Svalbard: Wikis


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(and largest city)
Official language(s) Norwegian
Ethnic groups  55.4% Norwegian, 44.3% Russian and Ukrainian, 0.3% other [1]
Government Region of Norway
 -  Governor Odd Olsen Ingerø (2009-)
 -  Total 61,002 km2 
23,560 sq mi 
 -   estimate 2,572[2] (2009-07-01) 
Currency Norwegian krone (NOK)
Time zone CET (UTC +1) (CEST (UTC+2))
Internet TLD .no (.sj allocated but not used[3])
Calling code 47

Svalbard (Russian: Свальбард) is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Europe, about midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It consists of a group of islands ranging from 74° to 81° north latitude, and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The archipelago is the northernmost part of Norway. Three islands are populated: Spitsbergen, Bear Island and Hopen. The largest settlement is Longyearbyen. The Spitsbergen Treaty (1920) recognised Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard, and the 1925 Svalbard Act made Svalbard a full part of the Kingdom of Norway. The official language in Svalbard is Norwegian, though some areas speak Russian.



The whaling station of the Amsterdam chamber of the Northern Company in Smeerenburg, by Cornelis de Man (1639), but based on a painting of a Dansk hvalfangststation (Danish whaling station) by A.B.R. Speeck (1634), which represented the Danish station in Copenhagen Bay (Kobbefjorden).

Scandinavians may have discovered Svalbard as early as the 12th century. Traditional Norse accounts exist of a land known as Svalbarð—literally "cold shores". However, this might also have been Jan Mayen, or a part of eastern Greenland. The Dutchman Willem Barents made the first indisputable discovery of Svalbard in 1596. The islands served as an international whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Greenland whale was extirpated from this region. From 1611 to the 1800s, whaling took place off the western coast of Spitsbergen by Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish ships. They also provided the headquarters for many Arctic exploration expeditions.

At the beginning of the 20th century, American, British, Swedish, Russian and Norwegian companies started coal mining. Norway's sovereignty was recognized by the Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920, with an addition that there would be no military use of Svalbard, and that the other nations retained the rights to their settlements; five years later Norway officially took over the territory. Some historians claim that Norway was given sovereignty as compensation for its Merchant Fleet losses during World War I, when the Norwegian Merchant fleet played an important role supplying the United Kingdom. Only Norwegian and Russian settlements survived World War II.

From the late 1940s to the early 1980s, the geology of the Svalbard archipelago was investigated by teams from the University of Cambridge and other universities, led by Cambridge geologist W. Brian Harland. Many of the geographical features of the isles are named after the participants in these expeditions, or were given names by them linked to places in Cambridge. The name of the largest island in the archipelago, Spitsbergen (Dutch for "jagged mountains") was formerly used to refer to the entire archipelago, while the main island was called West Spitsbergen.


Unofficial logo of the Governor of Svalbard

The Spitsbergen Treaty established full Norwegian sovereignty over the archipelago; unlike the Norwegian Antarctic Territory, Svalbard is therefore part of the Kingdom of Norway, and not a dependency.[4] The power has some limitations in taxation, environmental conservation, non-discrimination and certain military activity. Under the terms of the treaty, citizens of signatory states have rights to exploit mineral deposits and other natural resources "on a footing of absolute equality".[5] As a result, a permanent Russian settlement, more or less autonomous, grew up at Barentsburg. Another Russian settlement at Pyramiden was abandoned by a Russian mining firm in January 1998.

Svalbard was made a part of Norway by the Svalbard Act of 1925. According to Per Sefland, the former Governor of Svalbard, the treaty implies that "if you're able to find a job, you have the right, according to the treaty, to come here". The treaty also states, "The nationals of all the high contracting parties [signatories] shall have equal liberty of access and entry for any reason or object whatever to the waters, fjords and ports of the territories." Therefore, some immigrants who have been denied residence in EU countries have relocated to Svalbard.


Reaching Svalbard

View overlooking Longyearbyen centre, Spitsbergen

Svalbard may be most conveniently reached by plane from Oslo or Tromsø usually costing between €300-€700. Svalbard Airport is the largest airport on the archipelago and is located 3 km northwest of Longyearbyen. There are two other airports in Svalbard: Ny-Ålesund Airport and Svea Airport.

