Arctic Expedition to Svalbard – Travel to the Far North of Norway

Svalbard, also known as Spitsbergen (which actually is the largest island of the archipelago) is located quite far up North, on the 78th parallel North, just 1300 km away from the North Pole. The archipelago is about the same size as Ireland, but only 2500 people live there. First mentioned in a Icelandic saga in 1194, it was officially discovered by Barents in 1596. Svalbard has a special status – it is governed by Norway, but is not a part of Schengen, and citizens of those countries who have signed the Svalbard treaty, can freely live and work here. Many have asked us – do you need a special permit to travel to Svalbard? No! You don’t need to be a scientist to visit, it is freely accessible to the general population.

Read the practical information about the costs at the bottom of this article!

Looking to explore more of Norway and need a guidebook? Head here to find Lonely Planet guidebooks!

visit svalbard

The Vanilla Strawberry Sky in the Sea of Ice

During our flight to Longyearbyen, the administrative center and the largest inhabited place on the archipelago, most of the passengers are extremely excited about the trip, something that I don’t see too often these days! It all starts with a pretty little pin an air-hostess is wearing, and it says “Watch out for the polar bears!”. We fly through vanilla-strawberry colored sky, the last rays of sun illuminating the surroundings, and when we begin landing, all of the passengers are glued to the windows. We see chunks of ice floating in the sea underneath us, and beautiful, bright colored mountains of white. This does look like one of the most beautiful landing routes in the world, just like one of the SAS employees told us!

Soon we see the first houses, many have walls of snow around them. We land on a completely white runway, and the airplane stops near the only building like a taxi, everyone gets out and eagerly takes selfies with the place and the surroundings. We proceed on foot. At the arrivals is the first bear we see, and a monitor displays a sign inviting us to try hard at being the invisible tourists. We are guests here, as all humans are, as there are more bears than people living here, and humanity should try harder at keeping this wondrous habitat a safe place after the centuries of relentless hunting!

Emerging From the Polar Night

The sun rises on 15th February for the first time, and the archipelago emerges from polar night. This also marks the beginning of the tourism season. The town sees sun only on March 8th, as it is surrounded by hills around, but when it does – it is a reason for a grand celebration! Longyearbyen used to be a place where only coal miners lived, but nowadays a large community of scientists lives here, and tourism is growing significantly, with new hotels opening every year. We are staying at the Gjestehuset 102, which, surprisingly, is not on the 102th of the street! But we find it without any problems, as bus stops right next to it. It used to be home of miners and was called the millionaire’s mansion, as the most experienced miners used to live here. For us it is an opportunity not have a budget friendly stay, as hotels, same as food, are quite pricey around here.

budget accomodations longyearbyean

The first thing we notice is a large shelf for shoes. It is very customary to take off shoes once you enter a building, and we see this in quite a few more other places in Longyearbyen! A friendly Thai woman greets us at the reception – turns out, nearly 30% of foreigners on Svalbard are from Thailand! Most people come to work on Svalbard for 2-3 years, make some money and then go back home. Turns out, not only you are not allowed to die here, noone is allowed to be born, as pregnant women are sent to the mainland 2-3 weeks before their due date! The ban on dying is due to the fact that people must not be buried here because of the permafrost. The ban or being born is due to the lack of proper medical facilities here.

Food, Gun Locker at the Store and a Few More Local Oddities

When we get to the room, change and are ready to explore, it has gotten completely dark. On the day of our arrival, the daylight lasts only about 4 hours, but every next one is 30 minutes longer. As soon as we leave the hotel, we feel it truly is the North here. It isn’t too cold, just around -12°C, but it is very windy, so balaclavas are perfect for these weather conditions! We walk to the center, and when we stop at a corner near the store, conversing loudly where should we head next, a woman greets us in Latvian!  It took us whole 2 hours in a new place to meet a Latvian, and there are not that many of us around the world! Later we learn of more Latvians living here, for example, Ricards, who works at the Base Camp Explorer as a guide!

