Tag Archives: spitsbergen

Beautiful and Mysterious Svalbard

The Arctic frontier, the Svalbard archipelago is the playground of intrepid travellers looking to immerse themselves in the land of our most pioneering explorers. One and a half times the size of Denmark, the archipelago is sparsely populated but thrives still, used since the 1700s by whalers and walrus trappers from all over the world.

One of the few pockets of Europe that is more wilderness than civilisation, Svalbard archipelago is home to the Arctic adventure you have been dreaming of. With soaring mountains, sheer icebergs, rare wildlife and colossal ice fields, an escape to Svalbard combines history, wildlife and the welcoming hospitality of Norwegians to create an enriching Arctic experience.

A brief history

Once the domain of intrepid whalers, it was not until the 1920 Svalbard Treaty that Norway gained sovereignty of the archipelago. When coal was discovered in the area the Hurtigruten ships transported supplies, people, freight and mining equipment regularly to the little inhabited land. During the 1920s both Norway and the then USSR established more permanent communities in the area.
Today, the Hurtigruten ships that visit the area in Spring and Summer time carry important cargo as well as the many guests who wish to explore this fascinating archipelago. With an abundance of wildlife and a captivating history, a voyage aboard Hurtigruten offers unique insights into this remote region.

Wildlife roams free in Svalbard

Spitsbergen polar bearsCurrently the population of Svalbard sits at about 2, 700 people with at least 3, 000–3,500 polar bears. In fact, the prevalence of polar bears means that it is illegal to go out beyond the realms of the small towns without a gun for protection!

A visit to Svalbard is truly a nature lovers dream with many examples of unique Arctic flora and fauna to be seen. Walruses, Arctic foxes, reindeer (and of course polar bears) roam the land, while in the sea many species of whales including the beluga, sperm and killer whale can be seen.

During the Springtime, Arctic ringed seals nest on ice floats in the sparkling fjords, ready to spring away at a moments notice when a polar bear comes into sight. There are also a number of puffin colonies that guests on Hurtigruten can see from onboard or up close on one of the Shore Excursions.

Spitsbergen, the largest island

In the Springtime and leading into Summer, while the Midnight Sun hovers above the horizon for two whole months, wildflowers appear on the islands, dotted around year-round glaciers. 60% of the archipelago is covered in glaciers and the largest island is called Spitsbergen, which literally means pointy mountain, after the (yes, you guessed it) pointy mountain that dominates the island.

Longyearbyen is the largest settlement and most guests to the archipelago choose to stay here. One of the most peculiar facts about the people of Svalbard is that they can’t die on the island – in Longyearbyen it is illegal. The last burial in the graveyard was about 70 years ago, nowadays if you are ill you are flown off the island to the mainland. This is largely due to the practicality of the ground being permafrost and the effect this has on bodies decomposing.

Graveyards aside, many activities such as snowmobile safaris, snow shoeing and boat trips out to puffin populations run out of Longyearbyen, so it is a good place to have as a base to explore this sparsely populated land.

The ghost town of Pyramiden

In 1936, the Soviet Union acquired the rights to use Pyramiden, a small settlement at the base of a large pyramid shaped mountain, for their coal mining industry. And so a little slice of the USSR was born, in the far northern reaches of the world! Today the town stands as a relic of the Soviet world, once offering everything a small town would need.

“It was meant to be an ideal Soviet society. It was a town where any foreigner could come without a visa, so it served as an exhibition of the best of the Soviet Union.”

PyramidenStill owned by the Russian state-run coal company, the town has been abandoned since the late 1990s. A village frozen in time and hinting at apocalyptic disaster, the first visitors to Pyramiden could see books still on shelves, sheets folded neatly on beds, and hand fashioned coat hangers waiting for a coat. It has been named by National Geographic one of the top ten ghost towns in the world and provides a fascinating look into recent history.

