Svalbard. An arctic wonderland where there are more snowmobiles and polar bears than human, where sun doesn’t come up for 6 months, where you can experience untamed wilderness – will surely be a love at first sight.
If you are hearing about this place for the first time or ready to plan a trip to Svalbard from India – don’t look any further!! We have got you covered in this super extensive guide to help you with everything you need to go to Svalbard from India.
We have visited this place in June 2022 and happy to share you everything starting from where it is, why you should visit, how to go, what to do, VISA, packing and everything else. So stay put and read on!!
800 km from mainland Norway and 1200 km from North Pole, in the heart of Arctic Ocean lies Svalbard. This is the northernmost inhabited place and closest you can go to North pole (obviously unless you are on an expedition).
At 78° N, Svalbard looks like just a dot and right next to north pole – this is the place where extraordinary is ordinary.
Why go to Svalbard
Svalbard blew our mind. It is truly an arctic fairy tale. We are not the person who likes cold, barren land with no sign of greenery – but Svalbard is one massive exception.
A landscape characterized by tundra, bare mountains, glaciers, extreme light conditions, and an exciting world of animals that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. To beginners, Svalbard may look desolate, with its vast open landscape, sparse vegetation, and endless glaciers.
But beyond this first impression, you’ll discover a pandora’s box of nature-based interactions
Svalbard history 101
Svalbard is a place with a rich history that has fascinated explorers from all over the world since the latter half of the 15th century. If you would like to know more, keep reading else you can jump to the next section.
Many Norwegians believe that the Vikings discovered the Svalbard Islands in 1194, but there is no evidence to show this, except that the mention of ‘Svalbarði’, the ‘cold rim’ in the Chronicles.
When the Englishman Henry Hudson announced in 1607 that the waters around Svalbard were full of bowhead whales, whalers flocked to the island in search of profitable whale oil. By the 17th century, whale hunters and sailors in the Netherlands, Great Britain, Spain, France, Germany, and Denmark had almost emptied the sea of whale population.
Pomors, a Russian ethnic group on the White Sea coast, came to Svalbard to hunt wildlife that breed in the arctic climate. Reindeer, arctic foxes, seals, walruses, and even polar bears. It is not known exactly when they first came here, but unlike whalers, Pomors had a more sustainable hunting method that did not thin out wildlife populations.
Since the 19th century, Spitsbergen has been dominated by Norwegians. In 1906, the first settlement was established to support coal mining in the region.
The Arctic Coal Company was founded under the leadership of American businessman John Munro Longyear, who acquired the rights for western Adventfjorden.
The resulting city of managers and workers was called Longyear City and was later renamed the as per Norwegian translation to “Longyearbyen”. In the 1920s, permanent coal mining was established in some parts of Svalbard.
The Spitsbergen Treaty came into full force in 1925, recognizing Norway’s sovereignty over the archipelago.
In the 1930s, all settlements were Norwegian or Soviet. Since the end of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russia’s population on the island has declined sharply. As of today, coal mining is almost stopped, and tourism and environmental research are the main industries here
Settlements in Svalbard
Svalbard is an archipelago with many small towns and settlements spreads all over it.
Spitsbergen: Spitsbergen is the largest land mass in Svalbard, it is the largest and most visited island in Svalbard. Before Svalbard treaty in 1920s, the entire Svalbard area was known as Spitsbergen. Even today many refers Svalbard as Spitsbergen
Longyearbyen: Longyearbyen is the capital of Svalbard and this is the place where you will spend most of your time. You will stay, roam, eat and book activities from Longyearbyen only. This place has around 2500 people from over 50 countries of the world
Barentsburg: Barentsburg is the only Russian settlement as of today in Svalbard. It was primarily a coal mining town. You will see few shops, stays, restaurants and statue of Lenin here in Barentsburg. You can take a day trip from Longyearbyen to visit here. In summer you can reach here by boat and in winter it is possible to visit here by Snowmobile
Pyramiden: One of the top most ghost town as per National Geographic’s list – Pyramiden is an abandoned Russian village in Svalbard. It is one of the most famous day tours from Longyearbyen.
Once home to more than 1000 people, the city has been left abandoned since late 20th century.
