Camping in polar bear territory? - Where to stay in Svalbard

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With only a dozen hotels to choose from, accommodation options on Svalbard are pretty limited - and certainly not for those travelling on a tiny budget. I was surprised to find hostel prices in Longyearbyen at the same rate as you'd get a stay in a decent Scandic Hotel on the mainland of Norway. 

Nevertheless, the accommodation costs are totally worth to experience Svalbard up close and while it might not be entirely possible to visit Svalbard on a backpacker's or student budget, it certainly isn't impossible to save a few bucks - or splurge, if that's what you prefer!

In this article, I'll give you the rundown of all accommodation options that are available in Longyearbyen, along with some advice on how/where to find the best deals!


Budget Accommodation
 

1. Camping in Polar Bear Territory

It might sound crazy but you can actually camp on Svalbard. Generally speaking, it's not for the faint-hearted and camping in the wild should only be done as part of an expedition group with an experienced guide and a proper polar bear warning system. 

However, the town of Longyearbyen has its own camp ground close to the airport (approx. 4 km from the centre of town), where you can stay even if you're not part of an expedition - thus getting a glimpse of the wild Arctic without actually being in too much danger to end up as dinner for a polar bear.

Well, according to the camp itself, anyway:

Due to fairly open terrain, permanent light, occasional traffic on the nearby coastal road at any time of the day and also almost always some activity on the campingsite itself, an undetected approach of a polar bear is very unlikely during most of the summer season. Since the opening of the service-building in 1985, there has been no polar bear visit on the campingsite at all during the summer season of Longyearbyen Camping (but a very few cases of a bear appearing nearby in summer - by far not every year, and running away when seeing people or chased away by the police before reaching the campsite).
— Longyearbyen Camping

The campsite can thus be used without polar bear protection in the summer season (June throughout August), but if you want to stay here during the rest of the year, you need to bring your own protection.

Therefore, it is free to use the camp in off-season, while you pay 150 NOK  per person and night in the summer, plus equipment rental, if necessary (tent = 180 NOK / sleeping bag = 50 NOK / insulation mat = 10 NOK). 

If you need to rent a tent, you need to reserve one beforehand via Longyearbyen Camping. Payment can only be made in cash upon arrival.

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Keep in mind that summer temperatures on Svalbard are at an average of 4-6 degrees Celsius, so if you're planning on camping outside, definitely bring some winter gear!

In order to get around in Longyearbyen, you can rent a bike at the camp (100 NOK per day), walk (it's 4 km one way, though), use the airport bus (only limited connections available) or rent a car from Arctic Autorent (prices starting at 900 NOK a day).

Remember that you're in polar bear territory - meaning, technically, you're not allowed to be outside the town's boundaries without a rifle or tour guide with a rifle. You stay at the camp at your own risk.

 

2. Airbnb

I usually start my search for cheap accommodation on Airbnb - a platform that allows locals to rent out their spare room or entire apartment when they're on vacation themselves. Unfortunately, Svalbard doesn't seem to be the best destination when it comes to finding great Airbnb deals - it comes as no surprise when you think about the fact that even locals struggle to find adequate housing - but it's not impossible.

Off- and shoulder season definitely provide bigger chances of finding a good deal but either way, it can never hurt to have a look and try. Click here to sign up for Airbnb and get 37€ in travel credit as a gift from me!

 

3. Coal Miners' Cabins

On our summer visit to Svalbard, we stayed at the Coal Miners' Cabins - the old barracks of the local coal miners in Nybyen at the very end of town, which have been transformed into a hostel. The barracks have been built after WWII and they have kept the character of the olden days. 

coal miners' cabins svalbard

Each double room comes with twin beds and a sink, while you can find shared bathrooms (there were plenty and we never experienced a queue), as well as a shared kitchen and TV room down the hall. You can find the reception/restaurant/shop in an adjacent building.

One peculiar thing about Coal Miners' Cabins (and indeed, all of Longyearbyen) is that you're asked to take your shoes off when entering a building - even if it's your hotel! This is a tradition that already the coal miners had to respect back then and it's still being kept alive today. Therefore, you will find slippers at the barracks, that you can loan for the duration of your stay.

