Julie Norway, Svalbard 16 Comments

Svalbard. An arctic playground where there are more polar bears than people. This is a land of glaciers, the northern lights, the midnight sun, and frozen tundra. Svalbard may seem barren, but it is filled with arctic wildlife like reindeer, walrus, and polar bears. If you like the idea of exploring the great outdoors, your options are almost endless, winter or summer.

Svalbard Travel Guide

Why Go to Svalbard?

If you look at Svalbard on globe, it looks like it’s just a hop, skip and a jump away from the North Pole. Longyearbyen, located at 78° north, is the world’s northernmost community.

This is the kind of place where the locals take their kayak, their rifle, their tent, and their dog, and spend days exploring the icy landscapes. These people are badass.

In Svalbard, many adventures await. You can go on “soft” adventures like short hikes or boat cruises. You can step it up a notch by kayaking past glaciers or exploring the snowy landscapes by snowmobile. Or you can be a badass too and go on multi-day snowmobile or sled dog expeditions. If you have lots of time and money to spend, take a one-week cruise around Svalbard in search of polar bears.

Svalbard Kayaking

Kayaking in front of Svea Glacier | Best Things to Do in Svalbard

Svalbard stole my heart. And I was totally unprepared for that. I am not the type of person who likes the cold, or treeless landscapes, or the barrenness that you find in Svalbard. And for some reason, that is exactly why I fell in love it.

Svalbard feels like an adventure. New landscapes, new experiences…it just may become your new favorite place.

Interesting Facts about Svalbard

About 2,100 people from 50 countries call Svalbard home. Norwegians are the largest group, but you can also meet a fair amount of people from Sweden, Russia, and Thailand.

The streets in Longyearbyen have numbers rather than names.

July is the warmest month, with high temperatures averaging a balmy 7°C (45°F). It’s coldest here from January through March, with high temperatures averaging -13°C (9°F). That’s cold, but probably not what you would expect for a city located so far north. The western side of Svalbard receives the warm Atlantic current and this helps moderate the temperatures in Longyearbyen.

Cats are banned in Svalbard since they hunt and kill the native birds.

It’s “illegal” to die in Svalbard. Actually, it’s not really illegal to die here, but if you do, you won’t be buried here. The ground is made of permafrost, so bodies that are buried here do not decompose. So yes, there still are perfectly preserved bodies in Svalbard cemetery from 100 years ago.

Giving birth is out of the question, too. Three weeks before a woman’s due date, she must return to the mainland in order to give birth. The medical facilities on Svalbard are not equipped to handle an emergency should one arise during labor and delivery.

It’s customary to remove your shoes when entering hotels, shops, and restaurants in Longyearbyen. This is a tradition that dates back to the coal mining days, as a way to prevent coal dust from being tracked into the buildings.

If you plan to leave town, make sure you are carrying a rifle, just in case you cross paths with a wandering polar bear.

Svalbard Geography 101

Before we dive into what to do and where to go, it helps to get a quick geography lesson.

Svalbard Map

Svalbard Map


Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago that is located in the Arctic Ocean. The name Svalbard refers to this entire group of islands.


Spitsbergen is the largest island in Svalbard. This island takes up more than half of Svalbard and it is where you will find almost all of the towns and settlements, with the exception of a few meteorological outposts.

Before the signing of the Svalbard Treaty of 1920, the entire archipelago was known as Spitsbergen. In the 1920’s, Norway renamed the archipelago Svalbard, but even today, you can still sometimes see this landmass referred to as Spitsbergen.

The smaller islands go by the names Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya.


Longyearbyen is the largest settlement in Svalbard. It is also the world’s northernmost city. This is a town where the streets have no names, reindeer wander through town, and there are more snowmobiles than people. If you have plans to visit Svalbard, Longyearbyen is where you will eat, sleep, and fill your time in between arctic adventures.

Learn more about Longyearbyen, including what to do in town in between excursions, in our article Top Ten Things to do in Longyearbyen.


Pyramiden is an abandoned Russian mining town near Longyearbyen and it is one of the most popular excursions in Svalbard. According to National Geographic, Pyramiden is one of the top ten best ghost towns to visit in the world.

Learn more on how to plan a visit here in our article about Pyramiden.


