Travel

An Icy Land of Extreme Adventure Awaits at the Top of the World

Bask in the northern lights during a never-ending night.

Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/ Moment/ Getty Images
Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/ Moment/ Getty Images
Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/ Moment/ Getty Images

When it comes to far-flung destinations, there’s remote-and then there’s Svalbard. Although technically a Norwegian territory, the three main islands of this isolated archipelago are actually closer to the North Pole than they are to mainland Europe. So removed is it from civilization that scientists entrusted the region with the Global Seed Vault: a long-term repository to ensure the replanting of Earth in the event of global catastrophe that looks like a Bond villain lair and is likely just as secure. 

Many tourists flock here simply to say they’ve visited the world’s northernmost permanent settlement. Or drank a beer at the world’s northernmost brewery. Or stayed at the world’s northernmost hotel. Yes, virtually everything you do here will be the world’s northernmost example of whatever it is you’re doing. 

But this place is so much more than mere novelty. With unfettered access to icebergs, glaciers, polar bears, and snowmobiles, it’s an adventure lover’s dream. The primary population center of Longyearbyen-a ‘city’ of some 2,700 year-round residents-affords a disproportionate allotment of culture and haute cuisine. And the Northern Lights? Come during winter and you can peep them at lunchtime. Just don’t forget to catch the rest of these can’t-miss experiences while you’re here: they’d be unforgettable even if they weren’t the northernmost experiences.

 David Merron Photography/ Moment/ Getty Images
David Merron Photography/ Moment/ Getty Images
David Merron Photography/ Moment/ Getty Images

Take a fjord cruise toward the Nordenskiöld Glacier

Between the end of May and August, Svalbard’s sun-soaked polar summer never gets darker than dawn. Temperatures climb to a downright balmy 45-degrees Fahrenheit. Tropical it is not, but the permanent daylight allows for night kayaking, midnight seal-spotting, and hours-long glacial excursions courtesy of the world’s northernmost fjord cruise. This engaging voyage embarks every morning out of Longyearbyen on its way up to where a massive ice field adjoins the Arctic Ocean. On the return you’ll snack on some marinated whale meat for lunch before stopping in Pyramiden-an abandoned Russian coal-mining settlement. Obviously, that’s even more visceral under a night sky blanketed with aurora.

 Jami Tarris/ Photodisc/ Getty Images
Jami Tarris/ Photodisc/ Getty Images
Jami Tarris/ Photodisc/ Getty Images

Head out on a polar safari 

Make no mistake, you’ll see wildlife on any maritime adventure in this part of the world. Whales, puffins, polar bears, even narwhals-the environment is awash in activity, and that’s to say nothing of the reindeer and foxes on land. But if you’re in search of walruses, specifically, there’s a safari just for you. The outspoken, blubbery mammals love to congregate, particularly in the summer months when they flock to the beach for prolonged sunbathing. Walruses: they’re just like us! Traverse the Isfjord on a speedboat to arrive at Poolepynten on Prins Karls Forland, among the world’s largest colonies of tusked pinnipeds.

 Sandra Leidholdt/ Moment/ Getty Images
Sandra Leidholdt/ Moment/ Getty Images
Sandra Leidholdt/ Moment/ Getty Images

Explore-and eat through-Longyearbyen 

In recent years, Svalbard has fallen prey to the same nordic dining trends that have captivated much of its southerly Scandinavian neighbors. That means an emphasis on purity, simplicity, and freshness. It’s on display at myriad restaurants dotting the surprisingly dense downtown promenade. At Stationen, an open kitchen plates its Moby Dick Burger, made from whale and served with pea puree and lingonberry spread. A charcuterie menu features cured Norwegian meats, which are often paired alongside a local craft ale or lager from Svalbard Bryggeri (you better believe it’s the world’s most northerly beermaker). 

Hire a taxi-or a bike in the summer-and ride uphill to the edge of town for gastronomic bliss at Gruvelagret. Built into a converted wooden mining house, the kitchen here offers refined tasting menus. Reindeer, foraged mushrooms, and mosses make frequent appearances. Just down the street is Huset, where you can enjoy the house-baked rye underneath a tartare of bearded seal. It’s also home to the largest wine cellar in all of Scandinavia.

