Sights and excursions
The Svalbard Museum, formerly housed in a converted pig barn, moved into the new Svalbard Science Center in April, 2006. Its building, which is also home to the Norwegian Polar Institute and the University Centre in Svalbard, is located just below Longyearbyen's business district and the Radisson SAS Polar Hotel Spitsbergen.
The Svalbard Museum uses traditional exhibits, reconstructed environments, and videos to present 400 years of Svalbard history and culture. An hour's visit will teach you about whaling, trapping, coal mining, wild animals, geology, and other aspects of Svalbard life. And don't worry about being bored: The new museum was designed to be engaging, not soporific. (It also has a decent gift shop.)
In Nybyen, up the valley from the main part of town, the Galleri Svalbard offers a collection of antique maps and lithographs that may be worth seeing if you're in the neighborhood. It also has a slide show of Svalbard photos and changing exhibits of works by local artists. You can buy everything from souvenir refrigerator magnets to hot chocolate and bottles of wine in the small gift shop/café.
Longyearbyen is the starting point for adventure and expedition travel in Svalbard. Wilderness travel is by permit only, and you'll need to visit the governor's office (where you may be required to show proof of insurance and a bank guarantee to cover rescue expenses) before heading into the boondocks on your own. For convenience and safety, most visitors use the services of local outfitters.
The biggest outfitter, Spitsbergen Travel, is also a full-service travel agency that serves an international clientele. It offers "hard" and "soft" adventure trips such as:
On trips outside of town, Spitsbergen Travel guides are equipped with Iridium satellite phones for use in emergencies. They also carry rifles to protect against polar bears, as required by law.
Other outfitters in Longyearbyen include:
It isn't uncommon for an outfitter to subcontract services from its competitors, so don't be surprised if you book with one vendor and find yourself heading for polar bear country with another. The level of guide expertise is high, thanks to a training and certification program that was introduced in the early 1990s. (Also, don't be surprised if your guide turns out to be a master's candidate in Arctic biology or geology at the University Centre in Svalbard.)
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