Barentsburg is the only Russian settlement since Pyramiden was abandoned. It is primarily a mining town although there is a hotel and a few shops for those tourists who visit here from Longyearbyen.

A popular day trip from Longyearbyen is a full day cruise to Barentsburg and Pyramiden.


Ny-Ålesund is a settlement that is primarily a research facility. This town is owned and operated by Kings Bay, which provides the facilities for the research institutes.

Best Time to Go to Svalbard

Svalbard can be visited year round and the season will have a huge impact on what you can do.

There are three main seasons on Svalbard. The summer months, from mid-May through the end of September, have relatively warm temperatures (up to 10°C, 50°F). This is the time of the midnight sun, so if you haven’t experienced this yet, it’s wild to see the sun shining at 1 am! The summer months are the best time to go hiking and kayaking. However, there won’t be any snow on the ground, so don’t expect to go snowmobiling.

Svalbard Landscape

Svalbard in June

During the winter months, from the beginning of October through the end of February, Svalbard is dark and cold. The advantage of 24 hours of darkness is the chance to catch the northern lights day and night. Wouldn’t that be wild…to see the northern lights midday?!

The spring months, from March through mid-May, is an awesome time to visit Svalbard. The sun is making an appearance once again, it’s getting a little warmer, and there is enough snow on the ground to go on those snowmobiling and sled dog expeditions.

We visited Svalbard at the end of June 2018. Temperatures hovered around 45°F. This is peak season, so expect higher temperatures and higher crowds. Even so, Longyearbyen feels almost empty compared with pretty much every other spot in Europe during the summertime.


Hiorthfjellet | Hiking to the top of this mountain is one of the best things to do in Svalbard

Best Things to Do in Svalbard

So, what is there to do in Svalbard? A lot. You may be surprised by your choices.

Summer Months (mid-May through September)
  • Kayaking
  • Hiking
  • Boat Cruises
  • Walrus Safari
  • ATV Safari
  • Fishing Trips
  • Fat Tire Biking
  • Dog Sledding (on wheels)
Winter Months (October through February)
  • Northern Lights Expeditions
  • Explore an Ice Cave
  • Full Moon Snowmobile trips
  • Dog Sledding
Spring Months (March through mid-May)
  • Hiking
  • Snowmobile Excursions
  • Boat Cruises
  • Walrus Expeditions
  • Northern Lights Expeditions (through March)
  • Ski Expedition

For a full list of the activities and excursions in Svalbard, visit the official Visit Svalbard website. It can be a little overwhelming, but by using the filters of time of year, activity, and duration, you can narrow down your choices.

Looking for more adventures to add to your bucket list? Check out our list: 50 Adventures to Have in Your Lifetime. 

Svalbard Glacier

Nordenskiold Glacier | Best Things to Do in Svalbard

What’s the Best Way to See a Polar Bear?

It’s estimated that 3,000 polar bears call Svalbard home. It may sound like a lot, but even so, you have to be very lucky in order to spot one of these guys.

There are no “official” polar bear expeditions. You just have to hope that you are lucky enough to spot a polar bear while out on another expedition.

Your best chances of spotting a polar bear is by going on a multi-day cruise around Svalbard, usually during the summer months. Even then, there is no guarantee.

How to Get to Svalbard

You can get to Svalbard by airplane or on a cruise.

SAS offers daily flights to Longyearbyen via Tromsø. Norwegian offers flights several days a week out of Oslo.

Hurtigruten offers cruises to and from Svalbard. For a full list of their options, click here.

Svalbard is located outside of the Schengen zone. You will need to bring your passport.

How to Get around Longyearbyen

To get from the airport into town, you can either take the airport shuttle (NOK 170 round trip) or take a taxi (more expensive).  Click here for the bus timetable.

Longyearbyen is a small town and it is easy to walk everywhere. For any excursions you sign up for, transportation is usually covered in the cost.

Where to Stay in Longyearbyen

Basecamp Hotel. Warm, cozy, and rustic, this is just what you would imagine an arctic hotel to look like. The hotel offers lots of different excursions, the included breakfast is awesome, and the hotel has a fantastic location right in the center of town.

Basecamp Explorer Svalbard

Basecamp Hotel | Best Things to Do in Svalbard

We spent two nights here, staying in the family room. We had two bedrooms, a loft, a bathroom, and a small living area. We loved it here.

