Barentsburg is a small mining settlement on the Norwegian island of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean that lies on the beautiful shores of Grønfjord. The settlement lies around 60 kilometers from the main town of Svalbard called Longyearbyen.
Barentsburg is home to around 500 mine workers who are all employed by Trust Arctickugol, a Russian state-owned mining company. The town is pretty basic but it does have all the infrastructure needed for life in the Arctic. There is a hospital, school, a few hotels, a sports center, and even a cultural center.
Barentsburg was once just a mining town but today it’s also open for tourism thanks to the opening of the Arctic Travel Company which runs the hotels, guesthouses, pubs, and restaurants in the town.
A trip to Barentsburg is all about arctic exploration, a dip into Russian history and culture, tasting the traditional food of the area and, of course, visiting the mines themselves.
Barentsburg was named after the man who discovered the island of Svalbard in 1596, Willem Barentsz. The town was named by the Dutch who bought the mines from Russia in 1920 but it didn’t last long and Russia took back ownership of the mines in 1932 when they expanded it.
During World War II, Barentsburg was destroyed and the buildings you’ll find there today are all quite new but it still has a musk of history about it.
To get to Barentsburg, you first have to get to Svalbard. There are weekly flights from Oslo and Tromso during the winter and during the summer there are sometimes 2-3 flights per week. The flight is pretty short, around 3 hours from Olso and a lot shorter from Tromso, and will have you landing in Longyearbyen.
Getting to Barentsburg from Longyearbyen can be quite an adventure and your transportation options change depending on the season.
During the summer you can get on a boat which takes you down the fjords to Barentsburg, which is probably the most beautiful option as you’ll get to see the amazing coastline and you’re likely to bump into some seals or whales along the way.
In the summer, one can also get to Braentsburg from Longyearbyen via car. But in winter, the only way is via snowmobile. It’s highly recommended to go with a guide otherwise you’ll need to hire a gun as encounters with grumpy polar bears along the way are almost guaranteed.
Being such a small town in the middle of the arctic there aren’t many accommodation options available in Barentsburg. There are no Airbnbs in the area and you have to choose between one hotel and one hostel.
Hotel Barentsburg is the high-end option when it comes to places to stay in Barentsburg. Rooms cost around $100 US per person per night and are very comfortably laid out with everything you need.
There are 46 rooms in the hotel, all of which are twins, doubles, or suites. All the rooms come with ensuite bathrooms, a TV, and free wifi. A delicious breakfast is included with the room, there is a restaurant on site with a bar, and there is a 24/7 reception too.
Other facilities at the hotel include a dry room for your gear after being in the outdoors, a sauna you can pay for, and a paid laundry service.
If you’re looking for a bit of luxury or traveling with kids, you can ask for the suites which have a lot more space and can sleep 2 adults and 2 kids.
Hostel Pomor is a more budget-friendly option and rooms at this hotel cost around $60 US per person per night. The hostel has just been newly refurbished with 30 double and triple rooms that are done up to a high standard.
The beds are comfortable but all rooms have a shared bathroom so there are no ensuites. Breakfast is not included with the price but you can add it to your booking for 150 NOK per day. The hostel has a fully equipped kitchen on every floor that you can cook meals in plus a load of washing machines and dryers that are free of charge to use.
Just down the road from the hostel is an awesome bar with great beer, a cute cafe, and one of the best restaurants in town, so you’ll never be left wanting when staying at Hostel Pomor.
Before we go into the things to do in Barentsburg, be aware that any outdoor explorations will require you to have a firearm and a signal gun, and know how to use them. This is to keep you safe from polar bears. It’s highly recommended that you book a tour with a guide if you do not know how to use guns and protect yourself.
Whether you find yourself in Barentsburg in winter or summer, you’ll want to explore the stunning arctic wilderness that surrounds Barrentsburg, Svalbard. In the winter, you’ll snowshoe and in the summer you’ll hike. There are some great things to see when hiking/snowshoeing and here are some of the best.
Hiking or snowshoeing up to the satellite station on Olaf Mountain takes about 2-3 hours and is one of the best places to see the northern lights in winter or the midnight sun in summer. You’ll go up around 250 meters above sea level and have amazing views of Barentsburg, Gronfjord, and the western coast of Svalbard.
The walk down as you looking over mountain tops and the snow shimmers with the moonlight, midnight sun, or the northern lights.
Another great hike or snowshoe from Barentsburg is the 4 hours trip to Cape Heer. The area known as Isfjord is famous for holding a lot of wildlife including walruses, seals, reindeer, and Arctic foxes.
Along the way, you’ll pass by the lighthouse at Cape Festningen which marks the entrance to Grønfjord, see an old cannon from a Norwegian ship, and a functioning Russian helicopter port. The hike is incredibly picturesque and it gives you an excellent insight into the Svalbard coastline.
Right in the middle of Barentsburg is the Art Arctic Gallery which is set inside the old home of the consulate general of the USSR. The building itself is quite incredible to look at and inside you’ll find exhibitions showing off the history of Svalbard and Arctic exploration.
Tickets cost just 75 NOK and in the main exhibition, you’ll be able to see artifacts from the 1600s to 1700s from Russian trappers that were found in archaeological excavations on Svalbard. The artifacts found including carved orthodox crosses, knives, dices, chess pieces, clothes, fishing tackle, and more. There is nowhere else in the world you can see things like this.
Going on a tour of a coal mine might never have crossed your mind. The mine in Barentsburg is one of the few coal mines in the world you’re actually allowed to visit.
On the tour, you’ll be fully briefed and equipped with safety gear and then taken into the mine. You’ll see all the machinery required to get deep into the ground and all the reinforcements put in place that stops the mine from collapsing.
During the tour, you’ll be educated about how coal is produced in the mine and then sent to the surface. You’ll meet a real-life miner, be able to talk to them and get a sense of what it’s like to live a big part of life underground.
The mines run a kilometer deep and you can feel the wind rushing up from the earth and to the surface. At the end of the tour, you’ll receive a coal souvenir and a certificate saying you’ve visited the northernmost coal mine in the world.
Saving the best until last, a visit to the Barentsburg Husky Center is probably one of the most fun things to do in Barentsburg. At the center, they have strived to gather and train every kind of sled dog that has ever been used in Arctic exploration, and today that have 8 different species of sled dogs living at the Husky Center all being trained to become sled dogs.
When you visit the center you get to meet all the dogs, have a cuddle with them, and hear the story of each breed and their special way of managing the arctic.
You can also opt to take a single dog for a walk letting it pull you on the lead so it has sled training. In the summer when there is no snow you can dog seld on wheels learning to control your pack and training them for the winter.
If it’s winter you can try out the real thing and go dog sledding through the snow. This is how the arctic was first explored and still is explored today and you’ll be following in the same footsteps. There is nothing quite like being pulled around the arctic circle by a pack of sled docks, it’s exhilarating.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!