Staggering photos show what life is like in the world's northernmost town, where it's dark 4 months of the year and you're likely to run into a polar bear

Shutterstock.comLongyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway.
  • The world’s northernmost town is Longyearbyen, which is located in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and has 2,400 citizens.
  • Longyearbyen is around 650 miles from the North Pole, making it the nearest town to it.
  • It’s dark for four months a year and light for another four months. There are also more polar bears than there are people.
  • Despite its remoteness, Longyearbyen has all the amenities of a modern town, including a school, a church, restaurants, and a cinema.
  • It is also the home of the famous Doomsday Seed Vault, which stores every known crop on the planet.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.


Look at the World Atlas list of the world’s northernmost settlements and you’ll see that many at the very top of the list are located in Svalbard – a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole.

The first settlement on the list with a population worthy of being described as a town, though, is Longyearbyen, home to around 2,400 people who have access to a school, a church, restaurants, and a cinema.

Life in Longyearbyen, despite its amenities, is unlike anywhere else on Earth.

For starters, it’s dark four months a year and perpetually light for another four months. Secondly, it’s suggested residents carry a rifle when travelling outside the town borders – in case they run into a polar bear.

Like many of the settlements in this part of the world, Longyearbyen was established as a mining town, though mining operations have since been phased out of the area.

Now, the town is a place of scientific research and adventure tourism – it is the home of the famous Doomsday Seed Vault, which stores every known crop on the planet.

Scroll down to see what everyday life is like in this extreme neighbourhood.


Welcome to Longyearbyen — the nearest town to the North Pole.

Shutterstock.comLongyearbyen.

Longyearbyen is located in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, which is three hours from Oslo by plane and about 650 miles from the North Pole.

Google Earth/Tech InsiderLocation.

Source: Financial Times.


While there are a couple of tiny settlements further in the north, Longyearbyen is the first of any significant size. The town has a population of around 2,400 residents.

REUTERS / Peter Vermeij / Global Crop Diversity Trust / HandoutLongyearbyen.

Source: Visit Svalbard.


After its discovery by Dutch explorer Willem Barents in 1596, Svalbard became a base from which to hunt and fish the large fauna that inhabited the archipelago.

Shutterstock.comWalruses.

English, Danish, Dutch, and French companies fought over the hunting grounds, which were rich in walrus and bowhead whales.

Kit Kovacs / Norwegian Polar InstituteA bowhead whale.

It’s estimated that the Dutch alone killed 60,000 whales.

Source: Lonely Planet.


At the turn of the 20th century, Longyearbyen was established as a coal-mining town, though mining operations have since been phased out of the area.

Shutterstock.comTrain tracks in Longyearbyen.

In its place, Longyearbyen has become a destination for adventurous tourists who come to navigate ice caves …

Shutterstock.comIce caves.

… drive snowmobiles …

Ethan Welty / Getty ImagesUniversity students take a training course.

… go kayaking…

Adrian Wojcik / EyeEm / Getty ImagesA kayaker in Longyearbyen.

… and use as a base for North Pole expeditions, which Prince Harry did in 2011.

David Cheskin / WPA Pool / Getty ImagesPrince Harry ahead of his expedition.

The prince joined the Walking With The Wounded team — four of whom were injured in Afghanistan — for four days.

David Cheskin / WPA Pool / Getty ImagesWalking With The Wounded.

They raised money for the charity that helps injured veterans in their career transition from military to civilian life.

Sources: BBC, Walking With The Wounded.


Longyearbyen is also home to a number of researchers who work at the Doomsday Seed Vault, which stores every known crop on the planet.

AP Photo/John McConnicoSvalbard Global Seed Vault.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault delves 400 feet inside a mountain near the town and is home to over one million different seeds.

AP Photo/David KeytonThe Global Seed Vault.

It also looks like it would make a spectacular lair for a Bond villain.


The rooftop and part of the facade of the building are a work of art with a light installation by Dyveke Sanne, since all public buildings in Norway are required by law to have art.

Source: The Crop Trust.


The vault has seeds from more than 60 institutions and almost every country in the world, collected from over 1,500 global gene banks that store samples of seeds from crops native to a region.

AP Photo/Eduardo VerdugoA seed shipment from Mexico.

Source: The Crop Trust.


Buried in permafrost, the vault is supposed to stay frozen for at least 200 years — even if the electricity fails.

AP Photo/David KeytonInside the vault.

However, due to rapidly rising temperatures in the Arctic, the vault already requires expensive upgrades to protect it from melting permafrost.

REUTERS/Heiko Junge/NTB ScanpixThe Global Seed Vault.

This tunnel became “like a glacier” when the meltwater froze, according to The Guardian.

AP Photo/John McConnicoA worker at the Global Seed Vault.

Source: The Guardian.


There are five doors with coded locks that anyone looking to get into the vault has to pass through.

AP Photo/John McConnicoSecurity.

The Crop Trust says that polar bears provide an extra “layer of security” to the vault.

REUTERS/Bob StrongThe warning sign means ‘Applies to all of Svalbard territory.’

Sources: The Crop Trust, BBC.


There are said to be more than 3,000 polar bears inhabiting the archipelago, which is more than there are humans.

Shutterstock.comPolar bears.

Meandering polar bears pose a very real threat to the population of Longyearbyen.

Shutterstock.comPolar bear.

While the bears mainly live north of Longyearbyen on the pack ice, they can occasionally venture into town in search of food.


Sometimes humans come into contact with bears — with tragic consequences.

Jenna Lois Chamberlain/ShutterstockA polar bear in Svalbard.

