Longyearbyen is the only town of significant size in the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway. If your cruise travel takes you to Spitsbergen, you'll encounter the town. There are many things to do here - not the least of which is revelling in being in Norway's northernmost town. During your time in Longyearbyen, you can experience a number of fantastic excursions and soak in the history of the area. Let's learn a little more about this charming town:
Longyearbyen was originally a coal mining town founded by the Arctic Coal Company, which also established a nearby mine. The town was actually founded by an American named John Longyear. This is the origin of the town's name, which means Longyear City in Norwegian. Mining still happens in Svalbard, but in the Svea mine south of Longyearbyen. If you're interested in the town's history, you can see evidence of mining in the mountains around the town, or even take a Longyearbyen sightseeing excursion that will introduce you to the town's history. You will also be treated to a trip to the Svalbard Museum, which will further give you an idea of what Longyearbyen was like in the past.
The town's present
Now, Longyearbyen largely subsists on tourism and scientific research. It's an area rich in fossils in the Longyearbyen glacier, and you can find plant fossils between 40 and 60 million years old there. This excursion can be taken in the company of a polar dog. Any fossils you find are yours to keep, which is a lovely perk of spending time in Longyearbyen and participating in the local scientific culture.
Tourism in Longyearbyen is ripe for exploration as well. If nothing else, make sure you reserve a table at Huset, the world's northernmost gourmet restaurant, to sample Arctic food and sip selections from the 20,000-bottle wine cellar.
Longyearbyen, despite its tourism and scientific life, is still a town deeply of the Arctic. You are required to be accompanied by an armed guard whenever you leave the settlement in order to be protected from polar bear attacks. Additionally, reindeer wander freely through the town and are not particularly upset by being near humans, allowing you to get up close and personal with this majestic example of Arctic wildlife.