30 Things to Know Before You Visit Svalbard (Spitsbergen)

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Are you planning to visit Svalbard one of these days? There is so much mystery around Spitsbergen and the Norwegian Arctic destination. This guide will help you out!

So, where exactly is Svalbard?  It’s so funny to see Svalbard becoming a popular travel destination because I have known about it for many years and I even visited Svalbard before it became trendy and slightly more ‘commercialized’ (I lived in Norway). 

For that fact, it is also a bit scary seeing tourism flock there in larger numbers in an attempt to see polar bears.  There is a lot more to Svalbard than polar bears, trust me.

What to know before visiting Svalbard
 Northern lights in Svalbard

This is a guide for those that are truly interested in visiting Svalbard for whatever reason.  This isn’t to encourage larger numbers of travelers to go there, per se. 

Traveling to Svalbard can leave footprints behind on one of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet- so please ensure you don’t leave extra traces behind and are socially and environmentally conscious when you are there.

About Svalbard

Pretty much everyone knows the same one thing about Svalbard- it has polar bears.  Yep, this is true and the myth has it that there are more polar bears than people (quite false but tourism will state anything).  But, there are many things to do in Svalbard that don’t involve polar bears.  

Svalbard also has walruses.  And Arctic foxes.  And NARWHALS.

Plan your trip to Svalbard- home of the polar bears!
 But yea… it’s known for these gentle and cuddly fellas.

Okay, but really, Svalbard is absolutely the most beautiful place I’ve ever traveled to.  It is humbling and remarkable and home to the most national parks in Norway as well as over 2,100 glaciers. 

This section will detail a bit more about this area in the far north… an area that is a mere 650 miles or so from the North Pole. 

History of Svalbard

The economy of Svalbard is fueled by tourism, research, and mining.  In fact, you will see all three on your trip there.  Svalbard was established as an economic free zone and demilitarized zone in the 1920s in accordance with the Spitsbergen Treaty and The Svalbard Act.

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen

As a shock to us all, the Nazis didn’t get the memo and set up shop up in Svalbard.  They later destroyed pretty much every settlement up there.

In the 1940s and after the leveling of the villages in Svalbard, the USSR proposed the territory becoming a condominium.  Long story short, Svalbard ended up becoming normalized and Longyearbyen was no longer just a place that miners would come to work from. 

Today, Russia still has a presence on Svalbard, mainly in Barentsburg, and Svalbard is owned by Norway although it is still a sovereign territory.

Svalbard or Spitsbergen?

Is it Svalbard or Spitsbergen?  Well, they aren’t the same thing.  Svalbard refers to the entire archipelago while Spitsbergen refers to just the island where Longyearbyen and the other main settlements are located.  

There are nine main islands that make up Svalbard.  They are Spitsbergen (the largest), North East Land, Edge Island, Barents Island, Prins Karls Foreland, Kvit Island (Gilles Land), Kong Karls Land (Wiche Islands), Bjørn (Bear) Island, and Hopen.

Svalbard travel tips: what to know before you travel to Svalbard
 Gorgeous Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago

The likelihood that you leave Spitsbergen during your trip is rare unless you’re a researcher or have business elsewhere.  If you want to see a documentary about Bjørnøya (Bear Island), you can check out this one about the crazy Wegge brothers from Norway who lived and surfed there for 9 months.  The scenery is so sick.

Global Seed Vault

If you know about the Global Seed Vault, you probably know about Svalbard.  I’m finding that the only way people know of the territory is from polar bear documentaries on the BBC or because of the Global Seed Vault.  Fair enough.

The Global Seed Vault is exactly as it sounds- a place where seeds are kept secure in Svalbard in case we destroy ourselves (which we will inevitably do) and need them to produce life again either on planet Earth or elsewhere.

What to know before visiting Svalbard
 the Global Seed Vault kind of looks like a discotheque for polar bears

It holds 1,059,646 deposits as of 2018 (it has the potential to store 4.5 million!) and as noted on the website, the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Svalbard’s Global Seed Vault is buried deep into a mountain and in the permafrost offering a natural method for keeping these seeds secure and ready for use at any moment humanity will need them. 

