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Longyearbyen is the largest town on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago. Spitsbergen is the largest and only permanently populated island within the archipelago and makes up the mass of the western side, bordering the Arctic Ocean, Norwegian Sea and Greenland Sea.
Longyearbyen is where you will find the international airport, receiving flights from Norway and it is the branching off point for most expeditions, activities and cruises to explore the surrounding Arctic wilderness.
As the administrative centre of Svalbard and because of the conditions the town is subjected to throughout the year it has a slightly harsh, industrial exterior. However, it is situated in a valley on the shores of Advenfjord, with steep snow-capped mountains and glaciers surrounding it, giving it a stunning outlook and many hotels of the region make the most of the incredible views.
With a rich history of whaling, trapping, fishing and mining, Longyearbyen was a company town until 1989, the mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen controlling most of the infrastructure and services.
Now, as well as claiming to be the world’s northernmost permanently inhabited town it is the expedition capital for exploring this remote Arctic wilderness, as well as building a reputation as a real destination for foodies. In fact, two of Norway’s best restaurants can be found in the town which has just 2,400 permanent restaurants; Huset serves traditional food in the original assembly building which dates back to 1951 and has one of the largest wine cellars in all of Scandinavia, while Funktionærmessen Restaurant introduces French inspired cuisine served with incredible Arctic views.
Another point of interest is the Global Seed Vault which is built into a mountainside close to the town. It is designed to serve as a storage facility for the duplicate samples of a wide variety of plant seeds stored in gene banks across the world (currently it holds over 1 million samples and rising). Due to its location deep in the permafrost it is kept frozen naturally in the event of a power failure and it is in an area that is geologically stable and protected from worst case scenario sea level rises. Therefore, providing protection to the sample, in theory, in all eventualities. Although it is not possible to visit inside the seed vault, local guides can take you on a tour to near the entrance.
Longyearbyen and the island of Spitsbergen has something to offer throughout the year and the seasons can be roughly divided into three:
The polar summer can be expected between mid-May and the end of September with 24-hour daylight until mid-August, it is a popular time to visit for walking, photography, dog buggying and kayaking in the fjords. The world’s northernmost beer festival is also normally at the end of September.
In direct contrast to this is the polar winter between October and the end of February with a two and half month period from mid-November to late January with 24-hour darkness. It is the time to visit for a chance of seeing the northern lights as well as a number of cosy festivals including Taste Svalbard in early October, the Dark Seasons Blues Festival in late October and the KunstPause Svalbard (an art festival) in November.
The rest of the year can be classed at the sunny winter between early March and mid-May, as the sun starts to make its way back it is stunning time of year for skiing, dog sledding or snow mobile trips.
As the arrival and departure point for the entire Svalbard Archipelago, Longyearbyen is involved in all our example trips. However, for those with the time we recommend an extended stay in the town, if only to take in the beautiful surroundings, the incredible food and unique atmosphere.
Accommodation in the town of Longyearbyen ranges from larger international style hotels to the experience of a traditional log cabins, there are even backpacker style hostels to suit any style and budget.