10 Things to see and do in Svalbard
Resident of Longyearbyen, our friend Maria Rossi shares with you her 'top ten things to see and do in Svalbard'. Regardless of season, the magnificent outdoors, high standard in hotels and fine dining options (along with the jolly old pub) will cater for all your requests.
Just beneath the North Pole lies the archipelago of Svalbard (or Spitsbergen as the biggest of the islands are called) at 78 degrees north. Longyearbyen, the main city, has just over 2100 inhabitants from 51 nationalities, but it is a diverse community with a lot to offer considering its relative small size. And the abundance of beautiful Arctic wilderness is right outside our doorstep.
This is a magical experience! Leaving from Longyearbyen in a belt wagon, you drive up on the Longyear glacier. The ice cave is a melt water channel, dug out during the summer months from the water running beneath the glacier, and it becomes a frozen winter wonderland during the colder months. It goes deeper every summer, and changes from one year to the next - revealing a few more metres of ancient ice history. It is mystical to walk around with a headlamp, not knowing what's around the next corner and - really - expecting a mammoth frozen in ice. Just to be clear, we haven't had one yet, but you never know what the cave will look like next year!
This is a great snowmobile trip through typical Svalbard landscape. The trip starts in Longyearbyen and continues out through the Advent valley to the banks of the Sassen fjord and the trapper Hilmar Nøis's residence, Villa Fredheim. It's easy terrain and great for people without so much snowmobile experience, at the same time as you get to experience a lot of the beautiful Svalbard nature and wildlife.
North, north and even further north. Here we will find the ghost town Pyramiden, complete with the world's northernmost statue of Lenin. An isolated town - surrounded by empty buildings and an obvious lack of life. This was an Arctic outpost during the Cold War, but at the same time an Arctic paradise for those who lived and worked here in the Communist spirit. This town was a showcase of communist excellence, and we will re-live the great atmosphere - it's still here!
From mid November until late January the sun is so far below the horizon that it is impossible to differ between night and day. Some might fear winter depression, however the locals on Svalbard instead cherish the great opportunity to see aurora borealis - 24 hours a day. Like a magic wand, the greenish light dances on the dark sky, and lights up the beautiful Arctic nature. As the sun crawls above the horizon in mid February (and for a few weeks until the midnight sun comes in April), the landscape in bathed in 50 shades of blue, and many would say the archipelago is at its absolute most beautiful.
This fine dining restaurant is located on the second floor at the newly renovated Funken Lodge and boasts the city's best views, along with some local culinary delights. Here you can get king crab from Northern Norway, dry-aged meat or local reindeer, as well as a wine list worth writing home about. The portions are generous and meant for sharing with friends and loved ones. An amazing dining experience in Longyearbyen!
Dog sledding is one of the most popular activities on Svalbard, and has a long history. When arriving at the dog yard you will meet lots of eager dogs, but as soon as they set of in front of the sledge, they stop barking and a just focused on the task ahead, getting you from A to B. It's a wild feeling getting control over 8 huskies who has no stop button, and to see them in the wild Svalbard nature is an experience of a lifetime.
If you want to get great views over Longyearbyen, but get the credit for the hard work yourself, aim for the mountain of Trollsteinen (the Troll Rock) at 849 m.a.s.l. Starting at Nybyen at the end of the Longyear valley, this trip takes you across the Lars Glacier and up the mountain ridge to the top. The views from the top are spectacular, and with skis in winter you'll be back in town for a burger and a beer in no time.
The Plateau mountain is one of the great mountains immediately surrounding Longyearbyen. You can walk up from town and it's a relatively easy hike that will give you great views over the city, the Advent Fjord and the Ice Fjord.
Join one of the local drivers on a two-hour trip around Longyearbyen. Here you will learn about the history of the city and the island, and it's a great way to start your stay in Longyearbyen.
This little café has nice and fast service, and is reasonably priced. There's a new soup for lunch every day, and the place has the best cinnamon buns in the city - possibly even north of the Arctic circle! Go for a quick bite or take your time whilst planning your next Arctic adventure. There is also a playground and a library adjacent if you bring younger children.
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Thanks Maria for sharing. Image credits: Funktionærmessen, Kvabbe Grevlingsti, Agurtxane Concellon, Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions and Maria Rossi.