Svalbard’s largest city is Longyearbyen, located on Spitsbergen and home to about 1,800 people. Longyearbyen, though small, has a thriving community. Residents and visitors on a Svalbard tour can enjoy the swimming pool, the climbing wall, the Sunday cinema, and the squash court. There is also a nightclub, three pubs, three hotels, a church, a school, and several tourist shops. Visitors on a trip to Svalbard may also enjoy seeing the art gallery with its permanent and changing exhibitions by local artists, or the Svalbard Museum, which offers exhibits on the history, flora, and fauna of the islands.
For most of its existence, Svalbard’s major employer was the state coal mining industry; Longyearbyen was essentially a company town whose daily life centered on the mining business. In the past ten years, however, there has been a shift from a mining economy to one that depends increasingly on tourism and research.
Island research generally focuses on weather and meteorology, with facilities for ionospheric and magnetospheric research. In 1993, a cooperation of the four Norwegian universities opened a University Center in Svalbard, which currently draws about 300 students per year. The students study geophysics, arctic biology, geology, and arctic technology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. A new Research Centre has just been built, in the hopes that the university will see an increase in enrollment.
Tourism is also a growing sector. Spring and summer are the most popular months for a tour of the islands Svalbard, which have been made far more accessible by the Svalbard Airport, located just outside Longyearbyen. Various tour operators provide guided trips from February to November, offering activities such as hiking, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, kayaking, and even coal mining.