Longyearbyen: The World’s Northernmost Town

Longyearbyen town centre

Longyearbyen is the only town in Spitsbergen, a glacier-covered island belonging to the remote Svalbard archipelago which is also known as the last stop before the North Pole. Complete darkness reigns from early November to the beginning of February when a hiatus of day and night manages to break through the Polar Night. However, this small gap of normality doesn’t last long, as from mid-April eternal daylight known as the Midnight Sun persists until late August. For most, both periods are a welcomed novelty but under a prolonged duration, I’m sure the novelty would eventually dissipate as the body’s craving to align sleep according to natural daylight takes over.

With a population of just over 2000 people, the community of Longyearbyen is small yet strikingly unified. Brightly painted houses cluster together in neat rows to reprieve the solitude otherwise present in this high Arctic landscape where even trees cannot grow. My guide, Anika, who is originally from Australia, is keen to tell me that despite its minuscule population by any comparison it is a surprisingly multicultural community with over forty different nationalities. Later, I learn Anika has been living in Spitsbergen for the last seven years: she never imagined staying for so long, but she also never imagined falling in love here either.

longyearbyen town centre

Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen

Anika has already surpassed the average length of time a person spends living in Svalbard by one year and has no desire to leave anytime soon – in fact she told me last week that she’s bought a place here with her boyfriend! It has never been a place where generations after generations settle; the only people who lived here were polar scientists and miners, along with a handful of explorers using the area as a base before expeditions to the North Pole. However, things changed in 1975 when Svalbard’s first and only international airport opened just outside Longyearbyen, claiming the title of the northernmost airport in the world with public scheduled flights (when you are here, you will soon discover it is the ‘northernmost everything’).

Longyearbyen airport, Svalbard

With Spitsbergen now being less isolated, tourism has slowly and steadily increased but this doesn’t mean people can head here without doing practical research, it’s important to book a place to stay beforehand as beds are likely to be fully occupied. There isn’t a vast selection of hotels, and due to its strict policy of preserving the unique wildlife and environment, it wants to remain that way. I stayed in the Radisson Blu Hotel which is well located, has friendly staff, an excellent buffet breakfast which the Scans are famous for, and there’s also a lively pub. You’ll be happy to hear that Svalbard is a duty free zone so alcohol is a little cheaper compared to the monstrous prices of mainland Norway!

Radisson Blu Hotel, Longyearbyen, Svalbard

You can expect very good food in Longyearbyen, and where possible, it is locally and organically reared. This means reindeer is a very common source of protein, and cloudberries often make up the key ingredient for dessert.

Reindeer meat, Norway
Reindeer Meat

An omnipresent sense of primitiveness looms over the island, at once tangibly and intangibility, you can see and feel how the harsh climate weathers the landscape, to which you realise how at mercy you are to the elements. Without preparation, it is no easy feat to venture far beyond Longyearbyen, those wanting to leave the immediate area must do so with an armed guide because this is a territory where polar bears outnumber people.

Longyearbyen photos, Polar bear
I didn’t see a polar bear on my trip but I did get a photo with this cool warning sign. I also recommend a trip to the Polar Museum, where you’ll learn about all the different types of animal species living on Svalbard.

An important note to add is that polar bears are highly revered and protected animals of Svalbard, so if one is seen approaching humans a warning shot is given off to scare away the animal first. Shooting a polar bear is always the last resort after all other methods to deter it have failed. If this does happen, it needs to be reported to the police immediately. Adventurers who come for expeditions in Svalbard will place tripwire around their camping area when they sleep, but the most reliable practise is to have someone on night-watch as well as putting down tripwire.

Svalbard, expedition, trekking

Leaving Longyearbyen is something every visitor must do to experience the exquisite clarity of the fjords reflecting the light of the Midnight Sun, or one of the many mountainous scenes. Travel by husky dogs, a common and eco-friendly mode of transport used by visitors and locals alike, or head out on a boat to explore the incredible glacial landscape. If there’s one image that can make humans look small and insignificant against nature, it’s the imposing vision of a glacier: a humbling reminder of the earth’s movements.