Local travel

There are no roads connecting the settlements on Svalbard. There are 50 km (30 mi) of road in and around Longyearbyen. During the summer, boats go to Barentsburg several times a week. The light-aircraft flights to Ny-Ålesund are primarily reserved for the researchers and employees working there. During the summer, boats are available to travel to Ny-Ålesund. There is an airport shuttle from Longyearbyen in connection with flight departures/arrivals, and several taxis are available in Longyearbyen.

Seed vault


The Norwegian government has, in cooperation with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, built a "doomsday" seedbank to store seeds from as many of the world's crop varieties and their botanical wild relatives as possible. The bank was created by hollowing out a 120 m (390 ft) tunnel on Spitsbergen cut into rock with a natural temperature of −6 °C (21 °F), refrigerating it to −18 °C (−0 °F), and then storing seeds donated by the 1,400 crop repositories maintained by countries around the world. The vault has top security blast-proof doors and two airlocks. The number of seeds stored depends on the number of countries participating in the project. The point of this project is to prevent the diversity of agricultural crops currently stored (typically in the form of seed) in seed banks from becoming extinct as a result of accident, mismanagement, equipment failure, war or natural disaster, or due to a regional or global catastrophe.[6][7][8]

Geography and ecology

MODIS satellite photo of Svalbard, courtesy NASA
Map of Svalbard

Svalbard consists of a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean, covering an area of 61,022 km2 (23,561 sq mi), of which about 60% (36,502 km2 (14,094 sq mi)) is covered by glaciation.[9][10] Three large islands dominate: Spitsbergen (37,673 km2 (14,546 sq mi)), Nordaustlandet (14,443 km2 (5,576 sq mi)) and Edgeøya (5,074 km2 (1,959 sq mi)).[9][11] There is also the smaller Barents Island (Barentsøya) (1,288 km2 (497 sq mi)), Kvitøya (682 km2 (263 sq mi)), Prins Karls Forland (English: Prince Charles Foreland) (615 km2 (237 sq mi)), Kongsøya (191 km2 (74 sq mi)), Bear Island (178 km2 (69 sq mi)), Svenskøya (137 km2 (53 sq mi)), Wilhelmøya (120 km2 (46 sq mi)) and other smaller islands or skerries (621 km2 (240 sq mi)).[9]

In the night before 21 February 2008, Svalbard was hit by the strongest earthquake in recorded Norwegian history. The quake measured 6.2 on the Richter scale, and had its epicenter in Storfjorden, 140 km (87 mi) southeast of Longyearbyen.[12] An even stronger quake, at 6.5 on the Richter scale, struck off the coast of Svalbard on 6 March 2009, no casualties or damage were reported.[13]

Svalbard lies far north of the Arctic Circle. In Longyearbyen, the midnight sun lasts from April 20 to August 26, and polar night lasts from October 26 to February 15. From November 12 to the end of January there is civil polar night, a continuous period without any twilight bright enough to permit outdoor activities in the absence of artificial light. The only other settlement which is not Inuit and not a research settlement that has this phenomenon is Dikson near the mouth of the Yenisey River in Russia.

Svalbard reindeer.

In addition to humans, four predominantly terrestrial mammalian species inhabit the archipelago: the Arctic Fox, the Svalbard reindeer (R. tarandus platyrhynchus, a distinct sub-species), polar bears and accidentally introduced southern vole, Microtus levis. The polar bear, found up to the extreme north of Svalbard,[14] moreover, the sub-population of Ursus maritimus found here is a genetically distinct taxon of polar bears associated with the Barents Sea region.[15] Since polar bears are common on Svalbard and hunt humans on occasion, people need to take precautions when outside the settlements: this includes carrying a rifle. Nevertheless, the law protects polar bears, forbidding anyone to harm or disturb them unless it is necessary to avert personal injury.[16] A large number of aquatic mammalian species also inhabit the archipelago, including whales, dolphins, seals and walruses.

Kongsfjorden, an inlet on the west coast of Spitsbergen.

Svalbard is also a breeding ground for large numbers of seabirds, including Brunnich's and Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin, Little Auk, Fulmar and Black-legged Kittiwake. Other seabirds include Arctic Tern, four species of skua, and the elusive Ivory Gull. The Svalbard Ptarmigan, found on the larger islands, is the only land bird present for the entire year. Only two songbirds migrate to Svalbard to breed: the Snow Bunting and the Wheatear.