Unfortunately, the Global Seed Vault has already had its first ‘withdrawal’ as a result of the war in Syria. 

Climate Change and the Global Seed Vault

Won’t climate change melt the permafrost that led the Global Seed Vault to be built there in the first place?

Yep. In 2016 and 2017, the melting permafrost led to flooding in the entryway of the Seed Vault, resulting in a $13 million renovation to make it more waterproof in 2018.

No seeds were damaged at the time but there was significant damage to other parts of the structure. The $13 million price tag was double of what was spent to create the Global Seed Vault in the first place.

Barentsburg (Little Russia)

The second-largest settlement on Spitsbergen is Barentsburg, also known as “Little Russia”.  There are just under 500 residents there and it is mostly Russians and Ukrainians calling Barentsburg home these days.

Due to the terms of the 1920 Svalbard Treaty, Russia has the right to remain in Svalbard to exploit the natural resources that exist there.  There are mining operations in and around Barentsburg.  There is still a Lenin statue in Barentsburg.

What to know before visiting Svalbard
 Barentsburg- What to know before visiting Svalbard

The largest aviation crash in Norwegian history actually occurred with a crew coming from Moscow onboard Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801 to Svalbard (residents and workers of Barentsburg) in 1996.  The plane crashed near the Adventfjorden, resulting in the loss of 141 lives.

Barentsburg is 55km away from Longyearbyen and there are no roads the connect the two settlements.  The best way to get there is via a snowmobile, boat, or helicopter.  You can book a tour to Barentsburg and visit by snowmobile.

Pyramiden (Abandoned Russian Mining Settlement)

My reason for visiting Svalbard initially had nothing to do with polar bears and everything to do with visiting Pyramiden.

Pyramiden is an abandoned Russian mining town on Spitsbergen that was settled by the Swedes in 1910 and later sold to the Soviets in 1927.  The town was abandoned in 1998 and left to the polar bears.

While this town may seem abandoned, it really isn’t these days. In 2014, the Pyramiden Hotel underwent a renovation and is opened seasonally from March until October.

The hotel has 24 twin rooms, a restaurant, and a souvenir shop. The restaurant has breakfast (150 NOK), lunch (250), and dinner (200 NOK). There is also a bar that remains open until 2am.  Room rates are from 1800-2800 NOK depending on amenities and class.

Pyramiden is quite the hike from Longyearbyen, however. The best way to reach it during winter is via a snowmobile. In summer, there are boats such as the Langøysund, Billefjord, or PolarGirl that go there.  I would recommend avoiding the Langøysund, however, as you can read my review of my failed trip to Pyramiden here.

Plan your trip to Svalbard- home of the polar bears!
 Pyramiden

There are a few trips that reach Pyramiden and I really recommend this one.  I partner with Adrenaline-Hunter and know that they are extremely picky with who they work with and take all feedback into consideration from tour guests.  This is an overnight trip to Pyramiden from Longyearbyen via snowmobile.

And, because regular readers here know what I like… yes, there is a Lenin statue in Pyramiden.

Svalbard is Diverse

There are several nationalities living on Svalbard, actually.  It might surprise you given the small population (2,642 people in total).  When I was first there, I remember a sizeable Thai population

When I asked around, I discovered that many of them moved to Svalbard for work since it was visa-free.  The cooks on my boat trip were Thai and prepared our food in a Thai manner which was quite cool. 

There used to be a Thai restaurant (well, Asian covering pretty much everything from sushi to pad Thai) in the shopping plaza but I believe it no longer exists.

Longyearbyen is the largest settlement in Svalbard with a population of 2,368 people.  The next largest settlement is Barentsburg (471 people), Ny-Ålesund (35 people), etc.  Svalbard is home to the northernmost settlements in the world.

There are More Polar Bears Than People in Svalbard

If you’ve booked a trip to Svalbard, you probably already know this.  There are over 3,000 polar bears calling Svalbard home and that is actually more than the number of people living there.

It is highly illegal to disturb or mess with the bears.  You will likely not see them when there, anyway, but if you do and you provoke them, you will face major consequences.

