Distinctive main street
Most of the service functions are clustered together in line along Longyearbyen’s main street; with cafés, restaurants, shops, post office, bank and the newly opened cultural centre all lying strategically close. People walking around in one-piece snow scooter-dresses, and a proliferation of small, discreet signs inviting you to “Please leave your gun here”, nevertheless say something about the conditions up here in the high Arctic. Let it be said once and for all; no-one comes to Svalbard to shop, but it is still fun to spend a little time in downtown Longyearbyen on the way to a snow scooter safari or a kayak paddling trip.
Since the Norwegian territory of Svalbard is a tax-free zone with no VAT or other tax, it is usually a bit cheaper here. The selection in the shops is surprisingly large, probably owing to the relatively high purchasing power of a population who pay little tax, are well educated and/or work long shifts in the mines.
What to buy?
The selection of outdoor equipment and clothing in the sporting-goods shops is quite impressive. The assistants, all well used to the outdoor life, are highly experienced in using equipment under high Arctic conditions, so there is plenty of good help and advice to be had. Nor is there any shortage of the latest fashionable clothing and interior design. Nordpolet is the place to buy duty-free alcohol and cigarettes.
Food and coffee
The world’s most northerly coffee bar serves espresso and quiche, just as on any big city boulevard. The piles of heavy outdoor clothing are, however, indicators of the cold climate outside. Longyearbyen’s restaurants and cafés offer a good selection of food, from the finest gourmet dining to simple pizzas and burgers.
Anyone choosing to spend a few years of their life working on Svalbard is probably relatively self-reliant and fearless. Long, dark winter nights spur people to seek contact with one another, so nightlife in Longyearbyen is very much a fun and inclusive experience. There is no strict dress code; it is more important to turn up with plenty of good humour. The nightlife includes a number of bars, all equipped with a huge and impressive selection of expensive whiskies, brandies and other spirits. The locals are also highly knowledgeable and discriminating.
Out in the suburbs
Not everything is in Longyearbyen itself. The legendary “Huset”, which was formerly used as a cultural centre with a cinema and theatre stage, has an equally legendary restaurant with an enormous wine cellar, and is situated slightly set apart up the valley. Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg hotel at Skjæringa has both a winter garden with a Thai restaurant, a spa and a bar with outdoor hot tub. If you are dressed less warmly for a party, a taxi is included as part of the service in Longyearbyen.
Read more about Svalbard Reiseliv (Svalbard Tourism) at www.visitsvalbard.com