There is an astonishing variety of flowering plants on Svalbard. Although they are very small, these plants use the short period of 24-hour daylight to produce colourful blossoms.

Millions of years ago, Svalbard experienced much warmer climates and was forested, even though it was located at around the same latitude as at present. For a phase of several hundred thousand years at the boundary between the Paleocene and Eocene (55 million years ago), Svalbard experienced subtropical temperatures with palms and alligators. Although not generally as warm as this, Svalbard remained mild enough temperatures for forest through most of the Cretaceous and early Tertiary period up until at least 30 million years ago. In February 2008, the University of Oslo announced the discovery of the largest dinosaur-era marine reptile ever found — a pliosaur estimated to be almost 15 m (49 ft) long.[17]

Svalbard is part of the High Arctic Large Igneous Province.

A topographical Map of Svalbard


There are numerous fjords among the Svalbard islands; the five longest of which (measured from the head to open sea) are listed here:[9]


Coastlines of the Svalbard islands (listed from largest island to smallest) show the extensive variability characteristic of glacial formation:[9]


Although they are small when compared with the mountains of Norway, the elevation of the Svalbard island mountains accounts for much of the glacial erosion:[9]

Mountains on Spitsbergen.
  • Newtontoppen, 1,713 m (5,620 ft)
  • Perriertoppen, 1,712 m (5,617 ft)
  • Ceresfjellet, 1,675 m (5,495 ft)
  • Chadwickryggen, 1,640 m (5,380 ft)
  • Galileotoppen, 1,637 m (5,371 ft)


Stappen bird cliff at Bear Island.
  • Austfonna (with Sørfonna and Vegafonna), 8,492 km2 (3,279 sq mi)
  • Olav V Land, 4,150 km2 (1,600 sq mi)
  • Vestfonna, 2,505 km2 (967 sq mi)
  • Åsgårdfonna, 1,645 km2 (635 sq mi)
  • Edgeøyjøkulen, 1,300 km2 (500 sq mi)
  • Hinlopenbreen, 1,248 km2 (482 sq mi)
  • Negribreen, 1,182 km2 (456 sq mi)
  • Bråsvellbreen, 1,160 km2 (450 sq mi)
  • Etonbreen, 1,070 km2 (410 sq mi)
  • Leighbreen, 925 km2 (357 sq mi)
  • Holtedahlfonna (with Isachsenfonna), 900 km2 (350 sq mi)
  • Kvitøyjøkulen (Kvitøya (island)), 705 km2 (272 sq mi)
  • Stonebreen, 700 km2 (270 sq mi)
  • Kronebreen, 700 km2 (270 sq mi)
  • Hochstetterbreen, 581 km2 (224 sq mi)
  • Barentsjøkulen, 571 km2 (220 sq mi)
  • Balderfonna, 543 km2 (210 sq mi)
  • Nathorstbreen, 489 km2 (189 sq mi)
  • Monacobreen, 408 km2 (158 sq mi)


Ny-Ålesund in summer.


No roads link the settlements on the island; transportation includes boat, plane, helicopter, and snowmobile. The gateway to Svalbard is Svalbard Airport, Longyearbyen.


  • Cookery of Harlingen (Dutch settlement established in the 1630s in Houcker Bay or Virgohamna, abandoned sometime after 1662)
  • Kobbefjorden (also Robbe Bay or Copenhagen Bay) (Danish settlement established in 1631, abandoned in 1658)
  • Engelskbukta (English settlement established around 1615, occupied until mid-century)
  • Gravneset (English settlement from 1614 to 1624 or 1625, after which time it was appropriated by the Dutch)
  • Grumant (Grumantbyen) (Грумант) (Russian settlement, abandoned in 1961, revival of mining operations announced in 2003)
  • Gåshamna (Two English settlements, established sometime around 1618 and occupied until at least 1655)
  • Lægerneset (Dutch settlement appropriated by the English in 1615, occupied by the latter until the 1650s)
  • Port Louis (French settlement established in 1633, abandoned in 1638)
  • Pyramiden (Пирамида) (Russian settlement, abandoned in 1998)
  • Smeerenburg (Danish-Dutch settlement established in 1619 on the southeastern promontory of Amsterdamøya (Amsterdam Island), abandoned around 1660)
  • Ytre Norskøya (Dutch settlement possibly rivaling Smeerenburg in size; probably established by members of the Zeeland chamber in the 1620s or later, and abandoned in 1670)


Svalbard temperature.png

The North Atlantic Current moderates Svalbard's Arctic climate,[18] keeping the surrounding waters open and navigable most of the year.[19] The average summer temperature is around 5 °C (41 °F), while winter averages around −12 °C (10 °F). The western coast is considerably warmer and wetter than the east, due to the North Atlantic Drift. The interior fjord areas and valleys, sheltered by the mountains, have the warmest summers (average temperature of 6 °C (43 °F) in Longyearbyen in July[20]) and little precipitation.

