Svalbard Travel: How to Plan a Budget Trip to Longyearbyen
Longyearbyen and Svalbard in general are amazing destinations and if you get the chance to go, you should! However, it is a notably expensive destination to visit. Here are some tips for Svalbard travel, primarily aimed at helping you keep costs down, as you explore this winter wonderland.
If your quest in travelling is to find “budget friendly” destinations, you’ll probably find few occasions to travel to the Nordic countries and territories.
They’re all notoriously expensive and none more so than Norway, in my experience so far.
I remember being in Oslo years ago and shelling out over 15 quid for a small plate of nachos. Granted it was at the airport, but it was a lot of money and they left the taste of bitter disappointment in my mouth, rather than that of cheesy goodness.
Svalbard, an archipelago that is a part of Norway, is no exception.
For many, it may seem like an impossible dream – a cluster of islands on top of the world, which few should have a chance to ever step upon in their lifetime.
Yet, I’m here to argue that it can be done.
Planning a budget trip to Longyearbyen, Svalbard is not quite the same as travelling through say, the Balkans or Southeast Asia, two regions where you’ll certainly see more bang for your buck.
If you’re savvy however, you can certainly lower your expenses somewhat, without feeling as though you’re missing out on what the region has to offer.
So, want to have a Svalbard holiday but not sure if you’ll be able to afford it?
Here are some Svalbard travel tips, to keep your spending at a minimum in this winter wonderland.
Svalbard Travel Tips: Planning a Holiday to Longyearbyen
Getting to Svalbard – Flights and Cruises
It’s not as expensive as you may believe to fly to Longyearbyen. It’s not cheap mind you, but it can be done.
Longyearbyen is accessible via Oslo or Tromsø via budget airline Norwegian Air.
Flights to Longyearbyen do not depart daily, so keep this in mind when planning your trip.
Booking flights in advance should help keep the cost down.
When I visited, I started my journey from London, stayed overnight at Oslo airport (in a hotel admittedly, have learnt my lesson regarding sleeping in airports, but it is another way to save some cash if you’re on a budget), before flying onto Longyearbyen in the morning.
The hotel we stayed in is one of the Scandic Hotels. I’m a big fan of them – they’re clean and put on a really lovely breakfast spread.
I took a similar route back, but went on a same-day flight to Berlin, rather than spending another night in Oslo.
All up, it cost me around 125 pounds (173 USD) and that was without waiting around for any special deals.
It may not be a nine quid round trip to Rome from London, but with some forward planning, you won’t be weeping over the cost of flights there.
Another way to get to Spitsbergen (the island Longyearbyen is found on) is via boat.
I haven’t done it myself, but the Ocean Expedition Cruises are said to be quite good.
Accommodation Options in Svalbard
There are two “inexpensive” options for accommodation in Svalbard.
One is the Miner’s Cabins – old accommodation for miners within the region, converted into a place for guests to stay on their trip to Longyearbyen.
This accommodation is located in the upper part of the Longyear Valley, close to mountains or glaciers, making it ideal for those wishing to embark upon hiking trips.
The downside of the cabins is that they’re not in the centre of Longyearbyen, along with rest of the town’s hotels.
Rather, they’re a bit of a hike out, which could be annoying in cooler conditions. It’s around a twenty minute walk to get into toen.
However, there’s not doubt that you’ll save money staying there – plus you’ll experience a little bit of the area’s history. It was the archipelago’s miners after all, who originally called the cabins home.
Click here to see current availability at the Coal Miners Cabins
Near the Coal Miners Cabins is a hostel, another good option to stay in if you want to save money.
Although all the bathrooms are shared, they do include breakfast, which is a delightful bonus of staying in most Nordic countries, I have noticed!
Click here to see current availability at the Gjestehuset 102
I stayed in the Radisson Blu, in Longyearbyen. It’s more expensive than the other two options, but the location can’t be faulted.
There’s a gift shop inside and a restaurant, with large windows looking out onto the nearby fjords. I wish I’d taken a photo of it as it’s a lovely view.
