Life in the world’s northernmost town isn’t for the fainthearted, as one hardy resident has revealed.
Eveline Lunde moved to Longyearbyen several years ago and says she is still adjusting to the icy wilderness.
The colorful town is nestled in a valley and home to around 2,300 residents. In terms of its location, it is in the heart of Svalbard which is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean and some 800 miles from the North Pole.
In a first-person piece for Insider, Eveline says some of the things that surprised her after moving there from the bright lights of Oslo, Norway, was the lack of trees, the abundance of polar bears and the 24 hours of daylight which comes during the spring and summer months.
There is sunlight 24 hours-a-day for five months
Eveline Lunde moved to Longyearbyen several years ago and says she is still adjusting to the icy wilderness
Come the winter months from November to February, the polar night brings 24-hour darkness
The colorful town is nestled in a valley and home to around 2,300 residents. In terms of its location, it is in the heart of Svalbard which is a Norwegian archipelago
There are few settlements in the world further north than Longyearbyen, as this graphic shows
Writing for Insider , Eveline explains that in Longyearbyen the amount of daylight they receive varies drastically depending on the time of year.
During the spring and summer months from April to August, they have midnight sun and it stays light for 24 hours a day.
Eveline says this makes it tricky to sleep and ‘many locals cover their windows with aluminum in order to keep out the sunlight.’
Then, come the winter months from November to February, the polar night brings 24-hour darkness.
Eveline concludes: ‘Essentially, there are only two and a half months a year when we can experience the normal day and night cycle I was used to before I moved.’
There aren’t any trees in Longyearbyen
Svalbard has a high Arctic climate which means a thick subsurface layer of soil remains frozen throughout the year.
Eveline says as a result of this ‘permafrost,’ ‘there are no trees and almost no vegetation here.’
When things thaw out slightly during the summer, the adventurer says some flowers grow but residents and visitors are not allowed to pick them.
The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act states that no person may damage or remove flora from the archipelago as it will take many years for the landscape to recover.
However, the Visit Svalbard website says that ‘damage resulting from lawful access, passage or approved activities is excepted from this provision’ and the collection of fungi and seaweed for private use is also permitted.
Polar bears are a constant threat
According to the Visit Svalbard website, the polar bear population in the Svalbard archipelago and Barents Sea is around 3,000, which exceeds the human population
As polar bears are protected in Norway and it is illegal to kill them, Eveline points out that you can only ‘shoot in a life-threatening situation’
According to the Visit Svalbard website, the polar bear population in the Svalbard archipelago and Barents Sea is around 3,000, which exceeds the human population.
For this reason, Eveline says residents always need to watch out for bruins and are ‘often encouraged to carry rifles.’
In the supermarket, post office and other stores, there are secure lockers for people to store their guns while they run errands.
As polar bears are protected in Norway and it is illegal to kill them, Eveline points out that you can only ‘shoot in a life-threatening situation.’
While Longyearbyen is considered a ‘safe zone,’ there have still been sightings in the town.
She recounts one particular incident, writing: ‘During Christmastime in 2019, a polar bear walked down our main street. Luckily, it was early in the morning, so there weren’t many people around to begin with. Eventually, the police scared the bear away.’
There are remote cabins to rent
Dotted around Svalbard, Eveline says that she discovered tiny cabins that can be rented out.
These can be accessed via snowmobile or on skis and she says ‘lots of locals take the opportunity to rent the cabins at a low rate.’
As the cabins are very remote with no phone signal, a satellite communication device is necessary.
The Visit Svalbard website sums up cabin life as ‘simple Arctic luxury.’
Eveline warns about leaving any food or goods behind though as she has heard of polar bears breaking through cabin walls and windows to get their paws on things.
The ice and snow formations are unreal
Along with stunning mountain ranges, Eveline says Svalbard has ‘beautiful snow and ice formations’ like glaciers, which cover 60 per cent of the archipelago
Photos posted to Eveline’s Instagram account @evelinelunde show her dressed in the appropriate gear as she explores a spread of otherworldly ice formations
Although the caves are ‘beautiful,’ she warns that they can pose a ‘big threat’ to snowmobilers as snow covering the cavernous spaces can often collapse
Along with stunning mountain ranges, Eveline says Svalbard has ‘beautiful snow and ice formations’ like glaciers, which cover 60 per cent of the archipelago.
Lurking below the surface, there is a maze of frozen channels and caves which can sometimes run for miles.
She adds: ‘The caves can be miles long and several feet below ground.
‘With the proper helmets, spikes, and headlights, you can safely explore their beautiful ice formations and even some fossils.’
Photos posted to Eveline’s Instagram account @evelinelunde show her dressed in the appropriate gear as she explores a spread of otherworldly ice formations in piercing shades of blue.
Although the caves are ‘beautiful,’ she warns that they can pose a ‘big threat’ to snowmobilers as snow covering the cavernous spaces can often collapse.
Residents use snowmobiles and boats instead of cars
Instead of traveling by road, Eveline says Svalbard residents generally get around on snowmobiles.
There are ‘about 27 miles of road’ in Longyearbyen but these do not connect to other settlements around the archipelago.
While residents use snowmobiles or dog sleds to get around in the winter, boats are the favored mode of transport come the summer.
For international travel, there is an airport on the outskirts of Longyearbyen serving the archipelago, with serval flights scheduled per day.
Pregnant people and dead bodies are transported to the mainland
‘The town handles childbirth and deaths differently than most places I’ve been,’ Eveline says.
As the small emergency medical hospital is not equipped to handle childbirth, ‘pregnant people are advised to travel to the mainland about a month before their due date.’
Turning to deaths, the Visit Svalbard website notes that coffin burials are not permitted in Svalbard because of the permafrost.
It explains: ‘As well as affecting the decomposition of corpses, the repeated thawing and freezing throughout the seasons can cause coffins to be slowly pushed upwards.’
Therefore, coffin burials must take place on the mainland, with corpses and coffins transported via plane.
Urn burials, on the other hand, are permitted for people who were resident in Svalbard at the time of their death.
There are still some luxuries to be had
Instead of traveling by road, Eveline says Svalbard residents generally get around on snowmobiles
Eveline raises a cheers as she goes for an icy summer dip in the ocean
Despite its remote location, Eveline says Longyearbyen is ‘home to some great restaurants and a luxury hotel.’
One of her recommendations when it comes to fine dining is the Huset Restaurant, which she says ‘focuses on using as much of an animal as possible and relies on local ingredients.’
It offers a tasting menu, with some of the dishes including warm and cold cuts of reindeer, an Arctic king crab lollipop, and smoked Svalbard seal.
Meanwhile on the hotel front, she and her boyfriend like to check into the Funken Lodge for a swanky staycation as the place serves up ‘amazing cocktails, ‘a fantastic atmosphere,’ and a wine cellar ‘with one of the largest selections in Norway.’
‘A private tasting is perfect for a date night,’ she adds.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LONGYEARBYEN
Longyearbyen was originally established by and named after John Munro Longyear, an American businessman whose Arctic Coal Company started coal mining operations in 1906.
Population records for the settlement aren’t that comprehensive but surviving documents show that in 1917 there were 180 male workers along with 34 women and children.
By 1920 numbers had increased to 289 men and 37 women and children.
In the mid-20th century, authorities strived to turn the industrial town into more of a family community.
The opening of the airport in 1975 helped make Longyearbyen accessible to the outside world and today, with the decline of coal mining, it is better known as an embarkation point for tourist boats.
Many travelers go on from the city to sail around the shores of Svalbard, spotting polar bears and other animals as they go.
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