The Ultimate Guide to Museums in Svalbard
While the reason to visit Svalabard’s frozen shores is to have an adventure in nature, there’s plenty to learn before you explore. Museums are a great way to learn about the archipelago’s polar history before you set off on an expedition. Having led many expedition micro cruises around Svalbard, we’ve also spent a fair bit of time researching the area and discovering its history. From records of early polar exploration to archeological artefacts in abandoned settlements – here is the Secret Atlas ultimate guide to museums in Svalbard.
Svalbard Museums in Longyearbyen
As with hotels and accommodation, you’ll find most of Svalbard’s museums in Longyearbyen, which is where tours to explore other islands set off from. Visit these museums to learn more about some of the incredible destinations you’re going to explore.
Svalbard Museum is a natural and cultural history museum, which specialises in 400 years of the area’s history and geography. It aims to collect, preserve, disseminate, and engage in research related to Svalbard’s natural, cultural history, and environment. It’s located in Forskningsparken (Svalbard Science Park) and is home to over 55,000 objects. The museum’s permanent collections are arranged into three main categories: photographs, artefacts and archives. The photo collection has over 28,000 digital images of nature, wildlife, and people from the end of the 19th century to recent times. There are over 12000 artefacts to explore from taxidermy to old coal mining equipment. You can peruse diary entries, letters, and other documents from the past century in the archive collection.
Opening hours: Daily 10am – 5pm
Cost: Adult: NOK 150 / £11
North Pole Expedition Museum
Svalbard is located roughly halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It’s a great place to learn about early polar expeditions, and for a deeper dive, head to The North Pole Expedition Museum. Tucked behind the UNIS university campus in central Longyearbyen, the museum is filled with stories of Arctic exploration.
Split over two floors, you’ll find archive documents, newspapers, pictures, original expedition films, historical artefacts and more. The museum acknowledges the complexity and controversy surrounding early polar expeditions while exhibiting archives of famous expeditions, including Nansen’s expedition aboard the Fram (1893-1896) and the Amundsen, Ellsworth, and Nobile transpolar flight in 1926.
Opening hours: Daily 9am-5pm
Cost: Adult: NOK 150 / £11
Svalbard and its settlements also boast a long mining history. Longyearbyen was named after the American John Munro Longyear, who established the first coal mine in the town in 1906. “Gruve 3” translates to “mine no. 3,” and it offers more of an experiential journey than a traditional museum. It invites you to embark on a three-hour guided underground tour.
The old mine is a 10-minute drive from the town center, and transportation by bus or car from your accommodation is included with your ticket. Each visitor will be provided with a helmet, headlamp, and overalls, culminating in a walking tour of the main tunnel that was excavated in the 1970s. Most tours are available in English, and there is a minimum of two guests per tour. To address any accessibility requirements or to arrange a private tour (with a minimum of 10 participants), please contact the museum directly.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 9am -12pm / 1pm-4pm, Sundays 9am – 12pm
Cost: Adults 850 NOK / £63
Museums outside Longyearbyen
Longyearbyen is the gateway to exploring other parts of Svalbard. If you’re taking a tour, there are a few museums to explore in other parts of the archipelago too.
Ny-Ålesund town and museum
Ny-Ålesund is a small town located on the shores of Kongsfjorden Bay and is approximately a 4-5 hour boat ride from Longyearbyen. It’s an environmental and earth sciences research community, and it holds the distinction of being the northernmost settlement in the world, hosting research stations from 10 different countries. Despite the challenging Arctic conditions, Ny-Ålesund is surrounded by an abundance of flora and fauna, and its cliffs serve as a haven for birds, especially waders.
Originally founded as a mining town, Ny-Ålesund also holds significant historical importance in early Arctic exploration. Between 1925-1928, four attempts were made to reach the North Pole from Ny-Ålesund, including Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile’s airship Norge, which departed from the town and flew over the North Pole to Alaska. Today, you can still see the airship masts where these famous journeys began. For a deeper dive into the settlement’s history, you can explore the Gruvemuseum (Mine Museum), housed in an old wooden tobacco shop. While wandering around Ny-Ålesund, you’ll also discover the airship masts that launched these four North Pole expeditions and a large statue of Roald Amundsen.
