Longyearbyen, Norway

Longyearbyen NorwayWho would have thought that a settlement of coal miners in the Arctic can be a base of tourism?  Longyearbyen, the "only" town in the archipelago of Svalbard, still bears its coal-mining roots.  Although large-scale coal mines have long been gone, the roadsides and mountainsides are still littered with mines and their equipment.  However, tourism is slowly becoming the town’s main source of income.  The town is considered as the largest settlement and the administrative center of Svalbard, located on the western coast of the archipelago’s largest island Spitsbergen. 

Longyearbyen has a population of about 2,100.  Being the most populated among the Arctic towns, the place provides and easy access to the Arctic frontier as well as the starting point when traveling throughout the Svalbard.  Even though coal mines are now abandoned, that does not mean travelers cannot enjoy what is more beautiful in Svalbard:  the glacier tongues of Longyearbreen and Lars Hjertabreen.  Being the administrative center of Svalbard, one can find an airport, a school, a shopping, several hotels and restaurants that dot the town.

The local houses takes into account the harsh Arctic climate, as most structures are built on pilings to prevent heated building from melting the permafrost.  The heavily insulated plumbing pipes also run above ground.  Local customs dictate that you should take off your shoes upon entering most buildings in town, reflecting the days when coal miners would remove their coal-dust-encrusted boots at the threshold.

There are a lot of options for the traveler to make the most out of his visit to Longyearbyen.  For one, walking out of the settlement and into the fjord would lead you to the old cemetery and some abandoned mine building.  Walking within town, meanwhile, would get you to the Svalbard Gallery where you see permanent and changing exhibitions by local artists, as well as a local museum that features many displays about Svalbard’s history.  You can also visit the church above town, which is always open to tourist who can partake on coffee and cookies. 

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