Visiting Svalbard in the High Arctic was a dream come true for me last summer, when I managed to squeeze in a visit right before leaving Tromsø to move to Southern Norway. After all, I would have been stupid not to head to Svalbard when the archipelago only is a 1 1/2-hour flight away - am I right?!
I definitely fell in love with the region and would have loved to stay just a night or two longer to explore even more. Personally, I'd say that Svalbard can best be explored in summer as opposed to the 24-hour darkness of the polar night that lasts from October to February - but I guess it depends on what you come there to do and see.
In this article I'd therefore like to present you everything you can experience in Svalbard during the summer, as well as give you some practical tips for your visit!
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25 Things to See and Do in Svalbard in Summer
1. Go for a hike in the mountains
You can't quite visit Svalbard without experiencing the spectacular nature that surrounds you and what better way to do so than a hike in the mountains of Longyearbyen? You can even go on a hike to the bird mountain to see puffins up close!
Keep in mind, however, that you're not allowed to do so on your own - unless you have a rifle and know how to use it.
The polar bear danger is real, after all!
2. Take a selfie at the famous polar bear sign
Speaking of which, you can't leave Svalbard without a selfie at the famous polar bear sign. It's obligatory!
3. Visit the Global Seed Vault (from afar)
Now, you're not allowed to go inside the Global Seed Vault, but you can at least admire it from the outside - or in our case: from afar. We were unfortunate enought to visit after the vault was flooded, so we had to make do with admiring it from afar.
I'm sure they've fixed it by now, though!
4. Go for a stroll (or sightseeing tour) around Longyearbyen
Longyearbyen isn't exactly a big town but it stretches over quite a distance, so prepare for a hike if you'd like to stroll around the entire town to take it all in. A couple of the cheaper hostels like Coal Miner's Cabins (where we stayed) and Gjestehuset 102 are a 30-minute walk from the town centre - just to give you an impression of the distances we're talking about here.
If you're not that into hiking or would like to explore more of the surroundings of Longyearbyen as well, you can book a guided taxi sightseeing tour with a local guide. We went on one and had an absolute blast! Not just because we got to see much more than if we had just walked around town, but also because we learnt a lot about Longyearbyen and life on Svalbard that no guidebook would have ever told us about!
If you're into photography, however, you can also go on a photographic city walk through Longyearbyen, which I wish we had done as well. The bus tour was great but it didn't include any photo stops in the town itself.
5. Visit Barentsburg
Barentsburg is by far the most bizarre and odd place I've ever visited and I'm so glad we decided to head there! It's the only Russian coal mining town on Svalbard that's still in use and totally worth a visit if you're into tasting Vodka, admiring street art and discovering old Soviet propaganda.
6. Visit Pyramiden
Another old Russian mining town but the one that's turned into a ghost town, is Pyramiden! Nowadays home to thousands of birds and the occasional polar bear, Pyramiden makes a day trip you'll never forget!
7. Go on a boat tour in the fjords (and maybe see a glacier up close)
Hiking in the mountains is one way of getting to know the landscapes of the High Arctic - another way is going on a boat tour! There are plenty of boat tours to choose from, all lasting from half a day to several days, and most of them even come with a photo stop at one of Svalbard's many glaciers!
8. See a polar bear?
Before you get your hopes up, be warned that polar bear sightings in Svalbard are a lot less common than you might think. There are also no polar bear safaris being offered on the archipelago as the animals are protected.
However, if you go on a longer cruise around Svalbard or visit Pyramiden in early summer, there might be a chance that you're lucky enough to spot the king of the Arctic!
9. See a walrus?
As opposed to polar bears, walruses seem a lot easier to spot as they reside in a fixed spot that can be visited on a full-day boat tour from Longyearbyen. Now, the tour isn't exactly for those traveling on a budget, but I guess it's totally worth it to spot a walrus!
10. Go summer dog-sledding
No, you don't need snow to go dog-sledding on Svalbard! The sled dogs need to be trained year-round and you can help by going dog-sledding on wheels yourself! We went on a 3-hour sledding excursion with Basecamp Explorer in the past summer and had an absolute blast!
