Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Welove adventure, when we have two choices presented to us, we always tend to choose the one with adventure in it, we have trekked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and jumped off a dam in Switzerland.
Svalbard is not a typical winter destination with blue skies and warm sunshine, it’s the land of the polar bears, they are the king and queen of these group of Islands also known in Dutch as Spitsbergen.
If you are looking for a real taste of the Arctic and an adventure worth mentioning, then pack your bags and jet set to Longyearbyen, the northern most populated town below the North pole
Dressing for the Arctic weather
Weather in the arctic region is unforgiving and changes very often, you need to be ready for the varied conditions, so layers is the key to staying warm.
The outer full jacket is a snowmobile clothing and there are a few layers beneath it, here are some tips on the layers for keeping you warm.
- A thermal base layer.
- A merino wool t-shirt as the next layer helps in wicking away sweat and water.
- Third layer of thin T-shirt.
- A ski or any good wind and water proof jacket as outer layer.
The basic idea with layering is to trap air between them which acts as a very good insulator and if it becomes warm, you can remove some to suit you. So don’t make the mistake of buying the thickest jacket available assuming that would protect you from the cold.
Things to do
Just because it’s the north pole does not mean you don’t have anything interesting to do, there are plenty of incredible activities to take part in, with wilderness experts and professional guides.
The guides have exceptional local knowledge about the area, Harri was our fantastic guide who told us interesting stories and kept us entertained all along, the guides have multiple professions and they grew up in the local wilderness which makes them an expert in the area and capable enough to deal with the arctic conditions.
There is a quick briefing before the start and we go over the safety instructions and route plans and we are informed of any last-minute plan or route changes due to adverse weather or avalanche conditions along the routes. A valid drivers licence is required to be able to ride these scooters.
If you are looking for extreme adventure, you can do the 3 day snow mobile tours where you can witness raw natures in its pristine beauty and access to remote locations and lunch with amazing backdrops.
You also have smaller day trips on snowmobile and dog sledging if you don’t fancy the longer trips out-of-town, the global seed vault, ice caves, glaciers are worth a visit.
On the longer visits you have more chances of seeing polar bears.
The guides are well aware of the polar bears and always carry flare guns and rifles on the tours and they make you feel safe at all times. We took the 3 day tour and the plan had to be changed everyday to cater of the changing weather, it was not as cold as required and rains have made the routes slushy and unridable for the snow scooters, so we could not visit the beautiful Isfjord Radio outpost, instead we visited the mining towns of Svea and Barentsburg.
Lunch spots like these are quite common.
We even encountered huge snow mounds and learning how to rescue stuck snow mobile from a snow mound are all part of the fun and adventure.
The Russian mining town of Barentsburg was a complete shock to us, it wasn’t anything arctic, it had fantastic 4 storey hotels and multi storey buildings which seem to take away the charm of a dusty old mining town.
We only managed to see a polar bear in the dining room, not a live one, now there is a reason to go to the arctic again.
GPS track log of the route
Vegetarian food in the Arctic
We were quite surprised to find a few vegetarian options at this northern most part of the world, there are lots of good restaurants around Longyearbyen, a popular one is Kroa, the interiors are quite rustic with dim lighting and the food was very tasty too, for meat lovers this place has to be heaven with lots of local delicacies like Minke whale, moose, clipfish and more,
We being vegetarians, chose the tasty Indian Lentil stew with bread.
You can also get custom-made pizzas of your choice in most of the pubs around town.
We stayed at the fantastic Basecamp Hotel, a very rustic and charming place, friendly staff, the rooms all feature a drift wood/rustic feel to it and has big comfy beads and nice hot showers. Breakfast was plentiful with good variety.
Norwegian and SAS fly to Longyearbyen, check flight schedules as there are only flights on certain days, you might have to connect at Oslo if arriving from other major destinations and you would have to stay a night in Oslo for the connecting flight in the morning to Longyearbyen.
If you are part of a package tour, you might have transfers included, else the easiest is to get the airport transfer bus and stops at most of the hotels and costs 75 Nok per head, transfers are linked to flight arrivals and departures. Journey time is around 15 minutes.
When to go
The climate of Svalbard is dominated by its high latitude, with the average summer temperature at 4 to 6 °C (39 to 43 °F) and January averages at −16 to −12 °C (3 to 10 °F), summer months have long day light hours and may to September are around 24 hour day light, and Oct to Feb are polar darkness and best for spotting the Northern lights, summers are good for around the island cruises and spotting polar bears.
Need to know
Svalbard is not part of any Norwegian county, it’s still governed by Norway, so if you need a visa then its a Schengen visa that you might have to apply.
Currency is Norwegian Kroners.
Tours can be booked at your hotel reception, sometimes they get booked in advance as numbers are limited in certain tours, Basecamp also offers most of the activities and adventure that you can book in advance.
Svalbard image gallery