Barentsburg

Barentsburg (Баренцбург) is the only remaining Russian settlement in Svalbard.

Central Barentsburg, the main street.

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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 veritable 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 over an underground fire breaking out, but resumed production in late 2010.

The population of the settlement has been steadily decreasing in the recent years. Many buildings are not inhabited, and some are left to decay. Combined with a truly stunning setting for the town when the weather is clear enough to see across the Isfjord, and the black smoke from by the old coal power plant, the visit will leave a strong impression on the few who come here.

Orienting yourself in Barentsburg is easy enough. It’s some 220 steps up the stairs from the dock to the settlement, where more or less everything is along the main street, ulitsa Ivana Starostina.

The docks at Barentsburg.

Barentsburg has a 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). 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 on foot in the summer. The easiest way (starting from Longyearbyen) is to head off from the end of the road in Björndalen, 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 winter, 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.

Map of Barentsburg

Barentsburg is easily covered on foot.

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