Svalbard is an arctic island owned by Norway, and it’s a popular tourist attraction for anyone who wants to experience the midnight sun, see the northern lights, see wild polar bears or just want an incredible adventure on this frigid, remote island.
But what is the situation like when it comes to cities and towns on Svalbard?
There are a total of 4 towns on Svalbard, but only 2 of them has a real population that lives there year-round (Longyearbyen and Barentsburg). The rest of the towns are only inhabited by scientists and seasonal workers.
We’re going to be taking a closer look at all the different towns on Svalbard in this article, giving you a good introduction to each of the different towns.
In addition to the four towns, there are a few more abandoned towns on Svalbard that also makes the list, either because they are ghost towns worth visiting, or because they been abandoned very recently.
Longyearbyen is the biggest town on Svalbard, and might even be big enough to be considered at city. There are roughly 2,400 inhabitants living permanently in Longyearbyen, and it’s the de facto capital of Svalbard.
If you’re visiting Svalbard, then there’s a 99 % chance that you will be staying in Longyearbyen.
This is the only town with real tourist amenities like a grocery store, restaurants, multiple hotels, shopping streets and things like that, and even the only city that can offer a polar bear safe zone! This allowed you to walk inside the city perimeters without having to be armed, have an armed guide, or have anti polar bear equipment.
Most tourists use Longyearbyen as their base of operation during their visit to Svalbard, and it’s truly a great city to spend time in. It’s a very popular tourist destination, so it feels like a much bigger city than the 2,400 that’s currently living there.
Longyearbyen is officially Norwegian, but most people there are speaking English at a higher level than people on the mainland, so you should not have any language problems while visiting Longyearbyen or Svalbard.
Barentsburg is a Russian settlement on Svalbard, with roughly 400 to 500 permanent inhabitants.
The town relies on the coal industry, and most of the people living there are working at the local coal mine.
This is the only remaining Russian settlement on Svalbard, and it does offer some tourist attractions, has two hotels, and souvenir shops that sell Russian gifts and souvenirs.
In addition, there’s a kindergarten, school, hospital and other public services available to the inhabitants of the small town.
Don’t expect anyone to speak Norwegian in Barentsburg, because Ukrainian or Russian will be the two spoken languages at this small town.
Many tourists on Svalbard will visit Barentsburg to see the old semi-abandoned buildings, the characteristic statue of Lenin, or experience the special Russian culture, but it’s obviously less popular now that Russia is very controversial due to their war on Ukraine.
However, it’s still perfectly possible to visit Barentsburg on your Svalbard visit if you want to. The town is also a popular place to stay for Russian tourists.
Ny-Ålesund (can be translated to New Ålesund) is the biggest research town on Svalbard, with as many as 130 people working there in the summer months.
The town was historically a coal mining town, but it mainly functions as a research station these days.
Most of the researchers who are working on Ny-Ålesund either lives on mainland Norway, in their home country, or in Longyearbyen, then travels to Ny-Ålesund for a certain amount of time to work before returning home.
That said, there are a few permanent inhabitants there, making Ny-Ålesund the northernmost permanent civilian settlement in the world. You can expect to find between 30 and 35 people living there during the winter months.
Both Norway, Germany, China, France, Italy, India, South-Korea, Japan and the UK has research teams in the town, so it’s a very international town.
There are no schools, grocery stores, hospitals or other public services in Ny-Ålesund, and the researchers need to go to Longyearbyen for these things.
However, there are lots of old buildings, an old railway station and other protected areas and buildings in the town, so it makes for a great place to explore!
The town of Ny-Ålesund is actually pretty easy to reach by boat from Longyearbyen, and there is a certain amount of tourism there. You can book a boat trip to visit the research station yourself, but be prepared for a 3 hour trip each way!
It’s also possible to fly from Longyear Airport to Ny-Ålesund, but it’s very difficult to get a seat on the plane since researchers or their families get priority before tourists. However, with a bit of luck, you might be able to book a flight.
Be warned though, accommodation in Ny-Ålesund is also both difficult and expensive. There’s a campsite in the outskirts of the town if you want to save some money though.
Sveagruva is usually just called Svea, used to be a town with over 200 people working there. It was not really their home, but the workers stayed on company property while working their shift in the coal mine.
However, they all had a home somewhere else, and no one was permitted to bring their families to the town.
That was until the coal mine stopped all operations in 2020, and the entire town has pretty much become a ghost town ever since.
As of 2022, there are no people living in Svea, and it’s not really a place that tour operators ever visit, so it’s pretty barren there right now. There are maintenance workers at Svea every once in a while to make sure everything is fine, but other than that, it’s empty.
There are plans to remove all human footprints on the site, so this town will eventually be removed.
This project is expected to cost over 2.5 billion Norwegian kroner, but it is being done as an attempt to not make Svalbard even more littered with abandoned human buildings.
Hornsund is yet another town that’s not really a town. The area is one of the main migratory places for arctic polar bears, so it’s the perfect place to set up a research station.
And that’s exactly what a Polish research team has done, and over time this research station has evolved to become a small town on Svalbard.
There are typically between 20 and 30 researchers living at the town during the summer months, but only about 10 during the winter.
And as you would expect from a research station, there’s no hospital, school, kindergarten, grocery stores or anything like that there.
There’s not really anything to see for tourist at Hornsund, so you won’t find any tour guides that typically bring tourists to this research station.
Grumant (Norwegian: Grumantbyen, Russian: Грумант) used to be an inhabited town on Svalbard, and was home to several hundred people from the Soviet Union.
It was at one point home to over 1,200 inhabitations, making it even bigger than Longyearbyen at the time!
The entire town was abandoned around 1962 due to the coal mine being shut down. Without an industry to fuel the economy and bring in people to live there, the town rapidly faded to being completely abandoned.
The inhabitants either moved back to Soviet, or moved to Barentsburg to get a job at the coal mine there.
The abandoned town is only 10 kilometers away from Longyearbyen, so it’s actually a popular tourist attraction. You can either see the town from a boat, or hike to it from Svalbard if you’re up for a somewhat challenging hike.
It’s worth noting that the entire town is protected as a cultural heritage site, so you need to keep a certain distance to most of the buildings.
Nicklas is the owner and editor of The Norway Guide, and is responsible for most of the content on the website.
He lives in Skien, Norway with his wife and two children. Nicklas is specialized in Norwegian ecology (including Norway’s geology, wildlife and flora) from his degree in Ecology And Nature Management at University of South-Eastern Norway, but has a particular interest in tourism and content creation.
His biggest hobbies are fishkeeping, going on hikes with his dog, and rooting for the local football team.