There are not too many restaurants here, so it is best to make a reservation. We get lucky and get a table right away. Prices are steep, so we are very relieved to have a common kitchen in the hotel to cook ourselves. So we must go to the store and buy something for dinner! There is only one supermarket in town, and that’s where we go. First thing we see is a sign on the door prohibiting entrance with guns. If you do have a gun with you, you can lock it in a special locker inside! The reason why there are so many guns in Longyearbyen is simple – you are not allowed to leave town without one because of the danger of the polar bears. The safe zone is considered to be 50 m to the closest door, and it is customary to keep the doors open. Lately some of the hotels have started locking the doors, and it can have very dangerous consequences if you were to run away from a bear and discover a locked door. A few times a year the bears do wander in the city, but governors office takes good care to chase those away. Shooting the bears is only allowed as the last measure of self defense, first you must shoot a signal flare, and if the bear proceeds to come closer than 50 m, one can shoot. Even then an investigation would take place and the shooter will have to pay a fine.

Once inside the store, we take care to explore the aisles and compare the offering to what we have at home. Fresh fruit, vegetables, a lot of canned and frozen foods, but in general, very similar to what we might find at home. There is a special corner for the alcohol, and as elsewhere in Norway, this part of the store is only open at certain hours. As a foreigner you must carry a return ticket to buy alcohol, and locals have a special punch card indicating how many units they have purchased! This is due to historic reasons, as there is not much to do here, and the state wanted to limit alcohol intake. It was even forbidden to produce alcohol from 1928 til 2014, until Robert Johansen came around, and made the government of Norway change the law. It took him six years to do it! So now the northernmost beer of the world is made here, on Svalbard. When we listen to the tour guide of the Svalbard Bryggeri, it really feels like the next time we will hear of this guy will be in a Hollywood movie where Leonardo DiCaprio will play his role. Apart from the beer story, there is so much more! He worked as a miner, wanted to become a pilot, but due to various circumstances could not, had to leave Svalbard, but his love for this place was so deep that he was back. Now he works as a pilot, owns one of the most successful small breweries in the world that is expanding like crazy, and makes his beer from water than has 2000 year old glacier water in it! The brewery tour will be interesting even for those who are not fans of beer and don’t enjoy tasting it. The tour does not focus too much on the technical aspects of beer production rather than amazing stories around the owner.

The Science in Svalbard

There are quite a few successful and interesting people who live in Svalbard, and many of them are scientists. So we are headed to UNIS, the University of Svalbard, to meet snow scientist Alexander Prokop. Why snow, if Svalbard is an arctic desert? With the changing weather patterns, the snow is now causing tragic avalanches, and because of that certain homes in Longyearbyean are not longer inhabitable. The climate change is felt here very strongly, as in 100 years the average temperature has increased by 4-5°C, rather than 2-3°C, as everywhere else. Arctic feels the change more, as it is on the extreme of the weather spectrum. This is also the reason why weather forecasts are unreliable around here, and we saw it first hand, same as climate anomalies. On the two last days of our visit it was +4°C and raining. Normally, it is only 10-12°C degrees in summer here!

If science is not for you, perhaps, you would be interested to know that UNIS has one of the cheaper meal options in the city. We really felt a sense of community here – even when the cook was not there, you could leave the money in a blue box to pay for your meal after hours, and heat up the frozen leftovers in the microwave! You don’t just throw away food here, as it is precious. We saw it first hand, when we noticed a sign on the salad bar “Sorry, no fresh veggies, supply ship from Tromso 3 days late”. This is the reality of Svalbard, and guides told us that sometimes when there are issues with supply, goods start to run out at the store – first the regular milk, then powdered, and you can certainly forget about those fruits and veggies!

The same building also hosts Svalbard Museum, a must visit if you want to learn more about history of this place! We get incredibly lucky, as we accidentally meet paleontologist Jørn H. Hurum, who is doing a guided tour for his friends. He is based in Oslo, but has been here numerous times, as he has lead excavation site for pliosaurus for 11 years and discovered over 60 fossils! He tells us that Svalbard is the dream place for geologists and paleontologists, as you can see rocks from just a few millions to hundreds of millions years old. He told us stories of excavations, how those only last for 2-3 weeks when the soil defrosts a bit, and how round the clock work takes place, to utilize this short period of time in the polar day. Summer still means wind, rain and fog, as well as polar bear danger! The fossils he has discovered are around 150 million years old, and many are very well preserved. The most famous fossil is named “the Monster”, as it was a 15 m long reptile, the longest pliosaurus ever discovered, each of it’s fins was 3 m long!

