Svalbard Area Mountains Guide

Distance sign at Longyearbyen Airport. The North Pole is closer than Oslo!

The land with the cold coasts


The Norse name Svalbarði - "The land with the cold coasts" resembles very much this archipelago in the high Arctic. Svalbard is positioned in the Barents-Sea, about mid-way between North Cape in Finnmark and the North Pole. Although cold and remote, a small remnant of the Gulf Stream makes the climate milder than at similar latitudes on Northwestern Greenland - the only other inhabited place in the world this far north. Although inhabited, Svalbard is a great wilderness. Most of the few people that live there live in the Norwegian villages of Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund or in the Russian village Barentsburg.


Svalbard is an archipelago with many islands, the biggest are Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya. Spitsbergen, being far the biggest, has all the villages and installation and also most of the nature worth visiting. This island has a number of long broad fjords cutting into the island. You are never far away from the sea!

Most of Svalbard is covered by glaciers. Actually this particular type of Glacier (Spitsbergenbre) has gotten its name from Svalbard. The glaciers consists of giant rivers of ice that floats between the very sharp peaks, falls down and eventually fall into the sea. The glaciers are cold and do not show activity similar to the glaciers on the Norwegian mainland. These glaciers totally dominate Svalbard.

The only area not so totally dominated is the strip of land between the fjords of Isfjorden and Van Mijenfjorden. Here Barentsburg, and Longyearbyen, the "capital" is situated. This area has broad valleys surrounded by a mountain plateau with smaller glaciers.


As mentioned the climate on Svalbard is relatively mild for its latitude. In the summer - from June to August, the temperature generally is between 0 and 10 C, and the snow is gone. But the summer is short. Already in September the temperature regularly goes below the freezing point, and it gets darker. In mid-winter temperatures between -10 and -30 is the rule. Colder temperatures than -30 is not very common. As for rain and snow, Svalbard is relatively dry compared to the coast in mainland Norway. The west coast of Spitsbergen gets little snow, sometimes so little that skiing and snowmobiling not is feasible until December or January. The east coast on the other hand, gets much more, but is out of reach for most people.

Light is a special issue on Svalbard. Longyearbyen has four months of Midnight Sun around midsummer. In the winter the sun is gone for four months, of which two months are total dark, without any light even in the middle of the day. With stable, cold climate and total dark the conditions are the best for spotting Northern Lights.
Northern Lights over Longyearbyen


Svalbard has a rich wildlife. The flora is rich, but has only the few months of the summer to spread its seed. The fauna has a few, but numerous specialized animals. The Svalbard-reindeer is very special, with thick hair and smaller than its European cousin. They do not live in herds, but in small flocks, which easily can be seen anywhere on Svalbard, even very close to the houses in Longyearbyen.

Arctic foxes are less easy to spot, but nevertheless common. They breed from mice and birds. Seals are common. Living most underwater, you can often see them rolling up on the fjord-ice from a breathing-hole. The king of the arctic - the Polar Bear, breed mostly on seals. Since the ban on bear-hunting, the number of bears on Svalbard has been rising steadily, and the risk of meeting them is today considerable. There has been a number of incidents the latest years where people have been killed by polar bears. Therefore; one must always carry a weapon when being outside the villages on Svalbard.

The bird life on Svalbard is an issue on itself. Due to the fish an enormous amounts of seagulls and other seabirds invade the archipelago in the summer. Look out for bombers!


It is not known when Svalbard was discovered. The existence of an archipelago in the North has been known by fishermen in Northern Norway for many centuries. In a logbook from 14th century Iceland one can find the sentence "Svalbarði fundi" (Svalbard found). One cannot be sure that this is today's Svalbard, but the incidents are many. In the 1700s the Archipelago was "rediscovered" by Dutch Willem Barents. He named the largest island Spitzbergen (Sharp Peaks) after the mountains he saw. In the 1800s the archipelago saw much greater interest. It was then profitable to stay over one winter for hunting, and return with valuable furs, ivory and down. This was done by a number of Norwegians and Russians. Seal-hunting from ships in the summer was also profitable. But the greatest interest from the rest of the world came with the expeditions aiming for the North Pole. The tragic balloon-expedition of Swedish Andree started at Ny-Ålesund, but failed, and the members died when trying to over-winter at an unknown location. Many years later their remnants were found at Kvitøya, far east on Svalbard. Later, American Byrd started with motorized planes from the same location, and supposedly reached the North Pole. It is today disputed whether they actually did so. The first flight over the North Pole one can be sure actually took place was when Norwegian Roald Amundsen and Italian Umberto Nobile flew from Ny-Ålesund to Alaska with the zeppeliner "Norge" (Norway) in 1925.
Mine No 2, one of the first mines in Longyearbyen
After the first World War, in 1920, an international treaty was signed, declaring Svalbard an international area with Norwegian superiority. The area was to have its own laws and ruled by a Governor (Sysselmann) appointed by the Norwegian King. Settlement were open to any of the signors of the treaty, including Russia, USA and UK. This is still the situation today, but only the Russians have used this right. There are today one Russian village on Svalbard, Barentsburg.

