ABOUT SVALBARD / SPITSBERGEN
Do you know that
Reindeers of Svalbard are very docile animals that do not have any natural predators. They wander right around the town and in general, they aren’t bothered by people walking nearby.
By the way, it's impossible to find any cat food in the local shop. It is explained by the fact that here on Svalbard there are abundant Arctic bird populations and in this regard, cats’ presence on the island can be a real issue. Due to that, the government of Svalbard put a restriction on having cats on the archipelago.
On Svalbard there are 975 polar bears vs 4000 citizens!
The sun does not rise over a period of 4 months!
Since October 25th the sun generally sets and does not rise after that during a period of four months. The sun officially comes back to Longyearbyen on the 8th of March when it is finally high enough above the horizon to illuminate the steps of the old hospital.
There is a local custom to take your shoes off indoors and you will see a sign kindly asking you to do so in most of places including hotels, museums, the church and tourist info office. No worries, you will find slippers almost everywhere to keep your feet warm!
There are three names of the archipelago: Svalbard, Spitsbergen and Grumant.
It’s illegal to die here.
Yes, you get it right! To die is forbidden on Svalbard. There is just a small cemetery in Longyearbyen but there have not been any new burials for 70 years. The reason why is that the bodies never decompose and they are perfectly preserved due to the permafrost.
So if you’re going to die, please go somewhere else to do so. That’s the law!
It is required to have a high-powered rifle and obviously to know standard operating procedures of it any time you go outside of the settlement as long as there are more than 3000 polar bears on and around Svalbard. Although it has become normal to see many people here casually walking around the town with a rifle slung over their shoulder, it is not allowed to have a rifle inside of buildings.
There are no any roads outside of the settlements, e.g. Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund. That is why during the long winter period, snowmobiles (on Svalbard they are called «snowscooters») are a basic way of transportation on the archipelago. There are 4000 snowmobiles per 2000 residents in Longyearbyen.
Svalbard, formerly known by its Dutch name Spitsbergen, is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Situated up north of mainland Europe, it is somewhere on the midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The islands of the group range from 74° to 81° north latitude and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The largest island is Spitsbergen followed by Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya.
The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 established full Norwegian sovereignty over the archipelago. Unlike the Norwegian Antarctic Territory, the islands of Svalbard are not a dependency, but they are a part of the Kingdom of Norway. The treaty came into effect in 1925 following the Svalbard Act. All forty signatory countries of the treaty have the right to conduct commercial activities on the archipelago without any discrimination, herewith all the activities are a subject to the Norwegian legislation. Svalbard is a demilitarized zone as the treaty prohibits the establishment of military installations. Norwegian military activity is limited to fishery surveillance by the Norwegian Coast Guard as the treaty requires Norway to protect the natural environment. Although Norway is a part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and the Schengen Agreement, Svalbard is not a part of the Schengen Area nor the EEA. Non-Norwegian Svalbard residents and guests do not need Schengen visas on Svalbard itself, however they are not able to arrive to Svalbard from mainland Norway without it.
Longyearbyen is the largest settlement on the archipelago. Other settlements include the Russian mining town Barentsburg, sealed off mines Pyramiden and Grumant, the research station of Ny-Ålesund and the mining outpost of Sveagruva. Svalbard is the northernmost settlement in the world with a permanent civilian population. In 2012 Svalbard had an estimated population of 2,642 people and 439 of them were Russians and Ukrainians.
In Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund there are road systems, but there are no any roads outside of the settlements so that they are not connected with each other. Off-road motorized transport is prohibited on bare ground, but snowmobiles are used extensively during winter—both for commercial and recreational activities. Transportation from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg (60 km) and Pyramiden (110 km) is effected by snowmobile in winter or by boat during a period between the beginning of spring and the end of autumn. There is a port in each settlement. In Longyearbyen there is also a bus transfer.
Svalbard Airport, Longyear, located in 3 kilometres from Longyearbyen, is the only one airport offering air transport off the archipelago.
The main industries on Svalbard are represented by coal mining, tourism and scientific research.
