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The capitol of Svalbard, Longyearbyn
The capitol of Svalbard, Longyearbyn

Photo: Shutterstock

Places

A guide to the perfect stay in Longyearbyen

Sure, you can run in to a polar bear on Svalbard, but that doesn’t mean its capital, Longyearbyen, is not a fascinating, beautiful and – fear not – civilized spot to visit.

Photo: Erik Abel

Fine place to dine

For a special occasion (you’re visiting one of the most stunning places in the world after all), book a table at fine dining spot Huset, which has a history as absorbing as today’s menu. Its wine cellar is impressively vast and the building, unveiled by a famous Oslo architect in 1951, has functioned as a theater, temporary church and hospital (following a fire and avalanche, respectively), post office and airport terminal. Now it prides itself on high-end cuisine, from locally caught seal steak and rare herbs, to exquisite Scandinavian wine to complement seven-course tasting menus. More affordable but still excellent places to refuel are Kroa (try the minke whale or moose burger), and the quirky cafes Fruene Cafe and Rabalder Cafe, where you’re sure to strike up a conversation with warm, chatty locals over tea and sandwiches.

Huset

Longyearbyen 9171, Svalbard

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Ale lover’s escape

Not content with shipping in international beers from around the world each September for the annual Oktoberfest (prime time for some arctic barbecuing too), Longyearbyen finally has its own brewery, canning up the newest and most unlikely brew you’ll ever sip. After a tussle with the law over the serving of pure Spitsbergen beer, 2015 marked the birth of the closest casks to the north pole. See how it’s all done and take a tasting tour.

Sjøområdet

Sjøområdet, 9170 Longyearbyen

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Photo: Shutterstock

Drive a snowmobile to Barentsburg

If you’re itching to explore out of town for the day, choose your trip wisely. One of the best tour operators in town boasts friendly and fully-trained-against--polar-bear-attack guides who will escort you in a snowmobile convoy to the fascinating old Russian settlement of Barentsburg. Check out the museum, enjoy a warming stew and keep your eye out for the only cat on Svalbard, who was smuggled onto the archipelago under the guise of being an Arctic Fox (cats are strictly prohibited due to the fragile ecology).

Driva snowmobile

Svalbard Museum

The archipelago was discovered in 1596, although there are disputable Norse accounts detailing the islands as far back as the 12th century. With Longyearbyen soon marked as the main town, Norway finally seized full governmental control shortly after World War I. This museum takes you through the whole story, with all-encompassing collections of artifacts and relics from the entire country, set in a beautiful space in the town center. Its neighbor, the Arctic studies-focused university, in a compelling building which you can also look around, is also a great coffee spot.

Svalbard Museum

Vei 231 - 1, Longyearbyen 9170, Svalbard

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Photo: Erik Abel

Sleep tight

One of the most authentic places to stay is Polarrigg, run by legend-about-town owner Mary-Ann Dhale, a former cleaning lady, turned landlady. One of a number of former laborers’ dormitories, her place oozes character, with its mock Arctic hunting lodge, small library, stuffed polar bear and a fantastic winter garden conservatory, where you can try local delicacies and much more. Luxury rooms are en suite, one with its own whirlpool jacuzzi, while there’s also a small spa in the house.

Polarrigg

9171 Longyearbyen

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Photo: Getty Images

Hitch a husky ride to an ice cave

There’s nothing quite so magical as dashing silently through the snow on sleds pulled by a pack of local huskies, who know their route from Longyearbyen to the magnificent ice caves like the back of their paws. Stop for hot chocolate and lunch and explore the insides of a glacier’s cave some three hours from town, before heading home to your snug cabin.spitsbergentravel.com

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