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Svalbard (Spitsbergen)

Svalbard (Spitsbergen) travel guide

Svalbard is the archipelago haven of the Arctic. This polar region has a range of arctic wildlife including polar bears, seals, reindeer and more

Europe’s largest wilderness, the Svalbard archipelago is closer to the North Pole than to Oslo, yet is home to the most northernmost settlements on earth, thanks to the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream.

However, there are more polar bears than humans, and it is the Arctic wildlife, the pristine landscapes and sense of rugged isolation that makes it so attractive to travellers.

The largest island is Spitsbergen, and this is where the majority of the tiny population live and work, and where most cruises start and finish.

Believed to be first visited by the Vikings in the 12th century, it was the Dutch explorer William Barents who is often credited with “discovering” the islands, and naming them Spitsbergen which means ‘pointed peaks’.

The archipelago’s wildlife was ruthlessly exploited, as it became a centre for whaling, fur trapping and seal blubber. Fortunately, enough wildlife remains that you have an excellent chance of seeing reindeer (shaggy and stumpy-legged), polar foxes, Arctic terns and polar bears.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Search for polar bears and walruses while cruising the archipelago
  2. Spend some time in Longyearbyen’s small but interesting museum
  3. At Ny Alesund have a drink in the world’s most northerly pub, take photos of the world’s most northerly railroad, and go shopping in the world’s most northerly gift shop.
  4. Visit in the depths of winter and stay on a schooner frozen into the ice


Wanderlust tips

Even in midsummer you will need lots of warm layers, and don’t forget your sunglasses and sun protection too.

Don’t forget binoculars.

Also take plenty of good, thick socks, not least because you are expected to take your shoes off when entering many shops, hotels, bars etc.

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