A Garden in Permafrost

Permafrost, fossils and expensive fruits at the store – but does anything actually grow on the island? We meet Benjamin Vidmar from sunny Florida, who has started a project to grow herbs and vegetables in a green house here with a volunteer project Polar Permaculture. He was a cook on a cruise ship, and when he got to Svalbard and lived here for a while, he was not impressed with the cost of salad at the store, so he decided to do something about it.

The idea of agriculture in permafrost is not new, people have grown food and kept animals for their own consumption here before, but he does that also for others – herbs for the local restaurants, mushrooms and quail eggs are what he can offer! He also has a colony of earthworms to produce soil. The tiny pots with herbs he sends to restaurants, always get send back when the greens are cut, for the soil to be reused. On the day we visited him, the green house was not working just yet, as the season is from April til September, but during the winter time he grows his garden inside an unused hotel room.

Gruve 3 Mine and Global Seed Vault

Our next point of interest is the Gruve 3, abandoned coal mine that is open for visitors now. Most of the valleys in Svalbard have very simple names – Valley Nr. 2, Nr. 3 and so on, and the same with the mines. Many mines offer tours, but after visiting Mine Nr. 3 we can appreciate how especially hard were the working conditions here. The layer of coal deposit was very narrow, and miners had to crawl on their knees slowly through the mountain to get anything out. Hot water and electricity still come from burned coal from Mine Mr.7.

What is so special about Mine Nr.3? You can not only see what were the actual working conditions here, but also see another, modern and scientific side to it. Not only you can safely keep your data here, without any access to the net, but there is a door inside, behind which samples of seeds are kept, and once every five years a box is taken out and germination of those seeds is tested. It was a prototype of the large neighbor next door – Svalbard Global Seed Vault.  

As we are guests visiting the vault on it’s 10 year anniversary, we get a unique chance to peek inside the big vault. Deep in the mountain, the permafrost of -4°C is cooled to -18°C, and duplicates of the seeds from all around the world are kept here. Now there is over a million of seeds here! We meet the manager of the vault – Lise Lykke Steffensen, who talks us through what the vault is all about. It offers a chance to store samples of seeds that are important for agriculture outside of the country and it’s primary vault, in a different location that would not be affected by local or regional disasters. Syria took out their deposit in 2015 to replenish local samples destroyed in the war, and now has brought back the samples again. Extinct and no longer grown seeds are also stored here, as one of the current plants may become suseptible to disease and the original sample may have tolerance against one. The most popular seeds are rice, wheat, potates and a few more. There are not country borders here, Canada, Australia and North Korea share this space, together with many more countries. While we are there, the first Estonian box is brought in. The representative of Estonia, Külli Annamaa, tells us that they have onions from the Peipsi region and beans from the gardens of the grandmothers! Deposit in the vault is a gift to Estonia on it’s 100 year birthday. Unfortunately, our home country Latvia does not keep a deposit there just yet, despite the project being fully funded by Norway, NordGen and CropTrust.

Ice Cave Tunnels

There is no point to visit Svalbard and just sit in the hotel, most interesting activities here are outside the 50 m safety zone. Most people would definitely be worried about what to wear – as you might not have the type of clothing required to stay outdoors in the Arctic all day! Tour companies have solved this for tourists, and depending on the type of tour, for example, if you are riding a snowmobile, you would get all of the equipment – body suit, boots, gloves, balaclava, helmet and protective glasses.

snow mobile excursion

Our first trip outside the city is very nearby, to Longyearbreen glacier. The guide checks our driver’s licences, gives a short intro on how to operate the scooter and we go to the glacier! At first we actually pass the entrance to the caves to go a little bit higher and see the sun!

