The capital of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, Longyearbyen is the gateway to the Arctic Circle, and one of the world’s most fascinating towns. Once a small mining settlement, Longyearbyen has evolved over the years into close-knit, self-sufficient community that is very much in tune with the richness of its past and the pristine nature of the environment.
On a voyage with Aurora Expeditions, you’ll get a chance to explore Longyearbyen for yourself. Here are a few fun facts to get you excited about your visit!
1. The town’s name means ‘the Longyear town’
But it’s not what you might expect! Rather than describing the passage of time in the rugged Spitsbergen terrain, the name is a nod to its founder, an American named John Munro Longyear. Founded in 1906, evidence of Longyearbyen’s mining heritage can be observed throughout the town today.
Read more: People of the Arctic
2. There are no street names
In Longyearbyen, you won’t find many street names. Instead, the streets are numbered.
3. You can attend the world’s northernmost blues festival
In Svalbard, when the sun sets around October 25, it does not rise again for four months, plunging the archipelago into what is known as the ‘polar night’. On the plus side, wintertime also brings the local Dark Season Blues festival, where music acts and events take over local venues.
4. You can go to university there
At 78º N, you’ll find the world’s northernmost institute of higher education – the University Centre in Svalbard. Specialising in various areas of Arctic research, from Arctic biology to Arctic technology and geophysics, there are just under 700 students, half of whom are international students. The official language of the university is English, and there are no course fees to attend.
Read more: Discovering Svalbard’s Global Seed Vault
5. It boasts a lot of northernmost fixtures
This Arctic town also has bragging rights for the world’s northernmost…
- Post office
- Commercial airport
- Gourmet restaurant
6. Look out for reindeer
It’s not uncommon to see wild Svalbard reindeer taking a stroll through town. They usually aren’t bothered by other humans and are considered to be quite docile.
Read more: Wildlife Fact File – Polar Bear
7. Leave your shoes at the door
In Longyearbyen, it’s customary to remove your shoes at the door when entering a number of public places, from the tourist information office to the church and the Svalbard Museum. To prevent your toes from getting cold, slippers are often provided for visitors
8. Don’t forget your gun
As the land of the polar bear, Longyearbyen residents are extremely aware of the presence of these powerful creatures. In fact, according to section 30a of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, you aren’t permitted to leave the settlement without at least a 0.308 Win calibre rifle to protect against polar bears. However, if you’re an Aurora Expeditions passenger, you fall under the exception to this rule – plus, our guides are more than capable of ensuring you have a safe, enjoyable time in Longyearbyen!
Read more: Top things to photograph in the Arctic
9. You aren’t allowed to die there
Yes, you read right. While there is a small graveyard in Longyearbyen, no burials have happened here for over 80 years. This is down to the fact that the icy conditions and the permafrost prevent bodies from decomposing. In fact, upon examining the body of one ex-resident, scientists discovered traces of influenza, which claimed the lives of many locals back in 1917, according to the BBC.
10. People from over 40 countries have the right to live and work there
Thanks to the Svalbard Treaty, originally signed in Paris on February 9, 1290, people from over 43 signing countries in the world have the right to fish, hunt or trade in Svalbard, as well as live there – subject to Norwegian legislation.
Countries include Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK, as well as Dominican Republic, North Korea and Latvia.
You can visit Longyearbyen as part of your trip to the Arctic on a Svalbard Odyssey or Jewels of the Arctic expeditions. Find out more about our Arctic cruises when you download a brochure, or speak with one of our friendly Expedition Experts.