There’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of Pyramiden, but if you have there’s also a decent chance you want to visit there. So, can you visit Pyramiden in 2023? Yes you can, but it is not easy and yes the war in Ukraine has affected things.
What is Pyramiden?
For the uninitiated Pyramiden is a former Russian coal mining settlement in the Svalbard archipelago located on the island of Spitlzbergen and is one of the most northern settlements on earth.
Why is, or was there a Russian coal mining settlement in Svalbard? Well we will keep the history lesson to as much a minimum here as we possibly can, but while Svalbard is an “integral part of the Kingdom of Norway”, it does enjoy a somewhat special status. This status was derived in 1925 when signatories of the Svalbard treaty agreed that member was allowed to conduct business on the islands.
To read about if Svalbard is a country click here.
At the time this largely pertained to Norway and the then USSR. Pyramiden itself was initially established in 1910 by Swedish miners, before the Soviet’s purchased it in 1927. What was to follow was non-stop mining until 1998, aside from being destroyed by the Nazi’s and some fires. It is has been estimated that as much as a million tonnes of coal was extracted in this period.
Despite great man of the people Boris Yeltsin privatising mining in post-Soviet Russia Pyramiden and the other remaining mining colony Barentsburg was still state owned via the Arktikugol Trust – remember this fact as it will come in handy later.
At its peak it housed up to 1000 people, but by 1998 had become a ghost town when the last resident left.
Is Pyramiden a Ghost Town?
For 10 years it certainly was, but between 2007 and 2012 the Arktikugol Trust had the idea of turning the town to tourism, with a hotel being build and various infrastructure. The aim of this was to cash in on the ever-expanding Svalbard tourism and general Arctic tourism that was becoming popular.
Success of Pyramiden tourism can be viewed as mixed, but they did manage to again have permanent settlers, as well as even host a film festival, the most northern one in the world, the term “most northernly” being something they were really trying to milk.
Obviously with its Soviet zeal both Pyramiden and Barentsburg were very much on our YPT to do list when we cruised around Svalbard, but then Russia invaded Ukraine, or started a “special military operation”, depending on your slant on things.
To read our Svalbard itinerary click here.
Why have sanctions made it hard to visit Pyramiden?
Remember the Arktikugol Trust? Well they are a state owned Russian enterprise which means subject to sanctions, therefore while ships and tour agencies used to visit here, now, well they simply cannot, or at least will not.
You can read about the Arktikugol Trust trust here.
Ignoring the moral elements though can you visit Pyramiden in 2022,, and if so how and indeed is it worth it? Quite simply yes you can and indeed in our minds it is worth it.
How can you visit Pyramiden in 2023?
Pyramiden and the Arktikugol Trust are still running the place and looking for tourists, alas despite only being 50km from the capital of Longyearbyen it is only accessible in summer by boat, or in winter by snowmobile. We have not been by snowmobile, so won’t comment on that.
So you can take a boat to Pyramiden? You can, but alas there are no big boats, so visiting here will essentially require a zodiac, some extra special waterproof gear and a 2-3 hour choppy choppy ride. If you are of the seasick variety then this is not for you.
If you do have the pioneer spirt though what awaits you is well worth it, at least from a YPT point of view!
What is there to see in Pyramiden?
Did we not mention it is a Soviet ghost town? Quite simply if places like Pripyat, or the Belarus Exclusion Zone get you going then you will love visiting Pyramiden, this is real authentic how the Soviet citizens of the arctic lived.
The top thing to see in Pyramiden though is of course the most northern statue of Lenin in the world! In fact you will get a whole heap of “most northernly” things, with there being abandoned theatres, swimming pools and the like, as well as the hotel.
And to top it all off you’ll be able to have a vodka with some Russian’s just like the good old days.
YPT are currently planning a 2023 trip to Svalbard inclusive of all the Russian settlements, or alternatively join our next trip to Antarctica.