Despite its location at the very end of town (and indeed, it's significant price tag considering that this is a hostel), we absolutely enjoyed our stay at the barracks - especially the restaurant where we got to enjoy some delicious meals (breakfast is included and dinner is quite cheap for Norwegian standards!) and relax by playing board games after a long day hiking the mountains of Longyearbyen

 

4. Gjestehuset 102

Another hostel in Nybyen at the very end of Longyearbyen is Gjestehuset 102. Similar to the Coal Miners' Cabins, Gjestehuset 102 also consists of former barracks for mine workers that have been transformed into double and 4-bed rooms with access to shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. 

gjestehuset 102 svalbard

Gjestehuset 102 doesn't have its own restaurant but breakfast in the communal kitchen is incluced and it's only a stone's throw to the restaurant of the Coal Miners' Cabins if you fancy eating out. 

 

5. Haugen Pensjonat

A last affordable option for accommodation in Longyearbyen is Haugen Pensjonat. Essentially a couple of pre-fab barracks, the hostel offers surprisingly cosy rooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom, as well as lovely views of the valley and mountains - halfway between Nybyen and the centre of town!

 

6. Accommodation in Barentsburg

If you're on a really tiny budget, consider staying a night in Barentsburg instead! While this option requires you to book a boat trip with a catamaran (in summer only!), it gives you the opportunity to experience a little piece of Russia in Norway while spending less on accommodation than you would in Longyearbyen. 

hotel barentsburg svalbard

There are two accommodations in Barentsburg in total: Hotel Barentsburg and Hostel Pomor. While the rooms at Hotel Barentsburg come with an en-suite bathroom, as well as breakfast and dinner, Hostel Pomor is the cheapest choice with communal bathroom and kitchen facilities. 

You can find available rooms and current prices of Hotel Barentsburg here and of Hostel Pomor here.

 

Mid-Range to Luxury
 

7. Mary-Ann's Polarrigg

Have you watched Svalbard: Life on the Edge on BBC Earth by any chance? If so, the peculiar Mary-Ann's Polarrigg should be familiar to you (and if not, definitely watch the show).

The owner of the hotel, Mary-Ann, appears in this documentary about life in Svalbard renting out her own room at the hotel due to lack of accommodation in town, and then sleeping in the staff's bathroom for the night. 

She might seem like an eccentric lady but she surely drives her hotel with a lot of passion and a hint of the extraordinary - if you stay here, you might find yourself drinking a cocktail with a seal's penis as a swizzle stick... if you dare!

 

8. Basecamp Hotel

If you'd like to experience Svalbard like a trapper from the olden days, Basecamp Hotel is for you! Designed like a trapper's lodge with lots of driftwood and animal fur, this hotel feels cosy from the second you enter - at least, that's how I felt when I visited before going dog-sledding with Basecamp!

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9. Funken Lodge

Funken Lodge is a stylish boutique hotel for those of you who'd like to splurge on their holiday on Svalbard. All rooms have an en-suite bathroom, as well as WiFi, a kettle and a coffee machine. You can also find Funken Restaurant here, serving traditional Arctic dishes with a French twist.

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10. Svalbard Hotell

There are actually two different Svalbard Hotels: one is called Polfareren and the other one is The Vault. Both are stylish options for those looking for a bit of comfort in the centre of Longyearbyen. While Polfareren also has an in-house restaurant offering Nordic, French and Asian dishes, The Vault is the newest hotel in town and actually an unexpected budget option of the Svalbard Hotell chain.

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You can find available rooms and current prices of Svalbard Hotell Polfareren here and of Svalbard Hotell / The Vault here.

 

11. Radisson Blu Polar Hotel

Modern and cosy hotel rooms with minibar, fridge, en-suite bathroom and kettle, as well as access to a hot tub with a view, breakfast and 2 options for lunch and dinner - what more could you possibly want? The Radisson Blu Polar Hotel seems like the best choice for those who want it all. 

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Located in the heart of town, the hotel has its own 2 restaurants: Restaurant Nansen where you can eat everything from traditional Arctic to international cuisine, and Barentz Pub & Spiseri where you can head for drinks and pub food. 

You can find available rooms and current prices of Radisson Blu Polar Hotel here.

 

More Information

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