10 Epic Summer Arctic Experiences – What to Do in Svalbard

Svalbard (also known as Spitsbergen) enjoys a privileged position high above the Arctic Circle, just 1300 km from the North Pole. There are many wonderful adventures you can have in this remote arctic outpost. But don’t be fooled, you do not need to be an explorer or an experienced hiker to enjoy the natural beauty of Svalbard! Here are 10 easy but epic summer arctic experiences you can enjoy in Svalbard.

#1 Explore the abandoned mining town of Pyramiden

During the height of the coal mining trade in Svalbard, Pyramiden was a very successful Russian mining town. About 1,000 people lived here, and so the town had a hospital, a hotel, a school and an auditorium. The mine closed in 1998 quite suddenly, with most residents leaving everything behind. Today, only 11 people live here during the summer, mostly engaged in tourism, and one person stays year-round.

Main square of Pyramiden

Pyramiden can be reached via boat as part of a full day tour. You will sail through the majestic fjords north of Longyerbyen. Once in Pyramiden, a local guide will take you on a two-hour tour around town.  For those even more intrepid, you can arrange to stay overnight at the Pyramiden Hotel.

View of the abandoned mine, hotel, restaurant and bar.

#2 Ride a speedboat through the fjords

Sailing full speed on the fjords, the cold wind in your face, holding on tight as we ride every wave. This is truly an amazing adventure!  The boat holds ten passengers, and you sit out on the open air. So you are guaranteed a great view. A few different tours are offered, but most visit a glacier and the Diabas bird cliffs.

Isfjord boat safari

Before you get on the boat a windproof suit, googles and waterproof boots are provided.  So don’t worry too much about the weather. Just be ready to have a great time!

Full speed!

#3 Marvel at the majestic glaciers

Can you believe there are more than 2,000 glaciers in Svalbard, covering about 60% of its landmass? Most of them are very remote, but luckily there are a few boat tours that will get you close to the glaciers.

Nordenskiold glacier, close to Pyramiden

Once you are there, I recommend you take some pictures and then let-go-of-that-camera. Enjoy the moment. Breath some fresh air. Listen to the sounds of the waves and the birds. It is incredibly peaceful out there. Make sure to make memories and not just pictures.

Von Post glacier. Love the shades of blue in the ice.

#4 Spot the arctic wildlife

Svalbard is home to an incredible variety of arctic wildlife. If you are lucky, you will be able to spot a polar bear and beluga whales as you go on your boat trips.

Polar bear is trying to go for a swim!
We spotted a few beluga whales, with the boat always keeping a safe distance.

If you look closely, you will also see reindeer, seals, arctic foxes and dozens of birds. Svalbard is a National Park and close encounters with the animals are not encouraged to protect the wildlife. So make sure to bring binoculars!

Raindeer seen on our beach landing
Black-legged kittiwake
Guillemot birds nesting in the Dabas Cliffs

#5 Visit the Barentsburg settlement

Barentsburg is a Russian mining town and the second-largest settlement in Svalbard. Although Svalbard is part of Norway, the town relies mostly on Russia for food and other essential supplies. You can reach Barentsburg as a full day trip boat ride in the summer, and on snowmobile during winter. And if you want to spend more time in town, you can arrange for an overnight stay at the Barentsburg Hotel.

Options include a full day in Barentsburg or a combined trip to Pyramiden

#6 Learn about the history of the polar arctic expeditions

Visiting one of the museums in Longyearbyen is highly recommended to help you get a better understanding of how the history of polar expeditions shaped Svalbard. The museums tell the story of the different polar expeditions and the fate of the intrepid explorers who helped map the Arctic. You will also learn about the whaling and coal mining trades, and how that affected life in Svalbard.  Visit the Svalbard Museum and the North Pole Expedition Museum  websites for opening hours and visitor information.

Wildlife exhibition at the Svalbard museum

#7 Explore a coal mine

Once you arrive in Svalbard and see all the abandoned coal mines, you will be curious to see one from the inside. Luckily, there is a tour of coal mine 3, just outside Longyearbyen, where you can enter the tunnels of this abandoned mine. You will also learn about the history of mining in Svalbard and the life of the miners.

One of the many abandoned coal mines in Longyearbyen

As a bonus, you will get to see up close the Seed Vault, though not visitors are allowed.

Seed Vault was being repaired during our visit

#8 Go on a fossil hunt

After a walk across the Longyear valley at the end of town, you will reach the Longyear and Lars glaciers. Thousands of years of erosion within the glaciers have moved the rocks, making it possible to see many different plant and animal fossils.

View of the Longyear glacier

#9 Discover the vibe of Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen may well be a secluded arctic outpost, but it has an incredible energy, mostly because the population is relatively young and adventurous.  Walk around the town and on the side streets, trying to guess how many snowmobiles can each home have.

Colorful houses in Longyearbyen

Grab a bite at one of the excellent restaurants in town and end your long summer day at the pub.  Don’t forget to try the local beer, straight from the world’s northernmost brewery!

Try the Spitsbergen Stout from Svalbard Bryggeri

#10 Enjoy the midnight sun

Svalbard enjoys the midnight sun from mid April to mid August. Really, what is not to like about an endless summer day? Somehow I never got tired during our entire stay! This is an unforgettable experience you should have at least once in your life.

Our red-eye flight landing around 2 am

Bonus round for the explorers –                                                              #11 Hike a glacier

If you are an experienced hiker or active traveller, know that over the summer it is possible to hike the Trollsteinen and Foxfonna glaciers, as well as many other mountains around Svalbard. For the rest of us, note that these hikes are for experienced hikers only, even if the description of the tour states “average fitness” – we learned that the hard way!

Two hikers spotted at the Nordenskiold glacier

Are you ready to visit Svalbard? Read our full planning guide!

Svalbard Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Plan Your Visit

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