In many ways, Pyramiden can be considered a museum. It stands as Svalbard’s most curious and eerie destination—an abandoned former Soviet mining town where buildings have been remarkably preserved by the unforgiving Arctic cold. A TV documentary even predicted that Pyramiden’s structures could still be standing 500 years from now!
While scarcely inhabited since 1998, Pyramiden still hosts a hotel and museum, attracting visitors who come to admire its Soviet architecture, explore abandoned items, and gaze upon the breathtaking Nordenskiöld glacier.
The Pyramiden Museum is a small museum featuring taxidermy polar bears, geological samples from the surrounding region, archaeological artefacts from the Pomors (an ethnographic group descended from Russian settlers), and information about the coal mining industry. As you might have guessed, it also houses an extensive collection of Soviet memorabilia.
Barentsburg Pomor Museum and Art Arctic Gallery
Barentsburg is situated approximately 30 miles from Longyearbyen and is the second-largest settlement in Svalbard. It’s a Russian coal mining town with a small population of around 450, and its local economy thrives on tourism. Reaching Barentsburg typically takes about two hours by boat from Longyearbyen. In Barentsburg, you’ll find two hotels, alongside Soviet-era architecture, roaming reindeer, and colourful murals. One of the murals adorns the front of the Barentsburg Pomor Museum, where you can learn more about the early Arctic explorers and trappers who lived on Svalbard. You can also discover more about Svalbard’s history and art inspired by its breathtaking polar landscapes at the Art Arctic Gallery. Located in the former USSR consulate, the gallery features two floors of both permanent and temporary exhibitions, showcasing contemporary and traditional art. The primary exhibition space houses Russian trapper artifacts dating back to the 12th-14th centuries, including Orthodox crosses, knives, chess pieces, and fishing tackle.
Art Arctic Gallery
Cost: Adults 75 NOK / £5.5
More interesting museums outside of Svalbard
To reach Svalbard, you’re likely to fly via Oslo or Tromsø. If you plan to spend some time in either city, there are a couple of excellent museums where you can learn about polar history and enhance your knowledge before embarking on your adventures.
Polar Museum, Tromsø
The Polar Museum showcases the stories of Arctic trappers who endured harsh winter conditions while hunting on Svalbard from the late 1800s to the 1950s. However, it’s not solely focused on Arctic trappers; there’s also a separate exhibition dedicated to Roald Amundsen’s expeditions. This exhibition features archived photographs and documents detailing Amundsen’s life and polar exploration, including his leadership of the 1926 expedition to the North Pole aboard the airship Norge. Amundsen tragically lost his life in 1928 during a rescue mission in search of the crashed airship Italia. Additionally, the museum hosts a permanent exhibition dedicated to Fridtjof Nansen’s attempted expedition to the North Pole aboard the Fram, accompanied by an 11-man crew. Their methods and equipment were inspired by indigenous knowledge.
Opening hours: Daily, 11am – 5pm
Adults NOK 150 / £11
Fram Museum Oslo
For an in-depth exploration of polar expeditions, visit the Fram Museum in Oslo. Named after the world-famous wooden vessel, the ship is also the museum’s centerpiece. You can go aboard and wander around, imagining the conditions that explorers like Fridtjof Nansen, Roald Amundsen, and their crew endured as they attempted to reach the North Pole.
Additionally, there is a 270º surround film experience running continuously from the deck of the Fram throughout the day. The Fram Museum also features extensive exhibitions on polar exploration, including images shared by Amundsen in lectures about his expeditions through the Northwest Passage and to the South Pole.
If you’re eager to embark on your own Arctic adventure and explore the mesmerizing wonders of Svalbard, visit here.