Longyearbyen, Svalbard: Summer in the High Arctic

Longyearbyen, Svalbard: Summer in the High Arctic

At exactly 00:30, we landed at Longyearbyen airport. Despite the long day of travelling with layovers in Stavanger and Oslo, our hearts were light. For the past few months, we have been planning and dreaming about our trip to Svalbard. We’re now finally here! We’ve arrived! Lote and I couldn’t help but squeal in delight.

Because we were so far north, even though it was past midnight, the sun was still out. In fact, the sun never sets during summer time.

Longyearbyen Airport, past midnight.

A short bus ride took us to our hotel, Radisson Blu where this fella gave us a warm welcome.

If you haven’t seen the one that greeted us at the airport, go back to the previous post and check out Svalbard: 10 Things You May Not Know.

After check-in, a shower and a quick text to the family to let them know we’ve safely arrived, we were ready for bed.

Despite going to bed closer to 02:00, we were up by 08:30.

First order of the day: breakfast. There was a wide selection of breakfast offering to chose from. Caviar for breakfast anyone? Tea? Coffee? Champagne?

I dug the big windows overlooking the waterfront.

Summer activities

I’ve seen pictures of Svalbard in winter. The entire place is covered with snow. Beautiful. But because of work commitment and other things that couldn’t be avoided, we planned our trip for August instead.

I’m not regretting the decision. There are a lot of things one could do in Svalbard in the summer.

Here are the few that we did.

Huskies on Wheels

It may be summer but who says we can’t go for a husky ride?

At 10:00, we were picked up at the hotel by our guides, Anja and her colleague (goodness me, I can’t remember his name! Let’s call him Sven here) from Husky Travellers. Husky Travellers is a small family run business. We were taken to Adventdalen where 40+ happy huskies were eager to meet us as we were to meet them.

Lucky us, we were the only ones who signed up for the husky ride that morning so it was all a private affair. Overalls were provided to be worn over what we had on. Boots and gloves were also provided. Both Lote and I received a huskytravellers personalised neck garter which we could keep as a souvenir. What a lovely gesture!

Some tour operator will ask you to harness your own team but maybe because there were just the two of us, Sven did all the work giving us more time to get to know the dogs.

Meet my new friend, Bobbo.

The dogs knew that some we’re getting picked to go for a run so they were all excited, making noises competing with one another in hope to be the chosen one. In the winter, the dogs run for about 40km a day and need to maintain their exercise in the summer. They are just full of energy! Hence, the huskies on wheels was invented. In place of a sled, a wagon with wheels is used.

We were thought about positioning the dogs. The leader is the smartest as it’s tasked to lead the pack. It doesn’t need to be big. The ones at the back are the strongest as they have to pull most of the wagon’s weight.

Soon, we were off. At first, Sven drove. Halfway, he allowed us to drive. Lote went first, but when it was my turn, I passed the opportunity opting to sit in the wagon and enjoy the view.

The front seat came at a price though. Yes, you get good view. But you also get whiff of dogs’ fart and you have to dodge dogs pee and poo too! Miraculously, I survived the ordeal without any unwanted substance on my face!

We made a few stops along the way to rest and for water breaks – not for us, but for the dogs. Their wellbeing is the utmost priority.

Poor guys… we humans are fat, are we?

After 1½ hours, we were back at the dogs’ pen. Whilst Sven unharnessed the dogs, Lote and I continued to play with them.  The dogs were given food and water whereas the humans were later invited into the cabin for tea and biscuits.

I have driven a husky sled ‘on snow’ before. Anyone who has tried both would probably agree that on snow is more fun. Still, if you’re in Svalbard in summer, try huskies on wheels. They are fun too and the huskies are no less adorable.

Svalbard Museum

Svalbard museum is located just opposite Radisson Blu. After our huskies adventure, we rested a bit in our hotel room. It was starting to drizzle but we didn’t want to stay couped up in the hotel for too long. An indoor activity is a good plan. The museum may be small but it was enough to keep us entertained for 1½ hours. It showcases history and nature in the Arctic.

At the back of the museum, there is a reading area, lined with reindeer skin. I could stay there for hours if there weren’t dozens of other things I wanted to see and do in Longyearbyen.