Polar Bear Safaris are Illegal

The beautiful polar bear is an endangered animal and therefore, chasing them down for human pleasure is illegal.  Polar bear safaris and chases are not permitted… however, you can still see them on tours in Svalbard.

Many tours and boat trips will offer a higher chance of seeing a polar bear in Svalbard.  But, there is no guarantee, so please don’t be immature and write a lousy review for these companies because your lifelong dream of seeing a polar bear in the wild wasn’t fulfilled. 

Plan your trip to Svalbard- home of the polar bears!

Perhaps channel that energy in protesting governments and companies for not taking action against climate change so we can increase the number of polar bears instead.

If you’re seeking trips that give you the possibility of seeing a polar bear, here are a few (again, you really might not see one… so focus on the views and scenery instead and you’ll still have a remarkable time!):

You Must Carry a Gun Outside of Longyearbyen

If you’re heading outside of Longyearbyen, you should be with a skilled guide.  If you’re doing something else and are on your own or with an independent group, you must be armed for your own protection. 

You can rent a game rifle (7.62, 30.06, or 308 calibers) and a signal pistol in order to protect yourself from the bears. You MUST have a permit in order to obtain a weapon (buying or renting).  Click here for more information about renting a weapon on Svalbard.  

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen
 Warnings in Ny-Ålesund

Please do NOT go out there alone, however.  If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely just visiting Svalbard for fun and are not capable of trekking through the unforgiving Svalbard wilderness without an experienced guide. 

You will only put yourself in danger and if you risk the life of a polar bear because you’re dumb or irresponsible, I’ll send an Arctic fox to terrorize you for the rest of your trip.

Other Svalbard Wildlife

There are more than just polar bears in Svalbard.  In fact, there is a really cool and diverse range of wildlife there and it blows my mind… and makes me pine to return!

Some other wildlife in Svalbard includes, but is not limited to Arctic foxes, walruses, ringed seals, reindeer, narwahl, beluga whales, Arctic terns, and the Svalbard rock ptarmigan.  What a list.

Walruses in Svalbard

Unlike polar bears, the walruses in Svalbard are thriving in terms of population and numbers after being hunted to near extinction in the 1970s and 1980s.  There were only about 100 in Svalbard in 1980.  Now, there is an estimated 5,500 of them in and around Svalbard (2018 estimate).  See what happens when humans care?

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen
 Just chillin like a long-tusked villain

There is actually a tour you can take to visit a walrus colony not too far outside of Longyearbyen.  The tour is super affordable compared to many other wildlife tours and you will venture by speedboat to Poolepynten, a popular hangout for the walruses on Svalbard.  You also have the chance to see puffins along the way.  This might just be the perfect tour. 

>> Click here to check rates and availability for a walrus tour

No Cats in Svalbard

Because the domestication of cats has wiped out 2/3 of bird species on the planet, Svalbard has said ‘hell no’ to bringing them to the archipelago in an effort to protect the native bird species calling the islands home. 

So, like the movie “An American Tail” sings about there being no cats in America… we could sing the same anthem about Svalbard, only it’s true.

What to know before visiting Svalbard (tips for Spitsbergen and beyond)
 No cats… but plenty of cute pups!

Climate Change on Svalbard

Ugh… the dreaded topic that I want to avoid but simply can’t.  Instead, I’ll give you some reading material to educate yourself on climate change’s impact on Svalbard.

Climate change is real and Svalbard is being impacted more than many places on Earth.  The impacts are affecting the wildlife, most notably, and it is something we should fear.

Svalbard is on track to warm by 10C by 2100.  WTF?

Here are some articles where you can read more.  They are a mixture of mainstream media and scientific research:

So, is traveling to Svalbard ethical?  

Morten Wedege, head of environmental protection for the governor of Svalbard, states that tourism numbers are not currently the problem as much as what the tourists are doing in Svalbard, and which tour companies they are doing activities with. 

He says to ensure you’re participating in Svalbard excursions and tours through the companies listed on the official tourism office’s website as they all have certifications and adhere to the strict regulations (some of the toughest in the world) in place in Svalbard.

Every single tour I have listed on this guide, as well as any other Svalbard guide I have, meets these standards and is part of the umbrella company mentioned above by Wedege.  You can see the full list of companies recommended by the tourism officials here.

