While researching various destinations for our trip to Norway, we learned that it was fairly easy to travel to the city of Longyearbyen in the Svalbard archipelago. Although Svalbard is closer to the North Pole than to much of Norway, it belongs to the latter, and SAS Airlines has regularly-scheduled flights from Oslo. So how could the opportunity be missed? Svalbard is a place that superlatives were made for: otherworldly scenery, one-sixth of the world’s polar bears, prime aurora borealis viewing, whales, and numerous glaciers (for now), not to mention the world’s northernmost commercial airport, the northernmost statue of Lenin, and, importantly, the northernmost craft brewery in the world–Svalbard Bryggeri.
With the exception of a handful of mostly abandoned mining towns, Longyearbyen is the only city on the entire archipelago, and it contains almost all of the lodging options. Fortunately those options are excellent. With a bit of internet research, we chose Basecamp Hotel, a part of the Basecamp Explorer collection of adventure hotels. We also learned that Basecamp Hotel is a good resource for arranging adventures to see more of Svalbard.
Rustic charm with a side of kitsch
Basecamp is kitted out like a trapper’s cabin with furs, rustic woodwork, thick blankets, and a plethora of arctic paraphernalia throughout the property. The hotel is small, and the staff is very welcoming. The overall impression is one of coziness and warmth, which is much appreciated as a contrast to the arctic scenery outside.
During our stay, the hotel never struck a wrong note. The room was clean and comfy, with plenty of hooks for jackets and gear. The woolen window coverings were a nice touch, as was the little table-and-chairs ensemble. The good Wi-Fi was an unexpected bonus, and the absence of a television in the room (or anywhere on the property as far as we could tell) was very much appreciated. The breakfast offering was excellent, and the coffee was very good (something we found to be the norm throughout Norway). We even appreciated the hotel’s request that guests remove their shoes at the front door, which is a custom that has carried over from the town’s mining days when miner’s shoes were always covered with coal dust.
Longyearbyen: more than expected
Longyearbyen surprised with its amenities: a post office, a bank with an ATM, a grocery store, a good selection of bars and restaurants to satisfy almost any taste, and a wonderful coffee shop with friendly staff. Notably, Svalbard Museum punches well above its weight; don’t miss it.
It was particularly fun to watch the local children making their way down the pedestrian lane to school, and we happened to be there on the day of the Global Climate Strike when Longyearbyen’s students marched through town and gave speeches. These were made all the more urgent when we considered that Svalbard is expected to be severely impacted by climate change in coming years.
Plenty to do
Unless you want to confine your stay to Longyearbyen, it’s important to make reservations for any Svalbard adventures or excursions before you visit. Depending on the length of your stay, you can arrange activities that take up to a full week or more. Because we had only two days, we chose a day-long excursion aboard the MS Polargirl to visit Pyramiden, a mostly-abandoned Russian mining town, and the Nordenskiöld glacier. This excursion — a last-minute choice when our original booking, a hike to the Global Seed Vault, was cancelled — was helpfully arranged by the staff at Basecamp Hotel.
- Basecamp Hotel
- Location: Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway
- Our stay: 2 nights, September 18 & 19, 2019
- Room 3
What we ate, what we did
- Svalbard Museum
- Excursion on Polargirl to Pyramided and Nordenskiöld Glacier
- Drinks and pizza at Svalbar
- Dinner at Restaurant Kroa
- Coffee at Freune AS
A helpful website
- The Visit Svalbard website was a very helpful resource for excursions and general information. Highly recommended.