, just follow the track untill you are in "Reindalen" (it's a huge valley). Then turn right untill the valley where it meets the icefjord. (It takes about 30 minutes in a speed of 100 km/h). Then keep the track along the sea. There are som deep ravine there, so take it easy. When you arrive to the russian helicopter base in Barentsburg, just follow the main road. It's a lot of things to see here. Keep slow speed in Barentsburg city. During the snowscooter tour it is possible to see polarbears.
Difficult choise, you may not be able to do everything you want...
Check out Svalbard.net and pick a selection of activities that go well together timewise and otherwise, book and pay online. That eases your life once in Longyearbyen, you do not need to waste time rushing around organising.
If you are a first-timer on Svalbard, I will recommend to take the scheduled maxi-taxi-sightseeing around lunch time every day, after you have first visited the official tourist info office and the Svalbard Museum at the university centre in the morning.
Stroll the main pedestrian street of Longyearbyen on a busy Saturday, see the hardy locals in t-shirts, arctic-dressed tourists and students with shouldered rifles. Odd place, this... A bit up from the town centre is Gallery Svalbard, an artist centre for Svalbard resident artists and visitors preoccupied with an artistic preoccupation with the Svalbard arctic light.
Take a tour to Mine # 7, which is the better of the two mine tour options. No 3 is a museum mine while #7 is in operation.
Fit in a tour to an ice grotto on Longyear glacier, very interesting and exciting. In my opinion one of the best-value things you can do.
If during summer, go on an Isfjorden day/half day cruise tour taking in Fuglefjella, Coles Bay, Grumant, Barentsburg Russian mining community, Isfjord Radio, Esmarkbreen glacier etc., depending on your purse, time and interest. The tours vary a bit. You can also hike, learn about dogs and go dog-carting, horse riding, fossil hunting and go kayaking.
In winter, join a snowmobile tour to more remote places of Isfjorden and the East Coast, or stay more environment friendly with dog sledding. You can do weekend trips both by dog sledge and snowmobile. As a newcomer to the arctic, the organised night excursions to "eat out" in a remote location in Adventsdalen, travelling by belted weasels og dog sledges and see and feel the big sky and hear stories of trappers and explorers of the arctic, encounters with polar bears etc. If you are familiar with the arctic, skip this.
Eat well, and celebrate in Longyearbyen. My favourites are Huset and Kroa. The newcomer Svalbar has no style apart from international slick, but good food. For the odd and the curious and more international food, Mary Ann's Polarriggen's Vinterhagen. The dark and brown Karls-Berger Pub has an incredible array of whiskys and cognacs, not to speak about beers. Most places are on the informal side, quite utilitarian as is most of Longyearbyen. The tax-free status of Svalbards ensures cheaper drinks and food, however, Svalbard is still expensive.
Going to Longyearbyen in December? The general tourism portal is www.svalbard.net, and they do list most of the winter activities available from the tour operators and hotels - some are valid for December also, and an event calendar. So does www.svalbard.com and www.ssd.no But what are your expectations? Indoor activities, outdoor or what? Naturally, it is the low season for outdoor sightseeing - it is pitch dark. However, with clear skies, moonlight and aurora borealis in ths sky you will have a fantastic experience. The tourist office at Svalbard and the northern lights (aurora borealis) observatory might be able to tell you more once there, and perhaps trips geared for this are available upon request. You need to book tickets early for December visits to Svalbard, , especially if going close to Christmas. There is a fair amount of travelling to and fro then, as well as pre-Christmas events in Longyearbyen attracting people from the mainland. The
Bjørndalen (Bear Valley) is at the end of the road west of Longyearbyen - well past the airport. The road extends past some cabins and gets rougher and if not well equipped for the outdoors and polar bear encounters, turn around here. Hang around the car and look for birds, polar foxes, reindeers, but leave the doors open ready to jump back in, Bjørndalen is a passage for polar bears. Maybe I sound too dramatic or skittish, ok, but don't venture too far from the safety of the car.
Well equipped and by foot or skis, this is a wonderful starting point for a day's hike or ski into Bjørndalen. The slopes of the U-shaped valley have a very dramatic look thanks to ravines in the sedimentary rock. Nice autumn colors, too, and good birdlife thanks to the relative fertility of this valley and the nearby fuglefjella sea bird cliffs toward the sea. Best in the summer/autumn as the Bjørndalen passage is the shortest link to Barentsburg by snowmobile, so there are noisy interruptions to your polar adventure...
See my travelogue from a recent visit to Bjørndalen.
P.O. Box 500, Longyearbyen, 9170, Norway
Good for: Families
The SAS hotel has a very central location only 100 m from the main shopping area. It has 95 rooms...more
P.O. Box 500, Longyearbyen, I 9171, Norway
Good for: Business