Spitsbergen is the largest island in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, which also includes the three smaller islands of Nordaustlandet, Barentsøya and Edgeøya. It’s often called “The land of the midnight sun.” It’s also known as “The Wildlife Capital of the Arctic.” Spitsbergen, about 1,300 kilometers from the North Pole, is dark four months of the year, but when the sun returns in April, the days lengthen until sometime in June when the sun never sets—all the better for viewing the wildlife that has made Spitsbergen so popular with travelers on a quest to observe polar bears and other wildlife, such as walruses, reindeers, arctic foxes, beluga whales, seals and seabirds.
Up until the 1920s, the Svalbard archipelago (the combined population is 2,884) was essentially a no man’s land until Norwegian sovereignty was officially granted by the Spitsbergen Treaty. Longyearbyen, the administrative center of the archipelago situated on Spitsbergen, began as a coal mining town. Today the focus is on wildlife, glaciers and fjords.