Snow Seeking in Svalbard: A Winter Trip Into the Arctic
This trip report covers a short winter holiday to Svalbard (Spitsbergen) in Norway.
A trip to Svalbard
The archipelago of Svalbard (also known as Spitsbergen, which is the name of the main island) has always been near the top of my bucket list.
There are several reasons why this arctic archipelago attracted me, with the remote location of these islands and the fabulous scenery perhaps being the main factors.
However, there were some valid reasons why I held off on visiting for so long, primarily because of the high costs of a Svalbard trip.
Norway generally is a very expensive country to visit when it comes to accommodation, food and alcohol, and due to its remote location Svalbard is even worse as almost everything needs to be imported from the mainland.
Flights to Svalbard can certainly be expensive too, so when I found a cheap return ticket on SAS Scandinavian Airlines from Oslo to the island’s main airport at Longyearbyen, I decided to bite and book my trip.
Why visit Svalbard
Before I will go into more detail about the specifics of my trip and how I booked everything, let’s first take a look at some of the main reasons why you should visit Svalbard.
First of all, the fact that Longyearbyen is the most northerly commercial airport with scheduled flights in the world makes flying out here already quite special.
Only Alert Airport in Nunavut, Canada is located further north, although that airfield is only served by military charters.
Secondly, Svalbard has a highly interesting history, which started with the discovery of the remote islands in 1596 by Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz.
Geographically and politically speaking, Svalbard certainly is an interesting place too.
Although it’s part of Norway, the Svalbard archipelago is a special economic and visa-free zone.
This special status has its origins in the Svalbard Treaty of 1920, which allows signatory countries the right to freely engage in commercial activities on the islands and gives their citizens the right to settle (the latter right has been extended to citizens of all world countries, provided that they can sustain themselves and adhere to the law).
Because of this there is an entire Russian mining concession (the town of Barentsburg) on the island of Spitsbergen and you will even find quite a lot of Thai people living in Longyearbyen.
Last but not least, the wild natural beauty of Svalbard is world-renowned.
Best time to visit Svalbard
I decided to visit Svalbard in the winter month of March.
Some of you might perhaps think I’m slightly mad to travel into the Arctic in winter as it does indeed get cold out there, with temperatures hovering around a balmy -20 degrees Celsius on average.
Indeed, summer is the main tourist season in Svalbard and if you visit this time of the year you’ll profit from 24 hours of daylight thanks to the midnight sun as well as average temperatures of around 5 degrees Celsius.
Summer is also a great time to admire the flora and fauna and to take a cruise on a small ship around the archipelago, something which is far more difficult in winter due to all the sea ice and more unreliable weather.
However, there are several reasons why visiting Svalbard at the end of winter or in early spring is worth it.
Given that the sun doesn’t rise at all in December, January and February I would avoid these months unless you love darkness, but the months just before and after make for a great time to visit.
From early March to mid-April the sun slowly starts to show itself above the horizon in a season which is called “pastel winter” by the locals.
You are likely to have clear skies and there will be enough light during the day for winter activities such as dog sledding or making a snowmobile ride.
As the sun doesn’t rise much above the horizon throughout the day this time of the year, the colours are especially beautiful as daytime is basically one long sunrise or sunset!
This is why the locals call it pastel winter, as the mountains, snow and sky all have beautiful pastel colours due to the special light conditions from the sun’s low position in the sky.
If that’s not enough reason to visit, the months of March and April also have a relatively high probability of seeing the northern lights (aurora borealis).
And the cold temperature? Well, having already visited Siberia in the middle of winter (and quite loving the entire experience!) I was sure I would survive a trip to the Arctic as well.
Booking the trip
Booking my Svalbard trip was rather straightforward.
Svalbard’s Longyearbyen Airport (LYR) has year-round flights to two cities on the Norwegian mainland, namely Oslo (OSL) and Tromsø (TOS).
Both SAS Scandinavian Airlines and Norwegian operate flights between Longyearbyen and Oslo and Tromsø.
For a return flight ticket on SAS between Oslo and Longyearbyen I paid 200 euro, which I thought was a fair price.
With my Svalbard ticket settled, I still had to find a way to get to Norway in the first place from my home in Romania.
On the outbound I went for a Wizz Air flight from Bucharest to Oslo Torp, which cost me only €12.50 (and an additional 18 euro for priority boarding and for advanced seat assignment).
Although I could have technically flown into Oslo Torp Airport and continued straight to the city’s main Gardermoen Airport by train to catch my flight to Svalbard, I decided against this and added a night’s stay in Oslo as a safe cushion in the case of a delay as I was travelling on two separate tickets.
On the way back from Svalbard to Romania, I decided to take a same-day onward flight, flying from Oslo to Istanbul and Bucharest with Turkish Airlines just three hours after the arrival of my SAS flight from Longyearbyen.
This flight back was a bit more pricey at €155, bringing the total flight costs for this trip at €385.50.
On a map, the flights look like this:
Hotels and local excursions
Of course, I still had to book hotels in Oslo and Longyearbyen and side excursions on Svalbard.
I’ll detail the costs and my experiences in the separate chapters of this Svalbard trip report.
Highlights to look forward to in this ‘Snow Seeking in Svalbard: A Winter Trip Into the Arctic’ trip report include:
– Flying to the northernmost commercial airport in the world
– Braving freezing cold temperatures in Svalbard
– A snowmobile ride through the amazing winter wonderland of Svalbard
– A visit to the Russian mining town of Barentsburg
Trip report index
This ‘Snow Seeking in Svalbard: A Winter Trip Into the Arctic’ trip report consists of the following chapters:
1. Low-Cost Travel to Norway: Oslo on the Cheap
2. Review: SAS Business and Gold Lounge Oslo Airport
3. Review: Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg Hotel, Longyearbyen
4. A Svalbard Snowmobile Ride to Barentsburg
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **