Svalbard Is Now the World’s Most Extreme Arctic Luxury Getaway


Few places on Earth are more extreme than Svalbard. Its largest settlement, Longyearbyen, home to only 2,500 people, sits roughly halfway between Norwegian civilization and the North Pole, above the 78th parallel. Residents spend winters shrouded in total darkness and summers exposed to 24 hours of sunlight. Did we mention the -50 degree temperatures?

In this ultra-remote archipelago, there are more polar bears than people, no taxes, visas, or cats, and it’s illegal to die or be born there. It’s so far-flung that it houses the Global Seed Vault, storing the world’s seeds far enough from society to survive a nuclear disaster or zombie apocalypse. 

And while cruise companies from Seabourn to Hurtigruten have started sailing here in recent years, intrepid travelers have been skidding across Svalbard Airport’s single-lane runway via Tromso since 1975.

There are more polar bears than people in this harsh landscape.

Courtesy of Hurtigruten Svalbard

In a place where frostbite comes with the territory, frills and this frozen frontier are hardly acquainted—or so you’d think. But you’d have thought wrong. In fact, a growing number of increasingly luxurious lodges and restaurants have made accessing this frigid but undeniably sublime landscape not only feasible but downright comfortable.

Today, there are six hotels—from the Svalbard Hotel The Vault (the area’s newest opening) to the Isfjord Radio Adventure Hotel (a remote radio tower turned unique accommodation). Believe it or not, there’s even a Radisson.

The history of Funken Lodge reflects the history of Svalbard itself.

Courtesy of Hurtigruten Svalbard

But the region’s evolution from harsh mining town to tourism hub is perhaps best represented by Funken Lodge, a boutique 88-room set at the foot of a long-defunct shaft. The building was originally erected to house the ore operation’s administrative staff during the 1950s. Its utilitarian era lasted until 1993, when Hurtigruten Svalbard, a Svalbard tourism operator, purchased the building. It wasn’t until 2017, however, that a renovation created something close to what you’ll see here today, what’s easily the region’s best hotel. Rates for its junior suites average around $370 per night, including a bathtub and a cozy velvet-clad lounge area. Specializing in Scandi-chic interiors and hygge habitats, the hotel features wood paneling and flooring, leather furniture draped in fur, midcentury lighting, and a gas fireplace. 

It’s designed as a warm womb, a place to thaw after dog sledding, snowmobiling, glacier hiking, and polar bear spotting. Guests here remove their shoes when they enter the hotel and replace them with stylish wool slippers, a tradition dating back to the Longyearbyen’s mining days.

From Nordic five-star to relaxed breakfasts, the region is now full of delicious dining opportunities.

Courtesy of Hurtigruten Svalbard

Originally, Funken Lodge included an indoor shooting range next to a wine cellar, and although they’ve ditched the shooting range, it still holds one of the Arctic’s largest and rarest selections of Champagne.

The lodge’s elegant restaurant, Funktionærmessen, focuses on ingredients like king crab, caviar, and arctic char with truffles, served with Champagne or cocktails from the lodge’s eponymous bar. Locals consider the drinks here to be the best in town, with cocktails like a John M. Longyear, named after the town’s founder (made with vodka, espresso, long pepper, and chocolate). 

But the settlement’s most high-end dining experience is undoubtedly Huset. Inside a building that formerly housed a community center, post office, hospital, and school, guests get a 16-course meal to rival anything served at a certain Danish restaurant that rhymes with “coma.” It only seats a lucky dozen.

Dinners here start with an Arctic charcuterie plate of cured reindeer heart and topside served atop its antlers. The chef’s fermentation methods combined with Svalbard’s unique proteins means diners are walloped by strong, punchy flavors, particularly the Svalbard seal on a chickpea pancake topped with blueberry. Other creative dishes include a no-waste play on fish and chips using local wolfish and super tender Svalbard rock ptarmigan with Arctic cloudberry.

Funken Lodge delivers big on views.

Courtesy of Hurtigruten Svalbard

“Apart from the proteins, not everyone is aware of some local ingredients like mushrooms and mountain sorrel, products from the earth that we are proud to collect in our very short summer,” says Alberto Lorenzo, head chef at Huset. “Some of the dishes are served on stones, bones, antlers, or tropical fossils with millions of years of history, which also helps make it a unique experience.”

Huset pairs its dinners with wine from the more than 15,000-bottle cellar, one of Scandinavia’s largest collections. For non-drinkers and the sober curious, they match each course with house-made kombuchas, Scandinavian juices, and tea that reflect the region.

Despite all this polar pampering, you are in fact permitted to leave this snug situation—and you should.

Longyearbyen’s narrow main street is lined with everyday necessities like a grocery store, post office, restaurants, and souvenir shops, as well as a few of those aforementioned hotels. Head for a shop called Skinnboden to complete your arctic cowboy look with fox fur trapper hats, traditional cow-skin Norwegian boots, silver polar bear jewelry, and custom-made seal skin gloves. Just be aware that American customs regulations state that travelers cannot bring mammal products back into the U.S., so skip the seal.

The pint-sized village of Longyearbyen offers a surprising rich shopping experience.

Courtesy of Hurtigruten Svalbard

A few doors down at Freune, the town’s favorite lunchtime spot, chai lattes, and homemade cakes are the ideal elixir to the bitingly cold polar climate. It’s also the world’s northernmost chocolatier, where truffle flavors like chai, Svalbard cognac, and chili are crafted in the back. And if you don’t see a polar bear during one of your outings outside the settlement, don’t fret; Freune makes white-chocolate polar bears.

It’s a delicious—and harmless—alternative to the real thing and also the perfect handmade souvenir to take from one of the world’s most uniquely lavish destinations.

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