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen

Visit Svalbard has been taking measures and action to help level things out there, too.  They are really promoting the Svalbard winter tourism and northern lights tourism to ‘spread the wealth’, as I call it.  They are also really pushing urban tours and taking advantage of the world-class dining and other opportunities you have right in the town of Longyearbyen.

You can also grab a free bike at the tourism office and they are encouraging tourists to stay in Svalbard longer and to take fewer trips, in general.  In addition, they are really pushing trips that don’t require motors (dog-sledding, fat-biking, kayaking adventures, etc).  

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen

Svalbard Travel Tips

I will be detailing a variety of things throughout this guide- everything from Svalbard travel tips to things I thought were interesting from my time there to random facts.  I will also include some practical information that I hope will help you prepare for your trip there.

If you have additional questions, please leave a comment or send me a message!

How to Get to Svalbard

The best way to get to Svalbard is to fly there.  I mean, you could always opt for a super expensive cruise ship there if funds permit, but I know most of us don’t have the means to do that.  I didn’t!

Flights to Svalbard have increased over the years but there will never be too many as the archipelago can only hold so many travelers at one time.  The infrastructure is just simply not there.

What to know before visiting Svalbard (tips for Spitsbergen and beyond)
What to know before visiting Svalbard (tips for Spitsbergen and beyond)

To fly to Svalbard, you will need to search for tickets to Longyearbyen (airport code: LYR).  The only two commercial airlines flying there will year-round routes are Norwegian (via Oslo) and SAS (via Oslo and Tromsø).  TUI also flies there seasonally from Paris.

Getting from Svalbard Airport to Longyearbyen

You’ll arrive at the airport in Svalbard, marvel at the polar bear by the luggage carousel, and then want to find a way into the city.  No fear, there is an airport bus waiting for you and this is the first part of your Svalbard itinerary!

There are buses scheduled with every arrival to Longyearbyen Airport and you will just simply need to collect your luggage and head outside to it.  It will depart after all suitcases have been dropped on the luggage belt.

Prices are as follows:

  • Adults:  75 NOK
  • Students:  50 NOK
  • Children:  25 NOK

The bus stops at most accommodation in Longyearbyen, just inform the driver of where you’re heading and he or she will ensure you make it there with no problems.

Svalbard travel tips: what to know before you travel to Svalbard
 This famous sign is outside of the airport so run and get a pic!

Getting back to the airport from Longyearbyen is also very easy.  You will need to chat with your accommodation regarding the pickup point (it stops at most hotels and close to many of the Airbnbs in Svalbard) but the times are again, pre-scheduled with the flights.  

Click here to read more about the Svalbard airport bus.

You Don’t Need a Visa for Svalbard

Woohoo, rejoice!  I actually almost moved there a decade ago when Norway was giving me visa issues down on the mainland because of this.  But, I sorted it before that consideration became a reality. 

Basically, Svalbard is completely visa-free to live and work for EVERYONE.  This is always subject to change as the land becomes more popular and people start realizing that it exists.

You are, however, not entitled to healthcare or the welfare system of Norway unless you hold a Norwegian passport or are employed by a Norwegian company there.

Taxes in Svalbard

The taxes in Svalbard are lower than those on the mainland, making many goods cheaper and more affordable than in other parts of Norway.  There is also no VAT (value-added tax) in Svalbard which is pretty cool.  Where I found this noticeable was at restaurants and bars more so than the grocery store.  

I found most of the food at Svalbardbutikken (the grocery store in Longyearbyen) to still be rather expensive as they had to import the food up there.  But, the alcohol at Svalbardbutikken was most definitely cheaper and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I took advantage of that… many times.

25 Miles of Road

Svalbard has only around 25 miles of road.  If your Svalbard trip plans include a road trip, I’d rethink them!

The best way to get around the island of Spitsbergen is to book some tours.  The tours will take you on buses, boats, helicopters, snowmobiles, and more.  But, renting a car in Svalbard just really isn’t a sane or practical idea.

