The ‘other part of Norway’, Svalbard, is the world’s most easy-to-visit piece of icy pole. Fortunately that doesn’t make it even an ounce less alluring that the rest of the north’s frigid wonderland; Svalbard is chock full of glaciers, ice floes, whales, walruses and great barren wastelands in which tiny sporadic flowers somehow keep their heads above the permafrost.
Whilst it’s still not a place for the weary, Svalbard is surprisingly palatable for casual tourists. The town of Longyearbyen is the almost exclusive point of entry, and independent travel outside the town can be extremely challenging (and even dangerous), so Svalbard is one of those spots where, even if it goes against your travel ethos, you're probably best of heading to the travel agents and paying for someone to show you round the countryside.
Once you are signed up and off into the wilderness, though, you’ll come across sites and experiences that seem to suck the breath from your lungs. Just outside town there’s the Longyearbyan Glacier, which you can explore in your spiky crampons, before foraging for fossils in amongst the icy topsoil, or appetising boat rides that take in glacial views, drifting amongst the icebergs and whale spotting across the bay. It all comes with a hefty price tag, but Svalbard wouldn’t be Svalbard without it.
Another option is an organized hiking trip, which takes you into the heart of the wilds to discover peaks and valleys that feel like no one’s ever stepped amongst them before. Further afield you’ll find yourself delving into Svalbard’s aging mines, like the one in Barentsberg, heart of a belching Russian coal mining community that still churns out 350,000 tonnes of charcoal a year. Mine Number 3 offers a more hands on experience; a no longer functioning mine that allows you to crawl into the tiny gaps once occupied by the miners and wallow in your own frosty claustrophobia for a frightening few seconds.
It is pricey, but despite the ample budgetary restrictions, Svalbard remains the most accessible and realistic route into the northern ice caps, and its every bit the chilly spectacle you’d expect.