Radisson Blu Polar Hotel. The Radisson Blu is the largest hotel in Longyearbyen. This had a totally different vibe than the Basecamp Explorer. This seemed to be where all of the tour groups stayed. It did not have that quiet, cozy, rustic feel like Basecamp Explorer but our room was amazing.

We stayed in the Ulf Prytz suite. This place was huge and our view across Adventfjord to Hiorthfjellet was spectacular. Tyler and Kara slept on pull out sofas in the living room and Tim and I slept in the bedroom. Breakfast was also included.

Radisson Blu Svalbard

We disliked the crowded, touristy feel of this hotel. If it weren’t for our awesome suite and its amazing view, I think we would have disliked it here. Our hotel room was located in a separate building so we only had to join the crowds when we ate breakfast.

Svalbard Hotell. This modern hotel is located in the center of Longyearbyen. The rooms are beautifully decorated and complimentary breakfast is provided. This hotel is also home to Polfareren, a gourmet restaurant we loved.

Svalbard Hotell

Coal Miner’s Cabins. If you are looking for a decent budget accommodation, this is a great choice. Many rooms have a shared bathroom, although there are a few rooms where you can pay more for a private bathroom. This hotel is located outside of the city center so expect a 20-minute walk to get down into town.

Gjestehuset 102. This hostel is another good budget option. It’s located very close to the Coal Miner’s Cabins. All rooms have a shared bathroom.

Funken Lodge. This newly refurbished hotel is one of the most expensive options on this list. Rooms are large and modern and there is a French restaurant attached to the property. Funken Lodge is located a short walk outside of the heart of Longyearbyen.

Mary-Ann’s Polarigg. This quirky hotel has turned the old, wooden barracks of the miners into hotel rooms. Prices vary widely, from cheaper rooms with a shared bathroom to very expensive suites.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you will be visiting Svalbard during the summer months, make sure you pack a sleep mask. Not all hotels provide blackout curtains and having a sleep mask could help you catch those zzz’s you need.

Our recommendations

If you are looking for a small, rustic hotel, pick the Basecamp Explorer.

If you want a modern hotel that gets rave reviews and is located in the center of town, stay at the Svalbard Hotell.

If you don’t want to spend a fortune, take your pick from the Coal Miner’s Cabins or Gjestehuset 102.

Finally, if you want a room with a view, try booking the Ulf Prytz Suite at the Radisson Blu.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Book your hotels and your excursions as soon as you know the dates for your trip. We booked our hotels at the beginning of February for our trip at the end of June. We were unable to get four consecutive nights at one hotel for our dates, which is why we stayed in two different hotels.

Hiking Svalbard

Looking back at Longyearbyen during our hike up Hiorthfjellet | Best Things to Do in Svalbard

Where to Eat

Kroa. This restaurant was recommended to us by Nanna, our guide on the Arctic Challenge. It was so good we ate here twice! It’s warm and cozy inside, with a rustic décor and animal skins on the walls. The moose burgers are awesome and so is the chocolate fondant cake. If you’re vegetarian, I ate the lentil stew, which was also very good.

Svalbar. This is a great place to go for burgers and beer.

Polfareren. If you want a gourmet meal that doesn’t totally blow the budget, we recommend this restaurant. Everything we ate was amazing.

Fruene Kaffe Og Vinbar. This bakery serves pastries and sandwiches and soups. It’s a great place if you are looking for good, budget friendly food.

Gruvelageret. This is the closest you can get to a Michelin starred restaurant in Svalbard. Located in an old mining hut, you dine on a four course set menu of white bean soup, reindeer, halibut, and profiteroles.

Huset Svalbard. This is Longyearbyen’s premier dining experience. Come here for a gourmet dinner or for a wine tasting. The 20,000 bottle wine cellar is the northernmost wine cellar in the world and receives multiple awards from Wine Spectator.

How Much does it Cost to Visit Svalbard?

Svalbard is expensive. This is not a budget destination. There are ways to cut costs, such as staying in a hostel and buying your food at the grocery store rather than dining in restaurants. But if you’re going to fly all of the way to Svalbard, you have to be prepared to fork over some serious money to really experience the island.

We have detailed article of how much we spent in Svalbard, with a full cost breakdown of flights, activities, accommodations, and meals. 