The up-build of Longyearbyen - today's largest society on Svalbard came with the discovery of coal. The village was name after the American Long year that was the head of the Coal Mining operation back then. Today all Norwegian mining operations on Svalbard are owned by the Norwegian state.

Modern history has not seen big changes on Svalbard. The biggest difference came with the airport at Longyearbyen and daily flights from Tromsø, which allowed fresh food and other products. And tourism. Although tourism has a potential of becoming Svalbards largest industry, it should not get too big.

Legal status

Although svalbard has its own rules, Norwegian laws mainly apply. Actually most of the archipelago is national park or nature reserve today. Motorized travel is only allowed in the area around Longyearbyen and on sea. Those who want to go into the wilderness on their own for more than a daytrip are required to contact the governors office before doing so. For long trips, the governor has the right to request a bank-grant in the event of a rescue-operation.

For hunting, special rules apply. It is not allowed to bring meat or furs out from Svalbard. Svalbard is a tax-free zone, meaning that you will find many products considerably cheaper than in mainland Norway. Due to high transportation costs most food has the same price as in mainland Norway. Fresh food, like milk, is more expensive.

Svalbard - Routes

Getting there

Your only option when getting to Svalbard is using airline. Both Braathens and Scandinavian Airlines have daily flights from Oslo, with stop in Tromsø.

Svalbard is regarded as an international area, and is therefore has special tax regulations. This means that you have to go through customs control in Tromsø when you return. Do not bring furs, meat or living animals back, as there is rabies on Svalbard, but not in Norway.


Svalbard is far north and is wild. It goes without saying that leaving built up areas for longer time is only for experienced people. If you do not have the necessary experience, take a guided tour.

Boat cruise

Most tourists that come in summer go for a cruise. Boat is definitively the best way to see Svalbard summertime. The cruises are often combined with hiking trips in remote areas, and maybe glacier-tours. Seeing arctic animals and historical sites is also often a part of these tours.

The best tours are those arranged by local tour-arrangers. They can be contacted in Longyearbyen, some of them also have an office in Oslo. Some international cruise-operators include a trip to Svalbard on their sailings. Inquire at your tourist office.
The volcano Beerenberg on the isolated island of Jan Mayen


Hiking in the remote areas of Svalbard is often a matter of day trips from boat. However, from Longyearbyen it's possible to do longer hiking-trips. You'll have to rely on camping and will have to bring weapons for bear - protection. There are many possibilities. Of the more interesting is the hike in the Adventdalen valley, and over to the von Post - glacier. Another possibility is to do the hike from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg. This should take 2 - 3 days each way and will be a very interesting cultural experience as well. The difference between the Norwegian society in Longyearbyen and the Russian in Barentsburg is stunning. An interesting add-on to this will be to explore Grumant, an old mining site that was abandoned by the Russians in the 60s. A real ghost-town in the Arctic!


Skiing pretty much see the same possibilities as hiking. The best skiing season is from March to May, when the light is back and the snow conditions are good. Longer ski-expeditions can be accomplished by experienced people.

Snow-mobile tours

Another option in winter is to hire a snowmobile. Although more expensive, it will bring you out to see much more of Svalbards nature than a skiing trip can do. Remember that also this require you to have experience. Anyone can hire a snowmobile, but it's not advisable to go further than Longyearbyens vincinity without a guide, unless you are experienced. Possibilities are day trips to Barentsburg, Sveagruva and longer expeditions to southern or central Spitzbergen. Guided snowmobile-tours are arranged by tour-organizers in the best season, which is March to May.

Svalbard / Longyearbyen Tourist Office

Svalbard Reiseliv AS
NO-9171 Longyearbyen
Postboks 323
Telephone: +47 79025550
Fax: +47 79025551
Longyearbyen in front of Hiorthfjellet

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