Click here to see current availability at Radisson Blu
I recommended booking your accommodation in Longyearbyen as early as possible, as options are limited and can go fast.
I have a whole post on accommodation options in Svalbard – check it out if you want to read about other options.
Borrow any warm clothes you’ll think you’ll need
For someone who likes to visit colder regions and once did it on the regular, I lack many sensible, warm clothes. I’ve got a random assortment, but probably not enough to keep me warm for extended periods of time up north, or far south.
To save on cash, I often borrow the jackets, ski pants and thermals of friends, in exchange for some chocolates or a bottle of wine. It’s far more economical in the long run, rather than buying them myself.
This random collection of clothing may not lend itself to the most fashionable of moments (note my red hat and pink ski jacket in the photo above), but you’ll be snug at the very least.
Anything you need, you should be able to buy in Norway, or even in Longyearbyen itself. Longyear78 is a store in town which sells clothing and there is no VAT added, so it will be cheaper than buying on mainland Norway.
If you’re flying in and out of Tromsø or Oslo, you might be able to rent warmer clothes within the city and drop them off on your return.
Limit yourself only to activities you really want to do
There are a lot of really, really neat things to do in Svalbard… but they come with a hefty price tag.
I suppose you have two choices where this is concerned – see it as a once in a lifetime trip and splurge, or limit yourself to the activities you really want to do.
There is plenty on offer – dog sledding, ATV-ing, seeing the northern lights or taking a boat trip out to Pyramiden in the north (I am very bitter about not having done this myself).
Some activities are “riskier” than others, as they’re based on the elements.
For example, we paid to go on a trip out to a cabin to see the northern lights, but they didn’t fancy making an appearance that night.
We still had a lovely meal and learned about the area’s history, but I would have been a bit cheesed off if seeing the lights was my main endgame.
We also couldn’t go properly dog sledding or snow mobiling… due to the lack of snow (instead it was raining, which locals said was highly unusual, the region being an arctic desert and all).
We went dog… karting I want to call it instead (sitting in a kart, not on a sled) and ATV-ing, which was fun but not as good as snow mobiling would have been. I can only guess however, as I am still yet to do it in this life.
Buy meals from the local supermarket
Food can lead to another massive expense, particularly with prices being inflated because 1. Norway and 2. mostly everything is imported. Although there are greenhouses in Longyearbyen, believe it or not!.
The simplest way to save money is to load yourself up on your hotel/hostel’s breakfast and buy the rest of your food at the local supermarket.
Svalbardbuttiken sells groceries and alcohol. Try not to get eaten by the stuffed polar bear that leers over you, on your way in.
Fruene is a great café and also sells really delicious and pretty chocolates – go there for a hot chocolate on a cold day!
If you fancy at least one meal out, I found the pizzas at Svalbar Pub to be inexpensive by Nordic standards and quite delicious.
You could split one between two… or treat yourself.
If I return to Longyearbyen, I would quite like to try Huset restaurant, for Scandinavian inspired food.
Spend some time exploring Longyearbyen, easily done on the cheap
One of my favourite activities to do when I travel to anywhere new, is take photos.
It costs me nothing and it’s an excellent way to explore a new town.
Brightly coloured and based in front of a stunning fjord, Longyearbyen is an extremely photogenic town.
Just make sure you don’t wander outside the city limits. You’re not allowed to do so without a gun, due to the threat of polar bear attack.
Some cheaper activities on offer in town include Svalbard Museum. It’s well-worth a visit, to find out about the history of the area, which is very interesting indeed!
Read more: 14 Facts About Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Time your visit appropriately
You’ll save cash simply through whichever season you choose to travel to the archipelago.
Travelling there in the shoulder season (when we went) means there is a little less to see and do, but things are considerably cheaper.
And yes, it meant we didn’t get to experience the midnight sun or Polar Night, but we did get six hours of soft beautiful light, which coloured the mountains pink.
This was pretty special within itself.
I hope these Svalbard travel tips help you in your own holiday planning. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below!
Have you been to Svalbard? Have any tips of your own to share?