Longyearbyen is the spot, or, as it sounds, “it’s been a long year.” This might be what you’re thinking if you’re headed to the 78th parallel north in Svalbard, Norway. Up here, the midnight sun would seem to keep people going day in and day out to an exhausting extent. Blinder curtains the only source of solitude, and a warm stove the only escape from the fact that, while it’s always sunny, it’s intensely cold outside.
But it’s not so. The people of Svalbard have adapted, learned to embrace the long, cold days and sometimes restless nights, and created a lifestyle that to the outside eye seems perfectly enjoyable, albeit a bit intense.
Norway is a culture full of people built for the cold, and it’s never been one that’s afraid of the sea. That’s no different today than it was hundreds of years ago. In fact, getting around Svalbard can be done by private boats or even on the local postal ship, the MS Polargirl. On this journey you can encounter Arctic wildlife in beautiful, up-close ways and get some cool, crisp air in your lungs along the way.
Many come to Svalbard for encounters with polar bears. While it’s good to keep a distance, of course, you can also expect to see orcas, humpbacks, belugas, and narwhals on your expedition. For those looking to get wet before they snuggle in for the bright night, there’s also a good amount of daring dive adventure.
The orca is an essential part of the Norwegian Arctic ecosystem, and adventurers from around the globe come out to interact with them. While not always successful, private boat tours will spend weeks on end building up to a chance to come face-to-face with these incredible creatures. As showcased in the video above, sometimes they’re in luck, and on a snowing afternoon you might just find yourself with the opportunity of a lifetime. As one of the guests on the ship says, “it’s snowing, be happy.”
That’s the attitude you have to take to Svalbard. When it’s not sunny, it’s probably going to be snowing, and when it’s snowing, you’re going to have to embrace it. As a bonus, you just got to see orcas in the wild, where they belong.
But what about when the day is done?
Now’s the point where you do probably want to get inside, especially if you’ve been out to sea. Luckily, there are plenty of options. If you find yourself with a lot of the day left, you can head over to the Svalbard Museum. This incredible museum showcases the unique culture of one of the northernmost inhabited places on our planet. Arts, natural history, and ancient culture come together for an all-in-one learning experience that will leave you feeling like you know a little more about the people and traditions of the region.
After that, head to dinner at Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg.
If you’ve been out looking for orcas and humpbacks for a while, you might have had your fill of local food, as that’s what you’re going to get. To have it served exquisitely, though, you can get some fine dishes here. If that’s not what you’re feeling, you’re in luck, because they also serve Thai food when available. Yes, you read that correctly.
From around dinner time until five in the morning, pizza and kebabs never fail. Classic Pizza is the name of the place, and they’ll hook you up for one of the more affordable meals in the area.
When it’s time for bed…
After stopping by a duty free store for a nightcap, it’s time to head home for a long winter’s nap.
If you’re roughing it, Longyearbyen Camping is offering sites at 100 Kroner, or roughly eleven bucks American, a night. Plenty of sites, and a hot shower and clean bathroom during tourist season. Offseason the campsites are free with permission.
For a midrange accommodation right in the heart of things, you might just be sleeping where you eat, as the very same Mary Ann’s Polarrigg mentioned above also has a nice, warm room with a cozy bed for you at around eighty dollars a night.
If you’re looking for luxury, don’t worry, there’s also a Radisson. If you travel, you know the drill on pricing, but you get full access to a pub and sauna right in the building you’re sleeping in, and there’s certainly something to be said for that.
No matter where in town you find yourself or when you get to this small, icy edge of the world, what you’ll find will certainly astound you. Friendly faces both human and beast, head to tail a nice place, and lots of snow to dig into. Stay warm out there.
– Todd Allen Williams, Senior Editor