North Pole Expedition Museum in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen

Formerly known as the Spitsbergen Airship Musuem, Longyearbyen's North Pole Expedition focuses on several attempts around the beginning of the 20th century to reach the North Pole by air.

Longyearbyen isn’t very big, but there are two museums in town. This is the older but smaller of the two. It focuses on efforts to reach the north pole with various types of aviation, some successful and some not.

You’ll sometimes see the North Pole Expedition Museum referred to by its original name, the Spitsbergen Airship Museum. (You can also see it referred to formally in a plural form as the North Pole Expeditions Museum).

It’s located in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen. It was originally founded in 2008 in the space previously used by Longyearbyen’s pig farm, a space it originally shared with the Svalbard Museum. In 2012 it was moved to its current home.

The key exhibits focus on three airship expeditions of the early 20th century to try to reach the North Pole.

  • Wellman Expeditions. American journalist Walter Wellman launched several attempts at reaching the North Pole by airship, in 1906, 1907, and 1909. None was successful.
  • Norge Expedition. The expedition with the airship Norge carried out the first verified overflight of the North Pole in 1926 (there were few earlier claims by other expeditions, but they have been disputed). It was a multinational effort by Italian, Norwegian, and American contributors. It’s most famous participant was Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen who had earlier led the first successful expedition to the South Pole.
  • Italia Expedition. Led by Italian Umberto Nobile in the airship Italia, this 1928 expedition resulted in a crash and the loss of several crew.

The museum is surprisingly light on original artifacts from these expeditions–there’s not a lot of room, after all. Most of the exhibits consist of historic films, photos, maps, newspapers, postcards, drawings, and clothes. For obvious reasons, there are only a few small fragments of the airships’ skins.

Photos of the North Pole Expedition Museum

What to Know Before You Go

The North Pole Expedition Museum is in a black building across the street from the newer and larger Svalbard Museum. If you’re walking down the town’s main street, keep going down the hill toward the waterfront–it’s around the other side of the Svalbard Museum.

It’s small and doesn’t take long to visit.

As with some other public spaces in Longyearbyen, you’ll be asked to either remove your shoes (there are some free lockers at the main entrance) or put on blue shoe covers that are provided next to the front door.

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