13+ Best Things to do in Svalbard – must-see places in the High Arctic

Experience the unique arctic adventure just over 1100 km from the North Pole, in the real wilderness of the Svalbard archipelago. Find out the best things to do in Svalbard and have a lifetime experience in the High Arctic – a home of 3,000 polar bears.

Svalbard, Northern Norway

Svalbard is a place where the sun never sets and there are more polar bears than people.

This Norwegian archipelago is located in the Arctic Ocean, midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. It’s home to 2,000 people and around 3,000 polar bears and a paradise for exciting adventures, outdoor activities, and sports.

The unspoiled wilderness of the Arctic, with its jugged mountains, blue glaciers, and frozen land has always intrigued me. I’ve associated the Svalbard archipelago, and its biggest island Spitsbergen, with the Polar expeditions to the North Pole and important scientific research. When we moved to Norway and discovered, that we can easily fly there from Oslo, we immediately planned to trip to be able to explore the real Norwegian winter (and spring!) in Svalbard and experience its breathtaking beauty.

With the majestic mountains all around, rich wildlife, blue sea ice, extensive glaciers, interesting mining history, and scientific importance, there are so many exciting things to do in Svalbard.

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Read more: What to pack for Norway in winter – Norway winter clothing  

13+ the best things to do in Svalbard to experience the Arctic adventure

The availability of things to do in Svalbard varies depending on the season.

Svalbard has two main seasons. Polar Summer lasts from the middle of May to the end of September and winter, which is divided into two parts. Polar Night winter, with 24-hour darkness from October to the end of February, and Sunny winter when the sun shines brightly in the sky.

The Midnight Sun arrives in Svalbard around 19th April and stays until around 20th August, so you can experience the winter activities with the constant daylight. That’s what we did, as we visited Svalbard at the end of April and I can highly recommend it.

During the summer part of the snow melts and you can explore the sea by boat, whereas in winter everything is frozen.

Colourful houses in Longyearbyen - Best things to do in Svalbard tour arctic adventure
Colorful houses in Longyearbyen

Read more: The best things to do in Oslo in winter

What to do in Svalbard all year round

#1 Explore Longyearbyen

The most northerly town, with the most northerly church, most northerly pub and pretty much everything else, is located in the picturesque valley. The colorful houses contrast with the white mountains and the inhabitants come from different parts of the world, and usually, stay for a limited time. Not everyone can cope with 4 months of darkness.

What to do in Longyearbyen:

  • Visit local restaurants and try locally brewed beer in the pubs. Svalbard Bryggeri is the world’s northernmost brewery! It’s quite cool to come out of the bar at 1 am and still see the sun up in the sky.
  • Do some shopping. All the shopping in Svalbard is tax-free since Svalbard is a duty-free zone. You can bring home everything from polar bear toys to woolen sweaters, that make great Norwegian souvenirs. Alcohol prices are also cheaper than inland Norway, so we brought some delicious local beer with us back to Oslo.
  • Learn about the region by visiting the most northerly university and museums – the Svalbard Museum and North Pole Expedition Museum.
  • Visit the most northerly church. Open 24 hours, it has a cozy inside and a great view of the city.
  • Visit a Coal Mine. Longyearbyen has 7 coal mines, and 6 of them are not working anymore. You can get a tour to go inside the closed Coal Mine 3 and see what the miners’ jobs used to look like. In Nybyen, the south part of town, you can spot the ruins of Coal Mine 2, also called a “Santa Claus Mine”. It is believed, that Santa Claus lives there and during Christmas people can leave letters in the postbox nearby. The mine is currently closed, but you can see it from the outside, and maybe see the elves preparing gifts for the next holiday season.

Remember, that you can’t leave the town without the polar bear protection. You will notice the signs with a polar bear, that mark the polar bear zone. Accidents involving polar bears happen from time to time, even close to town, so you need to be careful.

the most northerly church in Longyearbyen - Best things to do in Svalbard tour arctic adventure
The most northerly church in the world
A coal mine + Best things to do in Svalbard tour arctic adventure

Read more: Wondering what to bring from Norway? Check out the best Norwegian gifts and souvenirs.

#2 Visit places just outside of Longyearbyen

You can visit those places either with a taxi, with a rented car, or with some kind of polar bear protection.

  • Advent valley – beautiful valley, that leads in the direction of the Svalbard East Coast. Here is the picturesque location of the polar bear sign, which is a must-photo stop for tourists.
  • Global Seed Vault – Svalbard is home to the world’s largest secure seed storage. The seeds from around the world are kept here for safety in case of global disasters. It is not possible to enter the Vault, but you can see the entrance to it, which is an illuminated artwork called “Perpetual Repercussion” made by the Norwegian artist. The Vault is located just next to the airport, on top of the hill.
  • The hill with the Northern Lights Observatory and the active coal mine 7 – the view from the hill stretches to the Advent Valley, Longyearbyen in the distance and the mountains around. The Observatory is not accessible to tourists.
Advent valley - Best things to do in Svalbard tour arctic adventure
Entrance to the Advent Valley, can you spot my leg in the cast? 😉

Best things to do in Svalbard in winter

#3 Take the Svalbard snowmobile tour

Snowmobiles are the most popular transportation option in Svalbard during winter. Everything is covered in snow and ice, even the sea is frozen, so you can cover big distances on snowmobiles. Snowmobile adventure is also the best way to see the Svalbard polar bear (if you are lucky!). In Longyearbyen, you can even see the snowmobile road signs, to warn the drivers about the snow machines frequently crossing the roads.

