Highlights and main attractions of Longyearbyen

The starting point for any trip to see polar bears in Svalbard, Longyearbyen is located more or less in the middle of the main island. Originally called Longyear City, the town was founded by John Longyear in 1906, and renamed Longyearbyen in 1926. With around 2300 inhabitants, the population of Longyearbyen is steadily growing as tourism to Svalbard gains popularity. 

With numerous shops, bars, restaurants and hotels, as well as fascinating museums, you won’t be short of ways to spend a day in Longyearbyen.

Where is Longyearbyen?

Location and activities

When Spitsbergen was first discovered by the Dutch explorer William Barents, it was named so for its jagged peaks. Whilst the other islands of Svalbard are nature reserves and therefore inaccessible without gaining special permission, Spitsbergen, which broadly includes its group of surrounding islands Barentsøya, Edgeøya, Nordaustlandet and Prins Karls Forland, is where the modest population of the area go about their daily lives, and also is the starting and finishing point for your voyages of exploration into this Arctic wilderness.

Longyearbyen is Spitsbergen’s (and, by extension, Svalbard’s) only town and is the main base for expeditions, accommodation and tourism. Literally meaning ‘Long Year Town’ it was named after John Munroe Longyear who founded the town’s coal mining industry, which has mainly ceased operation and slowly been replaced by increasing interest in tourism activities in the area. The modern town is set on the Longyearelva River and is surrounded by mountainous backdrops, with colourful homes contrasting with the Arctic scenes.

Itineraries on our expedition ships in this area all leave from Longyearbyen, and are wholly dependent on ice and weather conditions.

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