A person sitting on an ice formation with a headlamp on their head while looking up at a clear starry sky with northern lights in the background

The Polar Night in Svalbard

“Winter doesn’t just show up overnight” is something you’d be safe enough to say most other places in the world without being wrong. But what if the night doesn’t just last a couple of hours, but instead spans over two months?
The dark season in Svalbard lasts from around the end of October until the middle of February, but between November 14th and January 29th we enter the darkest and cosiest part of the dark season, also known as the Polar Night. As the days darken during late autumn the cold of winter also creeps in, and with the coming of the sun the light also shines on a new winter in our archipelago.
While winter may not show up overnight, a lot can happen during the course of a Polar Night!

  1. Colourful houses with a dark sky, snowy mountains and faint northern lights in the background
    The darkest period in Svalbard's dark season
  2. Two persons sitting at a dinner table toasting with their glasses in a restaurant with a dark landscape in the window in the background
    Perfect for exploring Longyearbyen's culinary scene

Isn’t the dark season and the Polar Night just the exact same thing?

No, they are in fact different!
The difference between the two comes down to how far the sun drops below the horizon, and in turn how dark it actually becomes. The beginning and end of the dark season in Svalbard isn’t very different from the one in mainland Norway. The dark season is a phenomenon one may experience in latitudes starting from just north of the northern polar circle and occurs during winter when the trajectory of the sun fully dips below the horizon. Despite this, one may still experience twilight conditions, beautifully coloured blue landscapes, and pastel-coloured skies when the sun is at the highest point of its orbit during the dark season. (no wonder why this time of year is so popular with photographers!)

The dark season in the Arctic is shortest next to the polar circle and becomes progressively longer the closer one gets to the North Pole. As Svalbard is situated between mainland Norway and the North Pole, it’s safe to say that Svalbard’s got Norway’s longest dark season. That explains why the dark season in Tromsø lasts for 49 days, whereas in Longyearbyen it lasts a full 113 days!

Because Svalbard is so far north, we also experience the phenomenon known as the Polar Night. The Polar Night occurs in the northern hemisphere from around the latitude of 72°34’ and northwards and does so when the sun never rises past 6 degrees or more below the horizon. In Svalbard, the Polar Night lasts from around November 14th to January 29th and is defined as a “Civil Polar Night”. This means that despite the seemingly never-ending darkness, there are still small glimpses of twilight on the horizon in the middle of the day. But nevertheless, the Polar Night feels like it’s completely dark all day round as Svalbard’s mountains hides the horizon in the distance.

  1. A dark landscape with a person standing on a mountain in the foreground, with lights from Longyearbyen and a dark valley in the background
    Enjoy the unique view of Longyearbyen in the Polar Night on a hike
  2. Two persons on snowmobiles driving through a dark snowy landscape
    Experience the magic Polar Night on a guided snowmobile trip

What do people get up to during the Polar Night in Svalbard?

It takes more than the Polar Night’s darkness to put a stop to activities in Longyearbyen! While it’s a cosy time to be social with family and friends indoors in town, you may quite often spot a couple headlamps shining in the mountains and nature around town. In this season, we don’t just head into nature, but also quite literally into the darkness.
The arrival of the snow may var from year to year, but the winter’s cold usually sets in during the Polar Night, and the snow usually follows suit not long after.

From its start in mid-November to well into December, there may be little snow despite the cold temperatures, but nevertheless a nice time to go hiking, join an ATV safari or perhaps try dog sledding using wagons on roads when there’s not enough snow for sleds yet.

From December towards the end of January the likelihood of getting a good snowfall increases, and as soon as there’s enough snow the season for guided trips with dog sleds, snowmobiles and snowcats kicks into gear. The ski touring season also picks up at that point with the use of powerful headlamps to shine ones’ way through the dark descents.

When enough snow has fallen over the glaciers next to Longyearbyen you may also experience a darkness much darker than the Polar Night. On guided trips into the ice caves in the glaciers close to town, the light from the moon and stars fade away as you descend. Down below inside the glacier, a surreal frozen world with fantastic ice formations await. When you eventually return to the Polar Night at the surface, you quickly realise just how much light the moon and starry night sky provides us with.

But no matter when you visit Svalbard during the Polar Night, there’s one experience that truly stands out from the rest and which you can’t get on the Norwegian mainland.
Since it’s effectively equally dark all day long around this time, you may even see northern lights in the middle of the day if you’re lucky!
The daytime northern lights can be a bit weaker then the northern lights you’d otherwise see in the evening or at night-time, but they’re regardless a beautiful sight to behold. In the Polar Night, you can therefore join guided Northern Lights hunts all day long if you’d like to!

  1. A person on a dog sled wearing a headlamp in the background, with a sled dog team in the foreground surrounded by a dark landscape
    Join our four-legged friends on a Polar Night adventure
  2. A snowcat with guests beside it in a snow-covered valley with northern lights and clouded skies in the background
    Maybe you'll get a chance to spot the rare daytime northern lights on a guided northern lights hunt?

The cosiest time of the year

Between all the adventures and experiences outdoors, you’ll always find a nice place to grab some food and relax in Longyearbyen, our little lightbulb in the dark season.
The relaxed cosy mood is a trademark of this season out on the town. You’ll feel the tempo wind down when the days are dark all round, and whether you’re having a fancy dinner or lunch it nevertheless feels like an evening out at any time of day. When the view from the restaurant window is darkened, your focus shifts away from the landscape outside towards the people you’re hanging out with indoors.

The Polar Night may therefore be said to be best spent together with each other, be it with family, your better half, or your group of friends.
In addition to culinary experiences, there’s a rich cultural scene to explore that gather visitors and locals alike in the dark. Some of the most notable annual events in this period include Christmas-related events in December, New Year’s dinners, or the Polarjazz festival in early February just before the Polar Night says goodbye.
In Longyearbyen you’ll also find several museums, the art centre Nordover, a range of shops and cosy cafés all worth visiting during a Polar Night visit.

  1. A dark concert venue with a band on a lit stage in front of a large crowd
    Enjoy culture, tasty food, and fantastic events together in Longyearbyen
  2. A smiling person eating food while trying to keep their food away from a curious dog in a café
    A relaxing break in between all the adventures outdoors in the Polar Night

“I’m so looking forward to seeing the darkness again!”

We must admit, there are few people who don’t think it’s fantastic to see the sun again once the travel back home from Svalbard after a visit during the Polar Night. Many may even arrive back home with an extra level of appreciation for the sun in their everyday life!
At the same time, it’s not uncommon to feel a certain longing for the calming darkness of the Polar Night, because how often do you really have the chance to see a clear starry sky without light pollution?

Curious about how you could explore the Polar Night in Svalbard? Have a look at our Activity Planner to find guided trips and experiences throughout the entire Northern Lights Winter season in Svalbard!
If you’ve already booked your trip to Svalbard and know which exact dates you’ll be visiting us for during the Polar Night, check out our booking calendar to find organised guided trips and experiences that are available during your visit! 

A dark landscape with lights from a town in the foreground and mountains in a dark blue light in the background 

Visit Svalbard Eco-Lighthouse

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