Discover the world’s northernmost Northern Lights!
Throughout history, this dancing green light in the sky has related to a range of myths and sagas. The Vikings believed that the aurora was reflected light from the shields worn by the Valkyrie – a host of female figures who brought deceased warriors to Valhalla. The Sámi people believed they could hear the northern lights, to this day they call it ‘Guovssahas’ – the light you can hear. The Inuits thought that the northern lights were the dance of the dead, whilst the Native Americans from North Dakota believed that they were seeing flames under massive cauldrons where medicine men and warriors boiled their enemies. Even until relatively recent times, it was quite normal to tell children to come inside when the northern lights arrived – out of fear they might be taken by the aurora.
The Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis are caused by waves of electric particles from the sun that are hurled towards our planet. The Northern Lights are formed between 80 and 500 kilometers over our heads. You have the greatest chance of experiencing the Aurora Borealis in the northernmost parts of Scandinavia, northern Russia, Alaska and the northernmost parts of Canada, Greenland and Iceland. However, on rare occasions the lights have been reported much further south in Europe. The Northern Lights season on Svalbard is between October and early March.
Just like all other natural phenomena, the Aurora can’t be turned on or off. First, you will need clear skies. The next thing you will need, is some patience. However, here at the northernmost reaches of Norway, you will most likely see the Northern Lights on every clear night. The display often comes in waves which last about 30 minutes, before disappearing and then returning once more. Due to the Polar Night on Svalbard, we don’t have to wait for the night to hunt the Aurora, it is dark enough in the day. This really increases your chances. In addition, Longyearbyen and its surroundings have very little light pollution, so you will see the Lights more clearly. Add the stunning, yet stark wilderness to that and you have a winning combination!
Northern Lights Winter
October – The seasons turn and we are back in the northern lights season. Even if the sun doesn’t leave us entirely until the end of the month, you will notice that the daylight is disappearing from Longyearbyen. The fantastic blue light returns, although the glow may feel different as there is generally less snow on the mountains. Try a northern lights evening at Camp Barentz. At the end of the road in Adventdalen you can find a little wooden cabin, identical to that which Willem Barentz built on Novaya Zemlya, when he and his crew were forced to overwinter there. The cabin was a bit on the small side for the 18 men who lived there for half a year, but for you and your fellow travellers it is the perfect place to enjoy a reindeer stew in front of the fire, with homemade brownies and a chance to learn more about the northern lights.
November – The polar night descends once more, but with it comes the dancing northern lights. Due to Svalbard’s northerly location, it is possible to see the northern lights at any time of day. November is also the month for good food and drinks and you can easily spend a week tasting your way through all the fantastic dining options in Longyearbyen. Try Restaurant Nansen for instance. Here, you can enjoy the most delicious dishes, inspired by Nordic flavours, that you can share at your table if you like. For something completely different, but just as tasty, try a juicy burger at the Coal Miners’ Bar & Grill. Many restaurants start serving Christmas menus during this month, so you can get into the festive mood a little early!
December – December is the month of Christmas and given that, we are the northernmost town in the world, closest to the North Pole and Father Christmas, it is only natural that we celebrate it well. Concerts, dinners and Christmas decorations around every corner are just a part of it, as those who choose a very different Christmas at 78 degrees North experience a very special and cosy celebration. Top it off with Christmas Dinner at Restaurant Nansen or Funktionærmessen Restaurant and enjoy an unforgettable holiday for the whole family.
January – One of the darkest months of the year, perhaps an underrated season to visit Svalbard in. Historically, the snow cover should be good in this period, meaning you can try your hand at both snowmobile and dog sledding tours. If you visit under the full moon, you can experience the dazzlingly beautiful Svalbard mountains with both moonshine and northern lights. The Polar Night ends on 30 January and from then the days quickly become lighter.
February – February can be summed up with just one word: the blue hour. The end of the Polar Night combined with the white mountain tops and plains creates a fantastic blue light in the sky. The locals never tire of its glow and visitors come from around the world to experience it. In mid-February the sun peers over the horizon for the first time since October and although its rays do not reach Longyearbyen yet, it is easy to see that it gets lighter every day. Ice caving is an excellent option in this month as is the northern lights safari by snowmobile.
March – Beautiful, but cold, March is the start of the Sun Winter, but that doesn’t mean that the thermometer will show anything resembling spring. March is on average the coldest month on Svalbard, but also a fantastic time to visit. During the first week of the month the ‘Solfest’ (Sun Party) begins and we celebrate the return of the sun on 8 March. This is quite an experience, as the whole town comes together at the old hospital stairs and the school children sing for the sun. March generally boasts a lot of good weather, each day is longer than the last and you can make use of this on some of the longer snowmobile tours.
April – A month for adventure, be sure not to sleep through your stay! The midnight sun arrives in the middle of April and you can make the most of this with tours nearly around the clock. See the incredible Arctic landscape, the snow-covered mountain peaks and the broad white plains. If you haven’t tried dog sledding before, you will enjoy the sense of achievement gained when you steer your team of eager huskies through the wilderness. Perhaps it seems strange to leave the light to head down into an underground winter wonderland, but the glacial ice caves are a must see, as each unique location never ceases to impress.
May – If you are planning on visiting Svalbard solely to experience snowmobiling in the Arctic, you shouldn’t plan your visit for later than the beginning of May. The weather is hard to forecast, but sometimes the winter begins to loosen its grip on Longyearbyen during this month and that brings with it the end of the snowmobiling season. For all other visitors, it is a fantastic and light month and a favorite for those who wish to take part in our longer skiing expeditions. On 17 May, Longyearbyen comes together for the national day of Norway, with many traditional costumes to be seen. This date also marks the official start of our Polar Summer.
June – Even if the calendar says ‘summer’, the mean temperature in Longyearbyen during this season is only 6 degrees Celsius. So, you shouldn’t fill your suitcase with just shorts and t-shirts. However, June is the month when our boating programs really take off, and suddenly all the places which have been more or less unreachable during the winter are just a short boat trip away. The midnight sun will be your constant companion and June is also an excellent time for great hikes around Longyearbyen.
July – Summer is here and our little, small town is filled with the bustling crowds from the cruise ships. Some will visit the city centre while others go directly on excursions. Still, the nature is surrounding you and if you’re lucky you can spot both the polar fox and the reindeer in town. In July, the most popular excursions are by foot or with our beautiful dogs from Green Dog. There’s nothing like some cuddles with the playful puppies in the dog yard.
August – In August, the soil changes from neon green to warm golden colors. Hikes, boat trips or kayaking are perfect excursions in this period of time. At the end of August, we can enjoy the first sunset since April, so why not take your camera with you and capture the nature and wildlife preparing for the long and cold winter?
September – September is often the month where we awake to the season’s first snow on the mountaintops. Not to fear – the sun and summer is here a while longer, but you may need to add an extra layer and keep your hat down over your ears. September is still a fantastic time for boat trips. You will get up close to the wild Svalbard landscapes and catch the beautiful sunset on your way home to Longyearbyen. Perhaps a humpback whale or a pod of belugas may turn up too?
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