Glacier, Spitsbergen, Svalbard

Husky dogs, SvalbardSpitsbergen, wooden building

 

Additional Information about visiting Longyearbyen

Fly with: www.norwegian.com
For more information: www.spitsbergentravel.com
Find package holidays with: www.taberhols.co.uk
Don’t miss: A chance to go husky sledding and a boat trip to one of the glaciers.
Other things to do: Visit the Polar Museum,and local art gallery.

Would you like to visit the world’s northernmost town?



A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.


'Longyearbyen: The World’s Northernmost Town' have 21 comments

  1. June 11, 2014 @ 9:19 am Sarah Alexandra George

    Amazing! I really want to go now! A place where polar bears outnumber humans – what could be more exciting. I love your photos too – the light and colours are incredible!

    Reply

    • June 19, 2014 @ 7:59 pm admin

      Thanks Sarah! I hope you get to go at some point. It’s one of those all-consuming, all-amazing places!

      Reply

  2. June 11, 2014 @ 3:32 pm Wesley Pechler

    Great article and beautiful pictures! Very excited to be going there late August for five days, have been wanting to go further up north since visiting Iceland in 2009. Booked two hiking trips and a boat trip out of Longyearbyen so hopefully I’ll get to experience the best Svalbard has to offer!

    Reply

    • June 15, 2014 @ 12:57 pm admin

      How exciting Wesley! You’re going to have the experience of a lifetime, and if going further up North is where you want to go, then you can’t get much further than Longyearbyen! Two hiking trips and a boat trip are fantastic ways to see the surrounding areas. Feel free to show off your pictures to me! 🙂

      P.S. If you loved Iceland, it’s guaranteed you’ll love Longyearbyen and the rest of Spitsbergen – they share many qualities!

      Reply

  3. June 12, 2014 @ 2:08 am Colleen Brynn

    Holy shit! This looks like the most amazing place. Your photos are superb. I imagine those brightly coloured homes are an absolute must in the darkness and chill of winter.

    Reply

    • June 19, 2014 @ 8:03 pm admin

      Happy you like the photos Colleen! I haven’t been in winter, but I agree, colour will definitely reprieve some of the harsher days associated with Arctic weather.

      Reply

  4. June 12, 2014 @ 5:52 pm Luyi

    Your blog is amazing, you have been traveling a lot, I heard that one should always carry a gun on Svalbard because polar bears are everywhere…

    Gonna follow you on bloglovin, I really like your posts, wish someday I can travel like that 🙂

    Reply

    • June 15, 2014 @ 4:02 pm admin

      Hi Luyi, thanks for the kind words! Guides and many locals carry rifles but most visitors don’t, instead they accompany guides when they leave the centre of Longyearbyen – that way it’s safer. I’ve just checked out your blog and can see that we share a love for travelling and also & Other Stories!! 😉

      Reply

  5. July 1, 2014 @ 4:39 am realgunners

    Awesome! I’ve always dreamed of living in a country with 4 seasons climate. Now I’ll add living in a country with many seasons of daylight into part of my dream 🙂

    Reply

    • July 1, 2014 @ 8:07 am admin

      Hi! Although I do grumble about the lack of sun and all too frequent rain, I still do enjoy the change of the seasons – can only wish for the kind of rays you get in Penang though! 🙂

      I’d love to try living somewhere like Longyearbyen for an extended length of time where perpetual darkness changes to perpetual light – must be an incredible experience!

      Reply

  6. July 1, 2014 @ 7:47 am Heather

    What an incredibly beautiful and fascinating place! That might be a fun weekend getaway now that I’m so close by in Latvia!

    Reply

    • July 4, 2014 @ 8:36 pm admin

      I find it impossible to describe how beautiful and special this place is Heather! I hope you make time to visit whilst you’re much nearer now! If you go, I definitely advise booking a few excursions beforehand as it’s not the type of place you can just easily wander around in.

