Barentsburg

Central Barentsburg, the main street.

Barentsburg (Баренцбург) is the only remaining Russian settlement in Svalbard.

Understand

Barentsburg is named after Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, who (re)discovered Svalbard in 1596. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 gave the previously unclaimed islands to Norway but allowed any country to perform mining and other economic activity. The Russian state-owned Trust Arktikugol has been mining coal here since 1932, and during the Cold War Barentsburg was a veritable hotbed of activity as the Russians attempted to expand their zone of control over the islands. After Pyramiden was closed in 1998, Barentsburg has been the only Russian settlement still operating, with some 400 inhabitants as of October 2008 and some 100,000 tons of coal exported yearly. The mine closed in 2006 after concerns over an underground fire breaking out, but resumed production in late 2010.

The population of the settlement has been steadily decreasing in the recent years. Many buildings are not inhabited, and some are left to decay. Combined with a truly stunning setting for the town when the weather is clear enough to see across the Isfjord, and the black smoke from by the old coal power plant, the visit will leave a strong impression on the few who come here.

Orientation

Orienting yourself in Barentsburg is easy enough. It's some 220 steps up the stairs from the dock to the settlement, where more or less everything is along the main street, ulitsa Ivana Starostina.

Get in

The docks at Barentsburg.

By air

Barentsburg has a heliport operated by the Russian company SPARK+ with one Mi-8 helicopter. Trust Arktikugol can only use the helicopter service within the limits of its activities as a mining company, and chartered tourist transport is not permitted. The flight between Longyearbyen Airport and Barentsburg is about 15 minutes. The heliport is located around 4 km from Barentsburg. There is a road there where a minibus transports the travellers.

By land

There are no roads to Barentsburg, and it's a two days solid hiking from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg on foot in the summer. The easiest way (starting from Longyearbyen) is to head off from the end of the road in Björndalen, go up on the mountain of Fuglefjella, continue past the valley of Grumant and descend to the coast along a small creek after 2-3 kilometers. The hike should take about 6–7 hours. The night can be spent in either the Rusanov cabin outside of the old mining settlement of Coles Bay (closed in 1962) or in one of the buildings of Coles Bay itself (recommended in summer only). The next day is a slightly longer hike (7–9 hours), but in flat terrain, crossing the Coles Valley and continuing along Kapp Laila before arriving the heliport at Heerodden outside Barentsburg. There is a road from Heerodden to the settlement itself.

By sea

Most visitors arrive from Longyearbyen on daytrips (2–3 hours one way by boat). In summer, there are also occasional cargo and passenger boats to Murmansk on the Russian mainland (3 days).

In winter, travel by snowmobile is a more popular option and day trips are offered by tour operators in Longyearbyen it's a fantastic ride and well recommended.

Get around

Barentsburg is easily covered on foot.

Talk

Russian and Ukrainian are the main languages, spoken by the majority of the population. Government officials speak Norwegian.

See

Lenin, housing blocks and Miru Mir (Peace to the World)
chapel
from the Pomor museum

Day-tripping tourists get about 2 hours to see the sights, and for most this is plenty.

Do

Buy

The Norwegian currency kroner are used in Barentsburg and prices for touristy activities are adjusted to Norwegian levels.

Eat

Locals eat cabbage soup (shchi) in their canteen for free, but tourists will normally be limited to meals at the hotel (30-70 kr).

The Cafe-Bar 78 Parallel, in the canteen building right on top of the stairs leading to town is currently closed, accordingly for some "restoration" work.

Drink

The hotel's bar serves up Russian vodka, cognac and champagne.

Sleep

The only hotel in town, the Barentsburg Hotel.

There is precisely one public accommodation option.

Connect

The Barentsburg Hotel has a post office for sending mail. It's a branch of the Longyearbyen post office and thus uses Norwegian stamps (and Norwegian prices), but they do have their own postmark.

There is a small Russian consulate on Barentsburg, which could theoretically issue you a Russian visa. (Don't count on it though, certainly not without checking ahead. A Russian visa application is a complicated process, and you can't just show up to get one. For example, you need a confirmed and paid hotel booking before applying.)

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