You should absolutely book a day tour to Pyramiden – however it depends on the sea-ice condition.
Ny-Alesund: It is the north most settlement of the world. It also acts as a base for North Pole expeditions. However only 40 around people live here all year around and primarily only for scientific research. Here you will see famous Ronald Amundsen’s statue. You can take a daytrip from Longyeabyen
Interesting facts of Svalbard
- People from 50+ countries in the world with majority from Russia, Norway, Sweden, and other EU nations. We also met Gabriela in our stay, she is from Mexico and staying in Longyearbyen for last 3 years
- Because there are many bird species, cats are banned in Longyeaarbyen
- It is not permissible to be born and die (if someone dies, the body will be taken to mainland for burial) here. Because of permafrost nature of soil, buried bodies don’t decompose here at all. And birth is not possible because of not so highly resources hospital here
- There is only one supermarket which get supplies through ship. And in case of any emergency the supermarket has stored of supplies that can last for 3 months for everyone in the island
- Whenever you enter a house, shop or restaurant – it is mandatory to remove outdoor shoes. This is a ritual followed for years mainly to keep coal dusts outside since most of the population were working in coal mines
- The sun doesn’t come out here for 6 months including close to 60 days of complete darkness during winters. This is called as polar nights – when 11 am and 11pm doesn’t have any difference. On the other hand, for close to 60 days in summer the sun never sets
- There are no street names and people normally doesn’t lock their houses and cars here
- In Svalbard you have more polar bears (close to 3000) and snowmobiles than human
- If you venture outside city limit, carrying a rifle with license and flair gun is must. This is for protection from polar bear. However, you can’t shoot a polar bear the moment you see it. The attempts should be made to scare him/her away with the flash gun. In case you need to use the rifle in self-defense – the reason should be justified in front of a committee
How to reach Svalbard from India
From India you should take a flight to Oslo, capital of Norway first. If you are already in Europe, you can come to Oslo.
From Oslo there is flight to Longyearbyen which takes around 5 hrs with a stopover in Tromso. Both Norwegian Airlines and SAS offer flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen.
Airport is only 6 km away from Longyearbyen town. You can easily take a bus (see the time table here) or if you are a group of 2+ people, taking a taxi will also work out cheaper.
In case you have more time, there are cruises also which go to Svalbard. However if you plan a trip to Svalbard from India in summer, we highly recommend to book your tickets, stays and activities at least 2 months in advance.
Though Svalbard is under Norwegian government, it is considered outside Schengen area. Hence if you plan a trip to Svalbard from India – you need double entry Schengen VISA.
You should apply it through VFS Global through Norway Embassy (or any other European country you are entering first or staying the most number of days)
We have applied it with Norway Embassy. Steps are very clearly mentioned here also on the VFS Website. For us it took 20 working days for the VISA, but since the processing time is higher now – the first step in you planning for Svalbard from India should be booking the visa appointment slot.
Only remember to apply for double entry VISA, as while going and coming there will be a passport check at Tromso. So you will leave Schengen area at Tromso (mainland Norway) and enter again via Tromso while coming back from Longyearbyen.
Best time to plan a trip to Svalbard from India
There are primarily 3 seasons in Svalbard:
Polar Summer (Mid-June to September):
This is the most common time to visit Svalbard. Temperature hovers between 5°C to 10°C. Most of the tourists visit during summer months when the sky is clear, ices are gone, wildlife siting is more favorable.
You will also have daylight for almost 24 hours. But expect high price and more crowd during these months
Long Winter (October to Mid-March):
This is the time when ice covers the streets, 11am feels no different than 11 pm. Most people gather indoor for concert and parties. The best thing is you will get to see northern lights even during daytime.
Also, during January, February; the sun starts slowly coming out of horizon. It creates amazing colour of lights – which is commonly known as blue light
Spring (Mid-March to Mid-June):
This is a very good shoulder season to avoid the crowd of summer and complete frozenness of the winter. You can go snowmobiling, dog sledding tours, some boat trips. Weather also starts getting more and more comfortable
We visited during last week of May and the weather was very pleasant. Though snowmobiling and dog sledding tours were stopped by then due to lack of ice – almost all other hiking and boat tours were started.
