Longyearbyen, (pronounced 'lungyer-byin'), is the largest populated area and the capital of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago.


View of Longyearbyen
A slice of Longyearbyen and the surrounding mountains
Part of a huge system for transporting coal on cables

Longyearbyen is the largest populated settlement on the Svalbard archipelago, located in the high Norwegian Arctic. The settlement is generally regarded as the northernmost town in the world as well as the most easily accessed frontier in the Arctic, and is an ideal base for the greater exploration of Svalbard and the high Arctic.

The settlement is named after American entrepreneur John Munro Longyear (1860-1922), who as head of the Arctic Coal Company founded the town and the neighboring coal mine, the first large mine on Svalbard. Mining remains an important component of the economy, and historical remnants of the mining past can be seen on the nearby mountain slopes and throughout the town. Today, however, most mining is done at the Svea mine to the south. The economy of Longyearbyen is now driven primarily by scientific research and tourism.

With approximately 2,500 inhabitants, the town is the de facto "capital" of the islands, and is today a vibrant, modern, and international settlement with much of the character of mainland Norwegian towns. It features an airport, a school, a shopping center, hospital, hotels, restaurants, and a university. People from approximately 40 different countries call Longyearbyen home, and this is reflected in the events offered in the town.



Longyearbyen lies on the southern side of Adventfjorden, stretched out along the Longyearelve (Longyear River). The center of town lies near the coast on the east side of the river, with the district of Skjæringa across the river, the district of Nybyen 2 km (1.2 mile) to the south and the airport 3 km (1.9 mile) to the west. Adventdalen, the valley housing Longyearbyen's only operational mine (#7), stretches out to the east.

Be sure to pick up the free Longyearbyen 78° North pamphlet (available at the airport and most lodges), which has a detailed map of the city and listings of all its facilities.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°C) -13 -13 -13 -9 -3 3 7 6 1 -4 -8 -11
Nightly lows (°C) -20 -21 -20 -16 -7 -1 3 2 -3 -9 -14 -18
Precipitation (mm) 22 28 29 16 13 18 24 30 25 19 22 25

Svalbard's climate is a combination of a cold Arctic climate tempered by the North Atlantic Current, an arm of the Gulf Stream. Nordenskiöld Land is the warmest and wettest part of the archipelago, caused by the convergence of mild and humid air from the south and cold air from the north. Average summer temperatures are typically 4 to 6 °C (39 to 43 °F) while average winter temperatures are −12 to −16 °C (10 to 3 °F). Longyearbyen experiences midnight sun from 19 April through 23 August, and polar night from 14 November through 29 January. The sun is under the horizon from October 26 to February 16, however, the sun is not visible in Longyearbyen until 8 March due its location. Snow covers the town from late September through May.

Get in

By plane


Svalbard Airport Longyear (IATA: LYR) is the only major airport on Svalbard. It services Scandinavian Airlines (SAS Norge) flights to Tromsø most days all year around, as well as 6 services per week direct to Oslo in the summer high season. The budget airline Norwegian (Norwegian Air Shuttle) offers 3 flights per week from Oslo to Longyearbyen for about NOK 700.

There is the possibility of chartered services to other bases on Svalbard, but these are generally reserved for scientists and those travelling on expeditions to the North Pole itself. Sightseeing by plane or helicopter is not allowed under the environmental laws.

The airport is fully equipped with a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Despite its small size, it is operated in the same way as other Norwegian state-run airports with full security checks and passport control. Svalbard is officially outside the Schengen Area. The Norwegian government has imposed identity checks on individuals wishing to enter and leave Svalbard, with the border between Svalbard and the rest of Norway being treated as an external Schengen border. A Schengen visa must be multiple entry to for the return through Norway, or other Schengen country, for cruise passengers continuing for example to Iceland.

Airport shuttle buses (75kr) connect with all flights arriving and departing at the airport. Taxis are also available.

Apart from passport control when returning to mainland-Norway passengers also need to go through customs control at usually Tromsø or Oslo; this is due to the Duty-free status of Svalbard (see below for shopping for alcohol). If your flight gets routed Longyearbyen - Tromsø - Oslo, all formalities are handled at Tromsø with Oslo-bound passengers having to pickup their checked luggage even it is checked-thru to Oslo.

