Enjoying Twilight at Adventfjorden

The world’s northernmost city  – and Svalbard’s only town with more than a handful of inhabitants – Longyearbyen is the base for tourism in Svalbard. While you might get “island fever” (as the locals call it) and want to spend all of your time snow scootering across the glaciers and frozen fjords, spend some time exploring this quirky town! We took a Maxi Taxi guided tour and learned these fun facts about Longyearbyen:

1. Longyearbyen was founded by an American.

An American, John Longyear, started the Arctic Coal Company and set up a mining operation for around 500 people in 1906. The settlement was known as Longyear City. Today it is Longyearbyen, meaning Longyear City in Norwegian.

Colorful Wooden Houses of Longyearbyen

2. Longyearbyen is built on stilts.

The ground in Svalbard is permafrost, which means the soil is permanently frozen year-round. In Longyearbyen, the permafrost ranges from 10 to 40 meters deep, with an active layer that melts each summer as the temperatures rise above freezing. The slilts, or piles, keep the building away from the active layer to prevent flooding and sinking!

3. It’s customary to take your shoes off.

It’s a local custom to take your shoes off indoors and you’ll see a sign kindly asking you to do so in many establishments. This extends to hotels, the Svalbard Museum, the church, and the tourist information office. But don’t worry, slippers are often provided to keep your feet from getting cold!

Skis. Check! Gun. Check!

4. Check your gun at the door!

More than 3,000 polar bears live around Svalbard; they are curious and sometimes hungry after not eating for months at a time. It is required to carry and know how to use a high-powered rifle anytime you leave the settlement. While it became a usual sight to see everyone casually walking about town with a rifle slung over their shoulder, guns are not allowed inside any building.

Clever signs remind you, “All the polar bears in this shop are already dead, please leave your weapon with the staff.”

5. Snow scooters are the preferred mode of transportation.

There are no roads outside of the settlements of Longyearbyen, Barentsburg, and Ny-Ålesund and the roads do not connect the settlements with each other. Snowmobiles, called snow scooters in Svalbard, are crucial for transportation in the long winter months. They are so crucial, in fact, that there are 4,000 snow scooters for Longyearbyen’s 2,000 residents.

6. The sun does not rise for 4 months!

The sun sets each year for the very last time on October 25th and it will not rise above the horizon again for four months. The sun officially returns to Longyearbyen on March 8th, when it is finally high enough above the horizon to illuminate the steps of the old hospital.

Solfestuka is a week-long celebration to welcome the return of the sun and the entire town gathers on the steps of the old hospital at precisely 12:15 to await its arrival.

7. Home to the world’s northernmost gourmet restaurant.

The historic Huset is the world’s northernmost gourmet restaurant and boasts one of Europe’s largest wine cellars with more than 20,000 bottles. The tasting menu is a great way to indulge in Arctic fare.

The Northernmost Church

8. Speaking of northernmosts…

The world’s northernmost church, ATM, Post Office, museum, commercial airport, and university are all located in Longyearbyen!

9. The streets have no names.

The streets of Longyearbyen do not have names; they simply go by numbers. As Peter Adams said, “Grown men do not build houses on streets that are named Blueberry Road or Teddy Bear Yard!”

10. You can’t have a cat as a pet.

You won’t find cat food at the local co-op. Svalbard is home to abundant Arctic bird populations and cats pose a problem for the birdlife. So Svalbard has prohibited them.

A Reindeer Wandered Right Into Our Path

11. Reindeer wander through town.

The Svalbard reindeer have no natural predators so they are very docile animals. They wander right through town and aren’t generally bothered by people being nearby.

12. It’s illegal to die.

Yes, you read the right! Death is forbidden. Longyearbyen only has a small graveyard that stopped accepting new burials over 70 years ago. Why? Because the bodies never decompose. Scientists found that bodies are perfectly preserved because of the permafrost.

So if you’re going to die, go do it somewhere else. It’s the law!

Svalbard Maxi Taxi 275 NOK per person; includes transport from/to accommodations.

About The Author
Jennifer Dombrowski is a training specialist and social media strategist in the field of higher education. Based in Italy with her husband, Tim, they have a passion for travel and love discovering the world. Follow her on twitter @jdomb or on Facebook.


NOTE: This trip was sponsored in part by Northern Norway and Visit Norway USA.

A Polar Bear Greets You at the Co-op
A Polar Bear Greets You at the Co-op
Skis. Check! Gun. Check!
Skis. Check! Gun. Check!
This Cute Little Guy is Getting a Ride to the Co-op
This Cute Little Guy is Getting a Ride to the Co-op
The Northernmost Church
The Northernmost Church
Colorful Wooden Houses of Longyearbyen
Colorful Wooden Houses of Longyearbyen
The Cemetery
The Cemetery
Who Needs an Engine When You Have Huskies to Pull Your Landcruiser?
Who Needs an Engine When You Have Huskies to Pull Your Landcruiser?
Adventfjorden at the Foot of Longyearbyen
Adventfjorden at the Foot of Longyearbyen
A Miner and His Pick
A Miner and His Pick
Snow Scooter Parking!
Snow Scooter Parking!
Enjoying Twilight at Adventfjorden
Enjoying Twilight at Adventfjorden
Leave Your Gun, Please!
Leave Your Gun, Please!
View From Our Room at Svalbard Hotel
View From Our Room at Svalbard Hotel
A Reindeer Wandered Right Into Our Path
A Reindeer Wandered Right Into Our Path
Great Example of Building on Pilings
Great Example of Building on Pilings
Longyearbyen's main street (Photo by Jennifer Dombrowski, who visited Svalbard)
Longyearbyen's main street (Photo by Jennifer Dombrowski, who visited Svalbard)



30 Comments On "12 Facts You Never Knew About Longyearbyen: The World’s Northernmost City"
  1. Durant Imboden|

    Another curious fact about Longyearbyen: The Karls-Berber Pub claims to have one of Europe’s leading selections of whiskies and cognacs. It offers 1,020 varieties of liquor (including 100-year-old brandies), which means you could spend nearly three years in Longyearbyen and try a different drink every night before rebooting your booze cycle.