TEE Tip: June or July is the time we recommend visiting Svalbard if you want to see wildlife and enjoy the warm arctic weather.If you are interested in snowmobiling and northern lights, then February can be the ideal time to visit.
Things to do when in Svalabard
There are a lot of things to do in Svalbard. Since you can’t go outside city limit by yourself due to polar bear protection – you must choose a tour/activity for almost everything.
You can refer to Visit Svalbard Activity Planner and use filters to narrow down activities based on season, type and duration
There are few activities you can do year around:
- Longyearbyen city tours
- Visit to coal mine
- ATV tours
- Few boat tours including Pyramiden and Barentsburg (not possible in the months of complete darkness)
Few activities will be specific to a season:
- Wildlife sighting tours by boat (summer)
- Kayaking (summer)
- Dog sledding on wheels (summers)
- Dog sledding on ice (winter)
- Snowmobiling (winter)
- Ice cave tours (winter)
- Northern light tours (winter)
TEE Tip: We recommend following activities based on your time of visit.
- Boat trip to Pyramiden (Summer)
- Fjord safari with RIB boat to take you closest to glacier – maximum chance of wildlife spotting (Summer)
- Kayaking (Summer)
- Multi-day snowmobiling or dog sledding (winter)
- Northern light tours (winter)
- Ice-caves (winter)
If you are inclined towards seeing wildlife like Walrus, Seal, Polar bear – we suggest you maximize your number of boat tours that take you closest to glaciers. Alternatively, you can choose a multi-day expedition in a cruise to increase your chance of seeing wildlife
A sample itinerary
We went to Svalbard in end of May and spent 3 nights in Svalbard. It is ideal to spend 4/5 nights in Svalbard if your budget permits. We recommend the below itinerary for a 5-night trip to Svalbard in summer.
If you have a smaller number of days, you can pick whichever attracts you more and if you have more days you can refer to the previous section to choose more activities. However, if you have more than 5 nights in Svalbard, we recommend taking an expedition cruise to go deeper into the arctic ocean and spot wildlife in their natural habitat.
Day 1: Arrive at Longyearbyen. Evening walk around the city (church, supermarket, harbor, polar bear signboards, north pole museum)
Day 2: Take a trip to Pyramiden. The tour will be of whole day. There are multiple tour companies offer this tour. You can chose the above one or any other based on availability
Day 3: Take a RIB boat tour to Isfjorden. This will take you close to the glaciers – a truly Discovery channel feeling
Day 4: Keep this day to challenge yourself. A full day of hiking and kayaking with Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions. The trip will be demanding but immensely rewarding.
Day 5: Morning to explore Longyearbyen town. You can book a cab to visit Global Seed Vault. In the evening do Catch of the day trip with Better Moments. It will be one of the most memorable trips to end your time in Svalbard
Day 6: Fly out of Longyearbyen
Wildlife in Svalbard
Svalbard is considered as “The wildlife capital of the Arctic”. You will find a lot of them roaming freely, undisturbed, in their natural habitat. And this makes Svalbard truly special.
You can see a lot of different type of birds who invade Svalbard during the summer.
You will surely see reindeer roaming fearlessly in the streets of Longyearbyen. Since there is no predator, they feel completely safe. Reindeer is one of the animals you can see even in winters. They are truly in abundance here
You can also spot arctic foxes on land and seals & whales in the ocean during summer.
The other significant animal you can see is Walrus. They stay in colonies, and you can spot them next to the ocean on the glacier ice. There are multiple Walrus Safaris that take you closer to these beautiful animals.
However, one thing to remember is to respect the wildlife, don’t do anything to interfere what they are doing. Just observe–click–memorize!!
In the next section, let’s talk about the one you are waiting for – The king of arctic: Polar Bear
Do you know? Walruses are known as “Heavyweight champions of arctic”. Due to the size and strength of these animals, even a polar bear doesn’t mess with them !!
How can I spot Polar bear
Now let’s answer the elephant in the room. Polar bear and Svalbard have become synonymous since the tourism started to pick up in this part of the world.