Packing List for Svalbard

For a detailed list of what to pack for the summer months, read our Svalbard Packing Guide.

Svalbard Itinerary

How much time should you spend in Svalbard? At a minimum, you should plan on spending two full days and three nights in Svalbard. This gives you two days to go on excursions. More time is better, if you have the time and money.

We spent 5 days in Svalbard in June 2018.

Here is Our Itinerary:

Day 1: 9 pm: arrive in Longyearbyen from Oslo

Day 2: Full day excursion – the Arctic Challenge: kayaking Adventfjord and hiking Hiorthfjellet. Dinner at Polfareren.

Day 3: Free morning to explore Longyearbyen. Noon to 7 pm on the cruise to Pyramiden. Dinner at Kroa.

Day 4: All day glacier kayaking excursion with Better Moments. Dinner at Kroa.

Day 5: Morning to explore Longyearbyen. Lunch at Fruene Kaffe. 2 pm flight to Tromsø.

We felt like this was a nice amount of time for our first visit to Svalbard. If we had one more day, it would have been perfect. During the planning process, we weren’t sure if we were going to like Svalbard, which sounds crazy, because now it’s one of our favorite spots in the world.

Kayaking Svalbard

Kayaking across Adventfjord | Best Things to Do in Svalbard

Are you planning a trip to Svalbard? Did we miss anything? Comment below if you have any questions!

More Information for Your Trip to Svalbard & Norway:

NORTHERN NORWAY ITINERARY: On this 10 day Norway itinerary, visit the Lofoten Islands but also road trip through Senja and the Vesteralen Islands, two beautiful off the beaten path destinations.

10 DAYS IN THE FJORD REGION: On this 10 day itinerary through the fjord region, visit southern Norway: Bergen, Geirangerfjord, and Stavanger and hike Trolltunga, Pulpit Rock and Kjeragbolten.

LOFOTEN ISLANDS: For an overview of the best things to do, read our Lofoten Islands Top Ten List. Get lots of travel planning advice in our Lofoten Islands Itinerary. For advice on where to stay, read our Lofoten Islands Hotel Guide.

BEST OF NORWAY: For a list of top experiences in Norway, don’t miss our Norway Bucket List. If you are a hiker, we also have a hiking guide with 14 epic day hikes to do in Norway.

ADVENTURES IN NORWAY: Trolltunga and Kjeragbolten are two of the best hikes to do in Norway. For an even bigger adventure, climb Svolvaergeita in the Lofoten Islands.

EUROPE TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in Europe, check out our article 30 Beautiful Places to Visit in Europe and the 20 Best Hikes in Europe. You can also get more travel ideas in our 10 Days in Europe itinerary guide, which has 10 great itineraries for your next trip to Europe.

Is your trip to Svalbard part of a bigger trip to Norway? Read all of our articles about Norway in our Norway Travel Guide.


Svalbard Travel Guide and Itinerary


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Comments 16

  1. Avatar for Natalia Serkalev
    Natalia Serkalev

    Kia Ora from New Zealand,

    Love your blog! Travelling late June this year and have 4 nights in Longyearbyen, would you recommend to book any additional excursions while you are there or in advance? Also, in terms on gear can i buy hiking shoes and jacket there or better be prepared and get smth from NZ?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Natalia. I recommend booking your excursions before you arrive (we booked ours in February for a June visit) since spaces on many of them can be limited. It will be cheaper and more convenient to purchase hiking shoes and a coat from New Zealand. Svalbard is expensive and clothing will be pricier, because of the shipping costs to get it there. I hope you have a great time on your trip! Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Edith Engleman
    Edith Engleman


    We are travelling via Norwegian Star Cruise ship. Our ship will dock in Longyearbyden June 16 at 9am and leave June 17 at 2am. We are both seniors with no disability. We are interested, boat tours to see Walrus colony, snowmobile adventure and be able to see the ice cave. Any idea how we can squeeze these adventure with the short amount of time we have. If we can do two out of three adventure we are satisfied with that too. Your suggestions are sicerely appreciated.