Due to its history of human occupation, Svalbard has one of the longest high-latitude meteorological records on earth. Computer models of global climate have long predicted enhanced greenhouse warming at such latitudes, so the Svalbard record is of particular interest.[21] It shows approximately 6 °C (11 °F) increase in 100 years; with 4 °C (7 °F) increase in the last 30 years.


Ecotourism in Svalbard

Economic activity centres on coal mining, supplemented by fishing and trapping. In the final decades of the 20th century, tourism, research, higher education, and some high-tech enterprises like satellite relay-stations grew significantly. A 200-nautical-mile (370 km; 230 mi) Fisheries Protection Zone around Svalbard was established in 1977 pursuant to the Act of 17 December 1976 relating to the Economic Zone of Norway. Despite recent discussions, Russia and Norway dispute their maritime limits in the Barents Sea and Russia's fishing rights beyond Svalbard's territorial limits within the Svalbard Treaty zone.

The Svalbard Undersea Cable System which started operation in January 2004 provides dual 1,440 km (890 mi) fibre optic lines from Svalbard to Harstad via Andøy, needed for communicating with polar orbiting satellite stations on Svalbard, some owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), both United States government agencies.

Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani, owned by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry, employs nearly 60% of the island's Norwegian population, runs many of the local services, and provides most of the local infrastructure. Coal production has increased significantly over the past 10 years, rising from less than 500,000 tons in 1994 to over 2,500,000 tons in 2004.[9][22]

Retired cableway.

Exploration for oil and natural gas is underway.


As of 2006, there are three operational coal mines in Svalbard. There are large mines in Sveagruva (production 1.9 million tonnes per year),[22] and Barentsburg, while the small mine in Longyearbyen is used mainly to supply the town's own power plant. The Ny Ålesund mine was closed down in 1963 after an explosion in 1962 when 21 lives were lost, and has since been converted to a scientific post.


Svalbard has a population of approximately 2,400 people as of 2005.

Approximately 55% of the people are Norwegians; 45% are Russians and Ukrainians.[1] The official language of Svalbard is Norwegian but Russian is used in the settlements of these nations. Formerly, Russenorsk was the lingua franca of the entire Barents Sea region. The annual population growth is −0.02% (i.e. decrease by one person every two years).


The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), established in 1993, is the world’s northernmost higher education institution. Located in Longyearbyen at 78° N, the university offers undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate courses to approximately 350 students each year in Arctic sciences.

Northern-mosts in Svalbard

Svalbard contains the northernmost instance of several institutions - including the world's northernmost consulate general (Russian-operated from Barentsburg), school, church (Svalbard Church), hospital, bank, newspaper, airport with scheduled airline service, movie theater, kebab shop,[23] in-door swimming pool, and various memorials and statues.

Svalbard in popular culture

  • Svalbard is featured as the setting for major parts of the plot in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Svalbard was also featured in the 2007 film adaptation of The Golden Compass, as the "Kingdom of the Ice Bears".
  • The 1985 Norwegian film Orion's Belt takes place on Svalbard.
  • The Captain of the Polestar by Arthur Conan Doyle is set off Amsterdam Island at the North West of Svalbard.
  • The Solitude of Thomas Cave (2007) by Georgina Harding is set in seventeenth century Svalbard.
  • The seed vault of Svalbard is featured prominently in The Doomsday Key, part of the SIGMA Force Novels by James Rollins.