Renting a Snowmobile in Svalbard

You can actually rent yourself a snowmobile. To do this, you will need to go to Ingeniør G. Paulsen at Sjøområdet in Longyearbyen (open daily except on Sundays) or contact them.  You can see information, as well as daily rates, here

They also offer other rentals, such as clothing, equipment, and weapons.  You must rent or have a weapon with you if you venture into the wilderness beyond Svalbard.

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen

If you’re super keen to go snowmobiling in Svalbard but can’t rent a snowmobile yourself, consider taking a tour!  There are several cool snowmobile tours in Svalbard that will take you to some epic places!  Here are a few great recommended ones:

Best Time to Travel to Svalbard?

Is there really a ‘best time to travel to Svalbard’?  I am not going to encourage going one season over another.  But, I will give some details below to allow you to pick your season based on your desires when visiting Svalbard.

Svalbard has three seasons, more or less.  Summer is the warmest, of course, and has the midnight sun during its entirety.  Summer in Svalbard is from May-September.

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen
 Svalbard at the end of May

The second Svalbard season is the polar night’s season from October until February.  This is the best time to go see the northern lights in Svalbard.

The last season in Svalbard worth noting is ‘spring’.  It is the time from March until April where the sun is above the horizon and you can see the very evident transition into spring.

Best Month for Seeing Polar Bears in Svalbard

Ohhhh… everyone wants to know this.  Polar bears do not actually hibernate.  Pregnant females will ‘den’ during the winter months.  So, you actually can see polar bears at any time of the year on Svalbard.  

Your chances will increase if you are in Svalbard during the summer months and have the funds to take a boat around the shores of Spitsbergen.  The thawed out waters allow navigation through these channels and the opportunity to see polar bears increases.

If I had to pick the best month to travel there for polar bears, I’d recommend visiting Svalbard in May.

Can You See the Northern Lights in Svalbard?

Technically, yes.  But is it the best place in Norway to see the northern lights?  Not particularly.

Svalbard is located very far north and it actually is not in the most optimal of locations to view the northern lights.  They do come out, however… but don’t be surprised if you visit Svalbard during the polar nights in winter for a few days and never see them.

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen

The best months to travel to Svalbard to see the northern lights are from October until April.  Here are some northern lights tours available in Svalbard (joining one will increase your chances of seeing them!):

Climate and Weather in Svalbard

The weather in Svalbard varies depending on the time of year you visit.  During the polar nights and winter, you can expect temperatures in and around -16C (2F).  During July, the warmest month in Svalbard, you will see average daily temperatures of around 5C (41F).  

When I was in Svalbard in May, I was shocked at how warm it actually was there.  I wore a light leather jacket with tights and boots with legwarmers.  The midnight sun was already dazzling the Arctic and I was never cold there.  

Please note that temperatures are much higher in recent years than they should be because Svalbard is one of the most impacted places on Earth by climate change.

Winter in Svalbard – What to Wear

If you’re puzzled about what to wear for winter in Svalbard, follow my recommendations and you’ll be just fine!

During winters in the Arctic, I swear by my Helly Hansen Svalbard parka.  I have worn it in several places in the north and it is extremely warm and practical for the frigid temperatures.  I also like thick thermal tights with legwarmers.  My legwarmers were a homemade gift in Norway, but I will list an alternative below.

Svalbard travel tips: what to know before you travel to Svalbard
 These legwarmers are one of my favorite things I own

I also recommend a pair of Sorel boots with thick, wool socks.  I love thick Nordic-inspired sweaters, but I actually find them too bulky and hot underneath the aforementioned parka, so I opt for something a bit thinner albeit still warm.  Also, bring a headlamp!

Mittens or gloves?  Always mittens for me.  They keep your hands so much warmer.  I used handknitted ones that were made for me living in Norway, but any thick pair will do.

You can view my Norway in winter packing list here.  Or you can quickly reference the items above listed below here:

You Must Take Shoes off Inside of Many Places

When you enter places in Svalbard, including hotels, you usually have to remove your shoes.  When I first went, I was traveling with someone else and, low and behold, their shoes were stolen from the hotel.  I don’t think this was with intent but rather because someone mixed boots up.