Santa’s postbox

There’s a big red Santa postbox by the roadside. We saw the postbox on the way to go to the chapel and decided to send Santa our Christmas wishes instead. Santa, we’ve been good girls…

 

Do note that this postbox is not the official mail service for Longyearbyen. It’s merely a postbox created by a local who thought it would be nice to have a Santa postbox in Longyearbyen. You send your wishes to Santa here and if you’ve been nice, ‘Santa’ might just grant your wishes. The postbox should not be used to send postcards to your loved ones. Whilst ‘real’ postcards sent through the Santa postbox do eventually get sent to the post office, frequency of collection cannot be assured so it’s better to send your postcards at the post office in town.

The Chapel on the hill

We walked to the little chapel on the hill. Other than being the northernmost chapel in the world, there is not much more to excite me. We went in for a few minutes to look inside. Even this chapel has its own guardian.

Still it’s worth the visit as you get a nice panoramic view  from the hill and could see the main downtown from there. Not that there is much of it to see!

Here, we had our first encounter with the arctic wildlife – an arctic reindeer.

Dining experience

There’s a lot of good eating places in Longyearbyen. It even has a Michelin star restaurant: Huset. We didn’t dine there as it is located at the outskirt of town, so I can’t personally comment on the food.

We went to Kroa for dinner instead. As we were hungry by then, we simply walked in to ask whether they had availability. Luciky they could squeeze us in before the next reservation. Kroa is quite popular amongst both the locals and tourists so I’d advice you make a reservation next time.

Like on all my trips, I like to sample the local delicacy. On recommendation, I tried klipfisk: salted and air dried cod. Maybe I am used to take very little salt in my food. The fish was a bit too salty for me if eaten on its own. I had to eat it with lots of mash.

The ambiance at Kroa was great. The interior décor was cabin like, equipped with a reindeer head and old photos of the area. Perfect to feel like you’re a true adventurer.

There are a few nice cafes around town too.

For our last dinner at Longyearbyen, we decided to dine at Nansen restaurant at Radison Blu. Whilst reviews have been mixed, we opted to dine there simply because we couldn’t be bothered to walk any further for dinner. Surprisingly, we weren’t disappointed. We already knew meals at Nansen means, ‘dine with a view’. We had breakfast there twice. But the food was equally good. I ordered grilled seabass whereas Lote had an Arctic tasting platter which included reindeer, seal and whale meat. For dessert, I ordered the cheese platter and boy, what a way to end my meal.

Shopping

Because we were late in booking the coal mine #3 tour, we ended up having a bit of time in our hands. So we went to check the shops.

Shopping in Longyearbyen is tax free.

But hold on. What this means is basically, prices are cheaper than mainland Norway. However, everything in Norway is expensive so whilst it’s a tax heaven, it may still be more expensive than back home.

I don’t normally shop during travels but I do allow myself to buy a few fridge magnets. Something small that is easy to bring home, can easily be stuck on my radiator (since my fridge is integrated behind cabinet doors) and doesn’t take any more space in my tiny flat.

Endless walks

Since you have day time all the time throughout summer, you can go out on endless walks. The town itself is small (as you would soon realise) and you’d eventually venture outside the main town area.

Be mindful though to stick to the pink area – pink because it’s colour coded pink on the town map. If you were to venture outside the pink area, you will need to carry a rifle and know how to use one (or be with someone who is armed). This is due to the polar bear danger.

When the snow in the valley melts in the summer, all you see is the barren earth underneath. Here, the saying “The grass is always greener on the other side” is literally true. You won’t find a grass field here. Only the skies and the brightly painted houses give a splash of colour to the otherwise monochromatic landscape.

Like this one.

Not only is Svalbard cold, it is also dry. In actual fact, it is a polar desert. However, despite the extreme weather, some vegetation flourish during the short summer months. I was constantly amazed to find delicate flowers on the grounds.

And whilst having your walk, make sure you make the trip the famous polar bear sign.

Other things to do there

There are many more activities that are offered in Longyearbyen in the summer months like hiking and kayaking, to name a few. In most cases, you have to sign up with tour operators as these activities take place outside the pink zone. In total, we were only in Longyearbyen for 2 days so that limits the activities that we could do. We weren’t as quick in booking some of the tours and missed out on a visit to coal mine #3 and to take a photo in front of the seed vault too.

If you are planning a trip to Longyearbyen, you can check out the activities on offer through Visit Norway website and do your bookings online. You can also get the hotel to book for you on arrival.

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