12 Facts You Never Knew About Longyearbyen: The World’s Northernmost City

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 bird life. So Svalbard has prohibited them.

A Reindeer Wandered Right Into Our Path

11. Reindeer wander through town.

The Svalbard reindeer have no natural predators and so 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.

 

 

About Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter and bases herself in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and innovation strategist in higher education and is a regular contributor on johnnyjet.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or on her blog, JdombsTravels.com

Comments

  1. 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.

    http://www.karlsbergerpub.no

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

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

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

  6. Anonymous says:

    4000 snowscooters? For 2000 people? typo?

  7. Anonymous says:

    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. 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?

  9. Charles Noble says:

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

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually they’ll throw your corpse in jail.

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

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

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  1. […] March 8, 2012 Hello there! If you are new here, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress PluginWe spent a few days getting to know the quirky city of Longyearbyen, Svalbard on our trip with Visit Norway USA! Read about the 12 facts we never knew before our visit: http://www.johnnyjet.com/2012/04/12-facts-you-never-knew-about-longyearbyen-the-worlds-northernmost-… […]

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