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Longyearbyen

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Svalbard : Longyearbyen
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Longyearbyen, is the largest populated area and the capital of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago.

A slice of Longyearbyen and the surrounding mountains

Understand

Longyearbyen is the largest populated area on the terrirory of Svalbard, located in the high Norwegian Arctic. The settlement is popular as the most easily-accesable frontier in the Arctic, and is an ideal base for the greater exploration of Svalbard.

The settlement is named after American entrepreneur John Munro Longyear (1860-1922), who as head of the Arctic Coal Company founded the town and the neighbouring coal mine, the first large mine on Svalbard. Mining is still big business here, with the roadsides and mountainsides littered with mines and their equipment, but tourism is catching up fast.

With nearly 2000 inhabitants, the town is the de facto "capital" of the islands, featuring the airport, a school, a shopping center, hotels, restaurants and more.

Orientation

Longyearbyen lies at the southern side of Adventfjorden, stretched out along the Longyearelva River. The center of town lies near the coast on the east side of the river, with the district of Skjæringa across the river, the district of Nybyen 2 km (1.2 mile) to the south and the airport 3 km (1.9 mile) to the west. Adventdalen, the valley housing Longyearbyen's only currently operational mine (#7), stretches out to the east.

Be sure to pick up the free Longyearbyen 78° North pamphlet (available at the airport and most lodges), which has a detailed map of the city and listings of all its facilities.

Get in

By plane

Svalbard Airport Longyear (LYR) is the only major airport on Svalbard. It services daily Scandinavian Airlines (SAS Braathens) flights to Tromsø all year around, and there are additional flights as well as twice-weekly services direct to Oslo in the summer high season. The low-cost Norwegian carrier Norwegian.no operates several flights a week to Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger - return prices are generally around €200 return including taxes from Oslo, but can be slightly less.

There is the possibility of chartered services to other bases on Svalbard, but these are generally reserved for scientists and those travelling on expeditions to the North Pole itself.

The airport is fully equiped with a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Despite its small size, it is operated in the same way as other Norwegian state-run airports with full security checks and passport control.

Airport shuttle buses connect with all flights arriving and departing at the airport but are not free.

By boat

Longyearbyen's port is accessible only in the summer when the pack ice recedes. For dates, see the port website [1]. There are once-weekly boats to Tromso and daily services to Barentsburg with organised sight-seeing tours.

Get around

There is no public transportation aside from the airport shuttle bus. Walking is a viable option, although rather tedious if you need to move around outside the center. Alternatively, rent a bike from Basecamp Spitsbergen. Taxi (+47-7902-1305) and car rental are also available.

See

There are many possibilities for walking and sight-seeing in the immediate Longyearbyen area. Walking out of the settlement into the fjord, you will see the old cemetary and several abandoned mine buildings.

  • Svalbard Gallery, Nybyen. Permanent and changing exhibitions by artists in Svalbard, entry 45 kr. The adjoining artists' workshops are free to visit.
  • Svalbard Museum, Svalbard Science Centre (at the end of the main street). Reopened 2006 in large new premises, it features many displays about the history of the archipelago as well as various exhibits about arctic flora and fauna.
  • Church, above town. Always open, and has coffee and cookies for the visitors.

Do

Mining equipment outside Mine 1

A wide variety of activities including hiking, dog-sledding, kayaking and snowmobile safaris and even coal mining and more are offered by Svalbard's many tour companies. The largest operators are Spitsbergen Travel and Svalbard Wildlife Service (SWS). Prices are high — figure on 500 kr for a half-day activity, 1000 kr for a full day — but so are standards.

  • Esmarkbreen Glacier, across the Isfjorden (2-3 hours by boat). Scenic glacier across the bay, colored a striking blue. Drop a cube in your glass for an arctic martini. Often combined with cruises to Barentsburg.
  • Mine 3 (Gruve 3). SWS runs daily guided tours to this coal mine, which was closed down in 1996. The guides are former miners and give good insight into how arduous and difficult the work deep below the ground in crawlspaces barely a meter high must have been. It's a steady -5 degrees C (23 degrees F) down below, so bring along some warm clothing; overalls, helmet and light are provided. 3 hours, 590kr/person, no children below 14.
  • The Russian settlement of Barentsburg is accesable from Longyearbyen with an organised tour. Also Pyramiden, across the Isfjorden (2-3 hours by boat). Russian mining settlement abandoned in 1996, best known for its Lenin statue (the northernmost in the world).

If you have multiple days to spare then your options really open up: how about a week-long snow scooter trip (21,500 kr) or 11 days by boat around all of Spitsbergen (from around €3000) For the ultimate Arctic experience, you can even arrange to join a trip to the North Pole.

Buy

Svalbard's shopping is concentrated in and around the two-story Lompensenteret shopping mall and the supermarket. Beware the limited opening hours: most shops are only open 11-18 weekdays, 11-14 Saturday and closed Sunday.

There is a supermarket called Svalbardbutikken. It is open till 8pm on weekdays. Weekends with reduced hours.

Eat

Eating out in Longyearbyen (as with all of Norway) is expensive, with the simplest sit-down meals costing over 70 kr. There are several small cafés in the town centre, and also a restaurant and bar at the Radisson SAS Hotel.

Budget

The only remotely budget option is self-catering.

