Svalbard (Norway)

Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago situated at mid-distance between Northern Norway and the North Pole, is one of the most fascinating places I have ever seen. I love the Arctic and Svalbard exceeded all expectations with its fantastic landscapes, harsh climate, sparse population, isloated location, the midnight sun and a unique way of life. The islands enjoy special status as regulated by the Svalbard Treaty of 1920 and feel like an outpost at the edge of the world.

Established around 1906 as Longyear City, Longyearbyen is the islands' main town and administrative centre with a population of around 2,150 (out of a total population of around 2,700 in Svalbard). The town is small but very unique. Walking around its streets at 1:00 AM in full dayligh was a great experience (the town enjoys 24 hours of daylight between 20 April and 22 August). I took late evening or past-midnight walks every night of this trip.

There are a number of points of interest in town including the North Pole Expedition Museum with info and exhibits on attempts to conquer the North Pole from Svalbard, including the fantastic balloon expedition of S.A. Andree which I had read about; and the very good Svalbard Museum, with exhibits on the islands' history, wildlife, geology and more. Other points of interest are Svalbard Church, the Cable Car Service Centre and nearby Nybyen (population: 113).

You can get to see some of the islands' wildlife right around the city if you're lucky - I spotted a number of friendly reindeer and lots of birds. Polar bears are known to roam the islands and sometimes visit the settlements as well (reason for most residents to keep a weapon handy at all times when leaving town). I didn't see any, though.

Food was good and locally-produced Svalbard Beer was excellent. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located close to Svalbard Airport.

From Longyearbyen I did a cruise to Isfjorden and the Russian mining town of Barentsburg with Henningsen Transport & Guiding - another outstanding experience. I loved the landscapes of Svalbard from the boat, the imposing snow-filled mountains and cliffs, a trip to a majestic glacier, lots of different birds (including some cute puffins), the grilled salmon and whale meat served on board, and some very still arctic waters.

Barentsburg (population: 450) was out of this world with its Soviet-style architecture and edge-of-the-world atmosphere. The town is owned by Russian company Arktikugol and features the Red Bear Pub & Brewery (serving the 78 Degrees cocktail with 78% ABV), a small church, a cultural and sports centre and a statue of Lenin, among others. Our cruise also passed by the abandoned settlement of Grumant.

Additional info:
- Svalbard entry on Wikipedia
- Svalbard profile on Wikivoyage

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