Barentsburg is named after Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, who discovered Svalbard in 1596. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 gave the previously unclaimed islands to Norway but allowed any country to perform mining and other economic activity. The Russian state-owned Trust Arktikugol has been mining coal here since 1932, and during the Cold War Barentsburg was a hotbed of activity as the Russians attempted to expand their zone of control over the islands. After Pyramiden was closed in 1998, Barentsburg has been the only Russian settlement still operating, with some 470 inhabitants as of 2015, and some 100,000 tons of coal exported yearly. The mine closed in 2006 after concerns about the risk of an underground fire, but resumed production in late 2010.
The settlement used to be home to over 1,000 people, so many buildings are no longer inhabited, and some are left to decay. It has a truly stunning setting. When the weather is clear enough to see across the Isfjord, and the black smoke rises from by the old coal power plant, the visit will leave a strong impression on the few who visit.
- State Trust Arcticugol, Arctic Travel Company Grumant, ☏ (24 hours), firstname.lastname@example.org. The tourist department of the company managing the town. They operate the tours (ship, snowmobile) going to and from Barentsburg as well as the activities in town. The same company runs the tourist services in Pyramiden, the other Russian mining settlement on Svalbard.
Barentsburg has a 1 heliport operated by the Russian company SPARK+ with one Mi-8 helicopter. Trust Arktikugol can only use the helicopter service within the limits of its activities as a mining company, and chartered tourist transport is not permitted. The flight between Longyearbyen Airport and Barentsburg is about 15 minutes. The heliport is located around 4 km from Barentsburg. There is a road there where a minibus transports the travellers.
Most visitors arrive from Longyearbyen on daytrips (2–3 hours one way by boat). The sailing season is from March to November. In summer, there are also occasional cargo and passenger boats to Murmansk on the Russian mainland (3 days).
There are no roads to Barentsburg, and it's two days' solid hiking from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg in the summer. The easiest way (starting from Longyearbyen) is to head off from the end of the road in Bjørndalen, go up on the mountain of Fuglefjella, continue past the valley of Grumant and descend to the coast along a small creek after 2-3 km. The hike should take about 6–7 hours. The night can be spent in either the Rusanov cabin outside of the old mining settlement of Coles Bay (closed in 1962) or in one of the buildings of Coles Bay (recommended in summer only). The next day is a slightly longer hike (7–9 hours), but in flat terrain, crossing the Coles Valley and continuing along Kapp Laila before arriving the heliport at Heerodden outside Barentsburg. There is a road from Heerodden to the settlement itself.
In late winter and early spring when there's enough snow, travel by snowmobile is a more popular option and day trips are offered by tour operators in Longyearbyen — it's a fantastic ride and well recommended.
Barentsburg is easily covered on foot and orienting yourself in the town is easy. It's some 220 steps up the stairs from 2 the dock to the settlement, where more or less everything is along the main street, ulitsa Ivana Starostina.
Day-tripping tourists get about 2 hours to see the sights, and for most this is plenty.
- 1 Chapel. A small orthodox wooden chapel, erected in 1996 to commemorate the 140 victims of a plane that crashed while bringing in a new shift of miners to Barentsburg.
- 2 Lenin statue. It may be only the world's second most northernly statue of Lenin (the top spot still belongs to Pyramiden), but it's still a popular spot to take a picture.
- 3 Pomor Museum, ☏ . Stuffed polar bears, a dinosaur footprint and lots of rocks. Entry 50 kr.
- 4 Star and slogan. Look up on the hillside above Barentsburg — there's a five-pointed star and the Communist-era slogan Миру Мир/Miru Mir, or "Peace to the World". The sign also serves a useful function during winter, as when the star becomes visible again, the polar night has ended and summer is coming.
- 5 Art Arctic Gallery. The main exhibition isn't about art, it showcases whalers' items from clothes to carved Orthodox crosses all the way back from the 17th century as well as parts of the wooden ship that Willem Barents expedition used when sailing the waters in 1596. Temporary exhibitions include traditional and folk art by Arctic peoples and paintings of Svalbard by Anna Mikhailova, a Russian painter. adults (15 years or older) 75 NOK, 10-14 years 25 NOK, under 10 years free.