11. Go horseback riding
Fancy a sightseeing tour around Svalbard on horseback? Even that is possible in Longyearbyen in the summer! There are only 5 Icelandic horses living on the island and you can go on a ride through the valley to take in the gorgeous surroundings up close!
12. Visit Isfjord Radio Station
Longyearbyen isn't remote enough for you? Then hop on a boat and explore Isfjord Radio Station! On the way, you might get to see walrus, seals and puffins, and at the station you'll be served some lunch to defrost your bones - or why not stay at the station for a night and hope a polar bear comes along?
13. Go on a mountain bike adventure
If hiking is too boring for you and you're in need of some action, go on a mountain bike tour around the valleys of Longyearbyen!
14. Explore what Longyearbyen has to offer in terms of cuisine
Longyearbyen actually has plenty of restaurants to choose from and eating out can actually be relatively cheap compared to mainland Norway. You can even go on a dinner sightseeing tour where you get to try Arctic cuisine while seeing Longyearbyen up close!
The boyfriend and I were seriously considering doing this but with my tendency to get motion sick, I thought it'd be best not to factor in a 3-course meal as well... If you ever do this tour, though, let me know what I missed out!
15. Visit the local brewery
For the craft beer enthusiasts among you, Longyearbyen won't disappoint! Visit the local Svalbard Brewery, where they produce beer with 2000-year old water from a nearby glacier!
16. Go fishing
Are you a fan of fish? Well then, book a fishing trip out on the Icefjord!
17. Go kayaking
The number 1 activity that I'm still dreaming about doing: kayaking! Can you imagine anything more peaceful and serene than going kayaking on a fjord in the Arctic? Yeah, me neither...
18. Go shopping
Not exactly peaceful and serene but a must if you're looking for a bargain! As Svalbard is a tax-free zone, it can pay off to buy alcohol and outdoor clothing here tax-free.
19. Visit Svalbard Museum
Fancy a bit of culture? Head to Svalbard Museum to learn more about the history of the archipelago, its flora and fauna, and what living conditions were like for the first Arctic explorers and trappers in the area!
20. Visit the North Pole Expedition Museum
If you're into aviation history, this museum is a must!
21. Visit the Art Gallery
And for all the art aficionados, Svalbard offers its own art gallery in Nybyen at the very end of town. The trip from the town centre is worth it, though - especially if you're looking to purchase some Arctic art and craft for your home!
22. Experience the local coal mine
Would you like to learn more about life on Svalbard? Book a visit to the local coal mine to see how coal is extracted and how dangerous the job really is!
23. Experience an ice cave
You love snow and ice and can't quite stay away from it, even during summer? Then a visit to the ice cave is for you!
24. Go for a dip in the ocean
When on Svalbard... do as the locals do! If you're lucky to visit when the sun comes out, you might want to take a quick dip in the ocean to truly experience an Arctic summer! Or maybe just dip your toes in instead?!
25. Bathe in the Midnight Sun
The best about a visit to Svalbard in the summer is the Midnight Sun! If you visit between April and August, you'll have 24 hours of daylight - in other words, plenty of time to explore! Careful though, midnight literally looks and feels like noon, so don't forget to bring a watch and keep track of time ;)
What to keep in mind when visiting Svalbard
Regardless of whether you're visiting in summer or winter, there are a few things you need to keep in mind in order to have a great holiday! For instance:
- Accommodation options are limited and tend to book out fast - especially in summer! Make sure to reserve your hotel room in advance!
- You're not allowed to leave the premises of town without a rifle (or tour guide with a rifle) due to the danger of polar bears - this is not a joke!
- Svalbard is a very sensitive environment, so make sure to treat the landscape with respect i.e. don't leave trash around, don't feed any animals, and don't damage any of the protected buildings!
- Any tours you book are subject to weather conditions, which can change quite quickly in the Arctic.
For more tips and information for your visit to Svalbard, read my detailed guide here or have a look at my other Svalbard articles below!
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