The history of Svalbard has always been connected to the exploitation of natural resources. The archipelago was discovered in 1596 by Dutch explorer Willem Barents. In the following years, the islands became a scene of intense whale hunting activity. Whale hunters from several European nations were active all around the archipelago hunting for whales and producing blubber oil on land-based cookers. Over the years, it grew to an industry. However, after a few decades whale populations crashed and whalers left the archipelago.
During the course of the 18th century, human activity on Svalbard was dominated by hunters from northern-western Russia known as pomors. According to some archaeologists' research, pomors arrived on Svalbard in the 16th century or possibly even earlier. Most researchers, however, agreed that the peak of pomors' activity took place in the 18th century. Pomors used a wide-ranging system of base stations and outlying hunter’s camps in their activities but nothing that could be defined as an industry. Pomors' hunting activity diminished in the early 19th century.
For the biggest part of the 19th century, Norwegian hunters and occasionally whalers dominated economic exploitation on Svalbard. During the same period, European science turned their eyes to the archipelago regarding its natural resources as a source of knowledge and a potential economic asset. Over the whole century, with a peak towards its end, a large number of scientific expeditions were sent from several European countries, a substantial part of which were coming from Sweden.
Since the resettlement of Svalbard in the early 20th century, coal mining has been the dominant commercial activity.
Trust Arktikugol (literally "Arctic Coal") is a Russian coal mining company which operates on the islands of Spitsbergen in Svalbard, Norway. Owned by the Government of Russia, Arktikugol currently has limited mining in Barentsburg. Previously it has carried out mining operations and still owns the towns of Pyramiden and Grumant, with its port at Colesbukta. The company is headquartered in Moscow and is the official agency through which Russia, and previously the Soviet Union, exercised its Svalbard policy.
Since 2013 the company has attempted to diversify and is successfully developing tourism industry which is seen as the main priority.
Frequent low-pressure passages and the warm Atlantic Ocean water make the climate on Svalbard milder than in other areas at the same latitude. The annual average temperature in Longyearbyen is -4º C, but the climatic differences in the archipelago are greater. The highest measured temperature in Svalbard is 21.3°C, and the lowest is -46.3°C. Stiff breezes are common in the winter half-year, while fog is a typical summer phenomenon. Longyearbyen has the Midnight Sun from 20 April until 23 August, and the Polar Night from 26 October until 15 February.
The flora takes advantage of the long period of midnight sun to compensate for the Polar night. Svalbard is a breeding ground for many seabirds, and also features the Svalbard reindeer, the Arctic fox, and fifteen to twenty types of marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, seals, walruses, and polar bears. Polar bears are the iconic symbol of Svalbard, and one of the main tourist attractions. While protected, anyone outside of settlements is required to carry a rifle to kill polar bears in self-defense. Svalbard and Franz Joseph Land share a common population of 3,000 polar bears, with Kong Karls Land being the most important breeding ground.
Seven national parks and twenty-three nature reserves cover two-thirds of the archipelago, protecting the largely untouched, yet fragile, natural environment. Approximately 60% of the archipelago is covered with glaciers, and the islands feature many mountains and fjords.
Tourism on Spitsbergen
The trip options on Svalbard are numerous, and it is often possible to combine various activities – especially when the trip extends across several days. During the summer and autumn (June – September), it is possible to combine hikes with boat transportation or cruises. The experience of a summer on Svalbard is guaranteed to be enhanced if you sit down in the slope underneath a bustling bird mountain, camp among tall mountains and mighty glaciers, or paddle in a kayak while a seal is sunbathing on an ice floe nearby.
The winter season (November/December – May) offers many possibilities. Some travellers dream of reaching Svalbard’s tallest mountain peaks by ski, whereas others prefer to experience the winter landscape by dog sledge or snow scooter. On Svalbard it is easy to feel engulfed by the sense of infinity and the raw nature.
Many of the activities are contingent on seasons, and the length of the seasons varies from year to year. Some of the tour operators tailor events for larger or smaller groups.
During certain periods, in particular March/ April/ July/ August, the demand is great, and
therefore, we recommend that you book accommodation and activities well ahead of your trip to Svalbard.