Spitsbergen rests adjacent to the landmass of Greenland between the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic Ocean. It is the only isle within Norway's Svalbard archipelago that remains populated throughout the entire year and gives travelers on visiting by cruise an amazing look at indigenous wildlife as well as some of the most breathtaking natural features of the arctic.
While this destination is chock-full of other-worldly attractions, there are a few that are musts for any traveler. Before you jump on your cruise vacation, be sure to plan excursions to these delightful Spitsbergen spots. But first, some history:
HISTORY OF SPITSBERGEN
Historical records indicate that the first European explorer to lay eyes on Spitsbergen was Willem Barentsz during his 1596 expedition to discover the Northern Sea Route, which also goes by the name of the Northeast Passage. He named the island Spitsbergen because of the tall mountains and robust geographic features he saw while passing by on his voyage. In the Dutch language, "spits" translates to "pointed," while "bergen" translates to "mountains." Spitsbergen was first occupied by whalers who established outposts along the coastlines during the 17th and 18th centuries, but was later abandoned due to the frigid conditions the island endures.
In 1896, Hurtigruten actually began its first sports route between Hammerfest and the island. During the late 19th century, coal mining communities were established on Spitsbergen. The island did not come under Norwegian control until the Spitsbergen Treaty was signed on February 9, 1920, a statute that gave Norway full and absolute sovereignty. In 1934, Hurtigruten began sailing into Spitsbergen with trappers, as well as tourists aboard the DS Lyngen.
- THE SVALBARD MUSEUM: This expansive facility resides along the southern coast of the Isfjorden in the city of Longyearbyen. The museum's collection houses more than 3,500 artifacts that include tools, historical objects, photographs, art, books and other archivalia. Patrons can view exhibits housing equipment from the island's whaling period and learn about the incredibly harsh conditions sailors endured to obtain the valuable oil and meat of these underwater arctic giants. Other exhibits document the trials and tribulations of local coal miners during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and give visitors a chance to gaze upon photographs taken more than 100 years in the past. Walk through a window in time during your cruise vacations by stopping by the Svalbard Museum!
- SPITSBERGEN AIRSHIP MUSEUM: This Museum is found in the community of Longyearbyen, and documents the airship voyages made by some of the earliest aviation pioneers who were attempting to reach the North Pole. Three ships in particular are highlighted throughout the exhibits – the America, the Norge and the Italia, which made their journeys in 1906, 1926 and 1928 respectively. Unfortunately, these arctic expeditions were surrounded by controversy and mystery, and only one was said to have made it to its intended destination (the Norge). Visitors can learn about the unbelievable hardships the crew went through to reach the North Pole, and the rescue efforts that were required to save these ill-prepared explorers when disaster struck.
- MAGDALENA BAY: On the eastern portion of the island rests the picturesque landscape of Magdalena Bay, which is known as Magdalenefjorden to the indigenous inhabitants of Spitsbergen. This natural inlet features some absolutely gorgeous vistas overlooking towering mountain ranges and crystal clear arctic waters. Glaciers and ice sheets jut out over land, providing plenty of photo-worthy sights. Polar bears, walruses and other arctic creatures can normally be spotted throughout the area, giving visitors an up-close look at some of the regions most massive warm-blooded residents. In addition to these mammalian giants, travelers can also spot Arctic foxes, reindeer, bearded seals and even a bowhead whale or two during their excursion.