Longyearbyen is the largest populated area on the territory of Svalbard, located in the high Norwegian Arctic. The settlement is popular as the most easily accessed frontier in the Arctic, and is an ideal base for the greater exploration of Svalbard.
The settlement is named after American entrepreneur John Munro Longyear (1860-1922), who as head of the Arctic Coal Company founded the town and the neighboring coal mine, the first large mine on Svalbard. Mining is still a big business here, with the roadsides and mountainsides littered with mines and their equipment, but tourism is catching up fast.
With over 2000 inhabitants, the town is the de facto "capital" of the islands, featuring the airport, a school, a shopping center, hotels, restaurants, and more.
Longyearbyen lies at the southern side of Adventfjorden, stretched out along the Longyearelva River. The center of town lies near the coast on the east side of the river, with the district of Skjæringa across the river, the district of Nybyen 2 km (1.2 mile) to the south and the airport 3 km (1.9 mile) to the west. Adventdalen, the valley housing Longyearbyen's only currently operational mine (#7), stretches out to the east.
Be sure to pick up the free Longyearbyen 78° North pamphlet (available at the airport and most lodges), which has a detailed map of the city and listings of all its facilities.
Svalbard Airport Longyear (IATA: LYR) is the only major airport on Svalbard. It services Scandinavian Airlines (SAS Norge) flights to Tromsø most days all year around, and there are additional flights as well as twice-weekly services direct to Oslo in the summer high season. Longyearbyen is also served by the low-cost airline Norwegian, which most of the year has biweekly flights to Oslo.
The airport is fully equipped with a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Despite its small size, it is operated in the same way as other Norwegian state-run airports with full security checks and passport control.
Airport shuttle buses (60kr all destinations longyearbyen & Nybyen. Concessions for students) connect with all flights arriving and departing at the airport. Taxis are also available.
Longyearbyen's port is accessible only in the summer when the pack ice recedes. For dates, see the port website . There are once-weekly boats to Tromsø and daily (except Monday) services to Barentsburg with organised sight-seeing tours - subject to minimum numbers (about 12). There are also sporadic connections with the abandoned Russian settlement of Pyramiden with guided tours (Tuesdays - again subject to demand).
There is no public transportation aside from the airport shuttle bus. Walking is a viable option (about 40 minutes from the airport to the center of town), although rather tedious if you need to move around outside the center, especially when the weather is bad. Alternatively, rent a bike from Basecamp Spitsbergen. Taxi (+47-7902-1305) and car rental are also available.
There are many possibilities for walking and sight-seeing in the immediate Longyearbyen area. Walking out of the settlement into the fjord, you will see the old cemetary and several abandoned mine buildings.
- Spitsbergen Airship Museum. Displays materials and ephemera from the era of polar exploration using dirigibles and other aircraft, mainly by Norwegians, Italians and American explorers.
- Svalbard Gallery, Nybyen. Permanent and changing exhibitions by artists in Svalbard, entry 45 kr. The adjoining artists' workshops are free to visit.
- Svalbard Museum, Svalbard Science Centre (at the end of the main street). Reopened 2006 in large new premises, it features many displays about the human history of the archipelago, especially whaling and mining, as well as various exhibits about arctic flora and fauna.
- Church, above town. The world's northernmost church. Always open, and has coffee and cookies for the visitors. Also sells postcards, books, etc--just leave the money in a bowl.
- Animals. Reindeers roam free in the city. You can also see polar foxes and birds.
- 24-Hour Sundial. Not big (about 1 meter high), but it does 24 hours a day in the summer. It's located about 400 m north-east of the church. From the church, follow the road NE toward the water until the road turns 90° left. The sundial is off on the right side of the road just past the turn. edit
A wide variety of activities including hiking, dog-sledding, kayaking, snowmobile safaris, fatbike tours and even coal mining and more are offered by Svalbard's many tour companies. The largest operators are Spitsbergen Travel  and Svalbard Wildlife Service  (SWS). Prices are high — figure on 500 kr for a half-day activity, 1000 kr for a full day — but so are standards.
- Dog Sledding with Arctic adventure, ☎ 79021624 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 79021745), . In the summer sleds with wheels are used. I.e. they look and handle very similar to real sleds (not wagons), two or three persons per sled and you get to handle it yourself. NOK 690. edit
- Esmarkbreen Glacier, across the Isfjorden (2-3 hours by boat). Scenic glacier across the bay, colored a striking blue. Drop a cube in your glass for an arctic martini. Often combined with cruises to Barentsburg.