See also


  1. ^ a b - Arctic Region > Svalbard > People
  2. ^ Population in the settlements. Svalbard, Statistics Norway
  3. ^ .bv and .sj domains are not in use, Norid
  4. ^ Lov om Svalbard.
  5. ^ Spitsbergen Treaty of 9 February 1920
  6. ^ "Norway Reveals Design of Doomsday' Seed Vault"; Nature; Volume 445; 15 February 2007
  7. ^ BBC News
  8. ^ Work starts on Arctic seed vault, CNN
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Web publication of Statistics Norway, the official body for such data in Norway. Units provided are metric only; no unit conversions provided here.
  10. ^ The percentage of Svalbard covered by glaciation varies by year; 59.8% is reported for 2005.
  11. ^ Areas used differ slightly from those published by Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1986. ISBN none.  Areas are provided in both Metric and Imperial units.
  12. ^ Aftenposten
  13. ^ "Svalbard hit by major earthquake". The Norway Post. Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. 7 March 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2009. 
  14. ^ Oysten Wiig and Kjell Isaksen Seasonal Distribution of Harbour Seals, Bearded Seals, White Whales and Polar Bears in the Barents Sea
  15. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) polar bear: Ursus maritimus,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg
  16. ^ Norwegian law on wild animals, §11
  17. ^ Pliosaur discovered - Science daily
  18. ^ Climate of Norway
  19. ^ Norwegian meteorological updates of ice maps.
  20. ^ MET weather statistics for Longyearbyen., [1]
  21. ^ [ RealClimate]
  22. ^ a b Store Norske - coal company information site
  23. ^ Baker, Graeme (4 April 2008). "World's most northerly kebab shop opened". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group.'s-most-northerly-kebab-shop-opened.html. Retrieved 21 January 2009. 

External links

General information

Coordinates: 78°40′N 016°20′E / 78.667°N 16.333°E / 78.667; 16.333 (Svalbard)

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Europe : Scandinavia : Norway : Svalbard
Mountains near Esmarkbreen
Quick Facts
Capital Longyearbyen
Government A part of Norway
Currency Norwegian krone (NOK)
Area 62,049 sq km
Population 2,701 (Jan 2006 est.)
Language Norwegian, Russian
Calling Code 47
Internet TLD .no
Time Zone UTC +1
view in june
view in june

Svalbard [1] (Russian: Шпицберген, Shpitsbergen or грумант, Grumant) is a group of islands located between the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. The islands are directly North of (and since 1920 an integrated part of) Norway.

boat tour
boat tour
Map of Svalbard
Map of Svalbard
Svalbard in the Arctic Sea
Svalbard in the Arctic Sea

All settlements in Svalbard are located on the main island of Spitsbergen (or Vest-Spitsbergen).

  • Barentsburg — sole remaining Russian settlement, population 700
  • Hornsund — Polish research station, population 10 in winter, around 20-30 in summer.
  • Longyearbyen — the "capital" and main Norwegian settlement with a population of 1,800
  • Ny-Ålesund — the most northerly civilian settlement in the world, population under 100
  • Sveagruva — population 210

The other islands of Svalbard are uninhabited and, as they are all nature reserves, generally inaccessible without special permission. The islands can be divided into two groups: the Spitsbergen group of Barentsøya, Edgeøya, Nordaustlandet and Prins Karls Forland, and the more remote islands of Bjørnøya, Hopen, Kong Karls Land and Kvitøya.

House in abandoned Grumant mine
House in abandoned Grumant mine


Svalbard is the northernmost tip of Europe and, a few military bases aside, its settlements are the northernmost permanently inhabited spots on the planet. Located between the 76° and 81° parallels, they are far more northerly than any part of Alaska and all but a few of Canada's Arctic islands. In fact, they would be permanently locked in by ice if not for the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream, and it is this comparative warmth that makes them habitable. The islands cover a total of 62,050km², the largest of which are Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya. The combined permanent population is less than 3000, nearly all of which is concentrated in the main settlements of Longyearbyen and Barentsburg on Spitsbergen.

The islands are governed by Sysselmann på Svalbard, literally if slightly awkwardly translated into English as the Governor of Svalbard; this is not a single person, but the administrative team responsible for police, fire, rescue, and other public services on the islands.


The islands were allegedly first discovered by Viking explorers in the 12th century. However the first recorded voyage here was by the Dutch in 1596, landing on the northwest of Spitsbergen. This coast served as an international whaling base during the 17th and 18th centuries. Norway's sovereignty was recognized in 1905; five years later it officially took over the territory. However, the Svalbard Treaty gives "absolute equality" to other nations wishing to exploit mineral deposits, and Russia continues to maintain a significant population on the island. Although part of Norway, Svalbard remains a neutral territory.

