Cruise ships arrive at the island’s capital, Longyearbyen, which is also the Norwegian administrative centre on Svalbard (there is also a large Russian mining community on the islands).
Sparsely populated Spitsbergen’s name translates as ‘Jagged Peaks’, and the island is a true wilderness, home to polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. There are no roads, so at many times of year sleds, boats and snowmobiles are the only means of transport around this glaciated land.
Remote, wild and mysterious, Spitsbergen is the largest island on the Svalbard Archipelago, far above the Arctic Circle and a wonderful destination for the more adventurous cruise passenger.
The settlements of Spitsbergen are small and scattered meaning that traditional tourist attractions are few and far between.
However, the Svalbard Museum, located at Svalbardporten (Gateway to Svalbard) in Longyearbyen, is as good a place to start as any. It gives an insight into the history of the islands since their discovery four centuries ago, along with a background to the islands’ flora and fauna, mining and geology, and its whaling industry.
• Glacier trekking
• Wildlife watching tours
• Horse riding
• Boat trips
Tel: +47 7902 5550.
Shops are primarily located in the centre of Longyearbyen itself. There are several silversmiths and goldsmiths, and potteries are also worth visiting. Top buys include printed textiles, knitwear, woodcarvings, silver, gold, enamel, pewter, glass and porcelain. VAT, known as MOMS, is levied at 25% on most goods.
Longyearbyen offers several bars, cafés and restaurants, many of them located in local hotels. Specialities include open sandwiches, fresh fish and seafood, reindeer meat and other Arctic specialities, including the distinctive sweet Norwegian cheese, brunost.
When to go:
Spitsbergen lies halfway between the northernmost tip of Norway and the North Pole – and its climate reflects this. It can be cold any time of year, and snow is frequent and heavy. Stout footwear and windproof clothing are necessary all year.
2.4km (1.4 miles).