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Head to a Jazz Festival in the Arctic Circle This Winter—Where You'll Be Shrouded in Darkness

Svalbard is a place of superlatives.


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Up in the Arctic Ocean, the Norwegian archipelago (although not technically part of the country) splits the distance between mainland Norway and the North Pole, and holds titles to many of the world’s “mosts.” It’s home to the northernmost brewery on earth, the northernmost settlement on the planet, and Polarjazz, the northernmost jazz festival.

Every February since 1998, jazz fans have congregated in Svalbard’s largest settlement, Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitsbergen. This year’s festival will run from January 31 to February 3rd. It’s not necessarily the best time of year to make your way to the top of the world. February in the Arctic means the sun doesn’t shine. Polar Night shrouds the region in darkness 24/7. That doesn’t stop jazz-loving patrons from showing up to celebrate music.

“February is of my favorite months of the year. We slowly come off the pitch black dark season and move into a month of blue,” said Cecilia Blomdahl, program manager at Arctic Travel Concepts, who’s lived in Svalbard for three years now. “The village is coming to life again and of course we have to celebrate this in some way. The jazz festival is so much fun! A lot of local people and a lot of people from mainland Norway come up for this event. It’s the perfect way to wake up the village.”

A flight from Oslo will take roughly three hours to get to Svalbard. If you fly SAS, you can get into the Scandinavian spirit on your way over there with destination-appropriate snacks like Ramslöks gremolata, Scandinavian cheeses, Gravenstein Apple Must, and Mackmyra Whisky. Once you land, you have options for accommodations in Longyearbyen, from hotels to coal miners’ cabins, to Airbnbs.

As you might assume, it’s not a mild winter up in Svalbard. Temperatures average around 3°F. “My advice would be to dress warm, because February is usually cold,” said Blomdahl. The right head-to-toe gear is integral for your Svalbard survival. Start with base layers, like Helly Hansen’s 100% merino wool and Lifa® Stay Warm Technology tops and pants that will trap in your body heat and keep it there all Polar Night long. Top your base layers with the right waterproof bottoms (like ski pants), and a solid parka. Believe it or not, yoga apparel titan Lululemon makes ultra-warm winter coats for men and women that stand up to Arctic conditions. Protect your toes with wool socks and a waterproof boot like Danner’s weatherized Raptor 650.

“And have fun while here! Make some new friends and then come back to Svalbard to visit again,” Blomdahl said. The latter isn’t difficult advice to follow. Travelers from around the world visit Svalbard in the winter to try activities like dog sledding and ice cave exploring. It’s one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. You’ll want to come for the jazz, and stay for everything else.


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