In July 2018, a polar bear was killed after it attacked a cruise ship guard. In 2011, a 17-year-old pupil from the UK was also tragically killed by a starving polar bear that approached a party from the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES).

Source: BBC,The Guardian.


Although polar bear encounters are still rare, residents and visitors are instructed to carry a firearm with them when travelling outside the town borders.

Shutterstock.comOn the lookout.

The Governor of Svalbard actually has a six-page report detailing the best weapons to ward off polar bears.

Arterra / UIG via Getty ImagesA well-stocked gun store in Longyearbyen.

Source: The Governor of Svalbard’s guidelines for firearms.


Residents must also contend with natural disasters. In 2015, avalanches destroyed several apartment buildings and killed one person.

REUTERS/Tore Meek/NTB ScanpixHeavy snow.

Source: The Guardian.


While there is a small graveyard (the northernmost in the world), burials were banned in the 1950s because the deceased started to become visible due to melting permafrost.

Shutterstock.comGraveyard.

Source: Financial Times.


The island also lacks the facilities to care for the seriously ill or pregnant women. If you’re nearing the end or about to give birth, you have to go to the mainland.

Getty ImagesA snowy stroll.

Source: Financial Times.


Longyearbyen brands itself as a “tiny metropolis” as its 2,400 residents hail from almost 53 different countries.

REUTERS / Gwladys FoucheResident Fredric Froeberg.

There is also a fairly large Thai community, rumoured to come from a marriage between a Norwegian man and a Thai woman.

In the town, you can find a Thai restaurant, a Thai supermarket, and an annual festival showcasing Thai customs.

Source: Norwegian Air Shuttle.


Immigrants in Svalbard benefit from a unique treaty, which allows people to come to the archipelago without a visa or work permit.

Shutterstock.comAn icy runway in Longyearbyen.

Hans-Henrik Hartmann, then head of the legal unit at the Norwegian government’s immigration department, told Al Jazeera in 2006: “If an asylum seeker is refused residence in Norway he can settle in Svalbard so long as he can get there and is able to pay for himself.”


While living costs in Longyearbyen are unsurprisingly high due to its remote location, residents can benefit from the town’s institutions like the school.

Shutterstock.comThe school.

The school, which serves around 230 pupils aged between 6 and 18, is the northernmost school in the world.

Source: The Guardian.


Students at the school don’t just learn maths and literature.

Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesStudents.

“They will learn how to behave in nature, how to behave with polar bears, how to survive in winter, how to find a safe place to camp or how to deal with avalanches,” a teacher told The Guardian in 2007.

Source: The Guardian.


Longyearbyen also has a university centre, which, you guessed it, is the northernmost tertiary school in the world.

Shutterstock.comThe university.

Its 300 students don’t have to pay any tuition fees and are offered courses in Arctic biology, Arctic geology, Arctic geophysics and Arctic technology. All students must learn how to use a firearm.

Sources: The University Centre in Svalbard, Visit Svalbard.


Svalbard Church in Longyearbyen is — would you believe it — the northernmost church in the world.

Getty ImagesThe church.

It is open 24/7 and serves as a venue for concerts and other cultural activities.

“With the majestic Arctic landscape as altar cloth, we meet with all kinds of people in all of life’s situations,” the church’s official description reads.

Source: Visit Svalbard


Aside from the Thai restaurant, residents of Longyearbyen can also pass time in the art gallery, cinema, or museum. There’s even a few pubs and a nightclub.

Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesCommunity.

Would you believe it’s the northernmost nightclub in the world?


You can have a kickabout on the pack ice — just make sure to bring armed guards in case of polar bears.


You can also go for a gentle hike …

Tero Repo / Red Bull Content PoolStunning scenery.

… or catch some rays on the beach.

CLIMATE / GEOENGINEERING REUTERS / Francois Lenoir / FilesTwo climate activists.

Every year, Longyearbyen celebrates the end of dark season with Sun Festival Week. The town gathers on the old hospital steps to celebrate the sun’s return.

Chris Jackson / Getty ImagesSun Festival Week.

The saying goes that “the sun is declared back in Longyearbyen when its rays reach the steps.”

Source: Visit Svalbard.


That’s not to say dark season — where the sun doesn’t shine for four months straight — doesn’t have its perks.

Shutterstock.comAurora borealis.

Longyearbyen is one of the best places in the world to witness the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis.


It was also one of the best places in the world to take in the “super blue blood moon” which occurred in 2018.


Most people in Longyearbyen get around by snowmobile.

Shutterstock.comSnowmobiles.

There are currently more snowmobiles than there are people to use them.

Getty ImagesSnowmobiles.

Source: Statistics Norway.


Some prefer more traditional methods of travel, though.

REUTERS / Francois LenoirDogs at work on the snow.

The archipelago is home to more than 1,000 polar dogs, which are basically elite athletes – sometimes consecutively running over 100km per day for weeks at a time.

Source: Visit Svalbard.


You’ve got to get the groceries home somehow …

REUTERS / Bob StrongSledding with groceries.

… but watch out for hungry reindeer, which can often be seen roaming around town.

Kevin Schafer / Getty ImagesReindeer in town.

Think Longyearbyen might be the place for you? Visitors can stay in the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel — the northernmost hotel in the world.

Shutterstock.comRadisson Blu Polar Hotel.

Rooms start at 1,390 Norwegian Krone ($US152) a night.

Sources: Radisson Blu, Guinness World Records.


Just make sure you keep an eye out for the local wildlife.

Shutterstock.comA polar bear.

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