In the Springtime, a large lawn grown out of imported soil still thrives, dominating the central square, replete with the most northerly bust of Lenin, and flowers that spring up in the often barren icy surrounds. The architecture is classic brutalism and all guides must carry a shotgun thanks to the visiting polar bears.

Whatever you choose to do, Svalbard is at once beautiful yet remote, a wild frontier that will bring you close to the North Pole without the hardship of an Arctic expedition. Hurtigruten runs voyages up to Svalbard through Spring and Summer and still is one of the best ways to see this region – by ship, just as the first polar explorers did.

All Aboard: MS Spitsbergen


Following in the wake of classic Viking explorer ships, MS Spitsbergen takes guests to the most remote places to discover their inner explorer.

Hurtigruten’s newest ship, the MS Spitsbergen, is named after the island of Spitsbergen in the breathtaking Svalbard archipelago. She is the perfect size to manoeuvre through polar waters and bring guests up close and personal with beautiful landscapes like that of her namesake.

Write your own adventure saga

On MS Spitsbergen, there is an emphasis on learning and discovery beyond the ordinary. Crew are equipped with expert knowledge and there are daily lectures in geology, history and ornithology. The ship has a photo and optics test centre, a media program and many on board facilities to enable you to make the most of the unique regions of the world you will find yourself in while on the ship.

There are also many outdoor activities on offer for those ready to embrace their adventurous side with camping, hiking and kayaking programs. On various trips, guest expedition staff join the crew to treat our guests to a variety of activities and their wealth of knowledge so that you can write your own Viking saga.

What’s in a name?

Spitsbergen is the Arctic crown of Norway, a jewel in the beautiful Svalbard archipelago. Hurtigruten has a long history of travelling from the mainland to this remote area of Norway, where some of the world’s most unique cultures persist. In keeping with Hurtigruten’s important connection with the Norwegian community, this ship was named after a public competition with over 15,000 entries.

“We find MS Spitsbergen to be a very appropriate name as it ties together our history and present-day Hurtigruten,” says Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam. “As early as 1896, Hurtigruten founder and tourism entrepreneur Richard With built a hotel in Spitsbergen and established “The Sports route” with sailings from Hammerfest to Spitsbergen, operated by steamship DS Lofoten. Having built on this heritage, today we are world leading operator of nature-based experiences along the Norwegian coast, in the waters around Antarctica and in the Arctic.”

Expedition cruise at your own pace

Unlike Hurtigruten’s other ships, MS Spitsbergen is not a working ship meaning she does not need to dock at port each night. As a result, guests can spend longer admiring the magnificent fjords and enjoying the daytime activities. From May 2017, guests can sail on MS Spitsbergen to Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe and Shetland Islands, as well as to Arctic Canada. In 2017/2018, MS Spitsbergen will operate expedition style coastal voyages, the ideal choice for those who want to explore the coast in an adventurous way.

spits-2_600x450There is a large observation deck from which guests can look out to the marine life below, including some seldom seen species of birds as well as polar bears and penguins, to name just a few. Deck 6 has a covered observation deck with panoramic windows so that guests can make the most of their gorgeous surrounds, even when relaxing inside. Both the restaurant and bistro also capitalise on the views, so that guests can enjoy beautiful local produce while admiring the environment from which the unique cuisine is derived.

Classic Scandinavian design

spits-1_600x450Although offering many activities for thrill-seeking guests, on the MS Spitsbergen comfort is never sacrificed for adventure. With newly updated interiors, as of 2016, the ship has a fresh colour palette that reflects the ocean surrounds. The design is classically Scandinavian, simple yet comfortable, designed by Tillberg Design of Sweden – the world leader in maritime architecture and interior design. The ship has a number of cabins on offer, catering for all guests, and all the public areas are comfortable and modern.

During her reconstruction in 2016, improvements were made to lower MS Spitsbergen‘s fuel consumption and reduce emissions, meaning she now has a strong environmental profile, in line with Hurtigruten’s ambition to be a world leader in sustainable travel.