Our French guide Michael is very happy to see the sun, as last time he saw it several months ago, when he was in Oslo. Meanwhile, our other guide, Norwegian Nils is less impressed and tells the group off for having taken over each other and not sticking to one line. We are only allowed to drive in one nice line, as there are cracks in the ice, and parking also must be done carefully, for bikes to be easily operatable, if a bear comes.

We watched a couple youtube videos of the caves and they seemed very claustrophobic, like a sewer holes to go in, but actually inside is very pleasant and not narrow or tight at all! The cave actually is a crack in the ice, polished by melting water and late in autumn covered up naturally by ice and snow. We walk inside and the guides tell us how the ice that we touch with out hands, is actually thousands and thousands of years old! In some places it is completely transparent, in others – deposits of sand have been brought along.

Frozen River Hike

On the next day we continue our exploration, this time, walking. Our guide is Vlad from Moscow, representing Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions. Our plan is to hike for 5 hours on the frozen river in Adventalen valley. It is not too cold, only around -5-8°C, but with 15 m/s wind, it feels much colder than that. Vlad gives us each a thermos to carry, an option of dried meal to select, spikes for our shoes and protective eye wear that is very useful in the windy conditions.

This hike is one of the most memorable trips during our stay in Svalbard. He tells us stories of how he first arrived with 500 euros in his pocket and lived in a tent next to the airport, and his experience as a guide. Best stories, of course, are of polar bears. Turns out that to learn to shoot in the simulated high-pressure environment, during training trainees have to run and force their heart rate to go up, and then shoot.

Vlad has not shot the bears, but he has seen them up close many times. He told us how he had to guard a group of tourists through the night, as a bear mother was nearby the camp with her two cubs. She did not show any signs of aggression, and only when they started to leave, the cubs begun approaching them. Vlad says it is very important how many guides accompany a group, he has seen even twelve tourists with just one guide, who did not pay any attention to risk of polar bear attack. He also tells us a story of a bear with three cubs, and a whole fjord closed down for scooter traffic not to disturb her. Police even wrote tickets for those who defied the rule!

We learn from him that February is the best month to visit the archipelago, as it is the most beautiful weather and tourists are well prepared. Summers get crazy – 2000, even 4000 people get out of cruise ships on one day and flood the city. Often they are not prepared for the cold conditions and he encourages people to dress well even in summer.

While we walk to the abandoned mine settlement, it feels like there is a milky river flowing under our feet – billions of snow crystals have been lifted up by the wind. We can’t imagine walking without glasses here!

Vlad teaches us to tell apart fresh water ice from saltwater ice – the first very transparent and a deep shade of blue, and the latter milky white, almost soft. He explains how in bad weather conditions one might build a snow cave, and if you construct it properly, warm air stays inside and soon it will be 10 degrees warmer inside. He has spent the night in such a cave!

When we have nearly walked to the settlement abandoned in 1924, wind stops for a little while. But when it is time to climb up the stairs to the tower to have some lunch, it returns with such a strength that we barely hear what our friends are saying! The wind really is very loud here in Svalbard.

We observe the nearby houses, some of them now summer cottages for those who find Longyearbyen to be too crowded, and we have everything we need – we eat our rehydrated meals and drink a warm cup of blackcurrant syrup water.

On the way back it is the color of the sunset. All day is like a never ending sunrise turning into sunset and then becoming very, very blue. We have stayed outdoors all day, but with the help of few chemical heat packs, it is not that cold.

We are quite tired and get ready to go to bed soon, however, when we open the window to let in some fresh air, we notice northern lights! To be honest, Svalbard is not considered to be the best place for watching them, Tromso in continental Norway is much better, but we still see it here, and limited light pollution offers for good visibility even in town. We stand outside and wonder – how many bears are nearby? Probably none, as the whole street is full of people, everyone seemingly noticing auroras at the same time!

spitsbergen aurora

Templefjorden

We have learned to drive scooters in shorter trips, and now it is time to take a longer trip. We use BaseCamp Explorer for this trip, visiting Temple fjord with guide Arran from the UK. He shows us a shot down plane from the war, we drive by the annual dog sled competition and stop near a pingoo – a mountain of sand that has a heart of ice. Water flows constantly through it, and the mountain expands. Then slowly it starts to collapse, but in geology terms these are very short lived constructions, only 300 to 600 years! People used to live near these, as there was water even in winter! We see a house on this pingoo as well, completely crooked from the change if the ground!

