Charlotte BULKELEY CREDLE
Svalbard, Norway: 3-Day Itinerary
If you've wanted to really push your travel comfort zone and visit somewhere beyond your every-day, Svalbard, Norway may be for you! But be prepared, you'll need a set of thermals, and lots of warm winter wear to keep you warm. Although the elements are much harsher than what we're used to south of the Polar Circle, this will be a trip of a lifetime.
Svalbard is an archipelago about 400 miles north of mainland Norway. Imagine the North Pole with all the arctic nature: glaciers, snow, ice, polar bears, polar night, northern lights, sled dog companies, you name it, Svalbard's got it.
On the archipelago, there are also a few more surprising things you'll find. For example, a Russian colony, the Global Seed Vault that stores seeds from all over the world in the event of natural disaster and global food crises, and international satellites and underwater signal cables that connect the East and the West.
How to Get to Svalbard
To get to Svalbard, you'll need to fly from your departure point to Tromsø, Norway, deplane, proceed through the passport check-point, then rebound your plane to continue on to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. The reason for this is actually quite interesting: Svalbard is part of Norway, but the archipelago itself (of which Longyearbyen is an "island") is part of a pact that keeps it one of the only non-national visa regulated zones. So, while you'll get your passport stamped, the actual zone itself is autonomous and practically "belongs" to both Norwegians and Russians living there. Despite its remote location, there is also a university (dedicated to artic science and research, of course) and endless outdoor activities.
It may also be helpful to note as you'll read it everywhere else if you're researching Svalbard for your own visit: There is a polar bear protection territory. This means that within the town, everyone can walk around freely without inherent possibility of encountering this dangerous animal. However, for any excursion or trip outside the polar bear protection zone (which includes going to the airport), you will need a driver or a guide. All guides will carry a locked and loaded rifle for your own protection. However, while you will most likely see small groups of reindeer, the odds of running into a polar bear are very low, especially in the winter. If you're concerned, stop by the Visit Svalbard office to ask a local about the recent polar bear sightings.
Where to Stay
Haugen Pensjonat Svalbard! Super affordable, the host was very welcoming. There is a shuttle bus from the airport to all the hotels on the main island, so when you land and get your bags, the bus that will come will be the one you take (the island is small, so most of the travel necessities here are the correct ones when you come across them, because there is usually only one option/service carrier:)).
A couple notes: Plan to stop by Svalbardbuttiken after you drop your things at your hotel to pick up a few grocery and snack items. The excursions last 2-3 hours if they're short, and 4-8 hours if they're longer, "full day" experiences. If they're full day programs, the guides will bring food and a warm drink for the participants, but a small snack and only sometimes for the shorter trips. Keeping in mind the extreme conditions (which are really not too extreme once your body acclimates and providing you have suitable clothing), you'll want to keep plenty of water and snack fuel in your backpacks. Many of the restaurants also open in the late morning/early afternoon, so do plan accordingly and pick up some breakfast items for your time there, you'll be able to use your lodging's kitchen if you're staying in a hostel.
Walk around the town! Stop by some of the shops, pick up some snacks from the grocery store, and see the life of the town.
Ice Cave Hike tour (Visit Svalbard)
Dinner: Restaurant Polfareren (recommmended dish: moose burger)
Brewery Tour at Svalbard Bryggeri AS
Dinner: MaryAnn's Polarrig (recommmended dish: reindeer steak)
Visit Svalbard Church (the world's northernmost church)
Walk down to the water (a fjord which connects to the Sea of Greenland!)
Seed Vault hike
Northern Light waiting and watching (these can be seen from mostly anywhere in the town, so we bundled up and sat on the porch of Haugen Pensjonat).
Dinner: Stationen (recommmended dish: fish and chips)
Dog Sledding excursion and kennel tour (Visit Svalbard)
Visit Svalbardbuttiken and the Lumpen Senteret to pick up any souvenirs.
Karlsberger Pub (recommmended dish: any of the pasta dishes!)
This trip was amazing, such a different and unique terrain with so much information to learn and appreciate about the world. This may be a daunting location to visit, but know that if you go, there will be people who live there year round, can direct you where you need to go and to places where you can buy anything you may have forgotten you might need. Remember, people live here, you'll be fine! Embrace the crazy and just go - you'll be so glad you did.
Pictures on the way :)