Svalbard - Norwegian Beauty in the Arctic
Svalbard is one of the northernmost settled areas on earth and a dream come true for many discoverers. Polar bears and reindeer have adjusted to the life in the blue-white glacial world and fascinate all visitors. In the Arctic summer, the ice melts and delicate buds turn their heads towards the polar sun.
Geography - Island in the Arctic Ocean
Svalbard is a Norwegian island group. It lies between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean and consists of over 400 separate islands and skerries. The most important town of Longyearbyen is populated by about 1,800 people and is located on the main island, which is also called "Svalbard". Due to the extremely northern position, it is always cold on the islands. In winter, the whole island group is covered in a thick layer of ice and snow. The warm Gulf Stream, however, causes the ice to melt in the summer months, especially at the south-coast, which is free from ice and blooms during that time.
Nature - Beware of polar bears
According to estimates, there are about 3,000 polar bears for every 2,000 people on Svalbard. These animals are beautiful to look at and every visitor hopes to see them at close range. However, there have been attacks on people by bears in recent years. That is why you see warning signs all over the islands and every public building is equipped with guns. Of course, the beautiful animals are protected. If you want to explore the white wilderness, you should take a local and experienced tour guide with you who knows how to act in dangerous situations. Svalbard is one of the northernmost areas of settlement on earth. If you expect eternal winter here, however, you are wrong. Due to the warm Gulf Stream, the temperatures are relatively mild in summer. The ice melts and the meadows are covered in delicate Arctic flowering plants.
Natural sights - Wild beauty in the north
Besides polar bears, Svalbard is populated by walruses and a great number of reindeer. They have all perfectly adjusted to the weather on the islands. Another natural highlight are tours through the glacial caves. Adventurers who are not afraid of heavy masses of ice or claustrophobic will be impressed by the bizarre beauty of ice. Some entrances to the natural caves are quite narrow and their ceilings may be low. If you visit Svalbard at the right time, which is mostly the winter, you can witness one of the world's most fascinating natural spectacles - the northern lights (aurora borealis). Green and pink shrouds of light fill the sky and reveal a sky which has more stars than in any other place on earth.
Culture - Vikings, coals and research
The first discoverers of the islands are said to have been the Vikings, who already arrived in the 12th century and settled Svalbard for a while. The northern region only gained public awareness at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1900, the first mine was developed. Svalbard proved to be a rich source for coal mining and numerous nations were involved in this. Only three of these mines are still active and about 400 coal miners work in the industry. From 1925 on, Norway took over the territory but it had to ensure the other nations that they would still be allowed to produce coal. The only nation which is doing this to the present day is Russia. Most permanent or temporary inhabitants do not come to the island because of the coal but for doing research. Svalbard has become the centre of Arctic research. In addition, it accommodates one of the greatest seed banks in the world. Seeds from plants such as rice, maize and grains are stored in the dry cold of the ice here for future generations.
Cultural sights - Longyearbyen
Svalbard's most important residential area is Longyearbyen. Its facades are painted in friendly and bright colours, which form a wonderful contrast to the icy landscape. About 1,800 of the 2,500 inhabitants live here and constitute Svalbard's centre. Another 700 people live in Barentsburg, the last Russian town on the island. Ny-Alsund, the northernmost settlement on earth, is only populated by 100 people. The towns are not connected by roads. Planes and helicopters are used as means of transport. In winter, people also use sledge dogs.
Experience - Sociability in the ice
Svalbard has been becoming more interesting to tourists during the last few years. The wild landscape and the adventure in the eternal ice of the north attract more and more travellers and discoverers. Cruisers are particularly common. This caused a number of attractive five-star hotels and excellent gourmet restaurants to be built which do not only serve local but also international food. Specialities from the islands are dishes containing seal and reindeer meat. An exotic delicacy, which is a must for all visitors, is a drink which is high in alcohol content and contains real glacial runoff. After a day spent in the flurry of snow with the sledge dogs, many travellers enjoy a cosy evening in the pub in Longyearbyen. It is a meeting place for miners, researchers and travellers. Numerous nations come together here and keep warm with hot beverages and exciting everyday stories in the ice.
Activities - An adventurous world of ice
Dog sledge rides, snow hikes and ski trips are popular activities with the locals and travellers in winter. In summer, you should visit the south coast. The landscape blooms in the warm season and young reindeer eat the fresh meadow herbs. Since there is no developed infrastructure for tourists, it is a good idea to socialise with the locals. It is the easiest and best way of getting to know the country in all its beauty.
The polar night begins on the 26th of October. It stays dark until the 16th of February and the sun does not show during this time. The opposite happens between the 20th of April and the 26th of August as it is always bright during this time. The inhabitants of the main town of Longyearbyen are workers and researchers from over 40 different countries. English is commonly used for communication. The town's airport can only be reached from Norway.
The fragile natural beauty of Svalbard dispenses with mass tourisms and numerous leisure activities. Adventurers are encouraged to explore the icy region under their own steam and discover its various sides.