  • Svalbardbutikken, opposite Lompensenteret, [2]. Svalbard's sole supermarket and department store rolled into one. Has a surprisingly wide selection, but prepare for sticker shock, especially for anything perishable: half a cucumber costs 10 kr and a kilo of bananas on sale is 20 kr. Open weekdays from 11 to 20, reduced hours Sat/Sun.

Mid-range

  • Classic Pizza, Lompensenteret. Pizza and kebabs from 79 kr. Open from 1700 to 0500 daily.
  • Huset, Nybyen. Daily dinner menu 72 kr weekdays (open 16-18 only).
  • Kafé Busen, Lompensenteret. Generous portions of basic fare for 70-100 kr, open for lunch and dinner with a menu that changes daily.

Splurge

  • Kroa, Basecamp Spitsbergen.
  • Restaurant Nansen, Radisson SAS.

Drink

Svalbard's tax-free status makes alcohol a lot cheaper than on the mainland.

  • Kroa Bar. Offers a range of decent drinks and meals in a pleasant environment.
  • Nordpolet, in Svalbardbutikken. Sells a full range of beer, wines and spirits, but quotas apply and you must show your plane ticket to purchase. Also note the restrictive opening hours: 11 AM to 5 PM weekdays, 11 AM to 1 PM Saturdays, closed Sundays.

Sleep

The full service hotels are fairly expensive, especially during the high season.

Budget

  • Longyearbyen Camping, near airport (4 km to Longyearbyen), tel. +47-79021444, [3]. Promises an "intensive experience of nature" at the northernmost full-service campsite in the world. Stays per night start at 90 kr, not including tent rental (100 kr/day) or even warm showers (10 kr/5 min). The site is open all year round, but the service building (showers and toilets) is open only during the summer. Visitors travelling to Svalbard outside of the high season (end of June until September) will be permitted to use the campsite free of charge, but must bring their own provisions and equipment. If your plans include trekking in Svalbard, the camping site is an excellent place to meet fellow trekkers, seek advice or maybe even join a larger group.

Mid-range

A number of guesthouses and homestays offer basic accommodation. Read the small print carefully, as you're often charged extra for breakfast, linens, towels and perhaps even use of the bathtub!

  • Gjestehuset 102, Nybyen, tel. +47-79025716, email [4], [5]. Miner's lodge converted into a basic but comfortable guesthouse, with shared bathrooms and lounge/kitchen; the main downside is the location, a 20-min walk from downtown. It is however well serviced by the airport shuttle bus. Singles/doubles 475/850 kr, shared unisex dorms 300 kr, including linens and breakfast.
  • Mary-Ann's Polarrigg, tel. +47-79023702, email [6], [7]. Former miner's barracks converted into a bed and breakfast. A bit pricier than the competition at 595/850 kr for a single/double not including breakfast (an extra 95 kr), but the selling point is the central location.

Splurge

  • Basecamp Spitsbergen, tel. +47-79024600, [8]. The most atmospheric of Longyearbyen's luxury hotels, this attempts to simulate a trapper's lodge with seal skins and driftwood aplenty. Don't let the humble name fool you though: 'camping' here will cost you from 1590 kr/night in peak season (but only half that in winter).
  • Radisson SAS Polar Hotel, tel. +47-79023450, [9]. This hotel claims to be the northernmost full-service hotel in the world, with restaurant, pub, sauna, free Internet access and a guest computer, but it's rather characterless. Peak season rates start from 1450 kr and go up, up and away.
  • Spitsbergen Hotel, tel. +47-79026200, [10]. Located on Haugen in Longyeardalen, with restaurant, pub, sauna, and free wireless Internet access. Slightly more expensive than Radisson SAS Polar Hotel. Closed for several months during winter. Excellent views down the valley from the restaurant.

Cope

Sparebank1 in the post office building has an ATM and currency exchange facilities.

Contact

  • Library (Bibliotek), Lompensenteret 2F. This surprisingly comprehensive library has an excellent selection of books on Svalbard (some in English), a rather more limited selection of English fiction and, most useful of all, three free Internet-connected PCs. Beware the eccentric and limited opening hours: 11-17 Mon/Wed/Thu, 11-14 Tue/Sat, closed Fri, Sun.
  • Svalbard Reiseliv, Næringsbygget (next to Lompen), tel. +47-7902-5551, email mailto:info@svalbard.net, [11]). The official tourist information office, a mine of information for Longyearbyen and the rest of Svalbard. Open 8 AM to 4 PM weekdays, 10 AM to 12 noon Saturdays.

Stay safe

Perhaps more so than anywhere in the world, Longyearbyen is free from crime. The risk of being involved with any type of altercation or incident is practically nil, with the sole threat being from fellow visitors. It is not uncommon to see intoxicated tourists wandering around during the midnight sun in August, but despite the complete lack of visible law enforcement, problems are almost non-existent.

It is not advised that you leave the settlement limits (clearly marked with signs bearing the picutre of a polar bear). If you choose to do so, it is compulsory to carry a firearm which can be rented from the town. Travelling further afield requires explicit permission from the Governor of Svalbard, whose office is near the church.

As everywhere in Svalbard, it is critical to understand that all year round there is a significant threat from polar bears. However, polar bears are legally protected, and shooting a polar bear will be regarded very seriously by the police and investigated thoroughly.

Get out

  • Barentsburg - Svalbard's solitary remaining Russian settlement, easily visited on a (albeit expensive) day trip.
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