Sunday, December 8, 2013


Svalbard was one of those places where once I found out where it was, I had thought how cool was it to visit, but in all likelihood, I would not. At that time, I had thought the only way to visit was via expensive cruise ships or be in some scientific expeditions.

But during my research for my Northern Lights trip to Norway, I realized that there are commercial flights from Tromso (one of the cities I'm visiting) to Longyearbyen, the capital city in Svalbard, and that they're reasonably priced (like us$180 for a return tix). And so I found myself in Svalbard!

Svalbard is an archipelago or group of islands situated north of Norway. In fact, it is about halfway between Norway and the North Pole! Spitsbergen is the largest of the islands, and that's where Longyearbyen is. Situated at 78°45'N, it is the northernmost town/city in the world (though there are smaller villages and settlements even further north!). As such, one would be visiting many "northernmost" things in the trip!

Being so far north also means that Longyearbyen experiences polar nights, and for 4+ months, the place is plunged into darkness. On March 8, the sun finally peeks over the horizon, and so a Sun festival is held to celebrate its arrival. I visited in late March, so I missed the festival, but during that time, the sun is always low in the sky and so the lighting is phenomenal for photography! The town itself has a "wild wild west" feel, except that its the wild wild north! :)

But one of the best experience in Svalbard is a trip into the Arctic wilderness. There are no roads in Spitsbergen, and so if one is to get to another settlement by land, the mode of transport is typically snowmobile. Thus, the most common things to do in Longyearbyen for tourists are dog-sledding or snowmobile trips out of the town. I went on a snowmobile expedition to the eastern coast of the island, and the experience was crazy. It was an adventure!

We were given a 15-minute crash course on operating the snowmobile. After which, it was "on-the-job training" which we had plenty of. The whole expedition was almost 10-hours, with most of it on the snowmobile. But the sights were simply amazing, and it was truly a wilderness out there. We were a little too early in the season, else we might be able to catch a glimpse of polar bears too! It was a very tiring trip, but certainly one of my top memorable travel experiences! 

As mentioned earlier, there are cruise ships that sail to Svalbard but the most common way to get to Svalbard is by flying. Svalbard is governed by the Svalbard Treaty, which separates it from normal Norway government, although it is under Norwegian sovereignty. So while Norway is in Schengen, Svalbard is not. Currently, all flights go through Norway, so check your entry requirements to Norway.

So for those in search of adventure in off-the-beaten-path places, Svalbard should be in your bucket lists!

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