We see many reindeer, Arran tells us that only females have antlers in the winter, as they need to protect the best feeding spaces for their calves. Reindeer are very resilient, and the temperature in their legs drops to 3-4°C, although near the heart temperature is 38-39°C. We see reindeer even in the city center! They don’t have any natural predators. Unfortunately, they don’t live too long, as the harsh stony soil damages their teeth and reindeer starve to death when they are 7-8 years old.

It is a Saturday, so many locals are out and about, and road is like a highway. We even see scooters with special compartments for small children. Arran tells us stories of his adventures as well, such as having a group of 18 Chinese tourists, only one speaking any English and every time they stopped, people would get in the snow and draw snow angels – they had never seen snow before! We ask Arran other questions too – is it true there are no cats in Svalbard? Almost! There is one cat in Barentsburg, but you are not allowed to keep them here, as they would eat rats that carry disease. But there is plenty of dogs around, and you see them living in large dog years and also lucky individuals living at home.

When we reach the fjord, the view is surreal. A glacier in the distance and smaller icebergs near the shore, covered in salt ice all around. Majestic Temple Mountain on the other side. There might be a bear somewhere, but we don’t see any. Arran takes us up on the mountain to see even more beautiful view, and we get lucky and  see a glimpse of the polar fox near the road! But for a few seconds, seeing that puffy yellowish white fur I get goosebumps – what if that is a bear?

While we are up there, Arran shows us a peak in the distance, surrounded by sea, and says – 10 years ago it was accessible by snow scooter. Not anymore, as there is water around. There is no doubt of climate change on Svalbard!

East Coast – Territory of the Bears and Alien Beauty of Ice

Our last scooter trip is again with Nils and a new guide we have not met before – Julia from Germany. We have picked on of the longer day trips to the East Coast, hoping we get to see a bear. We consider if to go for a really long time, as weather forecast is not optimal, but it in the end it is only -2°C. However, snow is very different, it is hard to ride on it and the further we go, the stronger the winds get. At the last stop before the glacier we get strict instructions – unless told to, we don’t get off the scooter! Drive in one line!

When we get there, the beauty of the ice is something out of this world – we see pyramids of dark blue. Those are structures pushed our from the main, thousands of years old glacier. We feel like sumo astronauts on a new planet – in large, puffy suits. All the sci-fi movies come into mind, especially, viewing the world through the glasses and breathing in balaclava.

I remember a book I read just before the trip, Christiane Ritter  – A Woman in the Polar Night, about the first European woman who stayed here during the polar night. Now I really understand her poetic descriptions and her love of this beautiful place.

Nils finally allows us to stop at one of the blue mountains, and we are a bit unhappy that it is not one of the pyramids, as the mountain is nice, but not as nice as the pyramids. As soon as we are a few meters away from him, guide calls us to get back, as this is bear territory. Then we continue driving further over the glacier, over wide fields of white with a foam of snow crystals and heavy wind, until we reach water. It is like a movie, completely untouched place, and the black dots in the distance are really seals!

We don’t see any bears, but our guides are observing the horizon all the time! When we ask if we can come closer to the glacier, the answer is negative – although a group of locals is there, the ice has not been measured this year and they are not allowed to go. So we eat our lunch and just look at the 8 km wide glacier in front of us. We have discovered with dried packs are the tastiest (yellow!) and eat plenty of chocolate cookies.

