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Svalbard - Eating and sleeping
There is no authentic local Svalbard cuisine. Meals served in Longyearbyen are either traditional Norwegian food (Vinterhagen, Huset, Kroa) or international cuisine in the hotel restaurants. Huset often adds real local flair by offering various types of Arctic meat (reindeer, seal, whale, geese, ptarmigan) or polar fish species. In Barentsburg, typical Russian food is served (including very big breakfasts) – if you spend a night there, it is definitely worth giving the food a try.
Alcoholic beverages are good value when compared with prices in shops elsewhere in Scandinavia. Sale of alcohol in the shops is restricted for residents who have ration cards. Visitors can get their rations by displaying their flight tickets (this system may change in the near future). Cruise passengers who stay in Longyearbyen for only a few hours are not sold alcohol in the shop (but can buy a drink, of course, in licensed places).
The only place to buy bottles of alcoholic beverages is a separate area of the supermarket Svalbardbutikken in Longyearbyen called Nordpolet; the choice is impressive. Amusingly, wine is not rationed as it was very rarely drunk in the days when the system was inaugurated. Should you want to head out drinking, there are a number of bars in Longyearbyen itself.
Standard Norwegian restrictions apply when bringing in alcohol in your luggage: people over 20 years of age may bring in either: one litre of spirits, one litre of wine plus one litre of beer; or two litres of wine or two litres of beer.
Drinking and driving is also forbidden (limit 0.2mg alcohol per ml of blood!) and is subject to penalties as stiff as those on the mainland – two to four weeks’ imprisonment accompanied by fines of thousands of kroner, are not unheard of. Please note that consumption of alcohol is allowed publicly only in licensed places. You should not sit or stand somewhere in public areas with a beer can or a wine bottle; even carrying bottles of alcohol uncovered is regarded as wrong.
Owing to the low temperatures and the nigh pure surroundings, surface water is drinkable just about everywhere. The eventual light brown, silty turbidity is due to finely ground rock materials from glaciers – that is, safe ‘mineral water’. You should allow some time for the sediments to settle to the bottom. Only in some areas have there been any problems with water quality due to a possible sulphur content caused by local shale.
Drinking water in Longyearbyen comes filtered from the lake, Isdammen, and is of very good quality. In Barentsburg, the pipes are very rusty and it is recommended that, if you are going to drink it, you let the water run from the tap for a while before doing so.
Attention: In the Fuglefjellet area between Bjørndalen and Isfjord just west of Longyearbyen, the lethal fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis could establish itself due to the unique coexistence of both mice and foxes in this place – here, unboiled water should be avoided.
Nothing demonstrates better the massive changes in Svalbard than the rise in the number of available tourist beds: from nothing in the mid 1980s to nearly 800 by 2013.
There is nothing that could really be described as ‘budget’ – the sole campsite excepted, perhaps – and in addition there are distinct seasonal variations – very little will be open over the Christmas period, and many of the options close completely over the winter period. Price regimes can be complex, with significant increases around peak periods – Easter in particular. The overwhelming majority of accommodation is in Longyearbyen – the little that is available outside the town needs to be booked through the tour operators, with the exception of the hotel in Barentsburg.
Some other points to be aware of:
- It is customary to take off all shoes which have been used outside already in the entrances, continuing inside either simply in socks or using slippers (either brought along or sometimes also ready for guests in the entrance).
- Check-in time is usually from 14.00 onwards, check-out time is until 11.00. If arriving with a night flight, make sure that you booked your room for that night instead of having to wait until 14.00 the following day!
- For a surcharge, you can make yourself a packed lunch at the breakfast buffets to take with you on tour – doing this secretly without extra payment is regarded as unacceptable.
- There is no smoking in any public places in Norway and Longyearbyen.
- The top hotels charge even higher prices during the spring weekends
- In the low season (between Christmas and New Year) most accommodation is closed.