Do be cautious, however.  Maybe mark your name on them somewhere so there is no mixup or have a tag put on them when you are putting them on the rack.  

Shopping, Drinks, and Restaurants in Svalbard (Tips)

This next section is really just a compilation of tips for eating and drinking out in Longyearbyen.  It will also include parts about shopping there and what to expect.  I hope I cover it all- if you have questions, feel free to reach out!

Grocery Stores in Svalbard

There is pretty much one place to shop for groceries in Longyearbyen and that is Svalbardbutikken.  This grocery store is more of a department store as it has all kinds of odds and ends.  I even bought (ugly) sunglasses there… as well as stuffed animals to take home.

Inside the grocery store, you will also see the only alcohol shop in Svalbard called Nordpolet.  As noted above, alcohol has lower taxes in Svalbard and is slightly cheaper than the mainland.

You will find pretty much a ton of Norwegian grocery items inside of the shop.  I will note now to not expect the produce to be the freshest under the sun as it is imported from the mainland.  You can get decent cucumbers and bell peppers there, however along with packaged cheese and freshly baked bread, so making sandwiches ‘Norwegian-style’ is quite easy.

Be sure to pick up a tote bag in Svalbardbutikken!  They have durable totes with the store name and a large polar bear on them… they are a great Svalbard souvenir and are good for you to use while there to alleviate so much waste!

Svalbard travel tips: what to know before you travel to Svalbard

A side note- shopping at the grocery store in Norway is considerably cheaper than buying from a kiosk or convenience store.  If you see a small shop inside of the plaza that sells candy and hotdogs and what not, it will be more expensive than heading to Svalbardbutikken.

Svalbardbutikken is open 7 days a week but opens much later on Sundays (3pm).

Food Ingredients in Norwegian Cuisine

Most of what you’ll find in Longyearbyen is Norwegian-inspired or internationally-inspired.  There is no large access to ingredients in these parts but you will see many of the common Norwegian ingredients there.  Here is a list of commonly found ingredients in Northern Norway cuisine:

  • Cod (torsk)
  • Reindeer (reinsdyr)
  • Whale (hval or hvalbiff)
  • Salmon (laks)
  • Dill (dill)
  • Potatoes (poteter), carrots (gulrøtter), leek (purreløk), beetroot (rødbeter)
  • Butter (smør) and bread (brød)
  • Many types of berries such as blueberries (blåbær), cloudberries (multe), lingonberry (tyttebær), strawberries (jordbær), raspberries (bringebær), black currant (solbær), and red currant (rips).

Gluten-free, Vegan, and Vegetarian Food in Svalbard

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, 99% of places will have an option for you.  You can see on a menu if something is ‘vegansk’ (vegan) or ‘vegetarisk’ (vegetarian). 

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen
 I was a vegetarian when I first went to Svalbard and I survived. Woohoo!

If you’re celiac or not eating gluten, just ask for ‘gluten-fri’ options when you’re at a restaurant.  You will also see several gluten-fri options in Svalbardbutikken. Just ask (they will speak English!)

Most restaurants in Svalbard will have menus in English so identifying products that are plant-based is usually extremely easy.  If you’re heading on a tour, however, do let the tour leader or company know ahead of time. 

I ended up on a terrible tour that served only whale meat (I was a vegetarian and wasn’t keen on eating whale).

Tipping in Svalbard

If you’re American, I know that this will certainly be a concern.  In Norway, tipping is not common, but it is appreciated.  You will find a diverse group of nationalities working in hospitality in Svalbard and if they do a good job, reward them!  

They make a good salary compared to other places, but tipping is appreciated if the service is good… it is just not expected.  I recommend about 10% if it was good.

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen

Beer in Svalbard

Believe it or not, you can find craft beer in Svalbard.  And not just any craft beer, but beer that is brewed on Spitsbergen.  Crazy, right?!

Founded by Robert and Anne Grete Johansen, Svalbard Brewery (Svalbard Bryggeri) is the world’s northernmost craft brewery.  Brewed with minerals and water from a 2,000-year-old glacier called ‘Bogerbreen’, it is definitely worth it to taste their portfolio of beers.  They also have brewery tours that can be booked on their website.

