A travel guide to Svalbard – the Norwegian archipelago
[A guest post by Ketan from @OnTheRoadToYou.]
I hear you ask what’s good about Svalbard and where the hell is it?
Well it’s an amazing place to explore, see old settlements, spot the odd polar bear or two, along with seeing people casually carrying rifles! Not to mention, Svalbard is soo remote from any country or a capital city. It also carries the tag 78° 13′ North, 15° 38′ East. It’s approximately 1315km/817miles from the North Pole.
Svalbard is also a place where you’ll find many European nationalities working together whether it is for science/exploration or tourism. It certainly brings that wow factor when you know, you’re not that far from the North Pole.
Oh yeah, if you happen to go during winter time, then you’re guaranteed no sun at all as it’s spends 3 months of the year without any sun.
So why Svalbard in the first place?
I’ve always had a fascination with the polar region. Few years back, I went to Tromso (Norway) to experience the midnight sun and that’s far it went until I decided to go further up north last year.
There something spectacular about the Polar/Arctic region because you know it feels so different from your beaches, city breaks and tourist spots. I went in early September as that’s when the tourist season starts winding down. It wasn’t as packed as I expected to see considering the flight that I was on was full. Whilst on the plane looking out the window (as the plane was approaching the Longyearbyen Airport), you could see lots of beautiful mountain peaks covered in snow. I could feel the excitement build up. In fact, you could see the excitement in everyone’s faces on the plane as it flew past the mountains peaks and the town of Longyearbyen.
How do you get to Svalbard/Longyearbyen?
There are daily flights from Oslo (Norway) with SAS. Some fly direct whilst others fly via Tromso, depending on the season. Expect flight times to be around 4h from Oslo (via Tromso). During the summer season, Norwegian also flies direct from Oslo to Longyearbyen. If you want to extend your holiday, you could also stopover in Oslo for few days, which is what I did.
Is it Expensive?
In a nutshell, Yes! From flights to hotel accommodation to eating out. You’re definitely guaranteed to spend a lot of money. Off course, you could take snacks/drinks with you to bring down the costs slightly. So you have to go with deep pockets, otherwise Svalbard is not for you.
Longyearbyen Svalbard Airport
Even though Svalbard is part of Norway, it’s not part of the Schengen region. There is no passport control at Longyearbyen Airport, so expect all the formalities to be done either at Oslo or Tromso Airport.
Once you arrive at Longyearbyen Airport, the best way to get into town is by using Airport Shuttle bus. FLYBUSSEN runs this and they are available outside arrivals. Its costs 75 NOK for a single trip and takes around 10min to get into town. The Airport Shuttle bus stops at all the major hotels. If you’re not sure about your hotel, speak to the driver.
Where to stay?
There are several hotels throughout the town from your top end to budget accommodation. I stayed at the Svalbard Hotell & Lodge. It’s one of the newer hotels in Svalbard. I was very pleased with my stay and the Hotel staff were ever so helpful in organising day trips and providing all the necessary information about the town. The Svalbard Tourist Information office is right next to the hotel.
Other Accommodations in Longyearbyen:
- Radisson Blu Polar Hotel
- Spitsbergen Hotel
- Gjestehuset 102
- Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg
OK so what is there to do in Svalbard?
Plenty is the short answer!
Even before I had flown to Svalbard, I had already booked an evening hike. I went for a total of 5 days. On the first day, I spent some time walking around the town along with checking what other activities there is to do. In the evening, I went for a hike to Platåfjellet. It’s only few hours hike but it’s well worth it as you get amazing views of the mountains and the town below.
The next day, it was a full day boat trip to PYRAMIDEN AND NORDENSKIOLDBREEN. On boarding the boat, there is scoreboard of all the animals that have been spotted so far
Pyramiden is the first stop, it was a former Russian settlement and a coal-mining community, now its a place for Tourists to visit and see. Whilst in Pyramiden, you’re given a tour of the town and buildings by 2 Russian guides. You’ll find all kinds of things inside old buildings such as pianos, guitars, mosaics and newspapers.
After Pyramiden it was onto Nordenskiöldbreen, this is a glacier.
Whilst at the glacier we spotted a polar bear which really made everyone’s day on the boat.
Lunch is provided on board the boat and is included as part of the trip. More information can be found on Facebook – Polargirl Polar charter.
Now dog sledding is pretty cool
The following day I booked DOGSLEDDING ON WHEELS. The guide takes you to a dog yard/pound to pick up the dogs that will be used for the trip. The Svalbard dogs are just amazing and they love working for you. They are all kept outside even during the bitter winter months. Once the dogs (13 of them) had been selected, they are put into cages in the van before heading off to the actual location. Once there, they all hooked up to ropes and ready to go. The guide explains a lot about the dogs and there history with dogs. The trip itself starts close to Svalbard Church and goes far as the airport.
You can get more information from http://www.svalbardhusky.no/index.html
Fact: Did you know that no one is allowed to keep a dog at home (except at the weekend)? They all have to be kept at a dog yard. They make exceptions for some smaller dogs. Also, no cats are allowed in Svalbard.
Now time for a hike to Trollsteinen
On my last full day in Svalbard, I spent the day hiking to the top of Trollsteinen (850m). Its a full day hike, so you should be in reasonably good physical condition. During the hike, where ever you look, you simply get amazing views of mountains. Part of the hike involves attaching crampons to your boots in order to tackle the slippery part of the glacier. Once you reach the top, the views are breath-taking
You also get to sign a book once you’ve reached the top.
For lunch, we (group) were provided with freeze dried food that requires hot water for a nutritious lunch. You get about an hour to enjoy the views from the top of Trollsteinen. On the way back down they encourage you to find million year old fossils that are embedded onto rocks and stones.
You can get more information from http://www.visitsvalbard.com/?id=1518767711&TellusProducts=1008705
Note : With any hike or activity you do, the guide will pick you up from your hotel by the guide from your hotel, plus there is always good chance you’ll have dogs to accompany you. So if you’re a dog lover, than you’ll be guaranteed to have a great time.
Other activities available to do in Longyearbyen:
- KAYAK / SUMMIT TRIP
- LIFE IN THE COAL MINE NUMBER 3
- Fossil hunting
- Svalbard Global Seed Vault
The sites (below) can assist you in getting more information about winter and summer activities in Svalbard:
On my final morning in Longyearbyen I did some last minute clothes shopping and getting those souvenirs.
Where to eat?
For dinner, there are several places to eat in Svalbard. They are as follows:
If there’s one place I would love to go back and visit, it would be Svalbard. It has so much to offer in terms of being a remote place, what with the wilderness and the excitement of seeing Polar Bears. Plus, you will need to go with a big budget as nothing is cheap.
Final Note – In all parts of Europe, you don’t see people casually carrying rifles, however its very different in Svalbard. When people go out of town, they will carry rifles with them in case they encounter Polar Bear(s). So, there’s no need to be alarmed seeing people carrying rifles.