We get it: It’s a long and expensive trip to get to Longyearbyen and not everyone is into 1) being immediately herded by the dozens onto tour buses or 2) walking aimlessly past a bunch of ugly industrial buildings in the hope of finding something interesting once you reach the nicer part of town.
But for those low on money and/or energy, or who’ve had enough of the beaten path, here’s some ways to see the town in ways without a weapon that were likely missed during aimless wandering.
Take advantage of Visit Svalbard’s bikesharing program
It’s not as novel as the tourism bureau’s communal kicksleds during the winter, but if you act quickly and early enough to register for one of their bicycles it’ll vastly expand the number of places you can visit without booking a tour or taxi.
Watch birds from the waterfront
One of Longyearbyen’s “dirty secrets” is there’s no sewage treatment plant – instead it’s discharged into the middle of the channel via a long pipe. Which helps explain why the area where the water meets the valley of Adventdalen is so dense with birds. They’re best seen from the beach behind The University Centre in Svalbard, which is also the ideal starting point to:
Check out the unique backside of Longyearbyen
Walking along Longyearbyen’s side roads near the shore is a tour of the town’s past, present and future – often piled up next to each other. Old and new shacks with eclectic dimensions, reindeer antlers on old dogsleds, areas where masses of snowmobiles are parked, longtime industrial businesses and new entities such as the Artica Svalbard artists’ residency workshop (next to the fire station and open to the public when artists are working there) are just some of the sights. And you may be among the last to see the giant red Santa’s mailbox, which has been standing without a permit since last November and will be torn down by the city if the owner doesn’t do so by June 1.
Take a (respectful) tour of a town scarred by climate change and other transitions
It’s considered very poor taste for tour guides to profit from taking visitors in the area where two avalanches destroyed about 20 homes since December of 2015, and even worse for visitors to pester residents still living in the area about their experiences during the tragedies. But the fact is visitors who’ve heard about the incidents are going to be curious so we won’t pretend otherwise by ignoring it. There’s much to learn about what the town – and the world – is facing due to the large-scale shifts in climate and society now taking place. Most of the buildings closest to the mountains on the east side of Longyearbyen, from the student dorms in Nybyen to the homes in the center of town are considered at-risk. And the large yellow building across from the school – an apartment hastily and permanently evacuated in February of 2016 – is a striking example of the damage softening permafrost can inflict.
Do what the locals do
Student performances, presentations by local artists/writers, community hikes and many other activities are regularly offered by various groups. Many can by found in the city’s event calendar, on bulletin boards and by visiting/joining local Facebook pages such as “Ros & Info Longyearbyen.”