Longyearbyen (pronounced “long ear bin”) is the northernmost city in the world and a natural jumping-off point for travelers looking to explore the wonders of the Arctic. But while most people who come here are just passing by, it’s worth spending some time in this cool, quaint city that offers more than just stop-over comfort.
Like any tricky destination, visitors are rewarded for the effort they put into traveling to this remote location, where reindeer roam peacefully through colorful streets that don’t require a name, and snowmobiles do so much more than cars. are in number. Located on one of the Four Corners of the Earth, Longyearbyen is the capital of the Svalbard region – an archipelago in northern Norway that sits at 78° north (which is really, really up) – and offers travelers an experience of extremes. You’ll want to taste it for at least a few days before proceeding in search of glaciers and polar bears.
It is the northernmost settlement of any kind, with at least 1,000 inhabitants (with just over 2,000 residents these days). It is also the only permanently populated island in the Svalbard archipelago and is home to the northernmost cinema, school, university, commercial airport, ATM, museum, and post office. Stop at church every hour for a postcard and you’ll be sent home one of the northernmost pieces of mail picked up via the northernmost postal carrier in the northernmost church… that’s a mind of an exaggeration!
When the sun sets on 25 October, it does not come again until 8 March, with the civil polar night (where only twilight is visible at midday) from 14 November to 29 January. So what do you do when it’s always dark? Throw a party, of course. The Dark Season Blues Festival begins in October, marking the beginning of 4+ months of darkness. Established in 2003, the festival now spans four days for local, Norwegian, and international blues musicians, spread across the most friendly venues of Longyearbyen.
At exactly 12:15 a.m. on March 8, the whole city gathers on the steps of the old hospital to wait for the sun to come. Naturally, it’s time for another party! The Solfestuca festival marks the start of a week-long celebration to welcome the return of the sun and draws 4,000 people to concerts, theater performances, productions, and sled races. And while March days typically see only 3.5 hours of sunshine on average, by mid-April the city enjoys a full 24 hours of daylight, which lasts until August 23. The solarium in the city center operates 24 hours a day. Summer passes, as residents and visitors take advantage of warmer temperatures (higher temperatures typically range between 3°–7 °C or 37–44 °F) and loads of outdoor activities.
Extreme wine cellar
Yes, you read that right. At Huset Restaurant (which is, you guessed it, the northernmost restaurant in the world), they have one of Europe’s largest wine cellars, with more than 15,000 bottles on hand. Visit the tasting menu to sample true Arctic fare.
Longyearbyen is a really relaxed, welcoming place. But there are some quirky, over-ish rules in it that might shock you. For one, you are not allowed to die in Longyearbyen. This is the law. And it’s not because the graveyard has reached capacity, but because they discovered, many years ago, that bodies don’t decompose, given the cold temperatures. So go ahead, live longer and happily in town, but please, go somewhere else when your time is up.
Due to the presence of endangered arctic birds, you are also not allowed to have a cat as a pet. Ferrets are also prohibited. And residents are not allowed to paint their homes any color they want. The colors are chosen from Svalbard nature – so the houses match the local flowers, moss, sun, or sky. The result is a picturesque landscape meant to keep spirits bright during the long, dark winter months.
There are also rules to follow when you take off your shoes whenever you enter a building and carry (and know how to use) a firearm whenever you leave the settlement – for your own comfort and safety!
We are not talking about cliff jumping or cave diving. But whenever you mix great activities like hiking, dog-rearing, kayaking, snowmobile safaris, and bike tours with the awesome landscapes of the Arctic, you’re taking your fun quotient up several hundred notches. You can do all this and more in Longyearbyen, with stunning glaciers, frozen fjords, and snow-capped mountains as your backdrop, and polar bears, reindeer, and walruses as your chance encounters.
The Arctic offers dazzling, breathtaking views, experiences, and adventures. Take a moment to exhale into Longyearbyen and you won’t be disappointed!
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