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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Read more about Norway:
- Norway winter clothing – what to pack for Norway in winter
- Snowmobile adventure on the East coast of Svalbard
- Best Norwegian gifts and souvenirs to bring back from your trip
- Norway winter travel – the best road trip
- Visit Norwegian Fjords in Winter and what to see in Flam
- Dog sledding in Norway
- The best things to do in Oslo in winter
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