By boat

Longyearbyen's port is accessible only in the summer when the pack ice recedes. For dates, see the port website. There are weekly freight boats to and from Tromsø. Organised sightseeing tourist boats offer day trips to Barentsburg, the active Russian town, and Pyramiden, a Russian settlement that was abandoned in 1998, throughout the summer months.

Get around

There is no public transportation aside from the airport shuttle bus. Walking is a viable option, although rather tedious if you need to move around outside the centre, especially when the weather is bad. Taxi services are available, at a price. Alternatively, most of the hotels and hostels, as well as some of the tour operators, offer bike rentals. Car rentals are available at the airport (Arctic Autorent) and in the town center (Svalbard Auto), but vehicle inventory is very limited, so reservations are recommended. Visitors who leave the town center without a guide should be aware that polar bears can be seen anywhere on the islands at any time of year. Leaving the central area of Longyearbyen without a hunting rifle is not recommended. Rifles can be rented from several places in the town, or alternately, a guide can be hired for expeditions.


Mine 2b
Inside the museum
Longyearbyen Church
Reindeer in the city
24-hour sundial

There are many possibilities for walking and sight-seeing in the immediate Longyearbyen area. Walking out of the settlement into the fjord, you will see the old cemetery and several abandoned mine buildings.


Mining equipment outside Mine 1

A wide variety of activities including hiking, dog-sledding, kayaking and snowmobile safaris and ice-caving and more are offered by Svalbard's many tour companies. The largest operators are Spitsbergen Travel and Svalbard Wildlife Service (SWS). Prices are high expect to pay from NOK 390-1000 for a half-day activity, NOK 1000 - 3000 for a full day but the standard is high and the experiences are well worth the price.

Esmarkbreen Glacier
Langøysund tour boat

If you have multiple days to spare then your options really open up: how about a week-long snow scooter trip (21,500 kr) or 11 days by boat around all of Spitsbergen (from around €3000) For the ultimate Arctic experience, you can even arrange to join a trip to the North Pole.



Svalbard's shopping is concentrated in and around the two-story Lompensenteret shopping mall and the supermarket. Beware the limited opening hours: most shops are only open 11-18 weekdays, 11-14 Saturday and closed Sunday.


Eating out in Longyearbyen (as with all of Norway) is expensive, with the simplest sit-down meals costing over NOK70. There are several small cafés in the town centre, and also a restaurant and bar at the Radisson SAS Hotel. Many places serve traditional Norwegian food. Some serve Svalbard specialties such as seal and whale. Delivery is usually available, arranged through local taxis for about NOK50.





Svalbard's tax-free status makes alcohol a lot cheaper than on the mainland.


The full service hotels are fairly expensive, especially during the high season. Discounts of 20-50% may be available in the October–May low season.



A number of guesthouses and homestays offer basic accommodation. Read the small print carefully, as you're often charged extra for breakfast, linens, towels and perhaps even use of the bathtub!



Most shops and services take major credit cards.


Stay safe

Perhaps more so than anywhere in the world, Longyearbyen is free from crime. The risk of being involved with any type of altercation or incident is practically nil, with the sole threat being from fellow visitors. It is not uncommon to see intoxicated tourists wandering around during the midnight sun in August, but despite the complete lack of visible law enforcement, problems are almost non-existent. Note that driving under the influence of alcohol is regarded as a very serious offence, and police stops for both cars and snowmobiles are not uncommon. The blood alcohol content limit is currently 0.02%, and the fines are steep.

It is not advised that you leave the settlement limits (clearly marked with signs bearing the picture of a polar bear). If you choose to do so, it is compulsory to carry a firearm which can be rented from the town. Travelling further afield requires explicit permission from the Governor of Svalbard, whose office is near the church.

As everywhere in Svalbard, it is critical to understand that all year round there is a significant threat from polar bears. However, polar bears are legally protected, and shooting a polar bear will be regarded very seriously by the police and investigated thoroughly.

Go next

Both trips operate summer season only, and will not operate unless minimum numbers (about 12) are achieved. Be prepared for disappointment in shoulder season.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, January 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.