This is Longyearbyen

This is Longyearbyen

Weird and quite wonderful

10 quirky facts about Longyearbyen

Why do people wear slippers in restaurants? What's the deal with all the snowmobiles? And why are people in Longyearbyen using high-visibility vests? Here is a list of 10 unusual facts about Longyearbyen!

A snowmobile community

If you visit Longyearbyen in March or April, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by all the snowmobiles roaring around town driven by people wearing big helmets and colourful snowmobile suits. In Svalbard, snowmobiles outnumber people and many locals use them to get to work or their cabin in the wintertime. The Advent Valley is our local E6 highway and it serves as the starting point for many wonderful excursions. The freedom you feel when you squeeze the gas and the snowmobile zooms into the wilderness is amazing – and is a must-do experience in Svalbard! Remember to choose a trip to suit your level.

No wonder people in Longyearbyen look a bit pale

The dark season in Svalbard starts already in the beginning of October, after which the sun's rays won't return to the archipelago again before the end of February. And as if that wasn't a long enough time to wait until the sunbathing season comes around again, the sun takes some extra couple of days before it finally reaches Longyearbyen!
Longyearbyen is situated in the bottom of a valley with mountains on all sides, which requires the locals to be patient as they have to wait for the sun to clear the surrounding peaks before it can shine bright directly on the town. The sun finally returns to Longyearbyen on March 8th, and its return is considered to be official only when its rays touch the steps of the old hospital right next to Svalbard Church. Every year, this happening is celebrated with a several day-long festival in Longyearbyen called the Sun Festival Week.

A monthly quota on alcohol

Although Longyearbyen is now a modern community, some old customs and traditions have been preserved. You will find a wonderful selection of alcohol for every occasion at Svalbard’s only liquor store, Nordpolet, located at the local department store Svalbardbutikken. To buy beer or liquor, visitors must show a return plane ticket, while locals have a monthly quota and must get their alcohol-rationing-card stamped each time. This dates to the old days here when officials could buy as much wine as they wanted but the miners – who mostly drank beer or liquor – had limits placed on consumption. Unfair? Yes, but there is not much we can apart from saying “cheers”!

Houses on pillars and pipes above ground

When you land in Longyearbyen, the colourful houses will be one of the first things you notice. After a while, you may notice that the houses are built on pillars and the pipes are above ground. The reason for this is simple – permafrost. The permafrost would put a strain on houses with foundations in the ground, but the pillars prevent maintenance work every single year. The pipes are above ground for the same reason. When the permafrost melts and freezes, it pushes things upwards. Consequently, the water pipes would not remain underground. There is a reason why people are no longer buried in Longyearbyen…

Footwear as an inconvenience

You will notice in Svalbard that people remove their shoes when entering many restaurants, hotels and public buildings like museums, the hospital and the library and leave them near the entrance. Perhaps you wonder why. This tradition goes back to the old days when people removed their shoes to avoid spreading coal dust everywhere. Many places have preserved this tradition and you can either borrow slippers or bring your own. In any case, it’s a great way to feel at home!

Firearms lockers in town

In the streets of Longyerabyen, particularly on days well suited for a hike, you may spot the locals heading out or returning from a hike, normally carrying a rifle, shotgun or a pistol that they've brought with them as polar bear protection. But what does these locals do if they just want to run by the grocery store before their hike, or if they want to sit down at a restaurant for a good meal after having been out in the wild for the day? They naturally let the staff put their firearms in the firearms locker on the premises! In Svalbardbutikken, the hotels, and at several of the restaurants, pubs, cafes, and other public buildings in the town centre of Longyearbyen there are dedicated firearms lockers where you yourself or the staff can lock up your firearms while you're stopping by.

Rudolph the reindeer

Thankfully polar bears are not commonplace in the settlements, but polar foxes and ptarmigans, on the other hand, both make regular appearances in built-up areas to the great joy of locals and visitors alike. However, the animal you will encounter most is the reindeer. The short-legged and tasty Svalbard reindeer is not particularly shy, and you will often find them wandering down the road in search of food. If you keep quiet and avoid sudden movements, you can admire this animal up close. When the hunting season starts, some reindeer smell gunpowder and escape to the wilderness, while others have realized that remaining in the settlement is actually the safest place to be!

Arctic silence

Shhhhh! What was that? Nothing! The Arctic silence is a truly unique, deafening silence you will struggle to find elsewhere. There is no underground, ring road, traffic noise or construction traffic, while the absence of birds during the wintertime makes it completely silent in the wilderness. If you have the chance to visit an ice cave during your visit, it’s not only completely silent but also completely dark. Enjoy every second of peace and quiet because everyday life will catch up with you faster than you think!

High visibility vests: Proper Svalbard-fashion

If you visit Svalbard during the Polar Night, there is one thing that is essential to pack – a high-visibility vest! Limited street lighting, regular power cuts and periods of bad visibility mean a small reflector attached to your jacket is simply not enough. What you need is a real “here I am” high-visibility vest to ensure you are visible in the dark!

Big city feeling

For a community with a population of just 2 400, Longyearbyen has a range of cultural offerings and restaurants worthy of a big city. There are blues and jazz festivals, a beer festival, revue festival, food festival, concerts by major international stars and a literature festival. Longyearbyen has three choirs that regularly hold concerts. Before or after the cultural experience, you can choose from the wide range of restaurants. Two restaurants, Huset and Funktionærmessen, have wine cellars that are worth writing home about, while the Karlsberger Pub has liquor from floor to ceiling. It’s worth more than one visit, in other words!

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