How to visit Svalbard on a budget

There’s no such thing unfortunately, but here are a couple of tips and tricks for staying on budget.

Although we can’t travel quite yet, I wanted to wrap up my Svalbard series, so here are some tips for your visit. Since there are more polar bears than people on Svalbard, the Arctic archipelago in the far north, you are not allowed to leave the main Longyearbyen town area without a rifle or someone carrying one. That means that Svalbard is not the best place for unorganised, independent exploring I normally like to indulge in, unless you have a valid rifle license, of course. If you are like me and don’t have one, your visit to Svalbard will likely be quite expensive. You will need to book a tour for anything outside Longyearbyen, so Svalbard was one of the few trips I actually carefully planned in advance and here are some tips and tricks I’d come up with for visiting Svalbard on a budget.

Accommodation

First off, you’ll need a place to stay on a budget while you’re there. Personally, I went with couchsurfing and actually managed to find a friendly host, so I got to stay in Longyearbyen for free…well, for the cost of a bottle of alcohol and you can read that story here.

However, there are obviously very few couchsurfing hosts on Svalbard and that might not be your thing, so the next cheapest option is camping. You can find some affordable camping options in Longyearbyen here, but be prepared to hear your teeth chattering at night if you don’t have the right gear. Besides the usual camping set up, you’ll need lots of warm blankets, because even in the summer the average temperature on Svalbard is between 3-10°C and can drop to below 0°C at night. Since I didn’t camp there, you’re welcome to reach out to my friend Timi @born_in_the_world on Instagram and ask him about it, because we met while he was staying in a camp in Longyearbyen.

Besides that there are also some reasonably priced guesthouses, as well as hotels, but it only gets more expensive from there as the accommodation options are limited in general (check for accommodation options here).

Food

Next up, you’ll need to eat. Luckily Longyearbyen has a huge supermarket in the centre of town and the prices are about the same as everywhere in Scandinavia – expensive. However, it’s still easiest to save on food by buying it in the supermarket. Also, surprisingly, some things are cheaper than expected, because Svalbard is a duty free zone and there are lots of fancy sports and souvenir stores if you want to get your shopping boots on. The only things I ended up buying were souvenirs, a wooden bowl and an extra pair of thick hiking socks after my feet got wet while hiking on the Lars glacier.

When I was there I ate instant soup and value pack protein bars for dinner, but I also made sure that any organised activities I booked included a meal, as that is another way you can save on food. Turns out that meant eating a lot of cookies – the boat trip to Barentsburg and Pyramiden came with unlimited coffee and cookies and you can bet that I knew that in advance and didn’t eat breakfast until I got on the boat. 🙂 I also became acquainted with the famous Norwegian Turmat, dehydrated prepared meals for outdoor activities, which are actually quite expensive if they aren’t included. To be fair, my pulled pork with rice wasn’t half bad and I felt like I was eating astronaut food.

Naturally, Longyearbyen also has restaurants and bars, so if you can afford to, you should definitely try the eating out experience. I can recommend Stationen, which offers a daily lunch special inspired by traditional Norwegian cuisine. The food was great and reasonably priced for Svalbard, but when I say reasonably priced, it will still set you back at about 15 – 20 € per meal.

Activities

Finally, you’ll also want to experience as much of Svalbard on a budget as possible, but unfortunately, that’s the expensive part. It will set you back by at least 1000 € if you want to see the bare minimum and there’s no getting around it, because there’s not much competition on Svalbard and all the tour operators need special gear for Arctic conditions and extra safety training. Although you’ll want to do everything, it’s best to try and choose the activities that maximise your time and give you the most bang for your buck. You can find a list of activities here, but their availability strongly depends on the season you’re visiting in.

There are Northern lights, snowmobiles and a jazz festival in winter and boat trips, midnight sun and hiking in the polar summer. Since my time on Svalbard was limited, I made a priority list of things I really wanted to see and chose to maximise my time, like taking a speedboat trips that combined two destinations in one day.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that you can get similar activities for different prices depending on where the activity is located. For example, glacier hiking and ice caves: you can choose to hike up to the ice cave near Longyearbyen or ride a snowmobile to a different glacier and ice cave, which will be more expensive. Although the ice caves are different, if you’ve never seen an ice cave before, both of them will be equally amazing and I loved the one I visited.

You should also set aside a day for exploring Longyearbyen and its museums, which will probably be the cheapest activity day. Make sure you check the required fitness level of any activities you book, because some of these are quite strenuous and you don’t want to kill yourself in the middle of a glacier hike you paid a lot for. Similarly, the weather conditions can change quickly and some activities can get cancelled, so it’s best to be realistic when booking and have a back up option.

svalbard on a budget
Svalbard is one of those destinations, which stay with you – they say it’s the call of the Arctic.

I know it’s not much, but hopefully these tips will help you visit Svalbard on a budget and manage your costs at what is definitely an expensive destination. Although I’m a huge proponent of impulsive, not super planned-out travel, Svalbard is not a place you can visit without a plan. In a way I’m actually glad of that, because it should stay the remote Arctic wilderness it is, not become an overly touristic destination. The environmental cost would be too great and Svalbard would lose its charm altogether, so in this case I happily saved up more than usual to have the privilege of visiting it.

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4 thoughts on “How to visit Svalbard on a budget

  1. It sounds interesting. I’m not sure if I would make it a first choice or not but it sounds neat and being able to do it on the cheap would help.

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