This guest post is all about somewhere we’ve never been but would love to explore – Norway! Our good friend Andy from Grown Up Travel lives in Norway and we’d love to get there someday.
At the top of the world, deep within the Arctic circle lies the Norwegian island of Svalbard. It’s home the world’s northernmost town, Longyearbyen, which is home to over 2,000 people and is located just 800 miles south of the North Pole.
It started out in the early 20th century as a mining town, which grew into a permanent settlement that survives even though mining efforts have largely moved on to other parts of the island. Instead it’s become the tourist destination of choice for people who want to experience the Arctic first-hand.
The location of the world’s northernmost town
Because it’s situated in the Gulf Stream, it has a relatively mild climate for its latitude with temperatures that rarely drop below -5°F (-20°C) in winter. This makes it very tolerable for tourists as well as wildlife, of which there is a large variety on the archipelago.
It’s very accessible, with its own airport that has regular flights coming in from the Norwegian mainland every few days, and established public transportation from the airport. That makes it relatively easy to get around, especially considering that nearly everyone speaks at least some English even though the local language is Norwegian (except in the Russian/Ukranian settlement of Barentsburg where Russian is spoken).
There are several species of plants and birds that are endemic on Svalbard, however the clear favorite is the local reindeer species, which is smaller and more stout than mainland varieties (they’re adorable). Besides these there are many more common Arctic animals like walruses foxes, and lots of birds, as well as a variety of Arctic plant species like the Arctic willow, which is a tiny tree that creeps along the ground and provides sustenance for some of the island’s herbivores.
Things to see
There are a large number of polar bears all over the archipelago, with estimates ranging from 3,000 – 6,000 bears. Because of this it’s legal for visitors (or anyone traveling on the island) to apply to rent a firearm even without a license.
However it is not recommended that you rent a gun without the proper training since that might well be more dangerous than not having one. If you want to travel on land you’ll want to get a group with a guide. There are several modes of land transportation for rent, and if you want you can also go exploring by boat. If the self-guided thing isn’t for you there are also lots of different tour companies that can show you around the island, which can make sure that you get to see all the things you came for.
Another great reason to head to Svalbard is that it’s located on the Auroral Oval that encircles the magnetic north pole. That means that, weather permitting, and given that you’re there at a time of year when night actually falls, you’ll be treated to dazzling displays of the Aurora Borealis. To be sure you should check the norwegian aurora forecast here.
Images: Flickr Commons