Polar Jazz Festival
Polar Jazz Festival
Polar Jazz Festival

Attend a jazz festival underneath the aurora

As magical as the midnight sun can be in summer, it comes at a price. Namely: polar night, which extends annually from October 26th through February 15th. To help bolster tourism during these dark days, a few local jazz enthusiasts came up with the bright idea of launching a wintertime music festival. That was all the way back in 1997. Ever since, the first weekend of February has been dedicated to the melodious jamboree known as the Polar Jazz Festival, which now attracts performers from across the globe. Scandinavian Airlines helps sponsor the festival, flying musicians up for free from the Norwegian capital of Oslo. But even if you’re not stepping on stage, it’s still easy to shuttle on up as a paying passenger. The three-hour-long flight departs daily. And, yes, as you might have suspected, it is the world’s northernmost jazz festival. 

Ingeborg Klarenberg/ Moment/ Getty Images
Ingeborg Klarenberg/ Moment/ Getty Images
Ingeborg Klarenberg/ Moment/ Getty Images

Experience a greatest-hits collection of polar adventure

Book a stay at the Basecamp Explorer and get a taste for the town’s coal-mining roots-with a decidedly more decadent spin. The lodge flaunts a log cabin aesthetic, with cozy bunks featuring fur rugs and driftwood-fashioned furnishings. More than just a clever name, Basecamp is part hotel, part adventurer’s hub. A special concierge hooks guests up with exclusive immersions within the surrounding wilderness. Dog-mushing, snowmobiling, and aurora tours are popular in the winter months, while kayaking, and arctic sailing trips open up in the summer. Considering Svalbard is overflowing with opportunities for adventure, using this as your central hub means you cram as many expeditions and experiences as possible… and with an expert on hand to ensure you return from the ice fields to do it all again.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Next Flight Out for more travel coverage, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Brad Japhe is a freelance journalist with a wicked case of the get-up-and-gos. He enjoys his whisky neat and his IPA hazy. He’s usually found at the junction of food, booze, and travel. Follow him @Journeys_with_Japhe.

Travel

8 Suburbs Near Phoenix You Should Absolutely Visit

You could use a little space.

Discover Gilbert AZ
Discover Gilbert AZ
Discover Gilbert AZ

Phoenix is pretty great. There’s the burgeoning culinary scene, the diverse culture, the arts, of course, the sports, the great outdoors, and don’t forget about the more than 300 days of annual sunshine. We could really go on, and on, about how great this place is, but all of that greatness can blind you to all the excellence just outside it. The suburbs across The Valley are not to be missed. To encourage you to actually explore them, here’s what the best of ‘em have to offer.

Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism
Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism
Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism

Tempe

Notably, Tempe is recognized as home to one of the largest universities in the country, Arizona State. But this Phoenix suburb is so much more than a college town, although it does add to its undeniable magic. Downtown Tempe plays hosts to epic arts festivals, dragon boat races, marathons and triathlons, and dozens of other events that all take place a short-distance from Tempe Town Lake, a two-mile long perennial reservoir and urban park that attracts cylicts, rowers, and active types. Break a sweat with a hike to the top of A Mountain and take in a panoramic sunset view. Or, just belly-up to the bar at one of Tempe’s innumerable craft breweries. Both are solid choices. And both can get you acquainted with this laidback Phoenix suburb.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho
Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho
Photo courtesy of Hotel Valley Ho

Scottsdale

Nearly half of Scottsdale’s land area is dedicated to open spaces and untamed desert. Outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, road cycling, horseback riding, and kayaking reign supreme here, and the city certainly leans toward an active, wellness-centered lifestyle. And while there’s no shortage of desert to explore, Scottsdale also claims some of the best spas in the world, award-winning restaurants, world-class golf courses, it’s the center stage for major events like luxury car auctions and sporting events, and it’s even got a bustling arts scene. This Phoenix suburb checks all of the boxes, really.

Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert
Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert
Photo by Lauren Topor Reichert

Gilbert

Not too long ago Gilbert was a sort of sleepy, far-away farm town. That’s certainly not the case anymore. Gilbert has grown exponentially, but its agricultural roots are still readily present in its personality and charm. Downtown Gilbert is home to dozens of restaurants and bars, most of which have a local, farm-to-table approach, naturally. And then there’s Agritopia, a friendly neighborhood with its very own shared garden and community spaces that include Epicenter and BARNONE, where you can order a wood-fired pizza, a can of experimental natural wine, and camp out under a canopy of trees in the open-air. It’s practically a utopia.

Mike Boening Photography
Mike Boening Photography
Mike Boening Photography

Cave Creek

A gateway to Horseshoe and Bartlett Lakes, Cave Creek’s position on the outskirts of Tonto National Forest makes it a primo spot for outdoor activities like biking and hiking and adventure by way of air balloon or horseback. Modern cowboys and gals can mosey over to The Buffalo Chip Saloon where bull riding and swing dancing are just part of a typical day. Additionally, Cave Creek has its own botanical garden, raptor rescue, and a gallery packed with person-sized crystals. And it’s all yours to discover.

Ade Russell/Flickr
Ade Russell/Flickr
Ade Russell/Flickr

Mesa

Point your GPS east and you’ll arrive in Mesa, Arizona’s third largest city. Whether you’re after outdoor adventure, looking to explore the arts and culture scene, or searching for locally made ciders and craft beer, Mesa has it all. There’s a hip, growing downtown area lined with storefronts, restaurants, theaters, and tasting rooms. And if you’re game for a little outdoor recreation, Mesa is your jumping-off point to scenic Sonoran Desert trails including Usery Mountain Regional Park, Lost Dutchman State Park, and San Tan Regional Park. Mesa is also just a short distance from The Salt River where you can cruise by wild horses and native wildlife via paddle board and Saguaro Lake is just up the road.

Experience Fountain Hills
Experience Fountain Hills
Experience Fountain Hills

Fountain Hills

At the center of this Phoenix suburb is an expansive urban park and monumental water fountain that tops out at 560-feet. The fountain in Fountain Hills is larger than the Washington Monument, and it’s three times as high as Old Faithful. Pack a picnic and spread out in the park for an afternoon where you can traverse the walkable paths, cycle around the waterway, or play a competitive bout of frisbee golf. If you swing more towards traditional golf, there’s a shortlist of premier golf courses to tee-off at. And like many of the Phoenix suburbs here, Fountain Hills is surrounded by wide-open desert and scenic vistas just waiting to be explored.

Camelback Ranch - Glendale
Camelback Ranch – Glendale
Camelback Ranch – Glendale

Glendale

Arizona sports teams including the Coyotes and Cardinals have home turf advantage in Glendale. Over the years Glendale has hosted three Super Bowl bouts and will host another in 2023. But Glendale’s not just a sports mecca for fans of professional football and hockey. This Phoenix suburb is homebase to Camelback Ranch, a modern ballpark with all the amenities where the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers take the field each season as part of Cactus League Spring Training. Take your time in Glendale into extra innings and visit Historic Old Town Glendale. Here you’ll encounter eclectic antique and vintage stores, restaurants, candy shops, and coffee houses.

Pedal Haus Brewery
Pedal Haus Brewery
Pedal Haus Brewery

Chandler 

Museums, urban parks, art galleries, and growing neighborhoods like Uptown Chandler and Downtown Chandler give this Phoenix suburb lots of appeal. Rows of palm trees line the Downtown area where you can start your day with a locally roasted coffee and organic breakfast bowl. Downtown Chandler regularly hosts community-focused events and it’s a popular hangout for craft beer drinkers. SanTan Brewery, Pedal Haus, and The Perch, with 40 beers on tap and tropical birds at every turn, all call this Phoenix suburb home.

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Lauren Topor Reichert is a Phoenix-based multimedia storyteller, photographer, and content creator. Her work has been featured in travel guides, national publications, and the social feeds of some stellar local restaurants. Follow her around Arizona, and beyond, on Instagram @hungryinphoenix.

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