Practical Information for Visiting Svalbard

This next section is a bit random.  A little bit of this and a little bit of that!  These are some random facts and FAQ.

Credit Card or Cash in Spitsbergen?

You can use a credit card pretty much anywhere.  I never even took out money there although there is the capability to do so in Longyearbyen center.  You can pay for groceries, tours (although I recommend pre-booking to secure your place!), hotels, and restaurants with a credit card.

Currency Exchange in Svalbard

There is NOWHERE to exchange your money out in Svalbard so either show up with Norwegian kroner or use your card to get cash out.  You can use your credit card anywhere, for the most part.  Some places accept GBP, USD, and EUR… but don’t count on it.

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen
 Researchers and photographers on a boat trip around Spitsbergen

Wifi in Svalbard

Wifi is readily available in Longyearbyen and almost every cafe and restaurant will have access points.  The hotels also have fairly speedy wifi considering you’re in a remote part of the world. 

If you have a Norwegian SIM card or free EU roaming, you will have service on your phone in Longyearbyen, too.

Purchasing a SIM Card in Svalbard

If you’re keen to purchase a SIM card in Svalbard, you will need to head to Svalbardbutikken in the Longyearbyen town center. 

They will have various options for those traveling from abroad.  But, as mentioned above, if you’re coming from mainland Norway or the EU, your SIM card should work with no issues on Spitsbergen.

Is Svalbard Wheelchair-Friendly?

Unfortunately, it is not the most wheelchair-friendly place in Norway as many tours and excursions tend to require mobility. 

There can also be harsher conditions in the winter which make it more difficult to navigate the mean streets of Longyearbyen.  But, the buildings are mostly accessible as are most hotels.

If you are traveling to Svalbard and have limited mobility, the following tours state that they are wheelchair-friendly.  Please do double check prior to booking just to make sure!

Another tip is to ensure that your hotel is in the center of Longyearbyen.  Some of the guesthouses and hotels are located a bit out and you will have to walk a kilometer or so to get into the town center!  I recommend staying at Radisson BluSvalbard Hotell Polfareren, or Basecamp Spitsbergen.

Alternatively, you can check out my list of the best hotels in Svalbard for more details.

Things to know before visiting Svalbard and Longyearbyen
 Old mines in Svalbard

Do You Need a Power Adapter for Svalbard?

If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you’re from North America, the United Kingdom, or Australia… and YES, you will need a power adapter.  Norway uses the usual European socket that you’ll find (except in the UK) with 220v.

My recommendation is that you buy a power strip for your home plug sockets and one single adapter for Europe.  By doing this, you can charge all of your stuff from one place and only need to invest in one power adapter.  It is much easier- trust me!

>> Click here to find a power adapter for your Norway trip

Should You Go to Svalbard?

I do highly recommend booking a holiday to Svalbard, but please do it with due diligence.  Svalbard does not have the capacity for mass tourism (and I don’t think Norway will allow it).  There are limited flights going there and also a limited number of hotels on Spitsbergen.

On the other hand, it is absolutely the most incredible place I’ve stepped foot.  Something about it just felt real and untouched despite knowing in the back of my head that our actions are impacting this place more than many other places on Planet Earth.

Plan your trip to Svalbard- home of the polar bears!
 Summer in Svalbard

If you’re going there to learn more and to experience some of the world’s greatest nature and wildlife- do book that trip!  It will be worth it, 100%.  If you’re going there for bragging rights and a few Instagram photos… do consider the impact your journey there could have and see if you could recreate a similar trip somewhere else.

Where to Stay in Svalbard

If you’re looking for the best places to stay in Svalbard, you can check out our Svalbard accommodation guide here.  It lists our top picks and details where they are located.

If you have any additional questions, please reach out to us and we will do our best to answer!  I hope this guide helps you plan your visit to Svalbard!

One thought on “30 Things to Know Before You Visit Svalbard (Spitsbergen)

  1. Angela Price says:

    THanks for all this info on Svalbard, I have read all your posts. I hope to tag this trip on to the Lofotens for next year (moved from this year!) as I would love to do a few tours and of course see a polar bear. I have pinned for future use

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