There is a currently standing treaty that any sign of human presence from before 1946 must remain untouched, including loose objects. For this reason, the area around Longyearbyen is littered with interesting artifacts including disused mining equipment, bits of rope and shovels, etc.

Remains of an abandoned coal mine, Longyearbyen
Remains of an abandoned coal mine, Longyearbyen

Coal mining is the major economic activity on Svalbard. The treaty of 9 February 1920 gives the 41 signatories equal rights to exploit mineral deposits, subject to Norwegian regulation. Although US, UK, Dutch, and Swedish coal companies have mined in the past, the only companies still mining are Norwegian and Russian. The settlements on Svalbard are essentially company towns. The Norwegian state-owned coal company employs nearly 60% of the Norwegian population on the island, runs many of the local services, and provides most of the local infrastructure. There is also some trapping of seal, fox, and walrus. Tourism has also become increasingly important and now powers the economy of the main settlement Longyearbyen, changing it significantly. Nonetheless, the place is not exactly swarming with tourists.

Svalbard from above
Svalbard from above

Svalbard is barren, rugged and desolate. Its mountains look like giant, precipitous slag heaps: steeply piled stacks of rubble, eroded by rain with peaks jutting out at improbable angles. Higher mountains are permanently covered in snow and many valleys are filled with glaciers. There are no trees on the islands and the most common vegetation is a brownish green moss, the color of dead grass, that sprouts patchily up the mountainsides. However, many exotic Arctic flowers bloom here during the warm season.

Blue ice, Esmarkbreen
Blue ice, Esmarkbreen

Svalbard literally means "cold edge", an apt name for this northern land. The climate is Arctic, tempered by warm North Atlantic Current. Summers are cool (July average 6.1°C) and winters are cold (January average -15.8°C), but wind chill means that it usually feels colder. The North Atlantic Current flows along west and north coasts of Spitsbergen, keeping water open and navigable most of the year. The high travel season is during Svalbard's brief summer, from June to August, when it's light and not too cold outside. However, the so-called "light winter" (March-May), when there is both sunlight and snow, is also increasingly popular for winter sports.

Svalbard features the midnight sun from April 20 to August 23, although the sun itself is often hidden behind dense banks of fog. Conversely, the sun stays under the horizon during the polar night from October 26 to February 15.


Norwegian and Russian public holidays apply in their respective settlements, but there are a few local festivals of interest:

  • Polar Jazz, end of January. 4-5 day jazz, blues, and bluegrass festival.
  • Sunfest Week, around March 8th. A celebration of the end of the polar night.
  • Blues Festival, end of October. An appropriately blues-themed way to mark the approach of winter.
  • KunstPause Svalbard, around 14 November. An arts festival timed to match the beginning of the polar night.

Get in

Getting in is expensive and time-consuming. In legal theory, citizens of the 41 signatories of the Svalbard treaty (including such unlikely countries as Afghanistan and the Dominican Republic) need no visas or other permits to visit – or even work – in Svalbard. However, in practice it's difficult to arrive in Svalbard without transiting through Norway, and as Norway considers Svalbard a domestic destination, you'll need to pass through Norwegian immigration first. In the other direction, Norway reserves the right to check the passports of passengers coming from Svalbard.

By plane

Longyearbyen has the largest airport on the islands (IATA: LYR [2]). SAS (Scandinavian Airline Systems [3]) has scheduled flights from Oslo (IATA: OSL [4]) Sunday-Friday (4.5 hours, US$150-350 each way), and from Tromsø (IATA: TOS [5]) Sunday-Thursday (1.5 hours, US$100-300 each way).

SAS's long monopoly on flights to Longyearbyen ended in March 2008, when Norwegian [6] started twice-weekly direct flights from Oslo to Longyearbyen (from 100€ each way).

There are also occasional charters from Murmansk (IATA: MMK [7]) or Moscow.

SAS considers flights to Longyearbyen from Oslo or Tromsø domestic, so a SAS EuroBonus award ticket from anywhere in Scandinavia to Svalbard costs just 12,000 EuroBonus points. This little loophole is well known by SAS frequent flyers and award availability is quite limited, so book well in advance if planning to use this. SAS flights can also be bought over the Internet either direct from SAS or via certain meta agents. The majority of flights are very expensive when booked on line but if you book well in advance you can usually find a few cheap flights a week.

