Arctic Summer: The Perfect Itinerary for 5 Days on Svalbard
Svalbard. Never heard of it? It's an island midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. An arctic kingdom where the sun doesn’t set for the entire summer. It's home to 2400 people from more than 50 different countries, and 3000 polar bears!
When our Caribbean vacation got cancelled for obvious reasons this summer, we decided to opt for an arctic experience. Although Svalbard technically is Norwegian ground, it feels like another world up there.
I had no idea I would fall in love with Svalbard, Longyearbyen and the arctic summer the way that I did. I left a piece of my heart up there at 78 degrees north. Below is the full itinerary that made this a once in a lifetime experience.
Good to know about visiting Svalbard
• Longyearbyen is the administrative center, and where most of the inhabitants live. Other settlements like Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund can be visited by boat during summer, and are well worth the trip!
• It’s illegal to leave the Longyearbyen settlement without polar bear protection. For most tourists this means that organized excursions are their only options to get out and see the breathtaking nature of the archipelago, as guides carry firearms and are trained to handle polar bear encounters.
• Most organized activities include transportation. This means that if a tour is supposed to start at 8 am and last three hours, they will start picking up people from the hotels at 8, and have you back at your hotel by 11.
• Although there are certainly more affordable options than the ones we went with, it’s not a cheap place to visit. Then again, this is a trip that was worth every penny we put into it.
• Longyearbyen has an amazing food scene. Make sure to fit in the different restaurants as part of your experience. Don’t miss Kroa, one of the most iconic places in town!
• You might want to bring a sleeping mask. The sun doesn’t set at all, and even though your hotel room probably has decent blackout curtains, it won’t get completely dark at night.
• Don’t expect summer! The average summer temperature is around 3-7 degrees Celsius, so dress accordingly. Layers, wool and wind- and waterproof outerwear are essentials.
How to get there
Norwegian and SAS airlines both fly to Svalbard several days a week from Oslo and Tromsø. It‘s a three-hour flight from Oslo.
Svalbard has accommodation options in most price ranges. We stayed at Svalbard Hotel Polfareren which we highly recommend. Check out Visit Svalbard's guide on where to stay in Svalbard.
Mining is the reason Longyearbyen exists today and therefore a very important part of their history. Mine 3 was operational between 1971 and 1996. All the equipment was left behind when it closed down and it's still there today. This certainly makes for an authentic experience. You can see and feel the challenging working conditions of the miners, and the journey into the mountain is a special one .
• Lunch at Rabalder Café and Bakery
They have amazing food here! It's the perfect introduction to Longyearbyen's food scene.
• Svalbard Museum (1 hour) This is an interesting and well-organized museum that is worth the visit, but it's small so you don't have to schedule more than an hour here.
• Dinner at Nuga Sushi Great sushi. Enough said.
The sea was quite rough the day we went on this tour, but it was all forgotten when we pulled up to a walrus colony and got to observe these incredible creatures in the wild! Wildlife is never promised on tours like this, but it's Svalbard so your chances are pretty good. This company also offers dedicated walrus safaris, which I would definitely consider if (when) I go back.
• Day trip to Barentsburg by boat (10 hours) Ahh Barentsburg! A russian mining settlement south of Longyearbyen, with about 500 inhabitants. The entire time I kept thinking "I can't believe people actually live here!", but they do. And it's really cool.
I only have one clear recommendation for this place: the Red Bear Pub! What a place, and in the middle of nowhere. I ate the most amazing apple pie and asked the bartender for a shot of their best vodka. When in Russia and all that.
We visited Barentsburg with Polar Charter and the boat Polargirl, which I cannot praise enough. The boat was amazing and our guide Vide was incredible and more than happy to share his knowledge of Svalbard and its wildlife. We saw four different whale species on this trip, which was the highlight of our entire visit.
• Dinner at Kroa My favorite restaurant in Longyearbyen, by far.
• “Longyearbyen in a nutshell” bus tour (2 hours) A bus tour with a local that really knew his stuff. We were the only group on the tour which made it a personal experience, and we got to see many interesting sights. Two hours well spent!
• Lunch at Fruene Café
Fruene is located in the only mall in town, Lompensenteret, and it's a great place for lunch. They also make their own chocolate, which makes this the northernmost chocolaterie in the world!
• Spend some time looking around in the city centre
Get to know the town! It's small enough so that you can walk everywhere.
This is a stroll that takes you around the city within the polar bear safe zone.
The northernmost brewery in the world! Taste the beer and hear the incredible story behind it.
• Dinner at Stationen
Another great place to eat!
• Day trip to Pyramiden by boat (10 hours) Another day trip by boat, this time to Pyramiden. Pyramiden is an old mining ghost town, named one of "10 ghost towns you have to visit" by National Geographic. The town was abandoned in 1998, but used to be well-developed. When you arrive by boat, you are shown around by a local russian guide. It’s fascinating to see how so much was left behind. If possible, I would try visiting Pyramiden with Polar Charter, but the other tour companies offer trips here as well.
• Dinner at...take a pick!
Dog sledding on wheels is the summer alternative to dog sledding in snow.
I am a skeptic by nature of any activity involving animals, but it became apparant pretty soon that these dogs are made to run and it's the one thing they love the most in the world. We would stop to give them water quite often, and they started howling almost right away, eager to get going again.
We participated in the entire process of getting the dogs ready and strapping them to the sled. Afterwards we got to visit the dog yard and pet all the dogs!
I didn't know what to expect when I showed up to this, as I have never done anything like it, but it ended up being the perfect conclusion to our trip. It was well organized and we stopped along the way to talk about the different sights. On the way back we got to see a plane wreck that I, even with all the research I did beforehand, hadn't even heard of. The entire thing was a really cool experience.