Embrace the extraordinary in Longyearbyen, where the sunrise disappears for four consecutive months from April to August because of Its far north location on the planet.
The visa-free zone is an island part of Norway, where anybody from any part of the world can take up residence as a condition of the Treaty of Svalbard – which came into effect in 1925.
Svalbard is located hundreds of miles from Norway, it has been under Norwegian rule since 1920.
However, European locations rarely get more remote than Svalbard, an archipelago situated around 650 miles from the North Pole and 500 miles from the Norwegian mainland.
A popular tourist destination, the island is also home to the world’s northernmost town – Longyearbyen. You can move there freely with no visa required, but there are some pretty unique laws you’ll need to abide by if you do.
Visitors to Svalbard can expect to be treated to a range of attractions from dog-sledging to exploring the stunning ice-caves, all set in some pretty chilly weather – around 60% of the island is covered by glaciers and the temperature is rarely above freezing.
Only a few thousand people live on the island, mainly in Longyearbyen, but they share the space with one of the world’s largest, unspoiled wilderness areas – home to polar bears, reindeer, caribou and a huge variety of birds including Arctic terns and puffins.
Although wildlife roams freely here, polar bears largely steer clear of the settlements.
If you are planning to pay a visit, you should know that the island has some unusual laws and customs. For example, cat lovers may want to steer clear as the animals are banned from the island in a bid to protect its bird life.
Meanwhile, as a visitor, you might also learn that Longyearbyen challenges the conventional even in death. While the claim that it’s ‘illegal to die’ is a bit of an exaggeration, the truth is that bodies can’t be buried in Longyearbyen.
The frigid climate prevents decomposition, as evidenced by remarkably preserved bodies exhumed after seven decades.
The legend goes that while a handful of Norwegian miners were buried in Longyearbyen in 1918, their bodies were so well preserved when they were dug up 70 years later that their systems still contained traces of a flu virus that killed them.
However, those living in the town who are seriously ill are often sent to the Norwegian mainland for treatment due to the limited medical facilities on the island. The same goes for pregnant women.
There is no maternity ward at Longyearbyen’s main hospital, meaning that those who are expecting have to travel to Norway at least a month before their due date.
Longyearbyen is also one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights – which in the winter months can also be visible in the daytime.
While Longyearbyen’s surreal atmosphere and visa-free status may appeal, remember that residency doesn’t confer Norwegian citizenship. Whether captivated by the mystical Northern Lights or the absence of a sunrise, living in Longyearbyen is a venture into a world where the ordinary takes on an extraordinary hue.
If you do want to take a trip to Longyearbyen and Svalbard, you should note that while its airport is served by multiple airlines, you cannot fly there directly from the UK – you’ll need to take a flight to either Oslo or Tromso in Norway and pick up a flight to the island.
SAS and Norwegian are among the airlines which fly to Longyearbyen from both cities.