Visiting the Svalbard archipelago in Norway is exciting and unforgettable. You can paddle a kayak around icebergs and through ice floes, drive a team of dogs on a sledge across an Arctic plain or take a snowmobile safari and see a range of animals and birds that include polar bears, Arctic foxes and Atlantic puffins.
Many credit the first discovery of Svalbard to the Vikings in the 12th century. However, the first recorded landing here was that of the Dutchman Willem Barents in 1596.
What Barents found was a group of islands that supported a large variety of wildlife and unique flora. This wildlife extended into the surrounding ocean where there were whales, seals, walruses and an abundance of fish.
As a result, Svalbard became a base for whaling and trapping. Many countries established settlements here during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the early 20th century, the discovery of coal led to an influx of mining companies.
At one time, you could only visit Svalbard by boat - and only when the ice permitted. There are now daily flights to and from Longyearbyen airport, just outside the area's main town.
These flights have opened up Svalbard to visitors. You can see for yourself the delights of the polar north.
Wildlife and flora
Perhaps the foremost of these is the wildlife. Join an organised Svalbard trip from Longyearbyen and see the creatures that live in this environment. These trips run from February to November, so you have plenty of time and choice.
If you visit Svalbard during the months of the midnight sun from April to August, look for the many small flowering plants. They take advantage of the 24-hour daylight to flourish in the Arctic soil.
Mining is vital to the local economy in Svalbard. Take the chance to visit a disused mine, Mine No. 3 outside Longyearbyen, and to see an abandoned mining village at Barentsburg.
At Svalbard, scenery surrounds you, including glaciers. To see glaciers at close hand, visit Magdalenefjord and Longyearbreen. These have some of the most impressive.
For a trip like no other, visit Svalbard with SAS, the airline that gives you cheap flights, a 23 kg/50 lb. baggage allowance and great service.
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