Polar bears are undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous animals roaming in our planet, but we urge you not to pivot your trip only around Polar bear. Svalbard has lot to offer.
No one and trust us no one can guarantee you polar bear sighting. It is just a game of probability.
Yes, Svalbard has more polar bears than human, but they don’t roam on the streets of Longyearbyen. During winter, there are chances of polar bear coming outside the city as the entire area is covered with ice. However, if any polar bear comes within the city limit, the authority tries to chase them away as soon as possible.
Hence if you want to spot polar bear, you can try your luck by taking multiple RIB type boat tours from Longyearbyen during summer which takes you different parts of glaciers far from Longyearbyen. Alternatively, if you can afford, the best way is to opt for a multi-day boat tour in the remote glacier regions which are not accessible in a day tour from Longyearbyen.
Polar bears don’t stay in one spot, they are continuously moving in search of food. Hence spotting them on the glacier closer to the ocean is really high if you keep sailing along the glaciers.
Where to stay in Svalbard
Longyearbyen has few very good stays, starting from basic to luxury. Even the basic accommodations are also very cozy.
We recommend if you can ditch the mainstream hotels in this trip, you can stay in modified coal-miner’s barracks. These are rustic, beautiful, comfortable and transport back you in time
We stayed in Mary Ann’s Polarrigg and loved our 3 night’s stay here. The living area is super comfortable with great views of mountain behind. You can get a common kitchen if you are planning to cook.
The place has its own charm, very short walking distance to city center and the harbour (where you can meet arctic ocean)
The food (we had breakfast included in our plan) was really good and their restaurant is “the green-most place in entire Longyearbyen”. You can enjoy an amazing breakfast with a breathtaking view!!
Budget options: If you are looking for cheaper options than Mary Ann’s Polarrigg, you can try Coal Miner’s cabin or Gjestehuset 102 but both are almost 2 km away from city centre. Most of the rooms in these two places come with shared bathrooms
All of them are amazing options and centrally located
High end options:
Apart from Funken lodge all of them are centrally located. Funken Lodge is one of the most luxurious stay in Longyearbyen, 15 mins walking to town centre.
Where to eat
If you are planning to dine out on Svalbard, there are so many options to choose from.
The most famous one is Kroa Restaurant with amazing décor, rustic sitting, animal skins on the wall. It is very famous among locals and decently priced.
Svalbar is another good place just to sit, chill and have a beer with a snack.
Husky Café is another famous one to grab a cup of coffee with a sandwich. There are two very cute huskies you can meet there and some amazing wall decors to get an instgrammable click
You can also visit Restaurant Polfareren if you want a gourmet dish without splurging.
If you are craving for bakery or pastry items, you can visit Fruenne Kaffe Og Vinbar
Finally, if you want to try some authentic cusinies like reindeer meat or seal meet; we recommend you visit Vinterhagen Restaurant as part of Mary Ann’s Polarigg
If you plan a trip to Svalbard from India then please note we haven’t seen any Indian restaurants in Longyearbyen. Your best bet may be by things from grocery and self-cooking.
TEE Tip: We had our breakfast included in our stay at Mary Ann’s Polarrigg. We additionally did grocery shopping and cooked all our meals. We picked most of the grocery from Oslo and shopped few in Svalbard Grocery store.
Hence none of the restaurants mentioned above we personally visited, but something we heard most from the locals in our hotel and tour guides.
Packing guide for Svalbard
To keep things simple, you can consider there are only two seasons in Svalbard – Summer (mid-May to mid Sep) and Winter (mid Sep to mid-May).
However, like us if you plan a trip to Svalbard from India, remember the coldest winter in most of India is warmer than average temperature in Svalbard summer. So multiple layers and quality warm clothes are non-negotiable here.
Below are few indicative items which are absolute must
- Thermals (top and bottom)
- Hiking pants
- Fleece and warm base layers
- Down jacket
- Woolen socks
- Heavy coat (optional)
- Warm full sleeve shirts
- Woolen gloves
- Woolen Caps
- Shoe with firm grip
- Underwear and woolen socks
- Umbrella, day pack and European travel adapter
If you are travelling in winter, you need to carry few extra things along with above ones
- Warm winter trousers
- One extra pair of gloves and hat
- Neck warmer
- Feet and hand warmer
- Reflective vest (if visiting during polar nights. Renting them may be costly from your stay)
Shopping and Super Market
Svalbardbutikken is the biggest and only supermarket in Longyearbyen. You can find pretty much everything from grocery, ready made foods to souvenirs to phone charger everything in that.
