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Ny-Ålesund – the northernmost settlement in the world

A pioneering community of explorers and scientists at the wild Arctic frontier of climate change research.

At the top of the world, just 1,200km from the North Pole, Ny-Ålesund is the world’s northernmost settlement. It sits on the north-facing shore of Kongsfjord on the west coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago.

In the past, explorers and miners formed unique communities here. Now, it’s the scientists’ turn; Ny-Ålesund is a renowned international centre for climate change research projects.

A short history of Ny-Ålesund

Known as Kings Bay until 1925, the tiny town of Ny-Ålesund started life as a mining town in 1916. Coal was transported by train from the pits to the ships waiting in the bay. Those cargo boats had just a small window of a few months to collect their haul before the ice crept over Kongsfjord during the Arctic winter.

Throughout the coal mining era, Arctic explorers who wanted to reach the North Pole used Ny-Ålesund as a base for their adventures. In 1926, Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and the Italian airship designer Umberto Nobile flew the airship Norge from Ny-Ålesund across the Arctic Ocean. It was the first flight over the top of the world.

Two years later, Nobile returned to Ny-Ålesund to fly over the North Pole again, this time in an Italian airship. The team crashed north of Svalbard and an injured Nobile and half of his crew were later rescued. Tragically, Amundsen, the Norwegian hero he was, jumped in a seaplane to help find his friend, but perished in the rescue, cutting short his illustrious life as one of the world’s most famous explorers.

The mining community continued to scratch a living here until 1963 when, after a series of disasters claimed too many lives, the mines were finally deemed too dangerous and closed down.

The end of mining wasn’t the end of Ny-Ålesund. As the mines disappeared, the European Research Organisation chose the location as a centre for research. In 2019, the Research Council of Norway championed the town to become a leading centre for Arctic research activities. At the same time, the Council agreed to preserve Ny-Ålesund’s unique cultural heritage.

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Visit Ny-Ålesund today and among Svalbard’s largest collection of protected buildings you’ll find a vital hub for international research across 11 stations, each complete with modern high-tech lab equipment for analysing various fields of glaciology, oceanography, geology, physics, and biology.

The Ny-Ålesund Research Station houses 35 hardcore residents year round, with another 60 scientists joining them from around the world during the summer months. The Norwegian Polar Institute, run by Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment, is responsible for hosting and coordinating their research and activities.

Ny-Ålesund is a true frontier; both as far north as many of us will ever visit, and pushing the frontline of science and knowledge ever forward. There really is nowhere else like it on Earth.

5 things to do in Ny-Ålesund

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1. Pay homage to the explorer heritage

In the town centre, the sculpture of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen honours the man who chose Ny-Ålesund as a base for his successful expedition to the North Pole in 1926. Take a moment to imagine the danger and exhilaration he would have felt as he flew over the top of the world for the first time.

A few hundred metres to the east of the town is the Amundsen mast, where the airship, Norge, was tethered before the expedition. You’ll need an armed guide to walk you there; polar bears have been known to wander this way.

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2. Ny-Ålesund Museum

The small museum, housed in what was once the town shop, displays the history of the settlement from its origins as a mining village and its role as a base for daring North Pole explorers, up to its reinvention as an international research centre for the Arctic.

Close by is Ny-Ålesund’s main shop, Kongsfjordbutikken, where you can pick up a souvenir from the most northern town in the world.

An Arctic fox walking across the tundra in Svalbard

3. Wildlife haven

Summer is the ideal time to see Ny-Ålesund’s wildlife. From your ship, you might be lucky enough to glimpse mink, beluga, and even humpback whales, or walruses catching rays on the ice.

Svalbard is home to bearded seals, the largest seals in the Arctic, and 41 species of seabirds including Guillemots and Arctic Terns. On the tundra, you could see Svalbard reindeer, an Arctic fox wearing its dark summer coat, or the mighty polar bear.

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4. Post a letter

Ny-Ålesund houses the world’s northernmost post office so you can surprise friends and family with a postcard from the top of the world.

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5. Take a moment to soak it all in

If you’re visiting on The Svalbard Line, this is probably the farthest north you’ll ever be, so stroll around the settlement – being careful to follow the boardwalk – and find a spot to sit and take in the wild scenery and frontier feel. You’re walking the same path as those great scientific minds that come here to push the boundaries of knowledge and science.

Ny-Ålesund is radio silent as the waves can interfere with the scientists’ delicate research equipment. That means Wi-Fi and Bluetooth aren’t permitted and you can only use your device in flight mode, but that just makes it even easier to enjoy the peace undisturbed.

What is the weather like in Ny-Ålesund?

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Max temp (day)

-8°C

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-7°C

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4°C

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-8°C

Min temp (night)

-13°C

-13°C

-15°C

-12°C

-5°C

0°C

2°C

1°C

-1°C

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From November to the end of January, the sun stays below the horizon all day and Ny-Ålesund surrenders to the dark. But as temperatures start to rise and daylight returns, the sea ice recedes enough for us to explore the archipelago’s fjords once again. The Svalbard Line visits Ny-Ålesund from May to September, and The Spitsbergen Adventurer from May to August.

During these summer months, the sun never dips below the horizon and temperatures can reach four degrees, but you’ll still need sturdy boots, a warm coat, gloves, and a hat to be comfortable, as well as a good pair of sunglasses.

The long hours of daylight make it the ideal time to spot the wildlife of this northern wilderness. You may be lucky enough to see humpback or beluga whales, walruses, Arctic foxes, Svalbard reindeer and even a polar bear, as well as the many species of seabirds that breed in the area.

Visit Ny-Ålesund on The Svalbard Line and The Spitsbergen Adventurer.

Summer in Longyearbyen on the Svalbard Express. Photo by: vince gx/Unsplash

The Svalbard Line

An iconic voyage deep into the Arctic Circle and the land of the Midnight Sun.

  • Up to 16 days, with shorter north and south options available

  • From Bergen to Svalbard and back, with several hours in up to 14 ports

  • All-inclusive food and drink from our award-winning Norway’s Coastal Kitchen

  • Sail on newly refurbished MS Trollfjord, our flagship for Signature voyages

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The Spitsbergen Adventurer

A nostalgic journey to a remote wilderness of fjords, glaciers, and polar wildlife.

  • Up to 6 days, with a choice of 3 or 4 nights at sea

  • From Longyearbyen to Moffen at 80° North, via the world’s northernmost village

  • Onshore landings and RIB cruises to get to know the island’s wildlife and history

  • Sail on timeless MS Nordstjernen as she makes her final voyage

Getting to Ny-Ålesund from your Hurtigruten ship

Ny-Ålesund is halfway along the southern side of the 30km-long Kongsfjord. As you approach the settlement, you’ll pass the Blomstrand peninsula on your left with glaciers carving through the base of the mountains into the bay below.

You can walk into Ny-Ålesund along the boardwalks, which protect the tundra and connect the town’s handful of buildings. The colourful cabins pop against the snow fields and mountains beyond.

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