- The Russian settlement of Barentsburg is accesable from Longyearbyen with an organised tour. Also Pyramiden, across the Isfjorden (2-3 hours by boat). Russian mining settlement abandoned in 1996, best known for its Lenin statue (the northernmost in the world).
If you have multiple days to spare then your options really open up: how about a week-long snow scooter trip (21,500 kr) or 11 days by boat around all of Spitsbergen (from around €3000) For the ultimate Arctic experience, you can even arrange to join a trip to the North Pole.
- In late October, Longyearbyen hosts the annual Dark Season Blues Festival  that draws large crowds. (78.220774,15.647875). The 9th edition takes palce form October 20th to 23rd 2011. This marks the beginning of the dark season when daylight and the sun is about to leave Svalbard.
Svalbard's shopping is concentrated in and around the two-story Lompensenteret shopping mall and the supermarket. Beware the limited opening hours: most shops are only open 11-18 weekdays, 11-14 Saturday and closed Sunday.
There is a supermarket called Svalbardbutikken. It is open till 8pm on weekdays. Weekends with reduced hours.
Eating out in Longyearbyen (as with all of Norway) is expensive, with the simplest sit-down meals costing over 70 kr. There are several small cafés in the town centre, and also a restaurant and bar at the Radisson SAS Hotel. Many places serve traditional norwegian food. Some serve Svalbard specialties such as seal and whale. Delivery is usually available, arranged through local taxis for about 50 kr.
- Svalbardbutikken, opposite Lompensenteret, . Svalbard's sole supermarket and department store rolled into one. Has a surprisingly wide selection, but prepare for sticker shock, especially for anything perishable: half a cucumber costs 10 kr and a kilo of bananas on sale is 20 kr. A hot deli offers a few staples and occasionally some ethnic themes. Open weekdays from 11 to 20, reduced hours Sat/Sun.
- Mix kiosk, Lompensenteret. Hot dogs, sausages, burgers and sandwiches, sometimes offered on sale at what are bargain prices for Svalbard. Also has a limited supply of groceries, along with snack foods and sweets. Prices are high compared to Svalbardbutikken, but the kiosk is open longer hours.
- Classic Pizza, Lompensenteret. Pizza and kebabs from 79 kr. Open from 1700 to 0500 daily. Free delivery.
- Huset Cafe, Nybyen. Daily dinner menu 72 kr weekdays (open ca 15-22 in the summer). Huset is also a cinema and has a good cafe/bar with a DJ at night.
- Fruene, Lompensenteret. Espresso, sandwiches, salads and daily specials such as soups and Thai dishes. One of the few locations in town with free wireless internet access.
- Kroa, Basecamp Spitsbergen. Popular among locals and visitors for fare ranging from ribs to reindeer wraps. Portions are huge, making the prices more palatable. Also, Kroa has one of the least expensive dining-out options in town; very large "half-pizzas" with various different ingredients, ranging from 69-79 krone.
- Restaurant Nansen, Radisson SAS.
- Mary Anne's Polarrigg, Arctic and Thai food (sometimes combined, such as whale stir-fry). Takeout available. The average entree will run about 180-240 krone.
- Huset Restaurant, Nybyen. Arctic and Norwegian set menus available as 5 or 6 courses. Accompanying courses of wine available. 6 course Arctic menu approx. 700Kr.
Svalbard's tax-free status makes alcohol a lot cheaper than on the mainland. In bars, the cost of a drink ends up being nearly the same (if not cheaper) as it would cost in cities such as New York or London. The cost of alcohol in Nordpolet is on par with duty-free airport prices.
- Kroa Bar. Offers a range of decent drinks and meals in one of the more pleasant environments in town. Beer selection includes Carlsberg, Arctic, Corona and Mack.
- Nordpolet, in Svalbardbutikken. Sells a full range of beer, wines and spirits, but quotas apply (except for wine, which has no quota) and you must show your plane ticket to purchase (again except for wine). Also note the restrictive opening hours: 10 AM to 6 PM weekdays, 10 AM to 3 PM Saturdays, closed Sundays.
- Radisson Bar/Barentz Pub/"Puben" Large selection of beers, small but nice environment, very popular with locals.
- Spitsbergen Hotel/Funken has some of the nicer drinks in town and has a large living room-couches-fireplace decoration motif, but it's about a 10-15 minute walk from center of town.