Some of the snowmobile tours worth doing are a trip to the abandoned town Pyramiden, Svea mining community, Barentsburg, Ijen Radio, Templefjord, and Fjordnibba mountain, or, in my opinion, the best one from them all – Svalbard snowmobile tour to the East Coast. It’s the longest snowmobile tour, as it takes around 10-12h and covers 100-200 km, but it’s amazing. When you wear proper Norway clothing for winter, you won’t feel any cold and you can admire the breathtaking beauty of pure nature.

#4 Go skiing

Norwegians love skiing, so it’s not a surprise that you will see many skiers all around Svalbard. It’s a breathtaking experience to explore the wild nature of Svalbard on skis, however, always remember to be cautious of the polar bears and carry the necessary protection.

#5 Explore the ice caves

There are several ice caves located in the glaciers near Longyearbyen and further. You can go under tons of ice and explore the frozen corridors.

Ice cave Svalbard - Best things to do in Svalbard tour arctic adventure
Ice Cave in Svalbard

Read more: Norway winter road trip itinerary

#6 Go for a hike

Svalbard is covered with numerous hills, that provide amazing views to the surrounding areas. Longyearbyen also lies in between the mountains, which can easily be climbed. Polar bear protection, winter equipment, and experience or a guide are needed!

#7 Try Svalbard dog sledding

The traditional way of transportation in the old days now is a popular attraction and fun activity. We tried dog sledding in Norway closer to Oslo in Geilo, so we didn’t do it in Svalbard, but there are several options.

#8 Chase the Northern Lights

This only applies to the dark parts of the wintertime, as during midnight sun, there is no darkness and Northern Lights are not visible. Check this Aurora hunting guide to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

Snowmobile tour - Best things to do in Svalbard tour arctic adventure
Exploring glaciers of the East Coast of Svalbard on the snowmobiles.

Read more: Outdoor items for the mountain lovers

Best things to do in Svalbard in summer

#9 Take a boat trip

During summer, ice on the sea melts, which allows for boat trips. They run only in the summer period from May to August and can take you to various places around Svalbard, depending on your free time and money. It’s a great way to see some wildlife like walruses, whales, and different types of birds.

#10 Summer dog sledding on wheels

Svalbard dog sledding is done differently in the summer when you can take a drive on a wheeled sled instead.

#11 Hike, walk or bike around

More parts of the mountains are accessible to hikers in the summer, so you can go hiking or walking trips. You can also rent a bike and cycle around.

#12 Try a kayak

You can go on a kayaking trip in the Arctic waters and explore the area around you.

#13 Admire the Midnight Sun

It’s kind of cool to come out of the pub at midnight and still see the bright daylight outside.

Midnight sun - Best things to do in Svalbard tour arctic adventure
Midnight sun dropping (but not setting) in the sea. The photo was taken at 00:00.

Useful info for visiting Svalbard

Svalbard hotels and other Svalbard accommodation

Longyearbyen is the main place for Svalbard accommodation. There are different classes of hotels but generally, they are quite expensive. In the summer, you can try a budget option for the campsite, however, it might still be a bit chilly at night.

My favorite part of the Svalbard hotels is that many of them are located in the buildings previously used by coal miners when the industry was still booming on the island. This makes your whole experience on Svalbard even more authentic. Many restaurants and pubs also have that arctic and mining feel. In most of the places, you also need to take the shoes off before going in. Even in restaurants or shops.

Gjestehuset 102

Disclaimer: I received a discount on our stay in Gjestehuset, in exchange for my honest opinion.

We stayed in Gjestehuset 102, which was previously the “millionaires’ mansion” for the best and most experienced miners. Now, it’s a nice Svalbard hotel with an amazing view of the surrounding mountains, located in Nybyen, 2 km from the center of the town, and even closer to nature.

Gjestehuset 102 provides accommodation in single, double, or 4-person rooms, with access to shared bathrooms and shared kitchens. Prices are one of the best in town and a delicious buffet breakfast is included. I loved our stay there, the privacy of our room, as well as sharing stories with other travelers in the kitchen and the lounge. Check the prices and availability here.

Flights to Svalbard

The best way to get to Svalbard is from Oslo or Tromso. Norwegian or SAS Airlines operate the flights. Check Expedia or Momondo for the best prices for flights to Svalbard.