The toughest part here is going to the bathroom! Someone asks if they can go behind the stone, and the guide says absolutely no, noone will go anywhere without them, and especially not behind something, as they might be a bear sleeping! So you can only go if guide has been there, checked and is nearby. And then the issue of unbuttoning the suit and getting it half-off in the cold wind! I guess, drinking plenty of that blackcurrant syrup is not that great of an idea!

best travel pictures 2018

In Conclusion

I used to think vacation was palms and beach, but after Svalbard I can really appreciate the cold vastness of ice allowing to get a glimpse of a world unseen before. More cold places, please! The impressions have been so strong that nearly night I am dreaming of Svalbard still, driving past those pyramids of blue, with a gun over my back, riding the scooter standing up like a bad-ass!

best travel photographs 2018

Practical Information

Taking Photographs in Arctic Conditions

Many people asked us how it was possible to shoot in such cold and if the camera did not “freeze”? Yes, it is possible to take pictures in such cold, and, actually, it was not that cold while we were there, only about -12°C. However, on our way to Svalbard we had a few days in Tromso, where it was up to -27°C and still not issues with photography! We use Sony cameras for several years already, and for this trip we used full frame Sony Alpha mirrorrless cameras (A9 and A7rIII), as well as Sony lenses (FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM, FE 24-70 F2.8 GM,  FE 100-400 GM).

Despite the cold temperature and many shots taken, one battery lasted all day, which was a pleasant surprise in comparison with previous generaton Sony gear. Due to heavy weather conditions and protective glasses we used the screen quite a lot, and it shows exactly the same thing as in the viewfinder. We took over 6000 shots and there were no technical issues whatsoever! We found a good solution for keeping the hands warm – Heat 3 Smart gloves, which allow you to take off the top to expose fingers, underneath one can wear second layer of gloves with touch screen fingers. Even with gloves there were no issues to use the buttons and knobs, as well as touch sensitive screen worked without any issues! Full list of clothing to come in the next posts.

alpha 9 a7riii experience in the arctic

How to get to Svalbard?

SAS and Norwegian fly there from Europe, the airport is not too large, but it still serves multiple flights a day. The tickets from Europe are actually not that expensive, and for those collecting Eurobonus miles, during a promotion you might need as little as 10 000 points + 24 euros for tax to get there! We paid 300 euros for Riga-Tromso (where we stayed a couple of days)-Longyearbyen-Riga, but you can find cheaper fares, especially if flying without luggage.

Money

If you have a major credit card, you don’t need to take out cash. 1 Norwegian krona is worth roughly 10 euro cents.

Insurance

Be sure to get a good coverage, especially if you plan on riding a snow scooter. Tour companies have medevac insurance for your ride, but no personal items coverage.

Where to Eat and How Much Does it Cost

We ate in Svalbar, Kroa (for lunch and dinner, roughly 200 NOK per person). Freune and Rabalder for coffee & cakes (a hot drink is roughly 40 NOK). The cheapest lunch can be found at the University of Svalbard (80 NOK per serving – main course, salad included; drinks are extra). We often bought food at the only supermarket in the city (frozen potato puree, minced meat, beans, veggies, bread) and cooked at the guest house. We actually brought some food from home as well – canned foods and quite a few of those rehydratable packages of soup and potatoes).

Getting from the Airport to Town

You are not allowed to walk, even though it is just 5 km away, the area is not safe because of bears. There is no public transportation, but for convenience there is a bus that goes to the airport around the flight time, 75 NOK per person. If there are few of you, taxi might be cheaper, 4-person taxi should cost 130 NOK. Otherwise taxi usually is a very expensive way to travel in city, as even 2 km ride will cost you over 100 NOK. Locals use snow scooters in winter, and you can rent one too.

Where to Stay

There are several hotels in Longyearbyen, but bear in mind that it is not the cheapest place where to stay. We chose a more budget friendly option, as we were staying for 8 nights. We chose Gjestehuset 102, the guest house used to be a coal miners cabin. Single room with breakfast and internet was 637 NOK, double room 937 NOK (use this link to register and get 10% cashback for your first stay!). Rooms for four are available as well, and if you book well in advance, prices start from 350 NOK.