  2. Durant Imboden|

    Oops–that’s the “Karls-Berger Pub,” not the “Karls-Berber Pub.” (After all, it’s in Svalbard, not in Morocco!)

  3. N.T.|

    Visit in summer (for obvious reasons) but it is a trip you will never forget.
    Scandinavian Airlines SAS fly from Oslo over Tromsö another wonderful place you need to visit also in summer so that you can enjoy the long summer nights. Tromså very often have temperatures around 25C i summer so don’t bring your furcoat!

  4. Veronica|

    I like fact about shoes =) Thank you for the article

  5. Anonymous|

    Absolutely fascinating to comprehend daily Nordic life in Longyearbyen from Montague, New Jersey!
    With very best wishes,
    Christian De Nicola

  6. Anonymous|

    4000 snowscooters? For 2000 people? typo?

    1. Anonymous|

      True. Mostly for tourists

  7. Anonymous|

    Great info! Am going on a Quark Expedition this summer and found your site. I read there are Ukrainians working at the Russian goldmine so I am looking for an Ortho9dox Church to make connections. Any leads? Thanks

  8. Willem|

    275 NOK PER PERSON taxi?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

    Why on EARTH would a taxi be that expensive in a place where you can walk to everything in 5 minutes?

    1. Anonymous|

      Wow, I know. Lazy, rich people I presume?

      1. Anonymous|

        Not so! There are many active elderly folk who have the right and interest to visit but are unable to walk the distances, sometimes several kms. (however short it may be for you) with luggage!

  9. Charles Noble|

    So, what happens if you DO die here? I’m assuming that the law doesn’t come with a provision for immortality.

    1. Anonymous|

      Actually they’ll throw your corpse in jail.

      Oh, also, DONT get arrested and thrown in jail in Longyearbyen.

      1. Anonymous|

        Can you choose cremation

    2. Anonymous|

      They will be buried on the mainland Norway

      From Wikipedia:

      The town of Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, has attempted to prevent any natural deaths from taking place in the community since the 1930s, when it was discovered that bodies in the town cemetery did not decompose because the region is underlain by permafrost. As a result, the cemetery has not allowed any new burials since then.

      People in the community who fall gravely ill are evacuated by air or ship to the Norwegian mainland, where they can be buried should they die. If someone does die in the community due to accident, sudden illness, or other misfortune, his or her body is buried elsewhere, generally on the mainland.[10]

  10. Risto Pikhof|

    I notice one day, that here in Longyearbyen has A white Limusine Allso.

  11. Inta|

    It is not because of birds cats are not allowed. Is is because of parasites, they are hosts for toxoplasama and may be dangerous to other animals, for instance polar bears.

  12. Cindy Rosen|

    Are there any gift shops or stores in Longyearbyen to bring back a few goodies?

  13. mike|

    i was looking on a web site called flightradar24.com and i saw a plane heading north out of norway and i thought, where is that going. it was going to longyearbyen, i never knew the place existed, lol

  14. Anonymous|

    these facts are very… interesting! But number 10 and 12 are very very strange…

  15. Anonymous|

    how is it illeagl to DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Ron Roberts|

    Ooops. NO street names. What about Burmavein which leads up to the Taubane?

  17. Dansical Chris|

    just reading through these facts, and they are interesting, several of them I already knew, (the sun fact was the most obvious one for me as the sun level at peak in winter reaches about 66degrees and 30 minutes north, and Svalbard is around 78degrees north?
    anyway, in regards to the death one, that means I will live forever and a day then to dance if I move to Svalbard ;) I especially love their blues festivals they put on in October, music is very captivating.

  18. Phoenix Hutton|

    Nice! This is really interesting and you made me really curious! I’m going to continue researching and maybe I’ll get to travel this wonderful location!
    Thanks :)

  19. orin|

    You make me more curious. Maybe I will travel to this wonderful place

  20. Adolph j. Moreno|

    Sooooo, interesting, makes me want to visit this place, wonder what it would cost me to? I live in California, Sacramento, to be exact

  21. William Fiore|

    I’ve been to the Southernmost City in the World, and most Places in the World but I Dream to come here someday! Looks so Surreal and Serene!

  22. Jamie|

    I have a friend who lived there for a while. He insisted that some sort of mafia runs Longyearbyen and that he could not take any job there without this “mafia” trying to run him out. No matter what job he took, it seemed the bosses and fellow employees were always out to get him or trying to get him fired. They also said he was not treated well at jobs because his Norsk was a bit rusty, but he was good at speaking English. Seems that would be of good value in a tourist-driven town! Anyways, it sounded so strange – just wondering if anybody else has had similar experiences.

  23. Ryan K|

    Oh man, I couldn’t go without seeing the sun for 4 months. They must have an IV of vitamin D on hand…

  24. David|

    It’s not illegal to die there, but you can’t be buried there. Corpses of victims of the 1918 flu pandemic are buried there and the bodies haven’t decomposed. There’s concern that the virus may still be active.

    Your ashes can be buried with permission from the local government.

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