Norway has long been on my list of dream destinations for a whole host of reasons — not least among them my distant family still living there. So when Agness and Cez came to me about writing a guest post recommending attractions in Svalbard, I was excited to see what they’d come up with. Read on for their advice on what to do in the very North of Norway!
Hello, fellow travelers! Agness and Cez here – professional vagabonds at eTramping.com. We travel the world in search of adventure and stories, which we publish on our website. Today, we’ll be looking at some attractions in Svalbard that everyone should have on their bucket list.
Wonders you won’t see anywhere else fill the Svalbard archipelago. There’s even a former U.S.S.R. ghost town which will seem very haunting here, so far in the North. If you decide to visit the archipelago, you will most likely start with a Spitsbergen trip. It’s the only permanently populated island, and where you’ll be seeing most of the attractions in Svalbard.
Let’s start our trip in the colorful city Longyearbyen, which is also the largest settlement in the area. It’s also the administrative center and the home of the Svalbard Museum, the first landmark we’ll be looking at.
The Svalbard Museum
This museum is an excellent introduction to what you’ll be seeing around the archipelago. There are exhibits and presentations there ranging from the geography and history of the land, to how explorers fought against all odds to bring civilization to the barrens of the North.
If you’re not a fan of the history of Arctic exploration, at least give it a try for all the arctic wildlife there. Polar bears, seals, arctic foxes, and other examples of northern biodiversity await you. It’s an all around great experience, and very well put together.
The expression “less is more” fits well here, although it’s definitely not lacking in any areas. Plus, the museum is great for kids! It’s one of those attractions in Svalbard that’s fit for the whole family.
North Pole Expedition Museum
While you’re in Longyearbyen, you can visit this place as well. If you’re a sucker for TONS of information about North Pole expeditions, then be prepared. You will find all sorts of memorabilia from times past, including photos and newspaper clippings that add to the magic of the place.
Unfortunately, you might have to use an English guidebook around the museum. While there are still snippets of information in English on the exhibits, most of it is in Norwegian. But hey, if you like to absorb the stories of the land like we do, then you will just love it here. Still, let’s move on to the natural attractions in Svalbard. After all, you won’t be heading all the way to the North just to stay in a cozy little city.
If you ever wanted to feel like you were at “the end of the world,” then Magdalenefjord is the place for you. You will be met by glaciers, fjords, and clear blue skies (if you come here in summer).
While in the museums you could view stuffed animals, this time you’ll get the chance to see the real things in action:
- Polar bears on the shores;
- Walruses and seals in the sea;
- A plethora of birds littering the skies in search of prey;
Of course, the best part is getting to sail in northern waters. The views are much more spectacular up close. Breathe in the crisp, clean air before you head home!
Nordvest-Spitsbergen National Park
The national park was a former whale hunting site in the 17th and 18th centuries. You can still see the remains of those bygone times. Both Russian and Norwegian whaling camps can be found here.
Probably the most interesting place to visit, however, is Virgohavna. Although you’ll need a visiting permit from the Svalbard governor, you should still add it to your itinerary. Virgohavna is the launch site of a North Pole expedition by hot air balloon. Unfortunately, the Swedish engineer Salomon Andrée and his crew didn’t make it.
Even if you don’t want to visit the historical sites in Nordvest-Spitsbergen, you can still wonder at the glorious northern beauty of the place. The walrus colonies, snow-peaked mountains, glaciers, as well as the northernmost hot springs of Troll and Jotun are definitely worth your time. When it comes to natural attractions in Svalbard, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t visit this park.
Here we are at the first of the attractions in Svalbard that we’ve mentioned – the abandoned U.S.S.R. city of Pyramiden. There is a bust of Lenin that sweeps the city with its stony gaze right outside the Cultural Center.
The town actually feels very out of place here in the North. It looks like an Eastern Bloc town that was completely teleported to Svalbard by some sort of spaceship. But let’s not get too sci-fi here. It’s just a former Soviet coal-mining settlement, but it’s definitely worth visiting if you enjoy eerie ghost towns.
There’s also a hotel here. Since 2007, there have been attempts at turning it into a more prominent tourist attraction. Though you shouldn’t expect many amenities here – especially things like the Internet, or even cell reception. You can get to Pyramiden by way of boat, snowmobile, or even helicopter if you can afford it. The trip to the town itself is worth it because you can encounter some polar bears on the way.
Attractions in Svalbard – Final Thoughts
While you can visit the islands any time you want, we recommend you do it in winter. Sure, the cold will bother some of you. But taking a few extra clothes along is worth it so that you can see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). Some of you might have known about this, but for those of you who didn’t – in Svalbard, the sun doesn’t set between April and August. As such, you might miss your chance to view this natural and spectacular light show.
All in all, the attractions in Svalbard make it worth the trip to Norway. If you intend to spend this year’s winter holidays in the country, make sure you check out our complete guide to visiting Norway!
It has many great destinations and activities for all sorts of travelers. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has already been there, tell us how your trip went in the comments!