The population of Svalbard is approximately 2,800. Longyearbyen is the largest settlement on the islands and also the seat of the governor. Spitsbergen is among the safest places on Earth, with virtually no crime. Barentsburg is the second largest settlement in Svalbard with about 500 inhabitants, almost entirely Russian and Ukrainian. The Russian-owned Arktikugol has been mining coal here since 1932, and during the Cold War, Barentsburg was a hotbed of activity. Ny-Ålesund is one of the world’s northernmost settlements, inhabited by a permanent population of approximately 30-35 people who work for one of the research stations or the logistics and supply company “Kings Bay AS”, which ‘owns’ and runs the research village. In the summer the activity in Ny-Ålesund is greatly increased to up to 120 researchers, technicians, and field assistants.
Despite its northerly location, Spitsbergen has a relatively mild climate. Due to the Gulf Stream, Spitsbergen’s west coast is the world’s most northerly ice-free area. The average summer temperature is 6º C and the coldest winter month of March has an average temperature of -14º C. There is little rain, but the moist air from the sea can cause a light drizzle and fog during the summer.
From around mid-April until late August, Longyearbyen has Midnight Sun. From late October until mid-February it is dark, and from mid-November until late November it is what we call polar nights, which means that it is quite dark and the sun is lower than 6º above the horizon.
Since Willem Barentz’ discovery of Svalbard in 1596, several nationalities have explored, hunted and managed industries in this Arctic Archipelago. The Svalbard treaty dated 1920, signed by 40 member countries, gives Norway sovereignty over Svalbard.
In order to preserve nature and wildlife on Svalbard, 65 % of the Archipelago is protected through national parks, nature reserves and bird sanctuaries. There are only three land mammals on Svalbard: polar bear, Svalbard reindeer and the Arctic fox. In the sea however there are walrus, ringed seals, bearded seals, Greenland seals, hooded seals, whitenose dolphins, narwhales, white whales and killer whales. There is a rich bird life on the island and more than 100 species have been registered. Surprisingly the flora is very diverse for somewhere this far north.
The polar bear does not usually attack humans but it can be lethal. On all our voyages and activities, safety is maintained by experienced guides carrying weapons, and giving warning shots if necessary. The authorities on Svalbard, together with the travel industry, advise and make recommendations to travellers taking part in organised activities in order to protect both visitors and the polar bear population. On organised trips the guide will always be responsible for safety and will carry a weapon and equipment.
In case of a medical emergency, outside Longyearbyen the only means of evacuation is by helicopter to Longyearbyen Hospital. If any condition cannot be treated here, the patient is sent to the Norwegian mainland. This is very expensive and dependent on favourable weather conditions, therefore, comprehensive travel/health insurance is essential.
On Svalbard it is a tradition to take off your shoes when entering private houses, hotels and certain shops and public offices. On board the ships as well as in the hotel we advise you to bring a pair of shoes to use indoors. It is important that the shoes have good grip (no slippery sole).
Svalbard is a tax-free area which means that many commodities are cheaper here than on the Norwegian mainland. Longyearbyen has a variety of shops selling everything from perfumes to outdoor- and sports equipment, gifts and souvenirs. Norwegian Kroner (NOK) is used all over Svalbard, also in the Russian settlement Barentsburg. Major credit cards are accepted in Longyearbyen as well as on board MS Fram. Please note credit cards payments will all be processed in NOK on MS Fram. Credit cards that are used to make payments on board have to be valid for at least three months after the journey has ended. There is also a cash dispenser in the center of Longyearbyen. In Barentsburg they only accept cash in Norwegian Kroner (NOK), USD or Euro. We do recommend our guests to bring cash in NOK for use ashore.
Mobile phones can be used in Longyearbyen and Barentsburg only. There is no coverage for mobile phones during the voyage at sea. We have contact with MS Fram with satellite telephones. If your family back home need to get in touch with you in an emergency, please give them the telephone numbers for Spitsbergen Travel, tel. +47 79 02 61 00, or Radisson BLU Polar
Hotel Spitsbergen, tel. +47 79 02 62 34 50. Via these numbers they can deliver urgent messages that will be forwarded to you.
Visitors can buy a certain amount of tax-free alcoholic drinks. Tourists have to show their airline ticket when shopping and are allowed to buy in total:
• 2 bottles containing more than 21% alcohol
• 1 bottle of wine containing 14-21% alcohol
• 24 cans/bottles of beer
Wine (up to 14%) can be bought without producing an airline ticket. Not all of the above can be taken tax-free to the mainland.
Each person is only allowed up to 2 litres, e.g.:
• 1 litre of alcohol (more than 21%) and 1 litre wine (14 to 21%) - or
• 2 litres of wine (14 to 21%) - or
• 2 litres of wine (less than 14%)
It is possible to buy more but you will have to pay duty on it. In total, visitors are allowed to shop for NOK 6,000 of goods without paying taxes.
Wheelchair passengers may travel on the MS Fram to Spitsbergen as the ship is handicap accessible, however, unfortunately, excursions and landings are not adapted for handicapped travellers.