Tucked away in the frigid expanses of the Arctic Ocean approximately 650 miles from the North Pole, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is a land of breathtaking mountains, crystalline blue-tinged glaciers and impressively carved, seemingly endless fjords. In addition to their natural grandeur, these charming islands also boast a rich history and a vibrant mix of Norwegian, Russian and other cultural influences. There is truly something for everyone in Svalbard.
© Guillaume Baviere
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Located on the archipelago’s main island of Spitsbergen, the picturesque Nordvest-Spitsbergen National Park is a splendid coastal wonderland of mountains, glaciers and countless offshore islands. Far beyond the reaches of civilization, this idyllic Arctic landscape is inhabited by large walrus colonies, in addition to geese, eider ducks, and many types of seabirds. Within the park are the Jotun hot springs, along with the magnificent Magdalenefjord, a breathtaking turquoise expanse framed by towering peaks and immense glaciers. Polar bears and walruses have been known to frequent Magdalenefjord, providing park visitors with a truly memorable experience.
© Tom Phillips
Svalbard’s other spectacular national parks include Forlandet, home to the world’s northernmost population of harbor seals; Indre Wijdefjorden, encompassing the southern half of Svalbard’s largest fjord; and Sassen-Bunsow Land, whose vast expanses of wetlands and native vegetation are a favorite of birds and admiring bird watchers alike. During the winter season, visitors can explore ice caves formed within the glaciers, for a true once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Thirty-one miles north of Longyearbyen, the islands’ capital, lies the abandoned Soviet outpost of Pyramiden. This former coal-mining village looks much the same as it did when the last residents departed in 1998, with most of its buildings – among them the town hall, cultural center, and several apartment houses – remarkably preserved. Once tourists arrive in this mountainside ghost town, they will discover a once-flourishing community frozen in time.
© Frode Bjorshol
The charming village of Longyearbyen may be small, but nevertheless vibrant and bustling with activity year-round. From a jazz festival in February to one in March celebrating the sun’s reappearance after a long winter, and the Taste Svalbard culinary festival in October, there are plenty of cultural events in town. One of Longyearbyen’s most notable attractions is the North Pole Expedition Museum, showcasing a wide variety of artifacts used by explorers in their quests to reach the Pole. For those seeking a more offbeat experience, Coal Mine 3 is a former mine-turned-interactive-museum immersing guests in Svalbard’s industrial heritage.
© Christer van der Meeren
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Visitors to Longyearbyen can check in at Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg, a rustic lodge with cozy accommodations housed in converted miners’ barracks. In addition to individual bedrooms with single or double beds, the hotel has one single-bedroom and one double-bedroom apartment, both with their own living room and kitchen. Guests seeking a more luxurious experience can check into a deluxe suite complete with king-sized bed and private Jacuzzi. It is the perfect home base for any Svalbard adventure.
© Bernt Rostad
For a distinctive dining experience in Svalbard, visitors should check out Arctic Tapas, a traveling gourmet restaurant where they can enjoy a scrumptious smorgasbord of local delicacies, including reindeer, salmon, trout, herring, and a delightful assortment of Scandinavian cheeses. In addition to the fine cuisine served on board, guests will be enchanted by the spectacular scenery just out their windows as they travel through the countryside. It is a culinary experience not to be missed.
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Cover photo © Christopher Michel