The full service hotels are fairly expensive, especially during the high season. Discounts of 20-50% may be available in the October-May low season.
- Longyearbyen Camping, near airport (4 km to Longyearbyen), tel. +47-79021444, . Promises an "intensive experience of nature" at the northernmost full-service campsite in the world. Stays per night start at 100 kr, not including tent rental (100 kr/day) or even warm showers (10 kr/5 min). The site is open all year round, but the service building (showers and toilets) is open only during the summer. Visitors traveling to Svalbard outside of the high season (end of June until September) will be permitted to use the campsite free of charge, but must bring their own provisions and equipment. If your plans include trekking in Svalbard, the camping site is an excellent place to meet fellow trekkers, seek advice or maybe even join a larger group.
A number of guesthouses and homestays offer basic accommodation. Read the small print carefully, as you may be charged extra for breakfast, linens, towels and perhaps even use of the bathtub! This does not seem to apply at 102 however.
- Gjestehuset 102, Nybyen, tel. +47-79025716, email , . Miner's lodge converted into a basic but comfortable guesthouse, with shared bathrooms and lounge/kitchen; the main downside is the location, a 20-min walk from downtown. It is however well serviced by the airport shuttle bus. Singles/doubles 475/850 kr, shared unisex dorms 300 kr, including linens and breakfast.
- Mary-Ann's Polarrigg, tel. +47-79023702, email , . Former miner's barracks converted into a bed and breakfast. A bit pricier than the competition at 595/850 kr for a single/double not including breakfast (an extra 135 kr), but the selling point is the central location.
- Basecamp Spitsbergen, tel. +47-79024600, . The most atmospheric of Longyearbyen's luxury hotels, this attempts to simulate a trapper's lodge with seal skins and driftwood aplenty. Don't let the humble name fool you though: 'camping' here will cost you from 1590 kr/night in peak season (but only half that in winter).
- Radisson SAS Polar Hotel, tel. +47-79023450, . This hotel claims to be the northernmost full-service hotel in the world, with restaurant, pub, sauna, free Internet access and a guest computer, but it's rather characterless. Peak season rates start from 1450 kr and go up, up and away.
- Spitsbergen Hotel, tel. +47-79026200, . Located on Haugen in Longyeardalen, with restaurant, pub, sauna, and free wireless Internet access. Slightly more expensive than Radisson SAS Polar Hotel. Closed for several months during winter. Excellent views down the valley from the restaurant.
Sparebank1 in the post office building has an ATM.
- Library (Bibliotek), Lompensenteret 2F. This surprisingly comprehensive library has an excellent selection of books on Svalbard (some in English), a rather more limited selection of English fiction and, most useful of all, three free Internet-connected PCs. Beware the eccentric and limited opening hours: 11-17 Mon/Wed/Thu, 11-14 Tue/Sat, closed Fri, Sun.
- Svalbard Reiseliv, Næringsbygget (next to Lompen), tel. +47-7902-5551, email mailto:email@example.com, ). The official tourist information office, a mine of information for Longyearbyen and the rest of Svalbard. Open 8 AM to 4 PM weekdays, 10 AM to 12 noon Saturdays.
Perhaps more so than anywhere in the world, Longyearbyen is free from crime. The risk of being involved with any type of altercation or incident is practically nil, with the sole threat being from fellow visitors. It is not uncommon to see intoxicated tourists wandering around during the midnight sun in August, but despite the complete lack of visible law enforcement, problems are almost non-existent.
It is not advised that you leave the settlement limits (clearly marked with signs bearing the picture of a polar bear). If you choose to do so, it is compulsory to carry a firearm which can be rented from the town. Travelling further afield requires explicit permission from the Governor of Svalbard, whose office is near the church.
As everywhere in Svalbard, it is critical to understand that all year round there is a significant threat from polar bears. However, polar bears are legally protected, and shooting a polar bear will be regarded very seriously by the police and investigated thoroughly.
- Barentsburg - Svalbard's solitary remaining Russian settlement, easily visited on a (albeit expensive) day trip.
- Pyramiden - Alternatively on Tuesdays you could take the same ship to visit the mysterious abandoned Russian settlement of Pyramiden - perfectly preserved but utterly empty.
Both trips operate summer season only, and will not operate unless minimum numbers (about 12) are achieved. Be prepared for disappointment in shoulder season.
Climb Nordenskjoldtoppen, the highest mountain in the local area at 1050 metres.