The name Svalbard means "cold coasts" and was first mention in Icelandic texts in the twelfth century. The Svalbard Islands offer great, wild nature, old mines and polar bears. The islands are located between 74° - 81° N and 10° - 35° E. They constitute of 63,000 square kilometres.
Nearly 65 per cent of the surface of Svalbard consists of protected areas, including 3 nature reserves, 6 national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries and 1 geotopical protected area. Norway's largest glacier, Austfonna, lies on Svalbard. Austfonna is the world's third-largest icecap after Antarctic and Greenland with a glacier front of 200 kilometres. The largest islands are Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandet, Barentsøya, Edgeøya and Prins Karls Forland.
- 1596: Willem Barentsz discovers Svalbard
- 1600 - 1750: International whaling activities
- 1800 - 1900: Norwegian all-winter hunting and trapping
- 1906: John M. Longyear establishes the first mine
- 1920: The Svalbard Treaty is signed
- 1925: Norway is given sovereignty over Svalbard
Towns/settlements on Svalbard
Longyearbyen has 2,075 inhabitants. This is the seat of local government and Norway’s main administrative centre on Svalbard. The small colourful community has developed from being a typical village town into a modern community with different kinds of businesses and industries, and with a wide range of cultural activities and opportunities.
Summer and autumn activities
During summer and autumn, hiking can be combined with boat trips and cruises. The experience of the Svalbard summer is highlighted under lively bird cliffs or when you pitch your tent in a landscape surrounded by mountain peaks and glaciers. Svalbard is also worth experiencing from a kayak, watching a seal basking on a nearby sheet of ice.
The winter season offers opportunities for combining for example longer skiing trips with snowmobile safaris or dog sledging.
To ascend Svalbard’s highest peaks by the use of skis may be a dream for some, whilst others prefer to explore the winter wonderland by dog teams or snowmobiles.
Many activities are only available during certain seasons. Dog sledging, snowmobile safaris and skiing are usually possible from December to the last part of May. However, in some areas these activities may be offered during the summer as well.
The boating season normally starts at the beginning of June and lasts to the first half of September.
At the gallery in Longyearbyen you can see the Svalbard collection of old maps and books, a slide show from the photographer and composer Thomas Widerberg, and an exhibition of Kåre Tveter’s paintings. From time to time there are also sales exhibitions.
The Longyearbyen Church is open for visitors every day and there is a service nearly every Sunday. Every Tuesday evening, the church is sells coffee and Norwegian waffles. Here you get to know Longyearbyen and the people better.
The Svalbard Museum in Longyearbyen offers various exhibitions of flora, fauna, coal mining, hunting history and Svalbard during World War II. Through the museum you may also get sightseeing at the funicular centre, where you can see how the coal was transported earlier.
The cable trestles are cultural monuments over the manual driven coal mining in Longyearbyen. At that time, the coal was transported in "kibs" (carriers) on the cable way to the cleaning plant.
Some of the entrances to the closed mines are worth a visit. The entrance of "Mine no. 2b" is highly recommended. As a matter of fact, this mine is where Santa Claus lives.
Some of the organised events require a minimum number of participants. With Longyearbyen as a starting point, these are some of the activities on offer:
- Barbeque evenings
- Boat trips
- Dog sledging
- Fossil hunting
- Glacier walks
- Ice caving,
- Kayak trips
- Mine visit
- Skiing trips,
- Snowmobile safaris
- Weasel trips
- Wilderness camps
There is no regular boat transportation between the Norwegian mainland and Svalbard. The easiest way of getting to Svalbard is by taking a plane. Most of the year, there are daily flights from Oslo directly to Longyearbyen or via Tromsø. The islands' airport is Svalbard Lufthavn Longyear. There are no roads between the settlements.