Longyearbyen is halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The place on Svalbard is the northernmost in Europe where people live permanently – and our part VI of the series “Extreme Places”.
Beware: polar bears! Anyone approaching the outskirts of Longyearbyen will see this warning from official traffic signs. And this is really meant seriously: Because there are significantly more polar bears than people on the Norwegian archipelago of Spitsbergen. To be on the safe side, you are only allowed to leave the place in the company of an armed tourist guide. Longyearbyen is a small piece of civilization in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. A visit to the northernmost permanently inhabited settlement in Europe is a truly extreme experience.
Mountains, glaciers and barren landscape as far as the view extends. There is no tree, hardly a bit of green here. Longyearbyen is 78 degrees north, about halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Between the end of October and mid-February, the sun no longer makes it over the horizon in the Arctic archipelago. Then it is polar night. And even in midsummer, temperatures rarely rise above five degrees Celsius. But none of this seems to frighten the approximately 2,100 inhabitants of the former mining town – and neither do the tourists who find their way here. Because there is hardly any other place in Europe where you can feel nature so closely, so directly and so pristine.
Life in extreme conditions
DW reporter Nicole Frölich also made this experience. For the series “Europa maxximal” in the culture and lifestyle magazine “Euromaxx” she explored Longyearbyen and found out how the inhabitants of the northernmost settlement in Europe deal with the challenging conditions on Svalbard. How do you protect yourself from the polar bears? And how do you grow vegetables in a place where the ground is permanently frozen? You can find out that and more in our video.
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Icy discoveries on Svalbard
The area around Longyearbyen offers a wealth of unique experiences. In winter you can go on a discovery tour by snowmobile or dog sled. And in summer on foot on multi-day glacier hikes. Or by boat to the impressive icebergs in the nearby fjords, where whales can often be seen. Sometimes you can even see the Northern Lights dance in the night sky. And if you are even more lucky, you might get to see the king of the Arctic on one of your trips around Longyearbyen: the polar bear. But please: always keep your distance!
Address: Longyearbyen, Svalbard Island, Norway
Getting there: Longyearbyen can be reached by plane from Oslo or Tromsø or by boat.
The special tip: In the restaurant “Gruvelageret” in a former warehouse you can trace Longyearbyen’s mining past. The Norwegian royal family has also dined here.
The book about the series
Europe from its extreme side: The “Europa maxximal” series in the lifestyle and culture magazine “Euromaxx” brings European superlatives to life – from extraordinary architecture and spectacular landscapes to unique cultural phenomena. The book “111 extreme places that one must have seen” is being published to accompany the series in cooperation with Emons Verlag. An alternative travel guide, informative and entertaining at the same time. For travel enthusiasts, Europe fans and everyone who likes to show off their unusual party knowledge. Record-breaking good!
Author: Patricia Szilagyi