When we checked it, we proceeded to the second floor, where we saw many rooms on both sides of the hallway, and there, at the stairs, multiple shared showers and toilets. We never saw any lines there, as facilities are available on both floors. At the ends of each of the floors there was a kitchen and common lounge room with TV (at night – perfect for watching auroras!). For breakfast one could get bread, cheese, meats, cornflakes, juice and hot drinks.

budget accommodation in svalbard with breakfast

There was also a shared cupboard in the main kitchen with leftovers, so even if you arrive very tired and don’t have it in you to go to the store, there will be something to eat. Food in the fridge had to be marked with a sticker with your name, and we did not see anyone eating someone elseš food. Kitchen is a nice place to meet other people – one day you would have two Norwegian grandmothers talking about beautiful library they visited during the day and Americans facetiming with someone back home, on another day there would be two Chinese girls writing postcards and asking for your opinion which is the most beautiful one. People were extremely friendly, and you can get many recommendations here. Receptionists were also helpful and you could buy postcards, drinks and warm clothing, as well as book tours. The guesthouse is located in Nybyen, so it is roughly 2 km away from the center, you can either walk or take a cab. Tour companies will pick you up from the hotel.

hotels of spitsbergen

Tours into the Wilderness

You should reserve your tours latest 2 weeks in advance, otherwise you risk not getting a spot. There is a limited number of people accepted per tour, as if something goes wrong with a snow scooter, people should still be able to get back. If you are not sure what you want to book, you might use the last minute option with Svalbard Booking, and get 15% discount, but spots go quickly, you might not get all tours and in general the price level seemed slightly higher with them. We used their services in two trips – ice cave (for driver 1990 NOK, passenger 990 NOK, with lunch included, half day), and East Coast Tour (driver 3490 NOK, passenger 1290 NOK, with last minute discount for both we paid 4064 NOK, lunch included, all day trip). They provided all the needed equipment.

When going hiking, we used Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions, for Frozen River Hike the cost is 750 NOK per person, half day trip, with lunch. They provided spikes and glasses for the hike, we used our own clothing. Our friends also recommended this company as the best one to use for hiking. We had an amazing, extremely knowledgeable guide Vlad! Booking can be done via email or calling the office.

Another snow scooter trip, Arctic Treasures we took with Base Camp Explorers (driver 2990 NOK, passenger 1800 NOK, with lunch, all day trip). All of the equipment was included, and we especially loved our guide Arran and the fact we had such a small group, just three of us and one more person, so a total of 4 scooters. We really enjoyed this tour, as the weather was perfect, we were not in a hurry, and our guide took the time to show the most interesting spots. Booking can also be done via email or by phone.

Other Tours

Svalbard Bryggeri beer tasting tour 200 NOK per person

Polar Permaculture from 90 NOK per person

Svalbard Museum 90 NOK per person

Gruve 3 mine 640 NOK per person, with pick up in the city.

Find the full packing list for a cold destination in the next blog posts!

We are thankful for the support from Visit SvalbardSony LatvijaGandrsGjestehuset102, Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions, BaseCamp Explorer, Svalbard Museum, Polar Permaculture, Global Seed VaultAlexander Prokop from UNIS,  Jørn H. Hurum, and especially Paula Gulbinska and Sandra Kropa from Latvijas Radio who made this article possible.

All opinions are our own.

Everything you need to know before visiting Longyearbyean Spitsbergen Svalbard Norway


8 comments

  1. My God. Such incredible pictures. I had only heard of Svalbard in passing before. I’ll never forget it now. Svalbard looks otherworldly.
    Thanks for the post. Bookmarked it for later 🙂

  2. WOW I loved this post so much! I have dreamed about going to Svalbard and this is the best information I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to go there! I will likely be trying to take a trip very similar to yours at some point in the next 2 years!

    Hooray for Sony Alpha photographers! My only cold-related issue was with the external battery power I had… the plastic coating on the connector wire became very brittle in the -25C temperatures in Lapland, which lead to the wires snapping!

    1. I definitely recommend visiting! I am myself thinking of going back, maybe during the summer months this time to see it in a different light!
      Happy to hear from a fellow Alpha fan! Was your battery pack Sony produced or from another supplier?

    1. Thanks! I have heard a few people say that certain items/experiences are actually cheaper in Svalbard than on the mainland!

  3. Omg!! Those photos <3 I am not even sure if I can pick my favorite.. so gorgeous 😀 Saving this post for later (hoping it is sooner than later though).

    1. Hi, Richa, thanks for commenting! Let me know if you decide to stop by Norway on your trip to Riga, I think these two could be nicely planned together! 🙂

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