Between Norway and the North Pole, you can find the wild, free and beautiful islands of Svalbard. The groups of islands range from 74• to 81• north latitude and from 10• to 35• east longitude. Spitsbergen is the largest of all the islands and here you will find the administrative center, Longyearbyen. All of Svalbard is administered by the Governor of Svalbard (Sysselmannen).
There are many things to do at Svalbard, and most tourist go to Longyearbyen and start their trips from there. One thing is very important to know about this place, if you are going out of the "city center" of Longyearbyen you need to report that to Sysselmannen and there are a few precautions you need to take and you need to follow the Svalbardvettreglene:
1. Do not litter. Do not leave any trails that you have been there.
2. Do not disturb the wild animals. Remember, you are the guest.
3. Do not pick any flowers.
4. Do not destroy or take away any cultural heritage. All tracks after humans from before 1946 is a protected cultural heritage.
5. It is prohibited to lure, pursue or do anything else to seek polar bears so that they can be disturbed or do anything to put them or yourself in danger.
6. Do not leave any of the inhabited areas without our own weapon and the experience on how to use it.
7. Show respect for others.
8. Contact the Governor of Svalbard (Sysselmannen) if you are going out on a longer trip on your own. You are by law, obliged to do that.
9. Get to know the rules and regulations and activities at Svalbard.
10. Organized trips are recommended.
When you are familiar with the rules and regulations you can start enjoying the wilderness of this beautiful place, that are located so far north. The adventure will start from when the plane lands at the airport, because this is one of the most difficult airports in the world to land a passenger plane on, so that itself is a pretty fun experience. Trust me it is safe, been there done that. Not landing the plane myself, off course, but the SAS pilots are pretty good at doing it. You can only fly SAS to Svalbard and you fly either on the non stop flight from Oslo (only during the summer program) or the direct flight via Tromsø (all year). It takes about 3 hours on the non stop flight and a little longer on the direct flight. Just remember, during the winter you are far north, even when you are in Norway, so be aware of the weather, dress in warm clothes!
We went there in August and even though we landed in the evening it was bright as during the daytime. Another thing that might be handy to know. During the summer it never goes dark and during the winter it never gets bright.
This road sign was the first thin we saw when entering Longyearbyen.
And this is the "city center". Well, just some of it, there are a few more houses and shops. And of course there are a few hotels there as well, we stayed at Radisson Blue Polar Hotel Spitsbergen. A lovely hotel in the middle of the center.
That is a life size polar bear that was in the reception of the hotel, they are huge!!! I am glad I didn't meet anyone when I was there. It do happens every now and then that there are polar bears that comes into town. When that happens everybody are told to stay inside until the polar bear has been removed by authorized people. You are not allowed to shot a polar bear unless it is a matter of life and death. There is a reason why you need to carry a weapon (a riffle) when you go out of town.
We were in Longyearbyen only for the weekend and as we landed in the evening on the friday we just got some food at the hotel restaurant and went to bed. The next day we just wanted to walk around the center as we did not have any activities booked or anything like that. There are a few thing to do in town as well. We went to the Svalbard museum, inside Svalbard Science Center, and even though I am not a big museum fan, this was very good. Think we were in there for almost 3 hours. The Science Center is together with The University Centre in Svalbard, The Norwegian Polar Institute and The Governor of Svalbard's environmental information. The museums main target is to give people and tourists knowledge and understanding of the relations between nature, culture, landscape, human activity, technology and the environment in the Arctic. Another goal is to engage in research to throw light on ways of life and standard of living through 400 years of human activity in Svalbard.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the islands were first used as a whaling base, and in the 20th century the coal mining started. It was at this time the first permanent communities were established. Svalbard is Norwegian territory, it was recognized as Norwegian sovereignty in the Svalbard Treaty of 1920 and in 1925 in the Svalbard Act it was made a full part of the Kingdom of Norway.
Inside the museum you get to see some of the great wildlife that you can find around on the islands, and you can learn a lot of the history.
This last picture is taken from the library they have in the museum. It was very nice to sit down on the reindeer fur/skin and read some of the history and look through loads of books.
After a long visit to the museum and walking around in town looking in the shops there ( a lot of stuff is tax free, so you defo want to stop by Norpolet, a place where you can by alcohol because it is so cheap, well, at least for Norwegians it is ), we had to get something to eat. Even though there is only about 2800 people who live in Longyearbyen, there are a lot of tourists there, so there is obviously a few restaurants to choose from. Some of them located in the old coal mind workers huts, which now has been done into small guesthouses with restaurants and bars.
As I said the alcohol in Svalbard is tax free, so for a Norwegian person it is very cheap to buy drinks there. Something my Irish mother-inlaw also agreed on, so we stayed in the bar for a little while. During this time we came to talk to a few people, could almost call them local people because they were working there on a seasonal basis. A lot of the workers there are from Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and some actually from Thailand. And there is a few Norwegians there of course.
All the above pictures are taken outside the restaurant / bar, and the time is getting around 12:30 am, still very bright and time to hit Karls-Berger Pub. The reason why we wanted to go to this place is that here you can find the largest product range of Whiskey and Cognac in Northern Europe, and if you really fancy old Cognac, why not try one from 1802? Now that would not be so cheap. I think it is a must see in Longyearbyen. And guess what! I even met a girl I know when I was at that bar, small world isn't it.
The outside pic's are taken at 03.00 am, it is bright as daylight................
I mentioned earlier that we were only staying there for a weekend, and we landed on Friday evening and the flight back was Sunday early afternoon so we did not really have the time to do lads of stuff. If you ever go there, I would recommend that you stay for a few more days than what we did. There is so much thing to see and do there, and something I am going to do the next time I am there is dog sledding.
I would say that it is probably one of the most popular activities for tourists to do in Svalbard. However, you should book this in advance, like you should with all activities. Remember that some of it might be seasonal. Need ideas for other thing to do? How about a hike to get the best experience of the northern lights, or a snow scooter safari, or maybe a tour to the caves or a little stroll on the glacier? There are a lot to choose from so make sure you have plenty of time to do all your favorite activities!