Spitsbergen, Svalbard’s largest island, is the only populated island in the Svalbard archipelago. It’s also a beacon for Arctic vacationers with a sense of adventure. Nestled midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, Spitsbergen boasts incredible landscapes, captivating wildlife, and the mesmerizing Aurora Borealis.
Eager to embark on your adventure? Here are a few things you need to know before your visit.
Travel and Transportation
The only airport is at Longyearbyen, which is the administrative center of Svalbard. You can fly there from Oslo in Norway, which will take about 3 hours. Alternatively, avoid those crowded airline eats and take a Spitsbergen cruise. It’s the ideal form of Arctic travel and you’ll enjoy beautiful views even before going ashore.
Travel and transportation in Spitsbergen is unique and exciting. With mostly no roads connecting settlements, you will often rely on snowmobiles, dog sleds, or boats to explore. Be prepared for changing weather conditions and make sure you have a safe travel plan when venturing Spitsbergens landscapes.
Entry and Visa Requirements
One of the best things about this destination is that most nationalities can visit visa-free. Spitsbergen, as a part of Svalbard, is not part of the Schengen cooperation. So you won’t need a visa to visit, or even to live and work in Svalbard. Believe it or not, there’s reliable internet available here too, if you are a digital nomad.
You’ll still need a valid passport for travel, though, with at least six months of validity. Svalbard belongs to the Kingdom of Norway, and even Norwegian citizens must have a valid passport or national ID card when visiting the archipelago.
Comprehensive travel insurance is another important consideration to include in your trip planning. You’ll be venturing into unfamiliar and icy terrain filled with wildlife. This will give you peace of mind while you enjoy your Arctic getaway.
Accommodations and Reservations
There are various types of lodgings, from hotels to guesthouses and research stations. Longyearbyen has some lovely hotels, too. Unfortunately, there are limited spaces available in many of these due to increased tourism. Especially in the more remote areas of Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund.
The best time to visit is between late May and August when the ice recedes and wildlife activity peaks. However, as the amount of Arctic tourism increases, the availability of accommodation becomes an issue. So, always book your Spitsbergen accommodation well in advance, especially during peak seasons.
Weather and Climate
Even if you are generally comfortable in the cold, this is another level of cold. Spitsbergen has an extreme Arctic climate. You’ll need warm layers of clothing, waterproof boots, wool socks, gloves, and beanies for the winter and the nighttime in all seasons.
In the winter you’ll also need thermal wear underneath those layers. Unless traveling during the Polar Night, don’t forget to pack in snow goggles – they reduce the amount of sunlight reflecting off the snow.
Even the periods of sunlight and darkness are extreme. Because Svalbard is located north of the Arctic Circle, it experiences the Polar Night during winter and the Midnight Sun during summer. The Polar Night extends from mid-November to January, and the Midnight Sun shines from late April to late August.
The weather can be unpredictable with storms, snowfall, and plummeting temperatures. Make sure you are prepared for these extreme weather conditions.
If you have a taste for adventure, you’re going to love Spitsbergen. Glacier hiking, snowmobile expeditions, dog sledding, and kayaking are just some of the activities that will keep you entertained while seeing the sights and a chance to find polar wildlife like polar bears, seals, and even reindeer.
Never venture out on your own, though. Don’t forget to take some good hiking and trekking shoes too as you’ll need proper equipment and permits. A trained guide will offer the instruction and guidance you need to be safe. The local guides are familiar with the terrain and the wildlife and understand the importance of respecting the fragile Arctic environment.
Boat trips and ice cave explorations are popular amongst tourists and offer a unique opportunity to see the glaciers and Arctic scenery like never before. No matter your preference, Spitsbergen has an adventure to suit any traveler.
We’ve touched on the wildlife in Spitsbergen, but it deserves a special mention. It truly is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream.
Polar bear fans will love Spitsbergen, as you’ll see many of them here prowling the icy coasts and hunting seals. Polar bear sightings are even more common on the islands east of Spitsbergen. Don’t get too close though. They are still wild animals, as well as endangered species that are protected by law.
Reindeer, Arctic foxes, walruses, and numerous bird species including the endearing puffin all call Spitsbergen home. Sea or land wildlife safaris will provide the rare opportunity to witness these amazing creatures in their natural habitats.
Respect for Nature and Culture
Responsible travel and tourism are particularly important in the Arctic. We know that you’ll be keen to learn more about Svalbard’s unique culture and history. But we caution all visitors to respect the Svalbard Treaty and its rules.
An unfortunate side-effect of increasing Svalbard tourism is the impact on nature. Follow the Leave No Trace principles of the Outdoor Ethics Educational Programme when exploring nature in Svalbard and Spitsbergen. Leave the scenery as you found it, for future generations to also enjoy.