      Reply

  7. July 4, 2014 @ 12:52 am Aubrey

    Oh what a lovely town. The colorful houses are so great and the view of the mountains behind, stunning! Sounds like a fantastic adventure.

    Reply

    • July 10, 2014 @ 7:25 am admin

      Hi Aubrey, it was a fantastic adventure, and one I want to chase again. The colourful houses are great aren’t they? They definitely make Longyearbyen look a little quirkier!

      Reply

  8. July 19, 2014 @ 11:33 am Escape Hunter

    It must have been wicked up there in the “northern desert”. One-heck-of-a wicked adventure! I’d love to do some hopping trips across Nordic regions, islands… Svalbard, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland…
    But for now I’m more attracted to the places that have plenty of sunlight 🙂

    Reply

    • July 19, 2014 @ 7:05 pm admin

      You won’t be disappointed if you get the chance to go, and after you leave it’s difficult to get that place out of your head! I’m dying to go to Greenland. Oh, well if it’s sunlight you’re after then most of Scandinavia has perpetual sunlight 24/7 during summer! However, if you’re wanting hot weather then yeh… Scandinavia wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice 😉

      Reply

  9. March 11, 2015 @ 7:28 am Jonny Duncan

    Wow! It looks so much different in the summer, I barely recognise the place. I was up there recently for 16 days in winter when there was barely any light, and snow and ice were everywhere, with -30 temperatures. But it was very beautiful, especially with the northern lights overhead.

    I will be going back in summer sometime to see the difference, and to be able to get out and about with friends there.

    Maybe I will see you up there sometime. It really is such a special place. I was tempted to keep staying with my friend and find a job!

    Reply

    • June 15, 2016 @ 9:23 am Shing Yoong

      I want to work in Longyearbyen too! Haha… maybe I will see you up there! 😉

      Reply

  10. June 11, 2016 @ 12:20 pm Van @ Snow in Tromso

    Do you have any recommendations in what would be the best time to visit? I mean, sure polar night for northern lights but I have those too in Tromso. I’m looking into a weekend trip to Svalbard so I’m short on time and I guess visiting during summer would be best then to discover a lot, right? But what about the glacier trip? I’d love to see icebergs up close cause I couldn’t do that in Greenland. Would I be able to visit the glacier and see icebergs in say late August?
    Also, I’m writing an update post on my Northern Norway bucket list right now and wonder whether or not I could use your Longyearbyen pic? I’d of course link back to you!

    Reply

    • June 15, 2016 @ 6:41 am Shing Yoong

      Hey hey! As you mentioned it, I think the end of August would be a PERFECT time to visit! I’ve also heard the pink skies which you can find in April are also something to behold…. it’s also getting light by then so at least you’d have more hours of exploration (I’m sure you’ll be craving the sunlight after spending the winter in Tromso haha!)

      Personally, I’d choose the end of August for optimun hours of sunlight and to ensure all the boat trips are available. I went on a boat trip to Von Post glacier which is the most affordable boat trip that Spitsbergen Travel offer and I had a fabulous experience, but if you’re looking for a truly unique experience, I recommend taking a boat trip to the ghost town of Pyramiden!

      If you’d like to read more about what activities you can do in Svalbard, check out these posts: http://www.theculturemap.com/arctic-adventures-svalbard-part-1/ and http://www.theculturemap.com/arctic-adventures-svalbard-excursions-part-2/ Wesley took a boat trip to Esmark Glacier which is also an option for you – it’s bigger than Von Post too.

      If you have anymore questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. And of course you can use any of the photos – let me know if you need any in a higher res!

      Reply

  11. October 18, 2017 @ 1:47 pm Monica

    Hi, I will visit Longyearbyen for two days at the beginning of December, do you have something to suggest for this period of the year?
    Thank you for your answer.
    Monica

    Reply


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