If you are looking for an off-the beaten-path destination, with opportunities to explore nature and be in close contact with wildlife, Svalbard is for you. Read our travel guide with all the information you need to plan your visit.
The Svalbard (also known as Spitsbergen) archipelago is located between latitudes 74 to 81º N, above the Arctic Circle, between Norway and the North Pole.
The largest island is Spitsbergen, which also was the Dutch name given in the past to the group of islands. There are 3 main settlements in Spitsbergen:
- Longyearbyen – main settlement in Spitsbergen, where the airport (LYR) is located, and where most tourists stay
- Barentsburg – Russian mining town, accessible from Longyearbyen by boat (day trip)
- Ny-Alesund – research settlement, accessible as part of a multiple day tour
How to get there
Despite its remote location, Svalbard can easily be reached by plane.
There are daily direct flights from either Oslo or Tromso. To be more specific, on any given day you will be able to reach Longyearbyen from one of these cities, but not from both. Check the current schedules with each airline for up-to-date information.
|Oslo||3 hrs||Norwegian Airlines
|Tromso||1 hr 35 mins||Scandinavian Airlines|
If you prefer to arrive by sea, Hurtigruten and a few other expedition boats have routes that include Svalbard.
When to go
Due to its location above the Arctic Circle, you can expect cold temperatures year-round. In the winter, temperatures range from 8 to −4.0 °F. However, from June to September the temperature ranges from 45 to 27 °F. For this reason, a summer visit is preferable. While this is still cold, the temperature is much more manageable and you will be able to participate in more outdoor activities.
In addition, Svalbard enjoys the midnight sun (the sun never sets) from mid April to mid August, while the polar night (the sun never comes out) extends from late October to mid February.
How long to stay
There are not many activities to do, and the prices for food, tours and lodging are expensive. Considering that the flights arrive and depart late at night, we feel that 3 days, 2 nights is sufficient time for a budget traveler to get a sense of what Svalbard is all about. Of course you can stay much longer if your budget allows and you are looking for a relaxed vacation.
Svalbard is an unincorporated territory that is part of Norway and is subject to Norway’s laws. However, Svalbard is NOT part of the Schengen Area. Therefore:
- EU passport holders – passports needed for entry
- Non-EU passports from countries with a visa waiver to Schengen – passport needed for entry
- Non-EU passport from countries that need a Schengen visa – multiple entry visa is required
Note that you will go through immigration and customs upon entry to Norway. Remember to always check updated visa requirements to your destination before booking a trip.
Where to stay
There are not many accommodation options in Longyearbyen. Frankly, if you are on a budget, you need to book as soon as you have your dates so you can have some choice as to where to stay. The hotels tend to range around $200+ a night and are scattered along the main street. To give you an idea of the layout, the Radisson Blue is farthest from the stores, and the Svalbard Lodge is closer to the center of main street. Most of the guesthouses are away from the main street, beyond the Svalbard Lodge, and $100+ a night. There is also a slight uphill walk as you move away from main street.
Another option is to stay in Barentsburg, but I am not sure that there are any tours available from there. And if you want to stay at an old Soviet hotel, you can stay in Pyramiden at the Pyramiden Hotel. However, as this town is abandoned, you will have to spend your time at the hotel and your only choice for a meal will be at the hotel.
Our choice of accommodation was the Haugen Pensjonat. This guesthouse is located within a comfortable walking distance to main street (about 10 min partially uphill walk) and close to the Funken Lodge (formerly known as Spitsbergen Hotel). I mention this because the airport shuttle bus and some tours will pick you up at the Funken Lodge.
Our room was spacious and had a double bed, a twin bed, a sofa and a closet. Blackout curtains were provided, and we needed those to block the midnight sun.
The bathroom was shared with 2 other rooms, but in my time there I never had to wait to use them. The kitchen is located on the second floor and was well equipped. Every room had a separate mini-fridge and a pantry area. Cookies, coffee, tea and some cereals are complimentary and always available.
We enjoyed our stay in the guesthouse. Everything was clean and looked brand-new. There is no front desk, but someone is at the office during part of the day. We did not need to reach them, but the number to call for assistance is clearly posted on the bulletin board at the entrance.
Svalbard Busservice runs a shuttle (flybussen) from the airport to Longyearbyen (75 nok). The schedule for the bus mirrors the arrival and departure times of the flights. The buses are parked right outside the exit of the airport. One of the drivers will direct you to a bus depending on your hotel. Note that if you do carry on you will have to wait a bit to depart, as the buses wait until all bags have arrived. Buy your tickets on board (credit cards accepted).
For your return to the airport, check the updated schedule. It is usually posted in all the hotels.
- Most hotels and some restaurants have a no-shoe policy. There is a room at the entrance where you can leave your shoes. The Svalbard Museum will give you some crocs to wear while on the premises.
- It is not advised that you wonder outside of town without a guide due to the risk of encountering a polar bear. When venturing outside town, one is required to have a firearm. Therefore, on your tours your guide will have a weapon at all times.
- The Coop (Svalbardbuttiken) is a department store with supermarket, pharmacy and general goods store. Have in mind that opening hours are very inconvenient for those who spend the day on tours. Expect high prices.
- The convenience store is located inside of the small indoor shopping mall in front of the grocery store. The entrance is located on the street parallel to main street, or you can access through the mall.
- There are only a handful of restaurants. It is recommended to make reservations if you visit during high season.
- You can book tours at the Tourist Information center through the Visit Svalbard site.
- Water is safe to drink, but I read warnings about some areas having contaminated water. Probably that advise is only for people who go camping or hiking. However, I used bottled water just in case.
- Electrical outlets: same as in Norway/Europe (Europlug, Type C and F, two round prongs).
- Currency: Norwegian Krone.
- Credit cards are widely accepted. We did not use cash during our entire stay.
- Airport: There is only one gate at the airport, one convenience store and one restaurant. You will go through passport control once you pass security. Online check in is not available on the Norwegian flights, so don’t freak out when the app tells you there is a problem with your booking.
Things to do
There are a variety of activities you can do depending on the time of the year. Pre-booking is recommended for some activities, as the space is limited. Most tours will pick you up at your hotel. Note that some tours do not run every day, and some depart at different times depending on the day of the week. Also, several companies sell the same tours, so compare prices. Our detailed Things To Do Guide is coming soon. Subscribe now so you don’t miss it!
Ready to explore Svalbard? Need itinerary ideas? See our Unique Scandinavia Itinerary.