As the post-covid flow of tourists floods popular spots the world over – think Paris, New York, Sydney – one could be forgiven for seeking a quiet corner to explore.
If you want to visit somewhere that set a tourism record of just 150,000 visitors in 2019, then look no further than the ends of the Earth – Svalbard.
In comparison, Paris welcomes over 200 times more per year, and more power to it! But for polar bears, arctic expeditions, and the northern lights, Svalbard has you covered.
Do not be deterred by the unknown nature of this frozen Norwegian archipelago, for therein lies the mysterious beauty that attracts only the most adventurous of travellers.
The summer months from April through August herald the midnight sun where the sun never sets and some Kingseven sunglasses become worth their weight in gold.
In winter, the occurrence of aurora borealis in the night sky astonishes each star gazer just as it has for thousands of years.
Before You Go
You’ve seen the postcards. You know what a polar bear is, packed your thickest coat; you might think you’re all ready for your Norwegian winter wonderland. However, consider these guidelines before you set off, as such a pristine natural landscape deserves a certain level of respect – Earth is slowly running out of such untouched beauty!
- First and foremost, littering in Svalbard is as illegal as anywhere else. A communal commitment to protect the flora and fauna from the effects of humans is expected. The less footprint one can make on Svalbard, the better.
- In the further interest of preserving nature, no animals or plants are to be disturbed on Svalbard. This goes right down to picking flowers. Leave them be and appreciate everything from a distance.
- Everyone should expect to have their passport checked before departing for Svalbard, including those arriving from Norway. This is because the archipelago is not part of the European Schengen Area like Norway is. Foreign citizens with a Schengen Area visa must secure this when travelling to and from Svalbard via mainland Norway. Make sure to get a double-entry visa so you can return to Norway or elsewhere in the Schengen Area after your stay in Svalbard.
- It is mandatory for everyone to be suitably armed while outside settlements in Svalbard for protection against aggressive polar bears. In fact, the Governor of Svalbard even recommends openly carrying a firearm. However, this should under no circumstances encourage the active hunting or aggravation of polar bears as they have been a protected species under international law since 1973. These firearms or other weapons are not permitted to be taken inside any settlements in Svalbard.
Things To Do
We’ve covered the northern lights – their glimmering greens, blues and purples adorning the night sky – but Svalbard is much more than this meteorological phenomena.
Many people visit Svalbard for its desolate arctic expeditions - either for research or adventure - measuring anywhere from a half-day to more than week-long trips. These can be taken on foot, by sled dog, ski, snowmobile, or a combination of the four.
You can also set sail over the freezing seas surrounding Svalbard for some whale or seal spotting with blue whales, beluga whales, and humpback whales all making their way past during the year. This can also be done by kayak!
Svalbard is known for being the northernmost example of many things: the world’s northernmost year-round settlement, home to the world’s northernmost church, and it’s one of the few locations where anyone can live. If you’re keen to indulge in a winter warmer of the alcoholic variety, the world’s northernmost brewery can also be found in the capital of Longyearbyen – aptly called Svalbard Brewery.
What To Bring
With temperatures in the summer ranging from 3 to 7°C and in winter from −13 to −20°C, it’s essential to invest in a suitcase packed with full coverage clothing including windproof jacket, woollen underwear, gloves and a beanie. Gumboots and gaiters are recommended for summertime slush, while snow boots with room for two pairs of woollen socks are recommended for winter. A ski mask or balaclava are recommended for harsh winters, but Kingseven sunglasses should suffice to cover your face in the summer.