It remains open till 6 pm, however timing changes in weekends.
You also will get multiple other shops or winterwears and souvenirs. We bought our souvenir from a handicraft shop opposite to Svalbar restaurant.
Finally, the most awaited and commonly asked section!!
We kept this till the end, as Svalbard is a place where not many budget hacks will work. It is by no means a cheap destination. Specially if you plan a trip to Svalbard from India, food and activity prices can give you jitters.
The entire place works cashless and consider NOK (Norwegian Kronar) as the official cuurency.
Ensure you have a credit card with international transaction enabled or a forex debit card.
Even in buses from airport take card payments only.
If you are doing a trip to Pyramiden, there they only accept cash
Flights: We took flight from Oslo with Norwegian Airlines. It costed us INR 23000 or 290 euro per person for a round trip to Longyearbyen.
However, we paid around 3000 INR or 40 Euro extra for the baggage (together for 2 person – we had to pay for one extra bag).
We booked the ticket with one handbag and one check in bag but with Norwegian airlines, there is a difference between under seat baggage or overhead baggage. Hence, we had to pay extra for one hand baggage as it was not considered as under seat baggage.
TEE Tip: We suggest you book the flights as soon as your VISA Appointment is confirmed (preferably at least 50 days prior) and check the baggage rules carefully
Stay: If you are staying in a high-end hotel be ready to spend around 400 euro or 32000 INR per night for 2 people.
For mid-range options, the price should be around 300 euro or 25000 INR per person.
We stayed in Mary Ann’s Polarrigg and paid 1100 euro for a 4-sharing room for 3 nights. Which means, we paid around only 180 euro for a couple per night.
This was surely a lifesaver for us since we travelled in a group.
Activities: This is one place we highly recommend don’t think about savings. You don’t come to Svalbard every day the activities we suggested above are truly once in lifetime.
Most of the daylong activities start from 200 euro (2000 NOK or 16000 INR) and small hal day ones are around 70 euro (700 NOK or 5500 INR) per person.
Based on your budget you should choose the number of activities.
Food: This is where we saved a lot by not eating out. And this is probably the only budget hack we can suggest. We spent around 100 euro (around 8000 INR) for a couple on food for 3 nights in Svalbard.
With our breakfasts covered in the stay, we had very decent set of snacks, lunch, dinner, and drinks with the money we spent.
TEE Tip: Do your grocery shopping in Oslo and minimize grocery shopping at Svalbard. For example, 12 eggs pack costing 34 NOK in Oslo was costing 54 NOK in Longyearbyen.
However, we do understand that you can’t carry everything you need from Oslo. But idea is to carry whatever you can.
Miscallenous: Apart from above items, you should spend on airports transfers (170 NOK/17 Euro/1300 INR is the return bus ticket cost per person).
However, we took a taxi and it costed us 200 NOK one way. Since we were four, it was 50 NOK per person or 100 NOK per person for roundtrip. Cheaper than taking a bus anyway.
Next is shopping. We picked up only souvenirs from Longyearbyen. One postcard costed us 160 INR ( 2 Euro or 20 NOK) and magnets were in the range of 500 to 700 INR (60 to 80 NOK or 6 to 8 euro)
How much we spent ?
We spent around 1 lac INR per person from Oslo to Oslo for a 3 night’s stay in Longyearbyen. We did one full day and one half day activity. (One full day activity was cancelled due to bad weather).
Definitely a lot, but we are completely convinced that each penny spent was more than worth it !!
Packaged tours are much costlier and only for multi day ocean cruises from cities like Oslo, Helsinki etc. Inclusive of everything from Oslo to Oslo or Helsinki to Helsinki. Can cost minimum around USD 5500 (close to 4.5 lac INR per person) for 7 days.
So yeah, this is all you need to plan a trip to Svalbard from India.
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