Outside the town
There are a couple of viewpoints 2-4 hours away where you can hike independently or as part of a tour. If going independently, you're required to carry a gun and a signal gun, because of the polar bear risk, as anywhere in Svalbard outside settlements.
- 6 Mt Olaf. Towering over Barentsburg, there are large satellite dishes here.
- 7 Cape Heer (Heerodden). The cape where the heliport is, north of Barentsburg.
- 8 Cape Finneset. South of Barentsburg, named so because according to someone it was a fine peninsula to land a ship.
Activities are operated by the Grumant company, see the Understand section for contact information.
- 1 Sport Hall. Two sea water swimming pools and assorted other sports facilities. Also used for competitions with Longyearbyen
- Mining tour. You can visit the coal mine on a guided tour. It's said to be the world's only operating coal mine that can be visited, and it's also the northernmost in the world. Tours are available in English, Norwegian, French and Russian. 450 NOK.
- 2 Barentsburg Husky Center. Visit the husky center to see eight different dog breeds used as sled dogs. You can go trekking with the dogs, and dog sledding is available both in winter and summer (when they pull a cart instead of a sled).
- Kayaking. A few different kayak tours are available, from a few hours around Grønfjorden to 11-day expeditions around Svalbard.
- Fishing. The tour company also offers fishing tours, ocean fishing from boats and lake fishing from the shore of Lake Linné.
The Norwegian currency kroner is used in Barentsburg, and prices for tourist activities are adjusted to Norwegian levels.
- 1 Polar Star (in the cultural center). Souvenir shop offering matryoshka dolls, Lenin pins and assorted other Soviet-Russian kitsch.
- 2 Handicraft center. You can buy Russian-style souvenirs here, made by locals - or by yourself. There are namely also workshops with baking, painting and making finger puppets.
Eat and drink
Locals eat cabbage soup (shchi) in their canteen for free, for tourists there are a couple of places to eat and drink.
- 1 Brewery and restaurant Krasniy Medved. Tu-Su 13:00-01:00. One of two breweries in Svalbard (the other one is in Longyearbyen), the "red bear" is also a restaurant, bar and party place. The food menu cod dishes, burgers, meat dishes and soups, the bar menu their own beer and several cocktails.
- 2 Restaurant Rijpsburg (Hotel Barentsburg). Tu-Su 08:00-23:00. Rijpsburg, named after a short-lived Dutch settlement nearby, is a fish restaurant serving dishes prepared from fish from the Arctic waters, though they also have some meat dishes.
- 1 Icebreaker Bar Krasin (Hotel Barentsburg). Tu-Su 08:00-23:00. With an interior designed like a Soviet icebreaker, the hotel bar specializes in different types of aquavit on the one hand, and drinks from the Soviet Arctic on the other. Traditionally on expeditions, pure alcohol was diluted to the same strength as the latitude and then drunk. Order a "78° latitude" to experience how strong the stuff was when they were around Barentsburg!
There are two public accommodation options. Both are booked through the Grumant travel company or booking websites.
- 1 Barentsburg Hotel, ☏ . Built in 1988 and in fairly good shape. 46 rooms and Wi-Fi and breakfast included. The hotel has a bar, a restaurant, a sauna and a conference room. rates around 1800 kr.
- 2 Hostel Pomor, ☏ . Hostel with 78 beds in twin and triple rooms. Both floors have a common kitchen, toilets and showers, and there are laundry facilities. Free Wi-Fi. Dbl 800 kr, trpl 1000 kr.
The Barentsburg Hotel has a post office for sending mail. It's a branch of the Longyearbyen post office and thus uses Norwegian stamps (and Norwegian prices), but they do have their own postmark. The post office also has a small exhibition presenting the history of Svalbard's postal services.
There is a small Russian consulate on Barentsburg, which could theoretically issue you a Russian visa. Don't count on it though, certainly not without checking ahead. A Russian visa application is a complicated process, and you can't just show up to get one. For example, you need a confirmed and paid hotel booking before applying.
Return to Longyearbyen by the means described in Get in above is the most straightforward option. If you plan on taking one of the occasional boats to Murmansk, check beforehand if you need a visa (and get one).