24 Nov 8 things to do in Svalbard in early winter.
Svalbard Archipelago is a unique place in many ways. You will land in Longyearbyen, the northernmost city in the world, just 650 miles from the North Pole, where polar bears “reign” among other arctic animals. Many explorers made their way up there, hunters & trappers, coal miners and of course many people from different parts of the world. We visited Svalbard at the beginning of November, and we can confirm that it is an extraordinary place. Let’s check together 8 things to do in Svalbard in early winter! (At the end of our article you will find specific activities for summer and winter).
Travel to Svalbard!
Spend an afternoon learning and tasting at Camp Barentz.
One of the things to do in Svalbard that includes a lot of knowledge and delicious food? Spend an evening at Camp Barentz! You will learn things about the Svalbard archipelago, who discovered it, how the Northern Lights are created, all the myths about them and you will also enjoy a warm traditional bidos.If you are lucky enough, the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, may appear over the Advent valley, where the camp is located (if you do this tour during winter). We did this tour with Hurtigruten Svalbard on our last night in Svalbard and really enjoyed it. The program went like this: There was a pickup at 7pm from our hotel and, after a short drive, we arrived to a wooden cabin. This cabin, we found out that it was a replica of the cabin of the Dutch explorer Barentz and his crew (who discovered Svalbard), from their last voyage.
We sat around the fire, where the bidos was boiling in a large cooking pot over the fire, and our guide started an interesting presentation about the daring quests of the explorers in Svalbard. Then, we had a breakto enjoy the bidos, a traditional soup with reindeer meat, vegetables, and potatoes. Super yummy! Dinner was accompanied with bread and butter, wine, beer, as well as many laughs and questions from the group. Then we had coffee, liqueur and tea, while enjoying a presentation about the Northern Lights. Our guide Adrian analysed the myths about the Northern Lights and explained how they are formed. This great night ended with some sky photos, since the Northern Lights did not appear.
Walk to the northernmost city in the world, Longyearbyen (or take a cycling tour).
Longyearbyen is the northernmost city in the world, which is inhabited all year round and is fully functional, as it has a school, a hospital, a post office, a supermarket and a church! The city has about 2500 thousand residents, of many different nationalities, with the majority being Norwegians (since Svalbard belongs to Norway). So, one more thing to do in Svalbard in early winter – or anytime – is to walk around the city! The truth is it will not take you long. The colourful houses against the backdrop of the mountains create ideal conditions for photos. You may encounter reindeers eating carelessly outside your door, or you may just enjoy big snowflakes falling on your face, if you go during winter. Oh, you can also see the Northern Lights even from the city (from October to March). If you love cycling, you can also take an organized electric bike tour, offered by the Hurtigruten Svalbard. It is an ideal way to explore the city and the surrounding area, while learning interesting facts, escorted by a tour guide. The bikes are equipped with snow tires, so they are ideal for winter weather, such as in November when we visited Svalbard.
Stay at Funken Lodge.
The accommodation options in Svalbard are not that many, and it makes sense if you consider the size of Longyearbyen. Tourism in Svalbard has started to grow mainly in the last 10-15 years. However, you will find hotels that offer first class services, small arctic paradises, like the one we stayed at, Funken Lodge. Funken Lodge is a Boutique Hotel overlooking Longyearbyen city and the mountains. It is located just 10 minutes (walk) from the city center. The breakfast was very good, with . Our room had mountain view, which we enjoyed, as well as all the necessary amenities to spoil us. The hotel houses a restaurant of high-end cuisine, with a tasting menu and signature dishes, as well as a bar to enjoy your cocktail. At Funken Lodge there is no-shoes policy, which we loved. There is a tradition that dates back to the time when Svalbard was inhabited mainly by coal miners, so shoes were not permitted indoors to avoid the dust from the shoes.
Visit Svalbard Museum.Visit Svalbard Museum.
Another thing to do in Svalbard during winter (or anytime) is to visit Svalbard Museum. Your visit there will be a pleasant and easy way to learn about the history of the place, the Arctic animals, the hunters, the coal miners etc. The story begins with the explorers that tried to discover this place, as well as the challenges they faced. Then the story continues with the trappers who settled on this inhospitable environment in search of a better life and the coal miners who have also been an integral part of Svalbard until today. Finally, an introduction is made to the dominant animals of the archipelago, such as the polar bear and the arctic fox.
Svalbard Museum entrance fee: 100NOK
Hiking in Svalbard is always a good idea!
What to do in Svalbard that will allow you to admire its unique landscape? Hiking! The interesting thing about this place is that it has many mountains, but also plains. In fact, the island where Longyearbyen is located is called Spitsbergen, which means “pointed peaks”. It is an ideal place for hiking even in winter, if you are properly dressed! At this point let us remind you that if you want to hike, you must follow an organized guided tour for your own safety (polar bears, remember?). There are some popular hikes like Plateau Mountain, which is the mountain on the side of the city with panoramic view of the city. There are easier hikes too that combine hiking and history, like the one we did in the Advert plain with Hurtigruten Svalbard, “Follow a Trapper’s Footprints”. During this 3-hour hike, we followed the footsteps of the hunters, we saw the traps they used to set to capture the animals and learned about their history. Our hike ended with hot chocolate at Camp Barentz.
Things to do in Svalbard in Summer only.
There is of course a plethora of activities you can do in Svalbard. However, the season that you’re going to visit determines some of them. For example, if you visit Svalbard from May to October, you can take a boat trip outside the city of Longyearbyen. You can visit the now-abandoned former Soviet city of Pyramiden and find the northernmost statue of Lenin. You can also do a boat tour to see whales or other animals! You can even go kayaking in the summer months (June-August). Of course, it depends on the weather you will find, but during these months the temperatures are much higher, and it is sunny all day long. However, during summer don’t expect snow in the city and Northern Lights.
Things to do in Svalbard in winter
What to do in Svalbard if you visit during winter? Everything you cannot do in the summer. You can take snowmobile trips (usually December to March), “chase” the Northern Lights, either with an organized tour or, if you are lucky, just outside your hotel, and of course to visit an Ice Cave! What you cannot do, however, is a boat tour. Moreover, in winter from mid-November until mid-February you will experience the so-called polar nights, when there is no light! So, you must decide which experiences matter to you the most, or just visit Svalbard in different seasons.
View more about our trip on Instagram (highlights #Svalbard)