A Winter Wonderland Escape in Svalbard

aurora-borealis-snow

When you think of vacationing in the middle of winter, what comes to mind? Seeking out tropical lush places to defrost your cold toes? Sun-baked beaches to explore? Maybe, but just maybe you should also be thinking about some of the most Northern places you can explore. Yes, even in the dead of winter. 

Nestled between the 74th and 81st parallel, one of the most stunning places you may ever have the opportunity to visit in the dead of winter is the small area of Svalbard, Norway. During the dead of winter, the islands of Svalbard experience Polar Night: a constant darkness, devoid of any sunlight, at any point during the day or night. (The summer is just the opposite, boasting 24 hours of sunlight.) 

Not only are the Svalbard Islands of Norway dark, but they’re also cold. Frigid. Permafrost and snow are no strangers to this Northern Archilepeligo. 

But, it’s beautiful. Stunning. It is a prime location to spot the northern lights, as long as you are sporting heavy winter coats and thick gloves. The best part? There’s no need to stay up into the late hours of the night because the aurora borealis might make an appearance as you’re having a midday meal.

The rugged terrain is home to Santa Claus’ favorite animal, the Svalbard reindeer, and a visit to the frozen islands isn’t complete without trying to spy one of the many polar bears or arctic foxes. 

Where to stay

While backpacking and winter camping can be an enjoyable experience, in Svalbard, it’s highly advisable to spend winter nights indoors due to incredibly cold temperatures. Check out this link to see the options you may have of places to stay while in the area. 

What to do

While your goal may be to see the Northern lights, there are a few other activities you may want to do if you make the trek to the islands in the middle of December. Svalbard is largely untouched wilderness, so if you want to see more of the archipelago, book a trip with some sled dogs. Most options offer both half-day and full-day excursions, and you will need to let the driver know your level of physical fitness before booking the trip since some excursions will require you to be in exceptional shape. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more laid back, there are sled dog experiences that allow you to relax. 

The rugged terrain is home to Santa Claus’ favorite animal, the Svalbard reindeer, and a visit to the frozen islands isn’t complete without trying to spy one of the many polar bears or arctic foxes. 

Where to stay

While backpacking and winter camping can be an enjoyable experience, in Svalbard, it’s highly advisable to spend winter nights indoors due to incredibly cold temperatures. Check out this link to see the options you may have of places to stay while in the area. 

What to do

While your goal may be to see the Northern lights, there are a few other activities you may want to do if you make the trek to the islands in the middle of December. Svalbard is largely untouched wilderness, so if you want to see more of the archipelago, book a trip with some sled dogs. Most options offer both half-day and full-day excursions, and you will need to let the driver know your level of physical fitness before booking the trip since some excursions will require you to be in exceptional shape. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more laid back, there are sled dog experiences that allow you to relax. 

The area has some interesting options like the North Pole Expedition Museum, a seed vault, and a Svalbard Museum if you want to stay inside. However, for the real deal, you have to venture outside to experience the Hinlopen Strait and the glacier fjord of Tempelfjorden.

Where to eat

Just because you’re surrounded by icy water does not mean you will be dining on tasteless meals. Svalbard offers high-quality restaurants, and Svalbard has begun transitioning to a more sustainable way of eating by growing food in the high arctic. Yes, it does sound impossible, but it’s happening.  You would be amiss if you did not at least try the Lørdagsbiff, a Saturday special for decades at the Bistro at Huset, a restaurant and wine cellar which is backed against a glacier mountain. 

Whatever you decide to do, or where to eat, make sure to pack an extra set of warm wool socks before heading to the frozen landscape of Svalbard, Norway.

 

By Bonnie Rush

Bonnie is always on the road with some amazing adventures ahead. Her favorite continent is South America and she’s passionate about culture-focused traveling and ethical and sustainable tourism. During her time in university as a research assistant for a sociology professor, she realized she can’t fully understand cultures from a safe distance. She quit her job to become a full-time “voluntourist,” which brings her to places where she can immerse in local communities and support their causes. On top of writing, one of Bonnie’s priorities is offering women advice on how to stay safe while solo backpacking.