The strangest little town you’ll likely ever visit, Longyearbyen is the largest settlement of Svalbard, Norway — an island situated roughly halfway between the Norwegian archipelago and the North Pole that used to be known as Spitsbergen. The northernmost settlement in the world with a population of over 1,000, Longyearbyen is one of the world’s most fascinating places, a juxtaposition of vibrantly colored buildings within a monochromatic mountain landscape. A former mining town, rusting out mining equipment still dots the landscape here, and has been preserved as part of the region's heritage.
What We Love
North Pole Expeditions Museum: This museum tells the story of three airships departing from Svalbard on their expeditions to the North Pole. It also contains artifacts and information about Norwegian Polar Explorers, such as Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen.
Svalbard Museum: A surprisingly in-depth and well-designed museum, the Svalbard Museum depicts the historic life and culture of Longyearbyen and Svalbard.
Abandoned Architecture: Photographers and history buffs will be in heaven in Longyearbyen. From an old power station that survived German bombing raids in 1943 to abandoned mining equipment that has been preserved and protected, Longyearbyen is a living history project come to life.
Best Known For
Polar Culture: Longyearbyen epitomizes polar culture, and local establishments play that up. Expect plenty of strong drinks, interesting food, and local strategies for coping with both the Midnight Sun and the Polar Night. (Longyearbyen sees no sunlight between late-October and February, and no darkness between April and August.)
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Who It's Best For
Polar Enthusiasts: Do you like polar bears? Desolate terrain? Unique, off-the-beaten-path locales? You’ll love Longyearbyen, which is the gateway to Arctic Svalbard.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Watch Out for the Bears: The threat from polar bears is very real in Longyearbyen. Local law prohibits anyone from leaving the town’s boundaries, either on foot or by car, without a loaded rifle. Typically, you’ll be fine in town — but don’t be surprised to see locals roaming about with rifles slung over their shoulders.
Aaron Saunders is a Calgary-based contributor to ShermansCruise.com.