Unpopular Opinion: I Didn’t Love Svalbard

Sometimes, our travels through a place just don’t quite fill our souls with that addictive travel high. Not so long ago I wrote a post about some of the places that just didn’t do it for me, and it seems that I now have a new place to add to that list.

Svalbard is an archipelago that technically falls under the Norwegian monarchy, but in regards to a lot of matters, acts as an independent country. Svalbard is technically not located within the Schengen region, and to travel between Norway and this Northern land, you will most definitely need your passport. There are no strict visa restrictions either – Svalbard will allow anyone and everyone to live and work there, if they desire. However, there are a few things that one should not before packing your bags and getting ready to start a new life.

Firstly, you could spend 20 years living in Svalbard and it would have no positive impact on your ability to gain Norwegian residency. While this may not sound like a total deal breaker, if you are looking for  a place to permanently move to, there are some other things you’ll need to consider. For instance, one of the rules for living on Svalbard is that once you are no longer able to take care of yourself and live within your own home without assistance, then you would be required to leave Svalbard. This is due to the tiny country not having the means to look after those requiring an elevated level of care.

Imagine living in a mostly Norwegian country for decades only to find yourself being sent back to your home country once you get too old to stay there! It would definitely be a rather disruptive experience.

While I am on the subject of unusual Svarlbardian rules, another interesting thing to note – if you break the law, even if it is the smallest of infringements, you will no longer be permitted to visit or reside within the archipelago.

svalbard-longyearbyen-polar-night

Longyearbyen (pronounced long-year-bheen) is the capital of Svalbard, and the place that pretty much everyone who visits the archipelago will arrive into. SAS and Norwegian Airlines both have regular direct flights from Oslo to Longyearbyen, and SAS also has flights between Longyearbyen and Tromso. Possibly the most fun fact about Longyearbyen is that people are not permitted to venture outside of the town limits unless they have a shotgun – and know how to use it – due to the not all that uncommon appearances of polar bears!

I travelled to Svalbard with a lot of excitement. I was ready for the sub-zero temperatures, the polar night, the northern lights and hopefully a tonne of Arctic wildlife. However, my time in Svalbard was nowhere near what I expected it to be like, and as a result, I really did not fall in love with the place.

svalbard-longyearbyen-polar-night

I don’t think it is all the fault of Svalbard for my less than stellar experience. I visited in early February and despite this being winter in the Arctic circle, the temperatures never dipped below freezing, and instead of snow, I got rain. Lots and lots of rain.

I usually love rain. But rain in Svalbard in February – way less than pleasant. Take a second to picture all the roads that had been covered by a thick blanket of snow during January. Now think about what those roads become like as they start melting. Basically, the place becomes like one massive skating rink and falling on your ass over and over again is an inevitability. Not fun. Especially not for someone with an already busted knee!

Not only was the rain heavy, but the cloud cover was ridiculous. I spent almost a week in Svalbard during the time of the polar night (when the sun never rises) and thanks to unrelenting cloud cover, I didn’t see the Northern Lights! Not once! Not even a tiny little glimmer of lights!

The place just felt gloomy, and after seeing such beautiful landscapes in Greenland, my travel to Svalbard definitely made me feel like I had taken about 300 steps down the ‘ladder of amazing destinations’.

For future reference, at the top of the ‘amazing destinations ladder’ is Greenland, and at the bottom is wherever Donald Trump currently is.

Now, even though I didn’t love Svalbard, I certainly did still have some wonderful experiences there. Actually experiencing the polar night for the first time was awesome; there is certainly nothing quite like looking outside at midday and seeing nothing but darkness.

I also did another couple of dog sledding trips which for the most part, were enjoyable. I mean, if you have read a couple of my previous posts you may have already worked out that there is nothing like a few doggos to make this traveller a very happy lady.

On one of these dog sledding trips we ventured out to underground ice cave, and walking through such caves was an experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

svalbard-longyearbyen-polar-night

But, even at the height of my enjoyment of Svalbard, it still just didn’t come close to giving me even a 1/5th of the enjoyment that I had had in Greenland.

I was starting to worry that making Greenland my first stop on this extended trip had been a mistake. How could anything live up to perfection? Maybe if I had gone there last I wouldn’t have had such high expectations?

Luckily, it’s been about a week since I left Svalbard, and it seems that my lack of enthusiasm is not going to be ongoing – it appears to have just been a Svalbard specific thing.

svalbard-longyearbyen-polar-night

Despite not loving my time in Svalbard, I definitely haven’t ruled out a return trip. A lot of my gripes with the place were related to some utterly shithouse weather, so I would hope that if I were to return one day (possibly in the summer months) maybe I could have a more positive experience of what really should be an unforgettable place. Here’s hoping!