Passport control in Svalbard

Due to Svalbard being outside of the Schengen zone, all foreign nationals need to present their passport or national ID card at the border. It’s probably wiser to always carry your passport around, in case your national ID card is not accepted.

Best things to do in Svalbard tour arctic adventure - view to Svalbard

Read more about Norway:

Do you know any other cool things to do in Svalbard? Would you like to visit? Let me know in the comments!

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Published: 2018, Updated: 2023

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51 thoughts on “13+ Best Things to do in Svalbard – must-see places in the High Arctic

  1. I’ve never thought to go to Svalbard but this post makes me want to change my mind, it looks beautiful!

  2. Ahhhh these photos are amazing! It looks like one hell of a trip! Would love to see it myself one day.

  3. Your pictures make me want to get on a plane and go there right now! But I’m a bit nervous about how cold I’d be. Oh, but that little baby reindeer!!!!! Decisions decisions 🙂

    1. Haha, it wasn’t actually that bad when we were there, maybe up to -12? But really, I didn’t feel it much – so much excitement and then the snowmobile suit haha. In the summer temperatures go above zero, so it is definitely warmer then!

  4. I remember how we talked about you planning the trip, I am glad to see it all went well and you had an amazing time in Svalbard! For me as well this was a total bucketlist destination and I am glad I had the luxury of visiting it!

  5. This looks absolutely incredible! i’d love to see the northern lights but also hike and kayak. Never even knew you could do that there! Wow!

  6. Wow it looks so untouched and beautiful! You mentioned exploring the ice caves in the winter, can you do that in their summer too?

    1. Yes, some of the caves are still possible to be explored in the summer, but not the whole time. I think it depends on the accessibility. Tour companies normally have the season dates for their activities specified on their websites. I’ve seen some until mid-June 🙂

  7. Svalbard has been on my bucket list every since I first heard about it! Is it true you need rifle training and carry one with you in case of a polar bear encounter?

    1. Yes, you need to have a rifle with you (and know how to use it) when you go out of town into the polar bear zone. But in our case, we took a tour with the guides who had rifles with them and knew how to use it. I don’t know if I would be comfortable enough to use it in case of polar bear encounter even after the training though!

  8. Svalbard looks like an amazing adventure! I haven’t really traveled in cold weather destinations before, but this place looks really fun!

  9. It seems adventure and romantic place, this summer we planning to go somewhere that is beautiful and cool place. May the svalbard is the good option to go with family. Thanks for sharing good trip experience.

  10. This has been on my bucket list since I was a little girl – I’m so jealous of your trip as it looked amazing! Makes me want to plan one of my own soon… these tips will definitely come in handy! 🙂

  11. These are some great tips! I bet it’s so strange having constant sunlight or darkness. I’d definitely like to experience the midnight sun at some point in my life!

  12. Just got back from 5 days on Svalbard – such an amazing place – loved the remoteness, the landscape was breathtaking. We hiked, rode the dog sleds, biked and took a boat trip out to the glaciers. The accommodation at Gjestehuset 102 was perfect. ?

    1. Hi Andressa,
      No, it’s not possible to see them during the summer. During summer months in Svalbard, there is midnight sun, which means that the sun doesn’t set at all. Therefore the Northern Lights are not possible to be seen. Here you can read more about Northern Lights and how to make sure to see them. The best time for Northern Lights in Svalbard is between December and February when the lights can be seen in the darkness.

  13. Beautiful publication, Aga, with a lot of information, very detailed, great photos, and the best energy to invite us to enjoy this destination that, in my case, is on the other side of the world, because I live in Argentina (in a region near the South Pole).

    I want to visit this place in a few months, in summer 2020 (probably throughout March), I am already finding out about air tickets, and I would like to ask you about the appropriate clothing for this climate … do you recommend that I buy clothes online? , or that you buy in my country, or do you think it would be better to buy directly there in Svalbard (or in Oslo)?

    Again, congratulations for your traveling achievements, and thank you for sharing the information with such care.

    1. Hi Egosófico! Thanks for stopping by my blog.
      Wow, the trip you are planning is really across the globe – amazing! I am yet to visit the part of the globe where you live – hopefully, one day. When it comes to the clothing for Svalbard, keep in mind that the clothes and gear are usually quite expensive in Norway. However, they are of good quality. If you have a chance to buy some of the clothes at your place at the cheaper prices or order them online, I would recommend that. You want to at least have the basics, so you don’t catch a cold after arriving to Norway. I share some of the items I used on my Svalbard trip in April in this post: https://worlderingaround.com/en/countries/svalbard-tours-snowmobile-arctic-adventure. I am planning to write a post about what to wear in Norway in winter, but it will probably be ready for the next season 😉 In a few words: layers, wool, breathable clothes and all parts of the body covered. In March there still will be a lot of snow in Svalbard, so be prepared for cold weather!
      All the best in your planning,

      1. Great !, I thank you very much for your kindness and the information provided. Now I will check the other link that you provide and I take note of what you tell me. A hug, and follow the successes for you.

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