If you are flying to Longyearbyen from far away, a cheaper option may be to book a round the world flight (RTW). RTWs are specially-priced tickets which cover travel over several continents, several countries, or a certain (large) number of miles.

By boat

A number of operators offer cruises around Svalbard in the high season. These are the only practical means of visiting the more far-flung bits of the archipelago like Ny-Ålesund, but they don't come cheap: a typical 3-day cruise starting from Longyearbyen may cost you from 7900 kr (c. US$1500, cheapest cabin, twin sharing). There are also longer cruises, some starting all the way from Oslo, with rates going up to US$9500 for a 12-day trip.

There are countless cruise operators, but they all seem to book on the same boats. Spitsbergen Travel [8] runs MS Polar Star (1956), formerly used on the Norwegian coastal service Hurtigruten, and MS Nordstjernen (1969), formerly a Swedish Navy ship, both refitted in 2000 for cruises. The other favorites are Professor Multanovskiy and Professor Molchanov, custom-built 1980s Finnish polar research ships that also plow the waters off Antarctica. While none of these can be described as "luxurious", the Polar Star/Nordstjernen are somewhat larger and comfier, while the Professors are smaller and more spartan, but built to endure extreme weather. If you want a full-fledged cruise ship, P&O [9] usually also drops in a few times a year on two-week trips.

Actual passenger services to Svalbard are very limited. In the summer there is a cargo ship service from Tromsø once a week. The journey takes 2-3 days and prices are generally at least as steep as flights, but this cannot be considered as a usual measure of transport, as passengers are usually not allowed onboard. Very seldom, cargo ships also operate from Murmansk to Barentsburg, but this service has in recent years been reduced to one rotation per year. There is also polish sailing yacht Eltanin, which provides supplies for research stations. It sails once a year from Gdynia (usually May), however the journey takes about 3 weeks [10].

  • Haka Expeditions, [11]. Expedition cruises on small ships to the Arctic.

Get around

The only "highway" links the Longyearbyen airport to the Mine 7 via Longyearbyen. It is for the most part unsealed and anyway very short. There are paved streets in the settlement of Longyearbyen itself and many of the local residents tend to have cars. Snowmobiles are common transportation in wintertime.

Travel between islands and settlements can be done by plane or helicopter any time of year.

Boats can be used in summer. MS Polargirl runs a mail service several times a week between Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Pyramiden and passengers are taken on these trips. Many people go with an expectation of seeing a polar bear on a boat safari. This is possible but by no means guaranteed.


The official language is Norwegian, although Russian is spoken in Barentsburg. Practically everybody in the tourist industry speaks English.

Soviet-style propaganda, Barentsburg
Soviet-style propaganda, Barentsburg

Svalbard's visitors come mostly to experience Arctic nature at its rawest and most powerful. The islands feature untouched glaciers and craggy mountains, but also polar bears, a peculiar short legged reindeer, polar foxes, whales, seals and walruses. Svalbard is renowned for its variety of birds, including Artic Terns, Artic Fulmar and Puffins.

During the short summer, the melting snow in the milder parts of the islands give place to vast stretches of tundra vegetation, sometimes dotted with delicate flowers.

Note that although it is technically possible to prepare your own excursion while on Svalbard, the lack of infrastructure, the necessity of carrying (and knowing how to use) a rifle outside the settlements, as well as the harshness of the environment even during the summer make pre-organized activities with professional guides a necessity for most visitors. Activities can be booked online or in Longyearbyen.

Longyearbyen has a couple of museums and the world's northernmost church. The Soviet-era settlements of Barentsburg, still running fitfully, and Pyramiden, abandoned in the 1990s, make offbeat attractions, being home to (among other things) the world's two northernmost Lenin statues. Both can be visited by cruise or snowmobile from Longyearbyen.


The currency is the Norwegian krone (NOK), and this is also accepted in the Russian settlements. Svalbard is a tax free zone so a number of shops in Longyearbyen display various items for sale at prices well below mainland Norway's.


Svalbard is by most measures horribly expensive: mainland Norway is bad enough, but on Svalbard everything costs even more. Accommodation in cheap guesthouses costs on the order of 500 kr/night and sit-down meals nudge up closer to 100 kr each, both figures you can very easily double if you want to stay in a full-service hotel. Guided activities start at about 500kr per day (e.g. trekking and kayaking) but can go to 1000kr and above for tours requiring specialist equipment.