If you have ever visited Svalbard and had a more positive experience than I did, please let me know in the comments and give me the incentive to return one day.

svalbard-longyearbyen-polar-night

THE  LOWDOWN 

Getting to Longyearbyen: Regular flights arrive into Longyearbyen from Oslo all year round with SAS and Norwegian Airlines
Getting out of the Airport: Once you exit the airport, simple hop on one of the waiting buses and tell the driver where you will be staying, you can pay directly on the bus
Gjestehuset 102: The most budget accommodation in Svalbard, accommodation may be basic but the free breakfast is top notch, click here for more info
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Dog Sledding Trips: The best trips are run by Green Dog Svalbard
Remember: You can’t fall in love with everywhere, it is okay to not love a place that you visit

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

43 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinion: I Didn’t Love Svalbard

  1. Hi
    Sometimes it´s just bad luck. Sometimes it´s about the right planing.
    I remember a Central America trip years ago. Chitchen Itza – great, Tikal – fuck so much more impressive… and after Tikal every Maya temple was not very impressive anymore. I was glad to see Chitchen Itza before Tikal, otherwise also Chichen Itza would have sucked.
    See it like this you´ve been there it was not the best destination you have been, that happens…
    Greets and thanks for sharing your experience!
    Peter

  2. Weather can certainly affect how you feel about a place. However, I watched a video on Svalbard a couple of years back when I was in Norway, and took it off my places to visit list. Didn’t seem to justify the hassle of getting there.

    1. See, I didn’t find getting there too difficult! I’d be open to returning in the warmer months one day, but it isn’t super high on my list right now.

  3. I like that you can be honest and say that a place wasn’t your favorite. My mom never wants to travel because she is always afraid that a place is going to suck. I always tell her, you never know until you go! Even if it sucks, you still have that experience, and seeing what you don’t like certainly helps you appreciate what you do like! Maybe you’ll have a chance to go back some time and have better weather and a better experience. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Absolutely! That is what I pride myself on most – being honest. I want to make sure that everyone that reads this blog gets an accurate representation of what long-term travelling as actually like – up and down!

  4. While I haven’t experienced a sucky visit anywhere, I would definitely not go anywhere polar, if rain is a likelihood. It is fine, in places like Hawai’i and the Caribbean, but the Arctic? Way too limiting; I hope you do experience the place in summer or early Fall.

  5. Yo Ellen,

    Given that we met & became sled buddies, I too feel like there was more to be desired. (Although I thoroughly enjoyed our trips & laughing at drunk pool players/ incompetent sledders)

    Sadly the weather truly let down the experience. I know weather is always pot luck, but seems like we got the worst of it for some years, or so I was told.

    I definitely feel like I came away more optimistically, however I don’t have anywhere near as many comparisons to make, which, given your high opinions of Greenland, makes me want to go there instead of heading back.

    At least your accommodation was miles better than mine.

    Take it steady.

    1. Hahaha you won’t be forgetting your accommodation for a while! I hope you do visit Greenland (and one day soon) I have no doubt that you’d love it!

  6. Isn’t travel a reflection of all that takes place while we are in a place and that of our perspectives? So who cares about unpopular opinions. But that said, I have found that giving things a second chance often brings about second thoughts. Like I have discovered often with books.

  7. I think a lot of places are too hyped up by endless “Top 10” travel lists sort of articles. Most of these don’t tell you the down side clearly.

    That said, I think your next visit would be wonderful. Because you already know what to expect, and would be prepared.

  8. I’ve had a few trips that have let me down a bit, too. Thanks for sharing your real thoughts on your experience instead of trying to sugar coat it. Travel is amazing, but it’s not always the parting of the clouds and the stopping of the rains at the perfect moment to catch the rainbow from the mountain top.

    1. Absolutely! I want people to read this blog and be able to trust that I am being honest with everything I write, so the less positive experiences definitely get featured alongside the great ones!

  9. I hate cold rain even in temperate climates. We were fortunate, however, to visit Longyearbyen last August in clear sunny weather. It would not reach our top ten favorite places, but it was still a great experience.
    Being decades older than you and limited by almost 50 years of arthritis, my wife could not seek out the type of adventure you like, but she highly recommends their museum.
    We hope wherever you are now, you are having a fantastic experience to make up for Svalbard.

    1. Oh man, I guess I will just have to return to Svalbard one day in the warmer months! Glad to know people have had better times there than I did!

  10. I’m happy to see the not-so-great side of travels, thanks for sharing. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world that didn’t love Thailand, but it was initially hard to write about because I didn’t want to come off negatively. I think it’s awesome that you’re open to a return trip (maybe I’ll give Thailand another go too!)

    1. I have found places in Thailand that I loved, but overall I don’t love the country – so you and I are totally on the same wavelength! I am definitely open to a return trip, so maybe you should give Thailand another go (I recommend Khao Sok and Koh Kood)

      1. I am currently on said return trip and I still don’t love it, but I am happy that I spent more time to get to know it better. We went to Koh Lanta and really enjoyed it!

  11. I’m so sorry you had buckets of rain there. And I feel even more sorry for the crying polar bears, starving in the rain as the ice melts.

  12. Thanks for being honest…I feel the same way about India but I feel pressured to love every place I go because not everybody gets to travel. Some places just don’t touch your soul like you said though, thanks for your post 🙂

  13. It’s just bad luck for the weather. I was in Svalbard last august (first Longyearbyen and then an expedition cruise to the pack ice) and it was magical! The landscapes, the wildlife… It’s an amazing place!
    Now I would like to visit Greenland someday.

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