    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Edith. The first thing to do would be to check the timing of the walrus tours. We haven’t done that one and I think it is a full day tour so if it is offered on the 17, that would be the best day to do it (getting in at 9 am on the 16 could be too late to join a full day tour). Since the excursions to the ice cave and snowmobiling are shorter excursions, you could probably do both of them on your first day. Again, you will have the check with the tour operators’ schedules and see if and when these are being offered, and if there is way to do one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The best place to get access to the tour operators and excursions is the official Svalbard website. It takes some work, figuring out your schedule, but that’s the easiest way I know how to do it. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Badri

    Is it better to do day trips or a multi-day adventure trip like the 3-day summer program at Nordenskold Lodge with Basecamp Explorer? Weighing quality of experience and price

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      We only did day trips and I don’t know much about the multi-day programs. It depends on what is included with a multi-day program. It could be more expensive if food and lodging is included in the price (but make sure you know what you are getting). If you like the activities more on the multi-day program or if takes you away from Longyearbyen, then it could be worth it. You could add up the costs of both options and make a decision based on price and overall experience. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Merrilee

    I will be visiting Longyearbyen this summer (late June). I had planned to take an 8 day boat trip to see polar bears, but it was just cancelled because of Covid (in 2022) and I have decided to just spend the 8 days in Longyearbyen, using it as a base for short excursions. Do I have to reserve excursions in advance, or can I just do it once I get there and see what people recommend?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      I’m sorry to hear that your cruise was cancelled. With that amount of time, I would say schedule in advance the tours that look of most interest to you. The more popular tours can sell out in advance. You could leave a few days free towards the end of your visit to add on anything else that looks interesting. I wonder if you can take a shorter tour, like a two to three day tour (such as a shorter cruise), since you have so much time. Another thing you can do, if they are offering it, is to spend the night in Pyramiden in the hotel. It would be a very unique experience. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Violet C
    Violet C

    I am planning a trip to Norway and Svalbard and your website keeps coming up in my searches. I love your blog. You provide the perfect amount of information and your photos are amazing. I am planning a trip for late 2021 and keeping my fingers crossed that we will be able to safely travel at that point. Thanks again.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  6. Avatar for Katy Emanuel
    Katy Emanuel

    This is a place that has been on our family bucket list for a while now. Wondering what ages you think are best for visiting here? Our kids are now 5 and 8 years so we would like to go when they are old enough to be able to do the excursions, etc and enjoy them. Our kids are avid hikers and 11 mile hikes aren’t an issue, but it is more the other types of excursions, kayaking, age appropriateness etc where we aren’t so sure.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Katy. Some excursions have minimum age limits. For example, we took the kayaking and hiking excursion up Hiorthfjellet and this had a minimum age of 16. This is one of the more adventurous tours you can take in Svalbard. Kara was almost 14 so they waived the age requirement, because of her hiking experience, but it is something to keep in mind. In general, I think saving the visit for when your kids are 10 to 12 (or even a little older) is best, so you all can have the ability to do most or all of the tours. Take a look at the Visit Svalbard website (there is a link in this post) and look through the tours that interest you. With a few clicks you can learn the minimum ages for the tours. This will give a more concrete time about when to visit Svalbard. Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Jess
    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      No, we didn’t unfortunately. Usually, you have to take a multi-day excursion out from Longyearbyen to see the polar bears. Maybe next time! Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for Holly Watson-Evans
    Holly Watson-Evans

    Love your blog and website!
    AND.. I also LOVED Svalbard.
    I went there with my 2 Norwegian friends in Oct 2016. (yes, I had to “Google it” when we were planning our trip and they suggested we go there).
    Just an amazing place – we went to see the glaciers, searched for polar bears (saw one in the distance), visited the Seed bank and did a 7 hour hike to the summit of Trollsteinen — in the sleet and rain. Trekking over a glacier and hiking up the fjords, that hike will likely remain one of the highlights of my life (especially when our plane flew directly over it on our way out of Longyearbyen). My friends even took me to the town auction, where an enormous polar bear hide (among other VERY Svalbard-specific items) was auctioned off.
    I feel Svalbard is difficult to describe unless you see it firsthand.
    My wish is that it NEVER changes and that tourism does not spoil the incredible natural beauty, quirkiness and sense of remoteness that makes it the destination it is today.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Holly. Svalbard is awesome, isn’t it?! 🙂 We debated doing Trollsteinen…it looks like another great hike to do. Glad you had a good time there…such a unique travel spot. Happy travels! Cheers, Julie

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