One way to cut costs significantly is to camp and self-cater, bringing all your supplies from the mainland. There is however a full service grocery store in Longyearbyen. Frozen and dry goods are on par with or even a little cheaper than in Norway, while perishable items arrive via air freight and are more expensive.

Svalbard's duty-free status means that alcohol and sports clothing, etc are actually much cheaper than on the mainland.


Food on Svalbard is expensive for most visitors, as is anywhere in Norway. Local specialities include seal and reindeer, served at restaurants in Longyearbyen.


Alcohol is duty-free on Svalbard. If you´ve arrived from Norway the bars will seem refreshingly cheap but are still equivalent to London prices. If you head over to Barentsburg, Russian vodka can be outright cheap.

A popular party trick for glacier cruises is drinks served with glacier ice, purified by natural processes over thousands of years.


A range of accommodation is available only on Longyearbyen, which offers camping, guesthouses and luxury hotels. Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund also have a single hotel each.

  • The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), [12]. A private foundation run by four Norwegian universities, offers university-level courses in arctic biology, geology, geophysics and technology. Several hundred students, half of them exchange students from outside Norway, attend yearly.


Citizens of Svalbard Treaty signatory countries need no permits to work on Svalbard; you can even set up your own mine if so inclined. In practice, work opportunities are rather more limited, although there is some seasonal tourist industry work available during the summer if you have the requisite skills and language abilities (Norwegian will come in handy). The Governor of Svalbard does, however, have the right to boot you off the island if you cannot support yourself.

Polar bear (safely stuffed), Longyearbyen
Polar bear (safely stuffed), Longyearbyen

The biggest threat on Svalbard is polar bears (isbjørn), some 500 of which inhabit the main islands at any one time. Five people have been killed by polar bears since 1973, and if travelling outside settlements you are required to carry a rifle at all times to protect yourself. They can be rented for 100 kr and up per day, but starting 2009, a valid gun license is now required — for most people, it's better to stick to guided tours. Do not underestimate the speed of polar bears (you cannot outrun one). Polar bears can be extremely unpredictable and are far more dangerous than European brown bears.

The harsh Arctic environment also poses its own challenges, particularly in winter. Beware of the danger of frostbite in the face (nose and cheeks), fingers and toes, particularly in low temperatures with wind (such as high speed on snowmobile). Crossing glaciers and rivers can be hazardous and travelling with local guides is strongly recommended. If heading out on your own, informing the Governor of Svalbard about your route and expected duration is highly advisable. For any trips outside central region of Spitsbergen, you must notify the Governor, and may be required to purchase insurance or put up a large deposit to cover possible rescue costs.

Stay healthy

Tap water on Svalbard is drinkable, but surface water may contain tapeworm eggs from fox feces and should be boiled before consumption.

There are no pharmacies on Svalbard, although you can buy some non-prescription drugs in Longyearbyen, which also has a hospital for treating emergencies.


In most of Svalbard's buildings, including some hotels and shops, you are expected to take off your shoes before entering. In public buildings this will be obvious as a shoe rack covered in dirty walking boots will be prominent at the entrance.


GSM/3G phones work in the main towns of Svalbard.

The Internet connection in Svalbard is top class, courtesy of NASA renting bulk capacity on undersea fiber optic cables running at seabed to mainland Norway for its experiments. Longyearbyen has several public Internet terminals.

While mail from Svalbard to mainland Norway and the outside world uses regular Norwegian stamps at regular Norwegian prices, philatelists may be interested in the Lokalpost system used for intra-Svalbard mail. Stamps, first-day covers and more are available at the post offices in Longyearbyen and Barentsburg, as well as at Longyearbyen's Svalbardbutikken.

Get out

Svalbard is a popular staging point (at least in relative terms) for launching expeditions to the North Pole.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:





  1. A group of islands north east of Greenland; a territory of Norway. Official name: Svalbard.

Derived terms


Simple English

Official language Norwegian
Capital Longyearbyen
King Harald V
Governor Per Sefland
 - Total
Ranked 122nd
62,049 km²
 - Total (2004)
 - Density
Ranked 230th
Currency Norwegian krone
Time zone
 - in summer
National anthem Ja, vi elsker dette landet
Internet TLD .no (.sj allocated but not used [1])
Calling Code 47

Svalbard is the name of an archipelago (or group of islands) in the Arctic Ocean.


It is about halfway between Norway and the North Pole. The islands are a part of Norway.

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