A to Z student guide to Longyearbyen

Happy students on Sarkofagen. Photo: Juni Vaardal-Lunde/UNIS.

Top image: Happy students having a coffee break at the mountain Sarkofagen. “Downtown” Longyearbyen below. Photo: Juni Vaardal-Lunde/UNIS

1 November 2021

New in town? Here is a quick guide to (almost) everything you need to know about Longyearbyen and Svalbard:


Aurora Borealis: If you spend time in Svalbard in the dark period of the year, you will most likely experience this amazing phenomenon. Or perhaps you will even study its physics at the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (pictured below)?

Nordlyset danser over Kjell Henriksen Observatoriet men månen ser på, mars 2017.
The moon and northern lights dancing over the Kjell Henriksen Observatory. Photo: Mikko Syrjäsuo/UNIS.


Bruktikken: A small thrift shop, run by UNIS students, where everything is free! Check out their Facebook page here.


Climbing: Svalbardhallen (read more under H) has a really nice indoor climbing wall. Visit the climbing group on Facebook for more info.

Coffee: Yes, it is possible to get a good cup of coffee in the world’s northermost town! We have two coffee bars here; Rabalder and Fruene (the latter also sells homemade chocolate..)


Dark Season Blues: An annual music festival in October.

Discounts: Several shops have discounts for UNIS students: Arctica, Frost Spitsbergen, Spitsbergen Sport, Longyear 78Outdoor, Sportscenteret and Isblink (Sport 1). Remember to bring your UNIS ID card when shopping!


Expeditions: Svalbard and the Arctic has been the area of many expeditions throughout history. Get the (more or less) full overview here.

Students on a skiing trip in Grønfjorden during Easter break. Photo: Tore Hattermann/UNIS
Photo: Tore Hattermann/UNIS


Friday Gathering: A social happening in the canteen at UNIS every Friday afternoon. Don’t miss out!


Glaciers: About 60% of Svalbard is covered by glaciers. Be careful when trekking, skiing or driving a snowmobile across glaciers, there may be crevasses!

Tunabreen Svalbard
Tunabreen in Tempelfjorden. Photo: Heidi Sevestre/UNIS.


Hallen (Svalbardhallen): Longyearbyen can boast a large gymnasium with a 25 m swimming pool, a climbing wall, spinning bikes, a squash court, an indoor shooting range, and various fitness equipment. More info: Svalbardhallen and Svalbard Turn.


Ice caves: Several of the glaciers near Longyearbyen have ice caves, formed by meltwater channels, that can be visited in winter/early spring.


Julenissen (Santa Claus) is said to live in Mine 2B on the way to Nybyen.

Photo: Thor Inge Vollan/UNIS
Mine 2 B. Photo: Thor Inge Vollan/UNIS


Kayaking: Svalbard Sailing Club arranges courses and has kayaks and all necessary equipment for loan to their members. A fantastic way to experience the elements!


Logistics department at UNIS: A very important part of your daily life as a UNIS student. The guys at logistics will provide you with necessary safety training and the equipment you will need for fieldwork.

Photo: Inger Lise Næss/UNIS
Photo: Inger Lise Næss/UNIS

Library: At the UNIS library you can access books, journals, maps and more you might need for your study, as well as comfortable places to work, or relax. Longyearbyen public library will provide you with fiction, Svalbard history, movies, games and more.


Midnight sun: Between 19 April and 23 August, the sun never sets over Longyearbyen. Be prepared for insomnia!

Svalbard Science Centre and surroundings in Longyearbyen taken by night in July. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen/UNIS
Svalbard Science Centre and surroundings in Longyearbyen on a night in July. Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen/UNIS


Nybyen: Literally ‘the new town’, in reality one of the oldest exisiting parts of Longyearbyen. There is an arts centre and Nybyen is also a popular starting point for trips in both summer and winter.

Aurora Borealis dances across the sky above Nybyen.
Photo: Aki Vähä/UNIS


Opera: There are a lot of cultural events in Longyearbyen: Music and art festivals, cinema screenings 2–3 times a week, an annual theatrical revue, and occasionally also opera. Follow the activity calendar from Lokalstyret (the community council) for updates.

Overview: The best place to get an overview of Longyearbyen is from the top of Platåberget!

Overview of Longyearbyen seen from Platåberget
Longyearbyen seen from Platåberget. Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen.


Polarjazz: A music festival (with a very wide definition of jazz), arranged in February every year.

Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/Polarjazz
Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/Polarjazz


Quiz: A weekly event. Check out Pubquiz Longyearbyen on Facebook.


Reindeer: The Svalbard reindeer is smaller and stouter than its relatives in other places. They are a common sight in town, and very cute!

Photo: Thor Inge Vollan/UNIS
Photo: Thor Inge Vollan/UNIS


Snowmobiles: The rumour has it that there are more snowmobiles than people in Svalbard. Looking around town, that seems plausible. Snowmobiles are commonly used for fieldwork in winter/spring and for leisure trips for the inhabitants on the island.

Photo: Steve Coulson/UNIS
Photo: Steve Coulson/UNIS


TopoSvalbard: A very useful map portal to Svalbard with detailed topography, distance measurements, landscape photos and 3D maps.


Ursus maritimus (Polar bear): The king of the Arctic. If you’re lucky, you will see him (from a distance) during your stay. When travelling outside the settlements in Svalbard, rifles and signal flares must always be brought along for polar bear protection.

Photo: Johannes Lorentzen/UNIS
Photo: Johannes Lorentzen/UNIS


Vascular plants: Despite what you might think, there are a lot of plants and flowers in Svalbard – 184, to be exact. Visit the web portal SvalbardFlora to see them all.


Weather: Conditions in the high Arctic are harsh at times. Most noticeable is the wind, causing the effective (or felt) temperature to drop. Check out our weather stations here for realtime and historical data.

Wildlife: There are a lot of birds and mammals (both terrestrial and marine) in Svalbard. Learn more about them here.


X-country skiing: A favorite hobby of many Norwegians, you might want to try this in Svalbard as well. Arranged every year in April, the Svalbard Ski Marathon will give you an opportunity to go for a nice trip without having to bring the heavy rifle for polar bear protection.

Photo: Inger Lise Næss/UNIS
Photo: Inger Lise Næss/UNIS


Yoga: We have several yoga instructors in town. Check out this Facebook group for updates.


Zodiacs: A good way to explore the fjords close to Longyearbyen. For fieldwork, UNIS use zodiacs for landings from larger research vessels.

Midterhuken Svalbard
Travelling with zodiac nearby Midterhuken in Van Mijenfjorden, Svalbard. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS


Student life